Sunday, September 9, 2012

Studying the Doctrine of Providence with 5 & 6 Graders

It's my high honor to be able to teach the fifth and sixth grade Sunday School class at Riverview.  We use the Children Desiring God material, which I've said quite a bit about before.  This year we're studying the providence of God, encapsulated in the curriculum called "My Purpose Will Stand."  I've also posted about this study before, particularly its presentation of a theodicy for 5th and 6th graders.  I've decided to make my Sunday posts during the year a recap of what we studied in each week's Sunday School lesson.  And don't make the mistake of thinking that you can't learn anything from a 5th and 6th grade Sunday School lesson.  These are complex lessons that cover a lot of heavy-duty theology that most adults don't know.

Since I'm catching up this week after not posting about last week's lesson last Sunday, I guess I should start there.  The lesson began by basically exposing the weaknesses and limitations of the kids in the class.  For example, we had a couple kids try to hit a target on the wall with a balled up piece of paper.  As kids moved farther and farther away from the target, their accuracy waned.  Nobody could hit the target from the other side of the room - not even the teacher!

We then looked at scripture that told us how God always hits his mark - he never misses.  Job 36 says as much.  The point?  There is no one who can compare to God - no one who can do what he does.

Next, I had the kids look out the window using a fancy pair of binoculars that I borrowed from my dad.  Since our church is located in West St. Paul, I asked one of the kids to look over to downtown St. Paul and tell us all what was happening.  Didn't work.  Then I asked them to look over to Minneapolis and tell us what was happening there.  Still couldn't do it.  Why not?  Because we can't see that far.  Our vision, and therefore our knowledge, is limited.

When contrasted to God's knowledge and vision, we look pretty weak, and that's because we are.  God can see everywhere and everyone, however, and so his knowledge is unlimited.  he knows all there is to know.  This is the God of the Bible.  He's a big God.

Then we read Job 38-40, which is a good thing to do on a regular basis, especially if you need to be reminded of your standing before God.

Today's lesson followed up nicely.  We started out by looking in the Bible to define the word "providence."  We said that providence has to do with God's eyes and God's hands.  We went to the Bible and read such passages as Psalm 11.4 and Hebrews 1.10, which talk about what exactly God sees, and what his hands do.

Our very basic definition of providence was this: "God's eye is watching over the universe; God's hand is working in the universe."  It may be a bit on the light side, but it will suffice for our students.

The basic lesson from this definition is this: God is constantly watching over the universe, so he is always knowledgeable of what is happening in it.  Furthermore, God is always at work in the universe.

It's like this: if you were to prepare and cook food, there are things that you need to do in order for it to work out well.  First, you obviously have to be involved in the preparation of the food.  There are things you need to do before you even pop it in the oven.  Once it's in the oven, there are things you need to do to make sure the dish comes out the way you want it to.  If you're baking a cake, you need to check it as it bakes, and maybe even stab it with a knife to ensure that it's cooked all the way through.  If you're scrambling eggs, you need to constantly move the eggs around in the frying pan to make sure they don't burn.  This is something like the way God watches over and is active in the universe.

One thing that occurred to me as I was preparing for and teaching this lesson is that there is absolutely no biblical case for Deism.  Deism is the belief that there is a God, but after his creative activity, he effectively stepped back from creation and is letting it play out in whatever order it may.  Not only does this scenario not "work," in that the world would destroy itself save for God's common grace, but more importantly, that is not at all the picture we get of God from scripture.  We see a God that is intimately involved with his creation, sustaining it and directing it.  The God of the Bible is not a complacent God who is sitting in the background, twittling his thumbs.  No, he is absolutely involved in everything that happens.  This conversation will grow increasingly important for our students as we begin to think about God's role in causing and allowing even bad things to happen.  It's sure to be a fun year!

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