I once heard the story of a boy named Steve.
Steve was a young boy fascinated by the world—an avid reader, and incurably curious. But, more than that, Steve had a really big heart. One day he found himself disturbed by a photo on the cover of Life magazine of a young child who was starving to death in rural Africa. Unsure of what to do with this intense heartache and even guilt that he felt, Steve decided to take his questions to his pastor.
The following Sunday morning, he posed the question to his pastor: “Does God know everything?” to which the pastor replied, “Yes, God knows everything.”
Somewhat expecting that answer, and bringing out the photo which had haunted him, Steve asked, “Does God know about this?”
His pastor responded, “Steve, I know it’s hard for you to understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
Steve was unsure of what to do with such a quick answer. He felt like his very real concern was not being taken seriously. Because that interaction felt so flippant in the face of such serious doubt and uncertainty for Steve, it turned him away from church, and he never darkened her doors again.
That boy’s name was Steve Jobs.
One of the giants in the youth ministry world, Kara Powell, frequently reminds her audiences that “it’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith; it’s silence.” The reality is that a God who is big enough to definitively conquer death is a God who is big enough to handle doubts and questions as we work out who He is, and who we are in response.
How might Steve’s pastor have responded better to the very real concern Steve was bringing up? I wonder if Steve might have been more open to Christianity had his pastor’s answer began with the phrase, “I don’t know, but…”
…but let’s grab lunch with your parents and talk about it.
…but let’s read a book, together, that might address that question.
…but who else can we invite into this conversation?
With my career in youth ministry for the past six years, one of the major things I’ve come to discover about the faith development of young people is that it has so much less to do with being fed the answers, and so much more to do with things like wonder and curiosity. What we are discovering through experiences and relationships is that students aren’t looking for someone to give them answers; they’re looking for someone to wonder with them. Like all of us, our youth are asking big questions about their faith and its relationship to the world around them. With that in mind, perhaps our role in discipling the next generation is to be honest about our curiosities and wonderings, and to explore with them as they uncover their own.
Thinking about questions regarding faith is helpful when we think of it in terms of questions in our interpersonal relationships. Rarely are we afraid of asking questions to and of the people we interact with every day, whether it’s as simple as “what are your lunch plans?” or as deep as “what do you fear most?,” though I’m guessing you save questions of the latter genre for people you are closer with. The depth of our questions to one another is the litmus test for the depth of our relationship, and questions are the catalyst that can bring us deeper, closer, and more loving than we were before.
So it is with God.
Because our faith informs us that God is relational, it’s not a surprise to him when we try to relate to him in similar ways that we relate to other people—through spending time together, through communication, and especially through asking questions. Questions have been the catalyst to our theology for centuries, so there’s no need to fear them now. Perhaps discovering the wonders of our faith and working through the very real doubts right alongside of young people will lead our faith to depths it has never been before. Perhaps we can be blessed deeply when we allow our young people to lead the way into the depths of the things we are afraid to ask.
When young people have the courage to come to us with the wonderings of their hearts, I hope we will have the courage to go there with them. When we avoid simple answers, we teach our kids to think and discover for themselves. We give them permission to engage the church and the faith of our ancestors with wonder and curiosity. We get to learn from them, and we give them the keys to lead all of us into a future where we all have access to know God even deeper. What a beautiful gift that is.