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  • L Trevarthen

Noah vs Jesus

It seems that there is a popularity gap amongst children in New Zealand for the most well known Bible figure... it's Noah versus Jesus.

A recent survey commissioned by the Bible Society showed that more children knew about Noah than they did about Jesus. More children had heard of the Ark with Noah and the animals, than had heard of Jesus and the story of his birth (let alone his death).

But wait!....Doesn't Jesus have several holidays to tell people about him? What holidays are there for Noah? Why do children know more about Noah when there is Christmas in the mix?

I suspect that a lot of that is to do with marketing and toys. It also has to do with the family background of the children. We have a multi-cultural society, and an increasing number of immigrants (and New Zealand-born too) do not subscribe to Christianity or have Christian teachings in their background.

Children may not grow up with stories about Jesus, particularly if they do not have a Christian household. Non-Christian households, however, may have stories of Noah, but not of Jesus. This is borne out by the recent study that showed that children in families that have a Christian heritage are more likely than those without a Christian background to know about Jesus.

Makes sense, doesn't it. Why would you talk about Jesus to your children in the first place if you don't know about Jesus (at least a bit) yourself?

Yet most Western nations have Christian holidays. Christmas and Easter are the main public holidays around which the "holiday season" (or seasons) are built. Yet many of the people that have days off work for Christian holidays, or the public that pay the surcharge for various services, such as eating out, on a public holiday, do not know the background to the holiday in the first place! How can we expect children to know about this if we do not?

Getting back to Noah and Jesus, however...It is clear that Noah is going to win in the popularity stakes for children. Noah has animals. Animals of all different kinds. The ones that parents and the preschool are trying to teach the children about. Then there is the rainbow. A perfect opportunity to teach children about colours. Look at all the learning opportunities of the Noah story and you have a winning combination.

Jesus has Wise men, and sheep involved in the Nativity birth story. But he is a baby, and I suspect most young children are not that interested in babies. There are the gifts of the Wise men. Hardly commonplace items. Gold might be good, but frankincense and myrrh probably don't rate that highly for children against giraffes and lions. We aren't likely to ask the children to point them out.

Then the Jesus story gets rather troublesome. There is death - and not just any death - it's an execution. Pretty gruesome, actually.

Contrast this with Noah. There is death there too, but in the sanitised version the focus of Noah's work in building the ark is on saving the animals rather than what happens to all the people who were drowned at the same time....

Noah gets far more airtime. Movies, books, stories, and toys.

Contrast this with Jesus merchandise. Not really marketed to children (or parents of children) is it?

Of course, this isn't really about marketing alone. Jesus really isn't a toy, and shouldn't be. But in the popularity stakes for children, if parents don't talk about Jesus, how much exposure do they have to Jesus through other means? Christmas is more about Santa Claus these days, and Jesus hardly gets a look-in.

When the story of Jesus comes along, the death of Jesus can't be brushed aside. It has to be dealt with. This is an execution. This is about criminals who die after torture and about the wrongful conviction of an innocent man. Serious topics. The focus should be on all the people who were saved at the same time....and what comes out the other side of that death.

It's hardly playtime to talk about Jesus. I suspect the topic is too hard, and probably not even known by a lot of parents, to explain to children. It is easier, and more educational, to talk about Noah, and to make Noah and the animals fun, than to talk about Christ and, the instrument of his death, the Cross.

Is Jesus your best known Biblical figure?

If he isn't, he should be.

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