On Tweens Theologizing the Plagues

junior high ministry, youth ministry

Yesterday we talked about the Plagues with our 5th & 6th graders. We did it interactively, where our adults leaders were the Pharaoh and Egyptians, and our students acted out the plagues. After we covered our leaders in stickers, silly string, and killed all of their livestock and firstborns, we sat down to talk about it.

In my last post, I talked about scary stories. It can be hard to see God in the Bible stories that we read–how can God, a God of love and grace, send these plagues on people?

I explained first that our actions have consequences–when I was in first grade, I kept forgetting to turn my bedroom light off before I left the room. So my mother, being a creative consequencer, took away my light-bulb for a week. You could say that I had the plague of darkness.

Although that consequence may seem extreme, it was an appropriate and direct consequence for what I did. When I worked in a group home, I did the same thing: If you were late from curfew, you had that amount of time deducted the next day. If you get an F, you have to do an extra hour of studying each day per class with an F. These are direct, natural consequences.

The same happened with Pharaoh and they Egyptians: Each plague symbolized something that they idolized and put before God.

But this story isn’t about the plagues: It’s about God protecting the Israelites.

The Israelites weren’t perfect, but they did seek to honor God. So God protected them.  God went out of his way to protect them, and that’s the point of the story when talking with this age group.

So on one hand, we have a God that gives consequences when your heart is hardened and unwilling to acknowledge and turn away from your sins. God gave Pharaoh many chances. But on the other hand, when your heart recognizes when you’ve done wrong and you desire God first and foremost, he goes out of his way to protect you. God proved this through all of Exodus and again on the cross.

Our fifth and sixth graders interacted with the story in ways I couldn’t even begin to predict. They asked the hard questions:

  • If God sent plagues, then what is the difference between Him and Pharaoh?
  • What if Pharaoh had no other option but to keep the Israelites? What if, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about what he was going to lose if he let them go? I mean, I know slavery is bad and all, but if they left then who was going to do all of their work?
  • What if Pharaoh wasn’t the bad guy? What if he had a lot of people telling him what to do, and so he just did what they said?
  • Why would God hurt all of the Egyptians and save all of the Israelites? What if there were some good Egyptians? What if there were some bad Israelites?
  • How do we know that the Bible has the whole story in it?
  • How do we know the Bible is true?

We affirmed their questions and told them we had the same. We also let them give their own answers.

Some of the things they came up with blew me away:

  • In ancient cultures, they worshiped everything and had an idol for everything. So by doing so many different kinds of plagues, God was showing he had power over everything.
  • Maybe God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because He knew Pharaoh wasn’t going to budge. So He hardened it so Pharaoh would go, “All right–GO!”
  • This is what faith means: trusting even when you don’t understand.
  • The story is bigger than what we read.

I love tweens because they aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions. Unlike older students and adults, they won’t not ask questions because they’re afraid of what other people will think of them. They are unashamed and will shout it out because they feel like they have this urgent need to know.

At the National Youth Worker’s Convention of 2013, one speaker said, “Teens are natural theologians. . . adults often have this natural gift socialized out of them.”

I’m so blessed to be in a field where I theologize with tweens.

Oh, and PS, after all those hard conversations, a new student says, “Wait, I have a question! …What is livestock?”

Stay humbled, my friends.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

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