Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Passing on a Vital and Honest Faith--Dialogue Column 8.7.07

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon entitled, “Prayer is a Wrestling Match,” which described our encounters with God as struggles, especially when we are in pain and/or grief. I talked about the rich tradition of prayers of lament found in the Bible, especially in the Psalms and even on the lips of Jesus, and how that tradition has been lost to many Christians. In many churches, it is blasphemy to question God and a sign of weak faith to express doubts and questions. The laments of the Bible that ask, “Why, God? Why?” offer us proof that such questions are not only appropriate but perhaps necessary.

As I stated on Sunday, one of my motives for speaking about the struggle of holding on to God during difficult times was to point out how failing to talk about struggle, doubt and questions can result in young people growing up and leaving the church. I often hear the stories of parents and grandparents about children who grow up, have a difficult experience and then turn away from the faith they were raised in. They do so, because their religious upbringing did not prepare them for facing the difficult times that naturally come in life. Since no one ever taught them or modeled for them that faith can be a struggle and that there is merit to hanging on to God in the midst of the worst times, their religion does not match their experience. When that dissonance occurs, faith is left by the wayside.

If we wish to pass on to current and future generations a faith that is vital and real, I believe that our church should consider living out the following principles:

1. Sometimes there are no easy answers. It is understandably mystifying to many reasonable people why some died on that bridge in Minneapolis last week and others did not. False platitudes like “It was God’s will.” or “God wanted to call home those people who died.” are hollow and insulting. It is better to share with a young person that you simply don’t know or to offer your best guess as just that, a guess, than to speak as if you truly understand the mysteries of providence.

2. Faith is a choice a person makes rather than a feeling of certitude. Some time in the past, a false bill of goods was sold that says a Christian should believe with 100% certainty. If you are unable to do so, then you have a problem. In contrast to this, honesty demands that we model for our young people that often we choose to believe in spite of our doubts and questions rather than because we are certain of anything.

3. A believer can change his or her mind. Out of our own insecurities and mistaken understandings, adults can model for young people the idea that just like high school or college, faith is something you achieve and then possess from then on. Seen in this way, a spiritual life is static and there is no room to adapt or adjust to new life experience. This road leads to dogmatism and even fundamentalism. We worship a God who is alive and kicking in our world, so there are always new ways for us to experience and understand God that challenge our assumptions and biases. We must be willing to change, to grow and to adapt. By demonstrating to young people that it is a good thing for faith to be dynamic and ever-changing, we free them from living with the suspicion that their faith is outdated or no longer relevant.

I want our children and youth to know—including my own two sons—that here at First Christian Church it is okay to ask questions, think deeply and to experience God in a manner that may be different than the way the person sitting next to them does. How about you?

Grace and Peace,


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