I just listened to a video posted by a young woman. She posted it as an explanation of why she chose to walk away from her faith, saying she wanted people still in the church to be able to understand her choices and what led her to where she is now.
It broke my heart.
She prefaced her video by saying she's a very analytical person, so I guess I'll preface this post with that same caveat (for what it's worth).
First, a summary of what she said: This young woman talked about being a heartfelt follower of Christ, then going to a Christian college where she majored in psychology and, in her words, was taught to think critically for the first time. She said it was the first time she was told to examine her beliefs in light of what others believe, and it left her questioning. She then went on a study abroad trip to Cambodia, where she was faced with the atrocities of genocide and found herself wondering where God was in all of that. She said that it made her question her belief that God has a plan for each individual--if He allowed such horrible things to happen to those people, where was His plan for them? She went on to talk about praying for a specific job, feeling like God had specifically opened the door for her to be in that position, then quitting the first day because it just didn't feel like a good fit. That was at the same time that she chose to end a long relationship with a man she felt was who she was supposed to marry. Then she joined a small group full of people who were also questioning their beliefs, where she asked all the hard questions she didn't feel like she could ask the people at her church. She went on to meet the man she then married, who came from a Catholic background, and realized that her preconceptions of how a Christian was supposed to look and act might not be right. She said that she reconsidered her views on sexuality while dating him. She went on to find a "life coach" who helped her search for answers to all her hard questions, and gave her the label of "deconstruction" to put on what she was going through. She wrapped up her explanation by saying she had found communities online where she was able to talk to like-minded people who are helping her through such a life changing event.
My goodness, I'm not even sure where to start with all the things that jumped out at me in her words! Let me start this by saying that I don't mean this as an attack. Listening to her truly broke my heart for her and for all the other people who have been walking away from Christianity lately. It seems to be a number that is growing all the time, especially in the United States. I want to address her story because I hope we can use it to learn how we need to better serve questioning people, those who are lead into this idea of "deconstruction."
First, she said that college was the first time she was ever taught to think critically about what she believed. That is something that every Christian parent needs to address. College is definitely not the time for my kids to start thinking about what they believe and why they believe those things. If that's the case, they aren't going to be prepared for what they face. College is a time (even in a Christian college) that reshapes a lot of young adults. They are out in the world on their own for the first time, and they are trying to figure out who they are as individuals. They are having their beliefs questioned and tested at every turn; if they have never considered the answers before, they aren't going to have a foundation on which to build an answer. What if, right now, someone came up to you and asked you not only what you believe, but why you don't believe the same thing as this other person who says they are a Christian. Could you answer them? Would it shake you? What if the same thing happened for an 18-year-old who was out from under Mom and Dad's protection for the first time?
As a parent, my job is to prepare my kids for the future. A huge part of that is preparing them to be able to think critically and examine the reason behind everything. Part of that is a personality thing--I have a hard time taking easy answers and instead want to delve into why things are the way they are. But the more important part is that I don't want my kids to trust things blindly. Neither does God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 we're warned to test everything and then to hold on to what is good. In 1 John 4, we're warned that not everyone who claims to be telling us what God says is truthful, and that, again, we are supposed to test every claim against the truth of God's word, and only hold onto what is true. Parents, make sure your kids know what they believe--and why.
Where is God?
Then there's the matter of seeing evil and wondering where God is in that. I think it's probably the oldest question in human history: if God is good, why does He let bad things happen? Usually, it is a question that is asked out of--or in the midst of--deep pain and heartache. And usually it is met with one of two rote answers: "It's not our place to question God," or "God works in mysterious ways." Let me tell you as somebody who has heard both those answers in the middle of the worst heartache I've experienced--neither of those answers satisfies a hurting heart.
The truth is that this world is a broken place. God does have a perfect plan for each and every individual life--but we have messed that up. We have become broken, hurting people, and the saying that "hurting people hurt people" is very true. A world that has turned away from God is a world in which horrible things will happen, and we honestly can't give a nice, neat answer for all the bad things. And those things that break our hearts? They break God's, too. He doesn't ever promise that bad things won't happen--in fact, it's quite the opposite. In the midst of all the horrible things, though, He promises that He will be with us. He promises to reach down into the mire and muck and grab hold of us. He promises to walk through the fire with us (remember the fiery furnace?).
So much of this young woman's story is tied up in feeling like she knew God's plan for her life, then watching as everything changed. Oh, how I can identify with that! I've been a planner my whole life, and when I've faced big decisions I've tried to make sure those decisions were in line with God's plan for my life. Through the years, though, those plans have been flipped on their head time and time and time again. Even looking back at those blog posts where I talked about how many times I've thought I knew exactly where God wanted me and what He wanted me to do, what stands out is that even today I'm in a completely different place--and life--than I wrote about in any of them. It seems like the only thing that has stayed the same is the fact that my plans haven't worked like I imagined. I've been down so many paths that I was convinced would lead to God's plan, and so many of them have ended up being dead ends.
Here's the thing, though--when I look back at all those ends, I can see how God worked through them to get me to where I am today. Through each plan that didn't work out, God taught me something. Sometimes they were hard lessons, but I can't honestly tell you that I would have learned those lessons in easier ways.
So often, we get it in our heads that we understand God's plan. What in the world makes us think that? We're told in scripture that we can't understand God, yet we keep trying to. More than that, we get a picture in our head of what we feel God's plan is, and we think God should just go along with that picture and confirm our own view. I've been there...more than once. And yet, God is still gracious. Despite me, He has worked through all those plans and has shaped my life anyway. He has used my plans to refine me and shape me into who He wants me to be. That's not to say that I've become that person. I see my failings everyday, and I know He will be working on me until the day I leave this life.
Not every path we start down, no matter how we feel about it at the time, is the path God wants us on. At the same time, sometimes God starts us down a specific path not for the final destination of that path, but because there's something He wants us to learn through the detour. In all of it, though, we have God's promise: He can even work in our dumb decisions to make His plan come to pass.
This one hits hard. As I mentioned, I'm an analytical person, too. I question everything, for better or worse. Sometimes, those questions have extended to matters of faith. I spent my academic years surrounded by some brilliant people in physics, most of whom made me feel like I knew nothing. I've had times when I've wondered if they were right when they said that Christianity was just a religion based on myth and that the stories in the Bible were just that--stories. Other times, I've thought that maybe if there is a Creator, He doesn't really care about the daily lives of the puny beings He created--why would He? Asking those questions isn't wrong, but it seems like we as followers of Christ aren't prepared to help people who are asking them. Instead, we push the questions aside and therefore push the people asking them aside.
On one hand, I get it. When Job started questioning why all the bad things in his life were happening and he was saying he wanted to be able to stand before God and question Him, God's answer was clear: "Who are you to question Me? Were you there when I spoke the universe into motion? Do you know better than me?" At the same time, though, when Jesus was in the depths of despair on the cross He cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken me?" I don't think God will always answer us. In fact, in my own life I've always had more questions than answers. But I do think that God is big enough to handle my doubts and questions.
In this young lady's life, what would have happened if a Christian mentor had stepped in and walked beside her in her questioning, instead of a "life coach"? What if someone who had asked those questions in the past had come alongside her, maybe had gone with her to that small group full of people who were questioning their faith? What if this mentor had pointed them all to the book, The Case for Christ, or to Voddie Baucham's sermon, or to the writings of C.S. Lewis? What if she had been told that it's okay to ask questions, that it's okay to search for answers, that God's truth is strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?
So often, we as the body of believers try to hide our weaknesses and struggles from each other. We try to show everybody that we are "good Christians." We show up at church services with smiles plastered on our faces no matter what we're going through. We keep the "bad stuff" hidden, as if somehow how we look to others is what matters. We ignore Paul's insight, "Do you think I care about the approval of men or about the approval of God? Do you think I am on a mission to please people? If I am still spinning my wheels trying to please men, then there is no way I can be a servant of the Anointed One, the Liberating King." (Galatians 1:10, The Voice translation).
What would happen if we shared our weaknesses, our struggles, and our questions? What if we stopped worrying about what other people would think of us, and instead focus on how we could glorify God by sharing our imperfections, and how all those things get swallowed up by a perfect God?