Sunday

Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: "Jesus Understood"

image Harry Baerg
When I was little, I slept with my hands under the pillow.  Why?

Because I was convinced that otherwise, Jesus would kidnap and kill me.

The unforgettable little story "Jesus Understood" from Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, a collection of Christian morality tales, is the reason why.

The opening sentence of "Jesus Understood" establishes the tone: "Little Bobby was crossing a busy city street when a big car came and knocked him down."  (Although it is not specifically mentioned, there is probably some subtext here containing a Valuable Lesson about looking both ways while crossing the street.)  Poor Bobby seems doomed from the start, but then we're shocked to learn he's damned to boot!  See, Bobby winds up in the hospital rooming with his old pal Tommy, and Tommy knows who Jesus is, but Bobby does not.

Because Bobby is probably going to die, Tommy tells Bobby all about Jesus and how He'll take you to Heaven if you just ask Him.  Bobby remains unconvinced that "a big Gentleman like that" would ever "listen to a little boy like me."  Tommy explains that there's an even easier method to capture Jesus's attention: "Just put up your hand--like we do at school--when He comes through the hospital.  They say He comes through every evening when the lights are turned down."  (This always led me to wonder: if Jesus is like a schoolteacher--raise your hand and he'll choose you--what happens if you answer the question wrong?)

That night, Tommy says it is "time," and, instead of alerting a medical professional, he urges Bobby to put his hand up.  Bobby, however, is too weak to keep his hand raised.  Tommy fixes the problem by propping up Bobby's hand with a pillow.  The last lines of the story read: "In the morning the little hand was still there.  Bobby was dead, but Jesus had understood."

This story haunted me for years and became the impetus for this blog.  As a child, I tried to do whatever I could so that Jesus wouldn't misunderstand and kill me before my time.  I had heard that Jesus would "come like a thief in the night," so I imagined him climbing through my window in a black ski mask seeking my upraised hand, which he would grab to hoist me up to Heaven.

Lesson learned:
Always keep your hands down, just in case.


Source: Maxwell, Arthur S.  "Jesus Understood."  Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. Vol. 1.  Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1964.  18-20.
Buy Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: Volume 1 

42 comments:

  1. Thank you for this hilarious summary! I have been haunted by this story for decades. Copies of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories were in every doctor's and dentist's waiting room of my childhood. Was it my imagination, or was this story more smudged and dog-eared than the rest, as we all turned to it to freak ourselves out?

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  2. Don't be talkin' smack about Uncle Arthur (: Let's talk about Revelation Seminars. Now THAT would give anyone nightmares

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  3. Thanks for posting this! I see that you have given special attention to "Jesus Understood" and "Mother Love". Guess I wasn't the only kid who found these to be the two most horribly traumatic stories ever, and I've never forgotten them! I read them in my dentist's waiting room as a kid in the 1960s.

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    1. OMG! My father was a dentist in the '60's and my siblings and I always remembered that story!! It was even creepier because we were Jewish!

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  4. Wow... same here! I actually remember reading this as a child, about 35 years ago, in my dentists' office, and wondering years later if this story really existed or if it was a product of my imagination. What a story - and what is the point? Also, doesn't Bobby have parents? So many unanswered questions.... Anyway, it's nice to know I wasn't the only one traumatized by this!

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  5. Yes! Me too! 40 years later I still remember this story ... and remember the need to make sure my hands were not sticking up in ANY WAY, lest Jesus accidentally misunderstand and take me in the night. What a delight to find I wasn't alone--thanks for posting this.

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    1. It's so nice to know I wasn't the only one. This is the ONLY story I remember from these books. It's so funny that I would try to sit on my hands as I went to sleep -- just to make extra sure Jesus didn't take me away! It's been 54 years since I read it. The picture was even scarier in the 50's!!

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    2. It's been 40 years for me as well and I STILL remember reading that while I was waiting to be treated for a broken arm....

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  6. That picture of Jesus coming through the wall like a ghost scared me rigid for many years. Look at poor Bobby--all he needs is a cigarette to go with that blindfold!

    As a request, please consider turning your satirical glance at the old "Goofus and Gallant" feature from the Hi-Lites magazine for kids. Uncle Arthur and Gallant were a pretty rough one-two punch for we wayward boys awaiting the dentist's drill.

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  7. Bless you, bless you, bless you! I have been looking for Jesus Understood for years, and I love this blog! Great idea. So fun to share with my friends. You have brought back some cherished traumas, errr, memories, for me.. I really look forward to reading through your summaries. Again, SINcere thanks (pun, in honor of creepy Uncle Arthur)!

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  8. This story gave me nightmares as a kid. I'm 31 now and I still haven't forgotten it. The story about the dead mother and baby in the fire also freaked me out.

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  9. I finally found this story. I read it a few years after losing my 5 1/2 yr old brother. He died on the operating table during surgery. I was told he opened his eyes once and then was gone. It was a comfort for me and I was not afraid. I knew Jimmy was with Jesus and he was happy and well. It has been over 55 years now and still this story will enter my mind.

    I do understand how it would frighten young children. :) I smile for your innocence, many years ago. I think when it is my time to go...I will try to lift my hand.

    God Bless you all.

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  10. Oh I am so happy to find this blog! I've been wondering about this book FOREVER, I'm in my mid-50's now. Anyone know what volume contains Jesus Understood?

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  11. Jesus Understood is in Vol. 1. I guess Uncle Arthur wanted to scare the bejeezes out of us right off the bat. I am 56 years old and can still not sleep with any body part hanging over the edge of the bed due to the childhood trauma this story caused!

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  12. Unfortunately, I think your fright and trauma from these stories reveals more about your home life and parentage growing up than Uncle Arthur. The point of this story is that Salvation is not difficult to obtain. It's an amazingly simple story of grace told through a child's perspective.

    BTW: Uncle Arthur did not believe that Jesus "took" or killed kids like Bobby as many of you suggested, he believed in soul sleep until Jesus' second coming (see http://www.truthaboutdeath.com/ to better understand his theology). I have no idea how you got the idea that Jesus saw Bobby's hand raised and killed him. The story says that Bobby was too week to accept Jesus in any other way because he was dying and that even though he was so week and dying, Jesus understood his desire and honored it. Jesus didn't kill him he died because of his injuries. As a kid, this story reinforced to me how loving Jesus really is.

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    1. Oh, bollocks. There was nothing wrong with my homelife. This is a creepy story that should never be told to kids; it's worse than the scary ghost stories told around campfires.

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  13. Does anyone remember the story of the little girl who plays at the construction site after her mom tells her not to - then gets a splinter, which she breaks off and all seemed fine UNTIL years later when she's a big grown up lady, and her leg swells all up from that buried splinter? "Be sure your sin will find you out." Which volume was this in? Other stories included another version of the mother and the fire (Mother's Hands I think it was), a comparison made between the mother's scarred hands and those of Jesus. And the braggy little boy that kept saying "Watch Me!" and the little girl who gave her new dress money to help the war refugees. I have been trying to find this book again for years, but there are SO many of these, I can't find the one I had. It was old, lots of the stories had a wartime feel, so I would assume 1940-ish. I loved some of the stories, others scared me to death. There was one where a child died ("Joe has gone to sleep, dear"), complete with a photo of people rising from their graves that was extremely disturbing as a small child. the angel was pretty, but the people, including a little boy like me, standing in the open graves was quite upsetting at the time...

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  14. OMG, this story STILL haunts me to this day...I can't believe they had it in the waiting rooms of hospitals (which is where I read it). I tell my younger co-workers about it and they can't believe it. I think that in the same volume was the morality story "The Hollow Pie" about a little boy who always picks the best looking apples, the biggest piece of pie, etc., so the adults teach him a lesson at dinner one night. When he bites into the biggest apple, it's all bruised, and the biggest pie was hollow, etc.

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  15. Wow thanks, its comforting in a way that others suffered from this as i did, I don't really know why i googled it and partly ended up regretting it now i found it again - still makes my heart pound remembering the fear from all those years ago (i'm 41 now) that Jesus was gonna come through the wall and kill me if i got sick or fell asleep with my arm out the bed whatever. What a rotten thing to do to a kid, I think 'uncle arthur' was a monster. Parents please read in detail first anything you give to your kids to read.
    Oh and @Uncle Steve... maybe you could put your brain into gear before judging other folks homelife or parenting, you sound about as nice a person as old testament god.

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  16. I remain a bit traumatized by this story, so offer the following sequel as a way to provide a happier ending (I know, I have too much time on my hands):

    Jesus Understood 2: The Family Reunion

    A week later, Bobby's funeral took place at a nice church in the town where he lived. Do you remember Tommy, Bobby's friend who was in the hospital with him? Well, he was all better now, and after the funeral, he told Bobby's parents all about how Bobby had trusted Jesus and was now with Him in heaven. Bobby's parents were happy to know that the Lord Jesus had watched over Bobby, and they prayed, "Dear Lord Jesus, we know thou art watching over us as well, and we pray that the day may come soon when we can be with thee for eternity."

    A few days later, Bobby's parents were driving home from church when their car stopped on the railroad tracks. A train came along and hit their car, and they died. The next thing they knew, they were in heaven. Bobby was there to meet them. Jesus was there too, and He smiled on the family reunion. Once again, Jesus had understood.

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    1. Hilarious! Thank you. I understand too.

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    2. Oh, yeah, that's really comforting to kids too LOL. Oh my Zeus! here do they come up with this stuff??

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  17. Thank you for publishing this! This was one of the most terrifying stories of my childhood; and now I know - look at the substandard health care! If Bobby was about to die, he should have been in intensive care, not in a lowly bed with no medical equipment around! Looks like everyone had given up on old Bobby!

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  18. I certainly remember this story and didn't know it as a Christian child as I later was saved in my teenage years - but it certainly didn't haunt me and it wasn't traumatic or scary in any way. If anyone was going to take me from this earth as a child in a hospital I certainly would have wanted it to be Jesus!! Now that I know what I do, I am very glad I have the complete assurance that a Loving Savior would look in on His children whether sick or passing into His arms with love and adoration - This was a profound message in the only ways a child was able to witness to His friend of the love of His Savior - showing to us you do not need words, fancy rituals, works or sacraments to be welcomed into Heaven upon your death - the simple truth is there even though Bobby couldn't himself prop up his own hand - his brother in his strength helped his brother in weakness. A valuable lesson is here for each of us - nothing scary about it - if there is fear then it wasn't because of Jesus coming through the hospital and taking this young child - because "God hath not given us a spirit of fear but of power!!" Nothing traumatizing about it!

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  19. I once shared a house with a woman who would make sure that her children's hands were not sticking up at night out of the bedclothes. She told me it was incase Jesus came through their rooms at night, saw their hands and decided to take the kids with him. In other words the kids would die in their sleep. It frightened the beejeezuz out of me. I had no children of my own at that time but years later when I did I used to do exactly the same thing. I guess the woman I had shared the house with had read this book as a child. Honestly these books sound horrid and I would never read something like that to my children.

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  20. I read this story as a child whilst in the hospital. Imagine the demented healthcare professional who would do this to an already-scared kid! I wouldn't pull the bellcord for a nurse because I'd have had to raise my hand to reach it...

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  21. Sixty years ago for me. I was seven years old, and my parents actually bought the complete set of "Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories." There were five or six 3/4" thick orange-covered books. The stories were 99% religious. This story of Bobby stayed with me, as well as "The Book That Would Not Burn" and others. I think I understood them more as fairy tales than anything else, as my parents never talked to me about any of the stories, and so many of them dealt with miracles brought about by prayer.

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    1. Hey gayspiritwarrior...have you ever looked into the study of Hebrew...I notice and interesting thing in your post....on 1-17 at 11:07....7 in hebrew is sayin...and 1 is aleph. I see that number all the time and ive come to know it means....the sword of the Spirit....you must be carrying it too...let it grow ...it means you are on the right spiritual path that is being carved out for you.

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  22. I'm 65 and never forgot the boy who died with his arm raised. Unfortunately, I was close to letting go of the "trauma" of the imagery until I found this site and, lo and behold, you supplied an image that is worse than the one I had provided my imagination! Thank you and goodnight. Only half kidding. But, it seemed so bizarre as a tale for children that I began to wonder where the elements of the story came from. Thank you for making this site available. I also remember a photo of a thin man sitting up in iron framed bed. His face had disturbingly sunken features. Does anyone remember that?

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    1. Maybe that was "Knocking Out the 'T'." A guy with polio refused to use the word "can't," and conducted a thriving business from his bed, which they showed in a picture. He had a phone specially built into it, complete with inspirational message.

      Another favorite: "Little Miss Tisn't," just because I never knew anyone who used the word "tisn't."

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  23. I discovered this story at age 8 while alone in a doctor's office, and was HORRIFIED by it. My parents weren't religious, but I remember talking about it to my mom's church-going friend, and her trying to explain it away to me--obviously if she'd actually read it, she'd have understood my terror. I blocked it out for 32 years, until two weeks ago when my girlfriend was in a hospital room with a painting of Jesus on the wall (Not the illustration from "Jesus Understood", thank God) and suddenly it all came flooding back to me. I can't tell you how relieved I was to find this post. Thanks for reassuring me that, not only did I not make this memory up, but yes, that story was as creepy as I remember.

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  24. This story changed my life. I was in third grade when all I had to read as I waited in a doctors office for my allergy therapy was tis book. A bee sting had caused me to go into life threatening anaphyactic shock and I was in hospital for five nights. Afterward my family was aware thartmerely playing outside by the flowers could risk my life. It was this story about bobby that helped me form my relationshiip with my saviour. My plan was that if a bee killed me that I would stay with jesus until my parents came to heaven. Later in life I had another crisis with a chronic illness that threatened my concept of life itself. I felt I had no future and I had to turn to. Christ not in fear of death...but in fear of my future when I felt desparate and hopeless. Jesus came through as he promised and helped me recover and go beyond. In every way he understood., when no one else could have possibly done so.

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  25. The whole point of the story was that you dont have to be perfect to loved and accepted by jesus....that was the story....it wasnt creepy at all for child who really did have contempt their morality at age 8.

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  26. As a child my mother read Uncle Arthur stories to us and the favourite of my sister and I was the story of the two girls whose first encounter began with an angry pillow fight but in the end it brought them together. I don't remember any of the others or being traumatized by them. So, of course, when my children came along, I reached for these familiar tales. The first story I read to my elder two girls was the one that had been my favourite and it was instantly a hit with them as well.
    Emboldened, I moved on to another. It was the story of two boys playing cowboy and Indian who got into a terrible fight. Mother sits them down and tells them the story of the real cowboys and Indians and how they had to learn to get along. At the end of the story, the boy playing the cowboy says that since he is the white man, it is up to him to be the noble one - to step out in good faith.
    As you might imagine, that story was quickly shelved and I started reading the stories for myself. The amount of patronizing in the tales towards those who were non-white, non-male, non-Christian and non-middle class was appalling. Alas the series of stories had to be relegated to a shelf set aside for the dodgy next to "On Becoming a Man" and "On Becoming a Woman".

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  27. I read this at my dentist's office as a grade schooler, then went in to see the dentist and experience PAIN as he drilled my teeth. (Was there an association?) I too was haunted by that drawing above with the boy's raised hand, as I forevermore associated it with death. I avoided that book at all costs. It's been half a century and I recall it vividly. And I still avoid it.

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  28. I remember reading that story at the doctor's office when I was a precocious child, rather advanced in the reading comprehension and rational thought department. I found it morbid, of course, and its placement in a doctor's waiting room inappropriate, but most unforgivably of all, it was illogical. Why would Tommy, but not the hospital staff, know that Bobby was dying? My grandmother was a nurse. I knew that if something was very wrong, there was a lot of activity and noise. If Bobby was dying, where was his family, or at least a staff member? How was a dying boy capable of having such a calm, lengthy conversation? While propping his hand up, why not push the emergency button instead of leaving him there for rigor to set in? Above all, why would Jesus not know when a boy was ready for Heaven? The story was about Jesus, who, as I understood, was supposed to be the son of God. Such a being would know what was going on. It would not be necessary to call his attention to anything. I began to suspect that the story was utter bullshit. At the same moment, I took a good look at that photo, started laughing and couldn't stop. My mother took the book, read the story and her mouth twisted into a hard, thin smile that wanted to be a laugh. She didn't say anything, just pretended nothing was going on. After that, every time we were at an office that had that book, I'd pounce on it, turn to some random story, and laugh while my mother pretended not to know me. I wanted her to buy me those books so badly...they were my taste of the thrill of cynical amusement and horror that truly perverse literature can give us, especially when it's religious. I was destined to be a "Mad Magazine" and "Saturday Night Live" kind of kid. I would never be able to find such a story "moving" or "inspirational", and certainly not believable. Ridiculous, yes, and so sick as to be extremely funny, but nothing more.

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  29. OMG. This is the story. THIS is the story. I have been looking for the source of this story fo ryears.
    Growing up as a kid in a small town in the 70s, every single doctor and dentist had this book (or the related Bible For Kids volume) in the waiting room. Need a procedure? Read about little Bobby's death while you wait!! I have been unable, until now, to produce proof of this traumatic tale to any of my bigger-city peers.

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  30. I too, have been haunted by this story since childhood. I sought this book out every time I went to the dentist and read it over and over. I've never forgotten the story and just today decided to google the theme and see if I could find it. What a chuckle to see that so many of us were affected by this 'bedtime story'. As a grandmother of 4, I can assure you that - though I love to tell my grandchildren about Jesus - this story is not on my list!

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  31. I think the main problem with these stories - the primary reason why they can be so frightening - is that they are exactly that. Stories. And lessons about life, death, and salvation are topics WAY too deep, important, and complex to squeeze into a few short anecdotal paragraphs. There isn't enough room there for the definitions and fuller explanations that one would need to read between the lines. A young child just HAPPENING to read something like this, and unfamiliar with the theology, literary style, and denominational subculture behind it, is highly unlikely to understand it the way it was probably meant to be understood. They are called "Bedtime Stories" because they were intended for parents to read to their own children in the home, where they could be discussed, elaborated on, and used as starting points for facilitating a child's religious understanding. I'm sure they were NOT intended to be a child's first or even primary introduction to Seventh-day Adventist theology; the church takes for granted that its parents are doing all they can, in every way, to make every moment a gospel learning opportunity. The fact that these books were scattered like straw in thousands of medical offices, to be read by confused children completely without contextual guidance, is probably a very well-meant error...

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  32. I think it's important to remember that "Uncle Arthur" was born in 1896, and died in 1970. He was middle aged before antibiotics became widely available. Even in the developed "first-world", children died at rates considered appalling today. Modern parents take for granted that their children will "grow out of" whatever irritating, obnoxious phase they're in, knowing that Neosporin, Lysol, and Motrin are there to fix most problems. They can AFFORD to be more lenient with children's stubbornness, self-will, and disobedience. A few generations ago, though, without the security and reassurance that modernity provides, a tolerant parent might well have proved a negligent parent. Adults frightened the children because THEY were scared - scared of losing them. Even in 2014, we still eventually have to be more blunt with our children about why we want them to do or avoid certain things, when gentle coaxing and reward charts cease to motivate. For the same reasons that lower socio-economic levels tend (in general) to be "harder" or "stricter" on their children: because they don't have the same resources at their disposal to dig their children out of problems with that better-off families may have. Context is SO important, but unfortunately, a kid in a dentist's office reading a story like this in isolation won't have that...

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  33. This dreadful story was more nightmare-inducing to me over the proceeding 5 decades than ANY horror movie ever could have been. I read this morbid little ditty when I was 4 in (of course) the doctor's office waiting for treatment for a significant childhood illness. The office had just gotten the book in and I couldn't wait to read it. Until Jesus Understood. Yeah, maybe Jesus understood but I sure the bloody hell didn't.

    At my next appointment 2 weeks later, the braver part of me wanted to face my fear and read that story one more time...Curiously, I couldn't find Jesus Understood. Upon closer inspection, I realized the pages were missing from the book. Perhaps another child's parent had complained, because the pages for this story were neatly and cleanly removed entirely from the book.

    How unfortunate that through the years I've never been able to so cleanly erase the trauma this story brought to my 4-year-old mind.

    I've often wondered if I imagined this entire story and was telling my (now adult) daughter about it for the first time today. Low and behold through the wonderment of Google, I stumbled upon this site and see I'm not the first adult whose childhood was derogatorily impacted by Jesus Understood.

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