Nothing can be scarier than having a conversation with a young person expressing doubts about God or Christianity. As an adult Christian, you understand all too well the eternal consequences involved. Yet, helping them answer those doubts – or worse yet, encouraging them to share their doubts seems terrifying. What if you can’t help them get rid of their doubts?
The truth is, you may not be able to help banish their doubts. Even children and teens have free will. Understanding the root of their doubts, however, can make you more effective at helping them work through their doubts to a stronger faith than before.
Spiritual doubts expressed by young people have four basic possible root causes. Each cause needs to be addressed in a slightly different way.
- Lack of Knowledge. Often doubts expressed by young people arise when someone attempts to undermine their faith in God and poses a question or issue for which the child or teen has no ready answer. Most often this is because the young person has a very limited knowledge of what is actually in the Bible. Equipping young people with an extensive knowledge of scripture can help them avoid these doubts. Don’t forget the seemingly silly things doubters sometimes throw out to believers like, “Whom did Cain and Abel marry?” Most of those questions have obvious answers to Christians who know a lot about the Bible – including young people.
- Lack of Bible comprehension. Just because a young person knows what is in the Bible, doesn’t mean he or she understands what they know. When doubts involve understanding the scriptures, it means the young person has probably not spent enough time learning the concepts behind the verses they have read, learned or even memorized. Understanding the Fall, for example, is more than just knowing how Satan tempted Adam and Eve. It involves understanding how those choices thousands of years ago are still impacting the world negatively today.
- Emotions. Growing up can bring with it strong emotions. Kids and teens are often passionate – especially about issues like fairness. Some of the things God has said and done can seem at times unfair – especially to a young person who doesn’t fully understand God’s character. Often a young person’s doubts are based on their feelings, rather than any particular intellectual issue with scripture. Helping them better understand God’s character and the reasons why He may choose to say or do specific things can help them begin to work through these emotional doubts. It’s also important to teach kids and teens that emotions alone are usually a very poor judge of good decisions.
- Desire to sin. These doubts are actually a way of allowing young people to do things God has declared sinful, while still enabling them to feel righteous. These doubts can take the form of rejecting one of God’s commands or in extreme cases, rejecting God entirely. Often, they are couched in phrases like “God would want me to be happy”, or “God didn’t know what life would be like today – those commands were only for those people back then”. These are perhaps the most difficult doubts to recognize and help young people overcome. Often, these doubts are disguised as one of the three previous types of doubts. The two main signs that this may be the root of the doubt is that addressing the expressed doubt just produces a new doubt and eventually the young person’s sinful choices come to light. Ultimately, these doubts are only defeated by helping the young person take personal responsibility for their sinful choices and finding a way to touch their hearts so they repent.
Taking the time to understand the roots of a young person’s doubt can make it much easier to help them address those doubts and strengthen their faith. It is crucial we take the time to help them, because the most dangerous doubts of all are the ones they never share with a mature Christian and which remain unaddressed.