As you might imagine I am keenly interested in any advice that would help me to help you develop a stronger faith. So when I see an article entitled 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church, it gets my attention. It is but one of many appropriate articles that express concern at the number of today’s youth who are abandoning their Christian faith when they leave home. But what caught my attention, and what I would like to discuss in this letter, was a comment left by a young woman, fresh from her parent’s home herself, who explained why she abandoned her “faith”. The first half:
These articles keep popping up all over the place in my feed and I find it so interesting. You see I am one of those kids. I am one that was raised in a very Christian home and now am definitely not a believer. I was very involved in my church. I sang up front many many sundays. I helped out in the nursery. My entire social life was wrapped around the church. That was all I knew. I loved God. I read the Bible cover to cover many many times. I prayed fervently on the constant. I witnessed to those around me. I published a Christian girl’s online magazine/newsletter. I served at the nursing home about once a month. I went to Africa with the Jesus Film. I was the definition of “youth that don’t leave the church.” You say it’s not a formula and yet you basically endorse it as if it is.
As a father I can say that I would be encouraged by these things; encouraged yes, but not persuaded. Your mother and I do the best we can to examine your hearts. We don’t just assume that your conformity to the surroundings that we’ve immersed you in is evidence of a regenerated heart. For all we know, a different environment will bring about a different conformity. We can see that this has been the case with this poor soul.
When she continues with her comment she transitions from herself as the topic to accusations against the Church. She explains why not any of the external evidences that she manifested earlier mattered in the end:
I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked. I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity. I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore. I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics. I left because I had discovered what real love looked like. I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace….Instead of writing articles on why the youth are or aren’t leaving the church, why not just ask us? You may be really surprised at our answers. 🙂
I’d like to respond to this part of her comment for your sake. So let’s look at each statement individually. She starts:
I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person.
Curiosity is a human trait. No one need deny it in order to be a Christian, nor does having more of it keep anyone from being a Christian. But we do begin to pick up on a veiled arrogance as we read this sentence in the context of the rest of the comment. It is but an arrogant assumption that curiosity and Christianity are not compatible, which is a wrong assumption. That arrogance will become more blatant as we continue with her comment.
And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked.
You will hear this accusation often, but is it true? Does “Christianity” really discourage the asking of questions? While I can’t speak to her personal experience, I can speak to Christianity in general. But before I do, I’d like to speak to her–unwitting I’m sure–sleight of hand in this statement. She makes a general indictment against a very large, old and encompassing thing, Christianity. And she bases it on a narrow and limited thing, her experience. Where was her curiosity? If she felt discouraged from asking questions in her limited experience, why didn’t she go elsewhere for answers? She is, after all, living in the age of the internet, with lots of answers available at her fingertips. But man is a blame shifter by nature, and he is quick to shift that blame from self to others, and I think that’s what’s happening here. I’ve never been discouraged from asking questions. That’s been my experience. And I certainly haven’t discouraged you from asking them. But even if I had been discouraged I would not have been thwarted, I have more curiosity than that.
But there is another side to this equation. Some of the answers will necessarily be, “I don’t know.”, which is the truth. And that is the rub for many I think. There is so much that we don’t know. But remember that this will be true regardless of whether you are an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever. It is not as if this poor soul has moved into a system of thought that has all the answers. We can know she hasn’t. But as far as Christianity is concerned, God promises to save us from our sins. He doesn’t promise to make us all knowing.
I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity.
Here I’m sure she has a point. She herself was obviously not authentic. But even had she been authentic, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity within the Church. Jesus tells us that weeds are planted among the wheat. So it should not have surprised her. But even if she were surrounded by “wheat” only, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity. This raises a serious question that demands an answer. If others had looked at her life alone, and judged Christianity on it alone, would they have seen a “huge gap between Christianity and authenticity”? I know the answer because I know humans. The answer is yes, they would have seen a gap. So have grace my dear children for your brothers and sisters in the Lord. They are running a race and fighting the fight just as are you. True authenticity is the admission to each other that we are not authentic. The believer understands this. The unbeliever can’t.
But I will chalk this up to her youth, which is naturally idealistic. She will in time discover that no matter what she pursues, the lack of authenticity will be a part of it. Even if she pursues lawlessness, she will still be inauthentic, because she will be offended when others steal from her, harm her, lie to her and so on. Should she become an environmentalist, a secular humanist, an activist, it won’t matter. She will still be in the midst of inauthenticity, and I can say this with the utmost confidence. Why? Because man is fallen. He can’t be authentic in anything. There was only one authentic person to ever live, and she has rejected Him. She will eventually have to either accept this fact, or shut down her curiosity altogether. She will have to lie to herself, which might finally, after all, allow her to exist in an authentic, if unreal, world. Man is most authentic when he is deceiving himself.
I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore. I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics.
Given the rest of her comment this makes sense. But it raises yet more questions. What is real? If she was so convinced all her life that Christianity was the real thing, and then it suddenly becomes unreal, what then? How can she ever trust herself in judging “realness” again? She will necessarily discover, with even a tiny bit of curiosity, that this lack of realness will follow her wherever she goes, unless, again, she deceives herself. Christianity confronts the lack of realness head on. It provides answers concerning our purpose, evil, pain and suffering. That is real. She won’t find these answers elsewhere. At best she will only be able to expend herself attempting the impossible task of rebuilding Eden. And she will fail like the millions who have attempted it before her.
I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace.
The vail has been removed now and she is revealing her true reason for leaving, which is that she hates God. She hates Him because He is Sovereign, and she is at war with Him, hence no peace. But most of all she hates Him because he is Just. She, like all people, has broken God’s law. She, like you and I, have lied, and stolen, and have hated–which Jesus equates to murder. We are all guilty, and there is a just reward for us all in our guilt. But God, in his love, sent his Son to die on the cross. He has reconciled us to Him through His Son. He has made peace with us. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” Sure, there is a measure of peace that can be found in living in self-deception. Whistling in the dark can gain a measure of peace I suppose. But it doesn’t change the reality that not only will she sin against those around her, those around her will sin against her. And while her sin might not seem all that bad to her, we can know that the sin of others, who do not buy into her way of thinking, will steal back what peace she might muster, and then some.
I left because I had discovered what real love looked like.
This is arrogance completely unveiled. Can she really believe that she, a young person in the 21st century, has figured something out that 2000 years of scholars, martyrs and devouts missed? Evidently so, and there is the arrogance. Those lovers of God would be in tears to “learn” that the whole thing has been nothing but a hoax, perpetrated on hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years. But not her. Oh no. She’s smarter than all that, and in her thinking herself smarter, she exudes pride. She knows what real love is, and all those who have gone before were fooled, lacking perhaps the curiosity needed to not be fooled.
But her curiosity ought to have led her to the realization of her ignorance. Real love was Jesus dying on the cross for those who hated God, and then reconciling them to Himself while they were in the very act of warring against Him. That’s real love. Real love has nothing to do with feelings. It has nothing to do with what’s in it for me… like achieving a few temporary and fleeting warm and fuzzies. Dear children, please understand, you do not want her “real love”. The love of self, and how others, or things, make the “self” feel is often mistaken for love. But in reality it is only self-centeredness.
So what do I, your father, think about this? I think that she is the victim of her times. You will notice that she rejected a religion, and not the Gospel. It is a religion that now preaches grace without justice, and that “God loves you unconditionally”. Its message has in many ways become one devoid of the Gospel, and devoid of a need for the Gospel. But you will hear it preached time and again. And it will be preached to unsaved people who are already convinced that God loves them as they are, and so feel no conviction, or need to do the repenting that Jesus preached.
You will live in a time that has confused social service with the Gospel, which removes the power from Christianity and relegates it to a self-righteous, feel-good religion. The Gospel is key, but the Gospel is not about how great you are in God’s eyes, but rather about what a sorry state you are in, in God’s eyes. And that has never been a popular message. But once you understand it, the Gospel, and grace, are beautiful; much too beautiful to trade in for a worldly counterfeit.
I came out of the world that this poor girl has fallen in love with. I know what lies ahead for her and can only hope she will authentically curious. But for me, I will never forget the words of Peter in John 6. Jesus had just preached what seemed to those present to be a bizarre message, that one must drink His blood, and eat His flesh to have eternal life. Most abandoned Him on hearing this, but not His disciples. After all were gone, Jesus looked at them and asked, “Are you going to leave Me too?” Peter responded, “To whom shall we go?” If this girl had received the Gospel, if she had understood justice, and then mercy, she would have asked the same question. “To whom shall I go?” She would have known that that question is the question of the ages.
I pray that God would arrest you. That you would understand justice too, and then mercy. I pray that you would understand, in the great scheme of things that extend outward, far beyond your being, what a great salvation the salvation offered us through the cross is.