My oldest daughter was awake last night when she should have been sleeping. I went in to ask her why she was having trouble falling asleep. She said it was because she was thinking about the stories she had read in her Manga Bible story.
Now, to be honest, I've never been a huge fan of these Manga cartoon Bible stories. A very generous and kind elderly Christian lady gave a couple volumes of a Manga Bible story to our kids this past summer when we were vacationing in Prince Edward Island. When we were there, we attended a small church which was trying to fill the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday as their pastor was in the process of moving on. I volunteered because, well, a Bible college prof of mine used to say that every minister of the gospel must be ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice. I picked some passages that I knew very well and gladly preached the gospel for a couple of Sundays in a row. But I digress...
So, my daughter had re-read through the two volumes of this Manga Bible over the last couple days and she was asking me when the stories of Daniel and Esther took place in history. We talked about Israel's exile in Babylon a bit and I asked her why she was thinking about these two stories in particular. Her answer contained an observation that amazed me.
She noted that the stories of Daniel and Esther are very similar. I thought about it for a few seconds and then asked her to explain. She pointed out that in both stories, bad men trick or contrive to have the king pass a law stating that all people must worship or pray to him only. The evil men in both stories think that when the king passes this law they will see their enemies, the obedient Israelites, finally destroyed because they will refuse to obey this law. But it is pointed out to the respective kings (although in different ways) that some of their most loyal and true subjects are guilty of breaking this law and so they must face punishment for their disobedience. However, God spares the heroes (Daniel in one story and Mordechai and Esther and the exiled Israelites in the other) from destruction and instead, the king's heart turns to saving the Israelites and destroying those who plotted their destruction (in Daniel's story, his accusers are thrown to the lions and in Esther's story, Haman is hung on the very gallows that he was preparing to see Mordechai swing from). I was so excited and thankful that my children are picking up patterns like this, and I have to admit, this is one I've never thought about before.
Now, we read the Bible every evening for family devotions and we use various resources to catechize our children in the Scriptures. Right now, we are using this very good resource. The basic pattern of family devotions is that we read a story or a portion of it from Scripture, discuss it, and then ask questions about it including how the story or characters we read about point us to Jesus. We emphasize patterns, repetitions, similarities, common and uncommon elements between several Old Testament stories and between them and New Testament stories. Through this our children are coming to see that, ultimately, the Bible is not merely a compendum of many stories but one running story - the story of God working to redeem his people and his creation. But the observations my daughter made struck her as she read her Manga Bible throughout the day and before bed. She is learning patterns of thought from our family worship which she is taking into her own private reading of the stories of Scripture. That's exactly what Trina and I are hoping our children are learning.
Back to my original admission, the one about not being a big fan of the Manga Bible stories. I was thinking about this the other day and remembered that when I was young my parents got a set of three soft cover Bible story comics which I think were an older version of these. I remember not really knowing the order of events in the Bible until I had read these through a few times. It was these that began to familiarize me with the overall story arch of Scripture. I also recall loving to read these, sometimes for hours on end.
Are Bible story comics the best and most accurate version of the story of the Bible? Of course not. Some things are left out, some stories have minor details added in or omitted, and all of it is necessarily an interpretation in much the same way that translating a novel into a movie must be an interpretation. But if my children are going to have some less challenging material in their personal reading mix, along with Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes, why shouldn't they read Bible story comics that are faithful to the stories of Scripture? Of course as a parent I need to help them understand the difference between these and other comics. For starters, these speak of real events. I also need to help them see that these comics are not a substitute for reading Scripture "straight up" either as a family or privately. To be honest, our kids often pick up on the differences between the stories in the Manga comics and the accounts we read from the ESV or the NKJV even before Trina or I have a chance to point them out. They can spot the differences in a similar way to how they point out the differences between the Chronicles of Narnia books written by C.S. Lewis and the movies inspired by those books but produced by a Hollywood studio or the differences between the story of the Exodus in Scripture and the annimated move, Prince of Egypt. And like the Narnia stories, when our kids see differences in the comics they know what the true story is and they know Who wrote the true story. Knowing that, they prefer the true story to the comic one, but they have learned to appreciate the comics without equating them with the inspired Word of God.
So I hope and pray my children will read on. I will teach them to read solid English translations of the Bible and to read good Bible story books like this and this and this. I will teach them to read the Bible and to read good Bible stories mainly by reading with and to them. And I will also not discourage them from reading Bible stories in comic form, provided they are not dishonouring to either the seriousness of God's judgement upon sin or the gloriousness of God's grace in salvation through Chirst.