Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why. Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces the topic.
Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.
Letter No. 1: How to Explore Your Faith in God
Caleb’s school invited a Christian speaker to come in and talk to the students about how Christianity stacks up against other forms of belief, including non-belief. The speaker was prepared to take on all arguments against having faith in Jesus and respond with rational reasons for why Christianity makes sense. He made a big impression on the students and afterward they talked among themselves about what they found believable about Christian faith.
Caleb came home that afternoon and told me about the presentation and what some of his friends thought about it. A few of them announced they didn’t believe in God. Caleb listened to their opinions with great interest. He had never before had such a discussion with his peers. This led him to question what he believed.
I’ve always found doubts to be an opportunity for growth in faith rather than a hindrance. So instead of being alarmed, I was delighted at the opportunity this gave us to talk about faith in God from his perspective. I had been sharing my faith with him since he was a young child, so the subject was not new to him. It was, however, the first time that he, as an adolescent, approached me and honestly shared his doubts. It was a moment I had been praying for and by God’s grace I was ready for it.
I know that with teenagers it’s important to wait for an opportune time to talk about something as personal and as significant as faith. It’s also essential for a parent to be prepared and to listen and respond with grace and clarity when the opportunity presents itself. The following letter takes up some of the questions Caleb had that afternoon and offers advice on how to address enough doubts so that a way is cleared to take a step forward in faith.
You were telling me the other day that some kids in school don’t believe in God. You said that sometimes you aren’t sure whether you do, either. I’m so thankful you feel comfortable telling me what you’re thinking about and that you can be honest about your doubts. I admire your truthfulness. Most of all, God is pleased you can be so truthful. He’s never put off by your questions or uncertainties. God welcomes them because He knows your honesty means you are willing to give Him a chance. Being honest with someone means you take them seriously.
It’s perfectly normal to have doubts as you set out to explore your faith in God. In a sense, doubt is like coming to a fork in the road and not being able to choose which direction to take. But doubt is not the same thing as unbelief. Unbelief is a stubborn refusal to believe. Doubt is an inability to make a decision.
When you talk about your doubts with people you trust, who are knowledgeable about God, you will probably discover they had doubts similar to yours. I reached a point, a number of years ago, where I felt I had enough of a sense of who God is to start walking forward in faith, despite some remaining uncertainty. I still don’t have the whole picture, but I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will never know about God completely, until I see Him face to face.
Living with mystery and unanswered questions is all a part of our earthy journey of faith. The apostle, Paul, a man of deep faith, who wrote many letters in the New Testament, had this to say about unanswered questions:
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
The one thing, however, I want to caution you against is setting out with a closed mind. As pastors, Dad and I run into this problem all the time. Someone with a closed mind starts with a set of demands or objections, instead of doubts. Such an approach will not get you very far. The best way for me to explain the difference between having objections and having doubts is to give a few examples based on conversations I’ve had over the years. I’ve changed the name of each person in order to keep their identity anonymous:
- Jake automatically rejects any statements made by the Christian Church which defy the laws of nature, like the ones about Jesus which say the Holy Spirit caused his mother to become pregnant and that after being put to death on the cross he was raised, bodily, from the dead. These statements conflict with what he knows to be possible.
- Lucy has her own idea about how God should act so when she reads the Bible she is always disappointed because God doesn’t live up to her expectations.
- Tyler points to the bad behavior of some Christians over the centuries and declares it doesn’t make sense to believe in a God whose followers don’t always behave well.
In each instance the person establishes a standard God must meet before they will proceed any further. This approach is insincere. If I declared I wanted to get to know you better, but I also stated I didn’t want to be the friend of anyone who had a dog for a pet, I would not be genuine in my interest in you, even if I didn’t know whether you owned a dog or not. I would be setting up a condition to our friendship that could rule out getting to know each other. It’s perfectly fine to have doubts about whether God exists or if He’s done all the things the Bible and other Christians say He’s done, but you’ve got to be willing to set aside objections or stipulations until you hear His side of the story.
It’s important to point out that human beings can be inconsistent when it comes to insisting a standard be met before they’ll believe in something. Dad tells the story about going to get a haircut while we were all on vacation a couple of years ago and listening to a customer argue with the barber about whether the United States government faked the moon landings by our astronauts.
The customer was absolutely convinced the moon landings were a hoax. However, he was dead certain the World Wrestling Federation matches were not staged in any way. Can you imagine that? I’ve met plenty of people whose mind is closed to God, but have no problem believing in, without question or concern, some very dubious things.
My point is this: if you want to explore faith in God do not set up standards or pre-conditions He must meet. It’s important we try to discover God’s point of view, and set aside ours, at least for the moment. If we insist that belief in God must not conflict with what our laws of science or nature say is possible, or must be dependent upon either finding no objection to anything in the Bible or the behavior of all Christians acceptable, we won’t get anywhere…
Letter No. 1: How to Explore your faith in God continues next week.