Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (1) wisdom, Solomon and the fear of God

How do you explain the fear of God to a child? Last weekend, I took our Sunday School class back to the start of Proverbs, and there it was: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7).

So far, we've looked at the value and beauty of wisdom (Prov. 3:13-18) and the ruin brought by folly (Prov. 9), but we haven't talked much about Solomon, who he is, why he wrote Proverbs, and the nature of wisdom. In other words, if you're teaching Proverbs to a Sunday School class, this is the place to start!

When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher asked me, "If you could have any one thing, what would it be?" My answer, which I once saw as a sign of piety but now see as the sign of a proud perfectionism, was "To obey God perfectly" (I remember clearly that I felt very superior to a boy who wished for a red toy truck - in these more complicated days, surely it would be a Nintendo DS!).

So last Sunday I asked, "If I could grant you one wish, what would it be?". One boy answered, "A money-making machine" (at which point some smart-alec pointed out that it's illegal to make money); another, predictably enough, asked for "Infinity more wishes"; and a rowdy boy in a particularly pious mood said "To go to heaven". My daughter, rather poignantly, given that she has 3 brothers, asked for "A twin sister, and that she's Emma" (a Christian friend).

Which was the perfect lead-in to the story of Solomon. We all know the story of how God offered to grant Solomon one request, and how he asked for wisdom to govern and judge wisely between his people (1 Kings 3). And so Proverbs was born: the collected wisdom of the wisest man who ever lived.

We opened our Bibles, read Proverbs 1:1-7 together, drew a picture of Solomon, and wrote a list of all the words for wisdom we could find. I asked them where wisdom starts - with the "fear of God" (Proverbs 1:7, this term's memory verse); and we talked about how to get wisdom - by trusting God's understanding rather than our own, and by living the way he wants (Proverbs 3:5-6, last term's memory verse). Here's the page we made:

But what exactly is the fear of God? I'd been thinking about this all week, and it seemed to me that it's just what it says: fear. We tend to try and get around it with words like "reverence" and "awe", which don't explain anything much, but Jesus is pretty clear: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body ... Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Luke 12:4-5). Of course, for us in Christ this is no longer a slavish fear, for we have found a safe refuge from the storm of God's anger.*

Here's how I explained the fear of God to the children: "Are you scared of your Daddy?" Some children: "Yes." "Does your Daddy love you?" All children: "Yes." "When are you scared of your Daddy?" "When I do the wrong thing." "Why?" "Because he might punish me." "Yes, that's right, and it's the same with God. He can punish us by sending us to hell, but we don't need to be scared if we believe in Jesus and live for him. So what's the fear of God?" One child: "It means being scared of what God can do." Pretty spot on, it seems to me!

We spent the second 1/2 hour (it was a long class!) getting started on our major craft for the term: wisdom wind-chimes. Liz, my fellow Sunday School teacher, is an art teacher in another life, so she gave us a big lump of clay, some hessian squares to roll and cut it on, and access to a kiln (you could substitute air-dry clay). Here's my diagram of how I hope the wind-chimes will look:

And here's how the children made the shapes:

Exhausting, but fun! Once the shapes are fired, we'll paint them. The children will decorate each shape with a picture representing each lesson they learn from Proverbs, like using words wisely, not being lazy, and choosing friends well. I'll keep you posted!

* If you want to further explore this concept of the fear of God, see John Piper's The Pleasures of God pp.204-6, where he has a wonderful illustration about a cave, a glacier and a storm.


sandra j said...

What a dear comment about Emma from Lizzie.

I just wrote an essay about Solomon, & if/when he lost his wisdom... give you the gist when we meet if you like!

Jess Green said...

Hi Jean,
I am so encouraged by the depth, clarity, effort and bible input you put into your Sunday school classes.
They sound like they would be fun, interesting and that the kids would learn a lot about our great God that they would remember. I'd be interested in using your material in the future!
Love Jess

Jean said...

Well, it's nice to know I'm human, then: last night's Sunday School class didn't go so well! Oh, well. I'll fill you in later this week.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these lessons. I'm homeschooling my 2 girls and 3 others, and this is EXACTLY what I needed for our study of Proverbs. Your blog is a blessing to us!!