For many Bible class teachers of children and teens, the fear of allowing students to express their doubts is real. This fear can cause a Bible class teacher to panic and shut down any young person brave enough to ask a question that even sounds like a doubt. Research has found though, that it is not having a doubt that pulls young people away from God, but rather how their doubts are (or are not) answered. A recent survey found that as many as 60% of Christians have experienced doubts recently, but if we are honest, everyone of us has had at least a fleeting thought from time to time. My guess is that Satan metaphorically whispers those questions in our ears, but the source is not as important as answering those doubts.
So what do you need to know about addressing any doubts your young Bible students may have?
- Not every question is a doubt, but unanswered questions can create doubts. Sometimes a question is just a question. Answer it well and the student moves on to something else mentally. Refusing to answer the question, getting upset, or answering it poorly, however, can cause the student to get stuck and perhaps start ruminating about the question. That rumination can lead to doubts.
- Doubt is not contagious. One of the fears of letting students express their doubts is that another student who didn’t have that doubt will now “catch it” from the questioner. The reality is that people have probably had most of the same doubts since the beginning of time. If your students haven’t already wondered about the subject, they will hear somebody ponder it at some point in their lives. Addressing the doubt proactively means that when they do hear the doubt later or it pops into their head, they will already have heard the response to it and are more likely to dismiss it out of hand.
- Young people need to understand God’s authority, sin and free choice. Many doubts rotate around the ideas of God’s authority, sin (usually referred to as good and bad) and free choice. Often it takes the form of either “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” or “God can’t tell me what to do!”. Your young Bible students need to understand and ultimately accept that all authority belongs to God and as His people, we are to humbly obey God (whose commands are in our best interest). They also need to understand the role of sin in the world and that evil is the result of people with free choice choosing to disobey God. Why did God give us free choice? Because a programmed robot is not who God created us to be. He wants us to freely choose to worship and obey Him. If everyone did, the evil in the world would vanish. Yet, everyone doesn’t always use their free will the way God would want – even Christians at times. The interesting thing is that often those who want God to control everyone who is evil and stop them also do not want God to control them or even tell them what to do by giving them commands.
- Your students need to understand that God’s commands are for all times, places and cultures. There is a situational ethics mindset in our world today. It causes even some Christians to assume that God’s commands are merely suggestions for us. That they somehow were only meant for the people during Bible times. The confusion often stems from a misunderstanding of the Old Law. The Old Law was spiritual, like the New Covenant, but also had elements of governmental law within it. The Israelites were a group of people governed by God, who wrote the equivalent of their laws about how to handle things governments often handle – like how to punish certain crimes. Christianity was worldwide and people already lived under multiple civil governments. We no longer needed the civil code part of the Old Law. If you check carefully, you will find the spiritual commands are repeated in some fashion by Jesus or elsewhere in the New Testament. (I believe the Sabbath was expanded to “rest” and the worship service aspect moved to Sunday.) Those are meant for all times, places and cultures. We can’t vote to somehow appeal them (even though many think they have done so).
- Most of the Bible is historical except for parables and a few other literary devices like those sometimes used in Proverbs. Thankfully, there is so much more historical proof of the authenticity of biblical accounts than there was even a few years ago. If you go back and read old skeptic literature, you will find some claims that have since been refuted by primary source documents and archaeological finds. Unfortunately, skeptics don’t strike an argument just because they have been proven wrong. They assume the average person is too lazy to check the validity of their claims and sadly often get by with it. Expose your Bible students to some of these finds. Ultimately, faith is always going to play a role in belief (the flat earthers are proof of that) – but that also includes atheism.
- There are earthly and heavenly consequences for sin. Earthly consequences don’t always magically disappear when we repent of our sins. There are plenty examples of that in the Bible. Young Bible students need to also understand that the earthly consequences of sin can also ripple out and harm people who did not participate in the sin. Of course this also ties back in to the discussion of obedience and free choice mentioned earlier.
- It rains on the just and the unjust. The Bible teaches us life on Earth is not always fair. It’s a broken world. God blesses everyone with rain who lives where rain is needed regardless of whether or not they worship and obey Him. As mentioned above, sometimes “good” people are murdered or suffer because of the sin of others. Fairness and justice will be perfected when God returns and takes His people to Heaven.
- You don’t have to have the immediate answer to every student question or doubt. It is much better to ask for a little time and study scripture or apologetics materials and give a well thought out, biblical answer than saying something that will cause your students to hold onto their doubts. Avoid using trite phrases like “Because God says so” or “Because you will go to Hell”. While those may indeed be true, your young Bible students need an answer that is more thorough and gives them important additional information. Sometimes we don’t know the answer, but even that needs to be said in ways that help explain why to students in ways that they can understand.
Don’t just allow students to ask their questions or express their doubts. Encourage them to do so. If those questions aren’t addressed by Christians, Satan will make sure he addresses them in ways that will pull them away from God. Don’t give him that chance.