…and What We Should Do about It
Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
I have never been much of Star Wars fan (please don’t unsubscribe), so when my student hit me this quote in the middle of a conversation about morality, my reaction was little more than an eye-roll. Fortunately, I was able to convince him that Obi-Wan Kenobi may have been strong with the force, but he was weak with philosophy, especially considering that his statement was absolute.
Consequently, it was one of the best conversations I have ever had with a student about the nature of morality.
It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.
Now, Batman? I can appreciate Batman. So, when a student threw that one at me, I was a bit more receptive. As it turns out, much of the stress this student felt due to his underperformance in school was prompted more by fiction than fact.
As a result, it was one of the best conversations I have ever had with a student about identity and accountability.
In both situations, fictional characters had given these young people more answers to life’s big questions than any of the adults in their lives had. I was not surprised. If you are, you should know, this is typical.
Here’s the thing…
Our young people’s lives are more often than we would like to admit guided by the culture that surrounds them more than the adults that raise them.
So, what can we do about it?
We first need to recognize two facts: young people are asking questions, and they are getting answers. The question is, from whom are they getting those answers?
We then need to develop a strategy to answer their questions properly, meaningfully, and—most importantly—Biblically.
Fact: They are asking questions.
Here is a comforting reality: the questions young people ask do not vary greatly. Oh, the wording might be different, and different young people think different questions are more or less important. However, it all ultimately boils down to at least seven questions. These are the big questions of life, the questions we all have.
1. What is real?
This is the question of reality. Most young people are not wondering if anything is real. However, most are trying to figure out what is real—really real.
Which one tells us more about reality, our physical senses or our emotional feelings? If the answer is both, which do we pay more attention to and when? What if our senses and logic are telling us something very different than our emotions and intuition? Is there something outside of us to help us determine what is real?
2. Who is in charge?
This is the question of autonomy. Even when young people know who is supposed to be in charge, they often wonder why. We all push for greater “say-so” over our lives. If we must submit to the authority of another, there better be a good reason.
We get to decide what we do in our life, but are there any limitations on what we do with our life? When we choose, is that predetermined by our environment? Or, are we free in our choosing? What happens when someone else’s choices get in the way of ours? Who decides whose choices win?
3. Where did I come from?
This is the question of ancestry. For most young people, there is equal concern for both the long and short version of this question. They care where they came from biologically, but they also care where they came from ethnically.
How did human civilization come about? Are we highly evolved animals? Or, are we made in the image of our Creator? What does this say about the value of human life? How does my family’s past affect me? How does where I came from connect me to or differentiate me from others?
4. Who am I?
This is the question of identity. This question is a combination of the questions of autonomy and ancestry. Furthermore, it often determines the answers to the remaining questions. It seems to be the prevailing question in our cultural moment.
What type of person am I? Do we get to decide this or is it largely out of our control? Are we defined by our appearance? our interests? other people’s expectations? How much does gender and sexuality play a part? How much does talent or possessions matter in defining who we are?
5. Why am I here?
This is the question of dignity. When young people feel they have purpose in life the other questions begin to answer themselves. However, most young people today are either confused by their lack of purpose or are overwhelmed by purpose being imposed upon them.
What is the purpose of life? What is the big “supposed to”? Is there one? Is our value as people determined by how much we accomplish for people? Should what we do with our lives be determined by our best interests or the best interests of others? What if I do not know my purpose in life?
6. How do I know what is right and wrong?
This is the question of morality. We all perceive the difference between right and wrong, but young people are often uncertain of how and where to draw that line. Many are unsure if there is a line to draw at all.
How do we know what is right and wrong? Is morality determined by society? Should right and wrong be determined on a case-by-case basis? Or are there absolutes that apply in all circumstances? Can we really say something is wrong even if it is not hurting anyone?
7. Where am I going?
This is the question of destiny. Life may be difficult, but at least we can see what is going on around us. What happens after our life ends is a different story. No one like to think about death, but so much of what we do in life is determined by what comes next.
Is our destiny whatever we can get out of this life? Or are there consequences for how we live after we die? If what happens after we die is such a mystery, why are so many people so certain that they know? How can we know if any of them are right?
Fact: They are getting answers.
Our young people find answers to their questions all around them. Most of us are aware that entertainment media, cultural trends, and public education are sending messages to our kids. However, we often fail to understand that those messages serve to answer their most meaningful questions. What is worse, the answers given by the world are persistently diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview.
- Concerning reality, our young people are being taught that only what we can experience physically and explain scientifically is real, or that only what we can feel emotionally and express personally is real.
- Concerning authority, our young people are being taught that they are ultimately in charge of their lives, and that any standard outside of their choosing should have no bearing.
- Concerning ancestry, our young people are being taught that they have descended from less complex forms of life. Even worse, they are being told the entire thing was an accident.
- Concerning identity, our young people are being taught that who they are as people can be properly understood only in terms of race, gender, class, health, and sexuality.
- Concerning dignity, our young people are being taught that human life is only as valuable as it is useful, and that someone’s convenience might outweigh that value altogether.
- Concerning morality, our young people are being taught that right and wrong depend on cultural norms while good and evil are determined by circumstantial perception.
- Concerning destiny, our young people are being taught that there is nothing on the other side of death, therefore each of us must find our own way of expressing our individuality.
These answers flood our culture and fill the minds of our young people. They build strongholds against the truth of God. As theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote, “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.” He continued:
“We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”
The same could be said of our young people. If we fail to “be ready always to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15) to their questions, we should not be surprised when they are guided in their think more by cultural trends than by the Word of God.
So, what can we do?
Believe it or not, young people today are willing to have a conversation about what culture is teaching them. But, the key word is conversation. They want to be talked with, not talked to.
How do we get that conversation going? Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.
- Ask them about themselves.
- Ask what they think about current issues.
- Ask them why their favorite shows are their favorites.
- Ask them what questions are raised by the most recent movie they have watched.
- Ask them what the most recent book they have read had to say about life.
- Ask them how the music they listen to affects their feelings.
- Ask them if the answers they are getting line up with the answers God gives us in the Bible.
Ask and keep asking.
Remember, the goal is not to align their thinking with ours. The goal is to align everyone’s thinking with the Word of God. When—not if—they have unbiblical ideas, do not be surprised. Do not be offended. Be ready.
- Think about God as the ultimate reality.
- Think about life in terms of God’s authority.
- Think about people in terms of being made in God’s image and corrupted by sin.
- Think about yourselves as souls for whom Christ died to redeem.
- Think about God’s glory as the purpose of life.
- Think about right and wrong as defined by God’s holiness.
- Think about eternity as an inevitability.
Think and keep thinking.
When is the last time you prayed for your child’s worldview? No doubt, you have prayed often for their physical safely. What about their intellectual safety? Certainly, you have prayed for their spiritual health. What about their philosophical health? Of all the “hedges of protection” we ask God to build around our young people, and that for good reason, should we not also request one for their mind?
- Pray that they would see the lies of this world and the truth of God.
- Pray that they would know Jesus as the sacrificial savior that he is.
- Pray that they would understand themselves as objects of God’s affection and recipients of God’s mercy and grace.
- Pray that they would view their neighbor as bearers of God’s image.
- Pray that they would realize that submission to God’s authority is infinitely preferable to bondage to sin’s pleasures.
- Pray that they would seek God’s glory as their highest good.
- Pray that they would see this life as an echo of eternity with God.
Pray and keep praying.
This is no easy task, guiding our children’s hearts and minds toward God. Often the “marketplace of ideas” looks more like a warzone of philosophies. Nevertheless, it is as C.S. wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy must be answered.”
Our kids have questions. Are we ready with the answers?
Thanks for reading!
Over the next several weeks, I hope to take each of the seven questions one at a time, addressing current issues and common concerns.
What specific questions do you have about God, people, the world, etc.? Could they fall under any of the seven listed above? Feel free to share!