“I tell you the truth,” he says in Matthew 24:47. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” he answers Peter in Matthew 18:23. There is truth, despite the inconsequential details of his story, and Jesus points out that truth.
Biblical truth exists even in stories and cultural tales that aren’t in the Bible because God’s truth isn’t stagnant. Our Lord still moves in our world, and even people who don’t believe in God are affected by his truth. Christians and non-Christians alike can experience humility, forgiveness, and brokenness. Something about the journey of the human race remains the same despite cultural and millennial differences. We’re still the Israelites in the desert, hoarding God’s blessings today in fear that he won’t provide tomorrow and making idols out of things that satisfy us only for the moment.
Separating Truth From Fiction
It may frighten Christian educators to hear kids say that Jonah’s big fish was just like Pinocchio’s whale or that the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” was the same as David’s Goliath. The perceived threat is that kids will see similarities in characters and stories and confuse fiction with biblical truth. In our ministries, we certainly want to lay the foundation of God’s Word as truth. Otherwise, what basis do kids have for understanding who God is?
During vacation Bible school, one teacher brought preschoolers to a room that was set up like the belly of Jonah’s big fish. She led them into the fish’s plastic body and recreated Jonah’s three-day experience in the fish by reading from the Bible and allowing the kids to experience the fear and adventure Jonah did. At the end, a paid child-care provider remarked, “Hey! That’s just like Pinocchio.” A lesson defeated? A blurring of truth and fiction? Perhaps, but definitely a teachable moment.
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In this situation, it’s important to think about kids’ developmental stages. Kids around age 9 can begin to understand simple abstractions and are less likely to be confused by literary connections. To bridge from fiction to fact, ask kids, “How similar are the experiences of the fictional Pinocchio and the biblical Jonah? How are they different?”