I was always the one who asked questions. Lots of questions. Too many questions, in fact. Still am. Inconvenient questions, embarrassing questions, the kind of questions that itch to lift up the curtain behind which the big booming voice of Oz is coming, and then, “Hey kid! Get away from there!” Those kind of questions.
If I had a slogan, it would be, “Independent thought is dangerous” — and it is. You never know where you’re going to end up, once you start asking questions and then searching for answers. That’s part of the fun. That’s part of the danger. Dark and twisting pathways where no light shines beckon, as well as broad, well-worn sunlit roads…the strait and narrow gate which leads to life, and the broad and easy way to destruction.
Those kinds of kids, and those kinds of questions, pose a special challenge for those of us who teach God’s Word. If you’re a pastor or a Christian day school teacher, a catechist or a Christian parent, let me tell you what the temptation is — because you already know. The temptation is to shut the kid up, to dispose of the inconvenient question as quickly, and sometimes as brutally as possible (depending on how little sleep and/or how much caffeine you’ve had in the past 12 hours), and then move on. Move on to telling them things, where you do all the talking, all the imparting of information that must be agreed with — confessed — before you can feel like you’ve done your job and then get to take a break. Don’t have them question, don’t give anyone a chance to derail your carefully constructed lesson plan, don’t get sidetracked. Just don’t go there, and keep moving.
For heaven’s sake, don’t. For that child’s sake, and yes, even your own sake — just don’t.
That student who asks hard questions, even skeptical ones, or who threatens to lead the other children to ask skeptical questions, may be the only kid in the room who’s paying attention enough to care whether God is real, or not. Or whether or not original sin is real, or whether or not God created everything, or why God sends people who don’t believe in His Son to hell, or any one of a thousand other teachings that insult human reason and an individual’s precious feelings (because for most in modern America, feelings have more authority than God’s Word, the Bible itself). That student asks those kinds of questions because to him or her, it matters.
It matters a great deal — perhaps beyond all saying, all explaining out loud and any putting of feelings to words — whether or not God is telling us the truth, and whether or not the grownup in the front of the room is too. It matters because that young person is taking what you say seriously, very seriously indeed, perhaps even more seriously than the one teaching it (I’m talking on our off days — if you don’t believe what you’re teaching out of God’s Word, you need to sit down and ask yourself why, or find a different line of work.) The difficult questions come because that young person is working through what you’re teaching, assimilating it into what they’ve seen and what they know, and wants to be sure that what they’re urged to believe is true.
Such a regard for the truth is powerful. It demands nothing less than the One who is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life. It is intolerant of any half-hearted schmaltzy sentimentality, any pat answers that fail to get at the issue at hand, any lines reeled off in an attempt to deflect or defuse the situation. A young person with that much of a regard for the truth might or might not make a scene. Depending on their inclination and the level of home training they’ve had, they may or may not call you out on the spot if they sense you’re not being fully honest with them. But even those that are too polite to challenge your authority as the teacher will be making a note in their head…and someday, if that question and others like it aren’t answered, they may walk away.
So what to do? Go back to the resurrection of Christ, the power of the Word, the personal union of divine and human natures in Christ, the miracles He did — the things that are the proof and bond of the Christian faith. Speak honestly about your own struggles and your own journey. None of us is a finished product, including spiritually. Our justification is instantaneous — it comes when the Holy Spirit kindles faith in Christ — but the rest of it takes time. Growth in sanctification, the maturing of a burgeoning moral sense, displaying the fruits of the Spirit do not happen overnight. (They didn’t for us grownups, either, lest we forget.) If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Then go search the Scriptures until you find Scripture’s answer. Know what you’re teaching, and why, so that you can make it clear to the youth.
Passing on the faith is too vital a task not to take seriously. Let those probing questions remind you of that.