Teaching Covenant

Question
Do you have any suggestions about how to teach the idea of covenant to children and youth?
Answer
With the youngest kids, I just stick to a family metaphor:

The relationship between parents and their children is a good parallel to God's covenant relationship with his people. Parents love their kids -- and they love their own kids more than they love other people's kids. This is like the covenant -- God loves his covenant people more than he loves other people. He is more patient and more forgiving of his covenant people than he is of other people. He gives them lots of chances. He is quick to see good in them, quick to give them nice things, and slow to get angry with them. He forgives their faults, and is always ready to love them and to be restored to a good relationship with them when they are sorry for the bad things they have done.

Just like a normal household, the covenant has rules. When kids misbehave, it saddens their parents, and when they act well, it makes their parents happy. The same is true of God and his covenant people. If kids do what their parents tell them to do, then good parents respond by treating their kids well, providing for their needs, and giving them nice things once in a while. God does the same thing by giving his covenant people good things when they obey the rules. Sometimes when kids disobey, their parents punish them, just as God sometimes punishes his covenant people for disobeying him. But even when God punishes his covenant people, he does it so that they will learn from their mistakes and do better in the future, just as is the case when parents punish their children. And just like parents and their children, God's love softens the punishments he doles out when his people disobey -- parents do not usually stop feeding their kids or providing for their needs just because their kids disobey, and God does not stop taking care of his people when they disobey. God's rules for his covenant people are also stricter than his rules for other people -- just as parents expect more of their own kids than they do of others'.

The great thing about God's covenant is that we don't just have God as our father, but we also have Jesus as our big brother. And Jesus is the perfect big brother. He never pushes us around, or takes our stuff, and he always has time to play with us -- in fact, he always wants to play with us. And when we do something bad, Jesus takes the blame for us -- that's how much he loves us. Jesus is the perfect kid too. He shows us how to act in order to obey the rules. God also told Jesus that if Jesus would obey all the rules perfectly, and if he would take the blame for everything we did wrong, then God would let the whole family go to heaven. And that's exactly what Jesus did, so that we can all go to heaven. We should still keep the rules because God may discipline us, and also because it makes our lives better, and also because it makes him happy. We still should feel sorry when we break the rules, but we should always remember that just like our parents still love us when we disobey, God still loves us too.

But not everyone in the covenant family does go to heaven -- why is that? Well, in the covenant, there are people who run away from God, kind of like kids who run away from home. They don't believe the things that God says, they don't want God to be their father, and they don't want Jesus to be their big brother or to do everything for them. Instead, they want to do things their own way. These people run away from the covenant family -- even though its a perfect family. These people don't get to go to heaven, because only the family gets to go there, and by running away they end up being just like the people who never got to be in the family. Even worse, God eventually catches up with them, and then he punishes them for having been so bad. Instead of going to heaven, they have to go to hell.

With older youth:

I also include some ideas related to governments, specifically talking about the ancient Near-Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties, but using different terms ("big king" and "little king"). I explain how the little kings represent the people in their kingdoms (us), and how the big king (God) conquers the little kings (Jesus, Adam, rival religions, etc.), promising them blessings if they keepthe treaty, and promising to punish them (militarily) if they do not. Jesus is the only little king who does what God requires in the treaty -- the rest of the little kings rebel and eventually get destroyed. If we want to receive the blessings of the big king (eternal life, etc.), we have to be in Jesus kingdom (the covenant people). Again, not everyone in the little kingdom is saved (like the Israelites who died in the wilderness) -- some are criminals who get punished under the laws of the kingdom rather than receive the blessings of living in the kingdom.

With all ages, I do not teach that there are two kinds of covenants (conditional and unconditional). Recent research has shown that the idea of an unconditional covenant in the ancient Near East was based on a mistaken conception of certain covenant land grant records (stones). The covenants previously thought to be unconditional are now recognized to have been conditional (the threatened curses at the bottom of the stones indicate the conditionality of these covenants).

You might also try contacting the Christian Reformed Church -- they have wonderful Christian education materials for children.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.