(Part 1 is here)
How then can we practically help prepare young people for times of doubt?
1st) Let them know that it is not abnormal to experience doubt. (Ps 13:1-4; Ps 73:2-14; Mark 9:24; Matt 14:25-31; Luke 24:36-38; John 20:24-27)
- This does not mean they will experience significant doubt; it just means that doubt is a common issue they will experience to varying degrees in a fallen world
- Typically, struggles with doubt will not start until they reach adulthood and begin to stand on their own two feet in many ways, including in their own faith walk
- If you help them understand that doubt is something common to all Christians at times, they won’t be reluctant to share struggles when they arise later in life
2nd) Help them formalize a Biblical worldview (Rom 12:2)
- Nancy Pearcy describes her former struggle as an agnostic searching for truth among varying worldviews in her highly-recommended book here entitled "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity" and how her search led her to Christianity. For those facing a similar struggle in searching for rational, reasonable answers to life's big questions, Nancy offers wisdom-based principles for determining whether a worldview can be trusted. She offers three (easy-to-remember, basic questions for the great themes of Scripture - Creation, Fall and Redemption) that can be used to accurately assess any worldview.
- Every worldview can be evaluated for adherence to truth using these three fundamental questions:
- Where did we come from?
- What has gone wrong?
- How do we fix it?
3rd) Teach them sound doctrine (Titus 2:1; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 3:16)
- Doctrine is only boring when taught by boring teachers
- Sound doctrine is important because our faith is based on a specific message.
- Sound doctrine is important because what we believe affects what we do. Behavior is an extension of theology, and there is a direct correlation between what we think and how we act. For example, two people stand on top of a bridge; one believes he can fly, and the other believes he cannot fly. Their next actions will be quite dissimilar. In the same way, a man who believes that there is no such thing as right and wrong will naturally behave differently from a man who believes in well-defined moral standards. In one of the Bible’s lists of sins, things like rebellion, murder, lying, and slave trading are mentioned. The list concludes with “whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10). In other words, true teaching promotes righteousness; sin flourishes where “the sound doctrine” is opposed.
- Sound doctrine is important because we must ascertain truth in a world of falsehood. “Many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). There are tares among the wheat and wolves among the flock (Matthew 13:25; Acts 20:29). The best way to distinguish truth from falsehood is to know what the truth is.
- Sound doctrine is important because the end of sound doctrine is life. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Conversely, the end of unsound doctrine is destruction.
4th) Expose them to the ancient church fathers (Heb 12:1)
- "Chronological Snobbery" describes our affinity to ignore the published works of previous generations, believing ourselves to be more sophisticated and educated. In a nutshell, chronological snobbery is the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. It foolishly casts off the truth, tradition and wisdom gleaned from the past.
- As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past . . . because we . . . need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods. . . . A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age."
- Polycarp who was martyred for his faith in the 2nd century A.D was a disciple of John the Apostle. Mentored by an eyewitness of the events of the New Testament, his writing bears merit.
- Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp and is primarily noted for his refutation of early Gnosticism. To this end he wrote his major work "Against Heresies", in which he sought to expound and defend the orthodox Christian faith. A shorter later work is his "Proof of the Apostolic Preaching", a brief summary of Christian teaching, largely concerned with Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
- The works of Polycarp, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine and others all warrant attention as they were much closer in time to the events of the New Testament.
5th) Share with them some of the doubts you struggle with. (Mark 9:24)
- Of course, this assumes you show them the strength of your faith as well.
- However, from time to time you should feel free to let them see you wrestling with God. This lets them know you are real, especially when they are older and more reflective. It can go far in demonstrating that your faith is not shallow, but rather is marked by thoughtfulness.
- Sharing your doubts from time to time legitimizes the faith you do have, so they will be less tempted to think you are just a naive follower when they are older.
6th) Help them prioritize their faith now. (Rom 14)
- Make sure they don’t believe all issues are equal. Help them see the difference between negotiables and non-negotiables, essentials and non-essentials, cardinal and non-cardinal issues.
- Ensuring they understand the distinction between doctrine and dogma (opinion) prevents the “house of cards” problem so that, even if they come to question one particular issue (i.e., creationism, inerrancy, premillenialism, Calvinism, etc.), they do not find it necessary to reject their faith completely.
- One practical and effective way is to expose them to other orthodox denominations and experience the rich diversity within the Body of Christ. Those that occasionally fellowship with other denominations are likely to have much stronger faith. Letting them worship and fellowship with other Christians in different denominations goes a long way towards eliminating "Denominational Snobbery" and realizing the strength of the diversity of the Church. It also drives home the point that while we must agree on the essentials, we have freedom to exercise our conscience on the non-essentials.
7th) Facilitate a love of Christian heroes and Ancient Fathers of the Faith (Heb 11)
- With all the exposure to cultural heroes (actors, musicians, models, etc.) so typical today, it is important they see the characteristics of godliness exemplified by real-life Christians. These examples should come from inside and outside the Bible.
- Reading about the heroism of Perpetua and her servant in their martyrdom is very difficult (and may be “R” rated), but your children need to know about people who actually lived out their faith.
- Learning about Augustine’s life of sin before he was converted will help them remember the common struggle with sin when they are older and not feel so alone (which is the most fearful thing when one is doubting).
8th) Allow for a great deal of mystery. (Job 38-41; Eph 5:32; 6:19)
- We live in a western world and we love systematic theology. We want all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. But often, when we provide answers to all their questions, we don’t allow them to develop a respect for God’s inscrutability.
- God is often beyond figuring out. His nature and his ways are mysteries to us. From “Why did God create life unknown to us until very recently so deep in ocean?” to “Why does God allow Satan to have so much power?” these questions can be left unanswered (at least dogmatically). Allowing for and rejoicing in the mystery of God will give them the freedom to worship in mystery and truth.
9th) Ask the difficult questions. (2 Pet 3:16)
- Many times we attempt to shield young people from hard issues that we think may cause them to doubt their faith. This is not wise. In fact, parents should be the first ones to bring up difficult issues, working through them with their children. i.e., “Why do you think God would let our dog die when he knows how much you loved him?”
- Of course, you are guiding them to talk through things they may not have thought of otherwise. If you help them navigate through these things early, they will be better prepared to hold on to their faith when their professor in college asks them similar questions in a much more hostile environment.
10th) Make sure they know the heritage of their faith through church history. (Acts 7)
- We all need to know that the anchor of our faith goes deeper than mom and dad.
- Times of doubt are intensified when we feel alone.
- By cultivating a knowledge of church history, it will help them trace their faith origins back to the very beginning, making the picture of their faith much clearer when times of confusion arise.
11th) Continually teach an apologetic defense of the faith. (1 Pet 3:15-16)
- Unfortunately, some Christians take a dim view of apologetics. But it is never too early to start training in apologetics.
- The most important doctrines of our faith are the simplest to defend. They should be taught the arguments for the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, and the reliability of Scripture.
- Often, this can be done by taking the antagonist role, then allowing them to come up with the answers.
12th) Expose them to other cultures. (Acts 13-14; 16-20)
- Young people in the U.S. have a strong sense of entitlement, believing they must have everything their friends have (and more!) or they are suffering abuse.
- The skewed points of reference they normally encounter (friends, neighbors, people they see on TV) create an inability to see the blessings they do have in their lives.
- Exposing them to other cultures reorients their perspective and gives them a good dose of reality.
13th) Give them a chance not to believe. (Josh 24:14-22)
- Billy Graham talks about a conversation he had with his son Franklin when he very young. He said, “Frank, your mother and I have decided to follow Jesus. We hope one day you will do the same thing.” And he left it at that.
- They need to know they are free to not follow your same path so they take ownership of their own beliefs, rather than feel forced or tricked into believing the way you do. This disarming approach is very important for the future reality of their faith.
14th) Prepare them for suffering. (John 16:33; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 4:12-19)
- There is nothing that causes people to lose faith more than unexpected or “meaningless” suffering.
- This is where good theology is of utmost importance.
- Everyone when they get older, will surely suffer a great deal in one way or another.
- If they perceive that their suffering is something that was not supposed to happen, if they believe it is not God’s will for people to suffer, they will be very confused later in life, not knowing how to square what they believe with their life experience.
- Ggiving them a strong biblical theology of suffering (i.e., we live in a fallen world; they should expect pain and difficulty), and disillusionment will not be a source for doubt.
15th) Teach them to take care of their bodies. (1 Cor 6:19-20; 9:27; 1 Tim 4:8)
- Many times doubt is brought about or intensified due to poor physical health – an increasing problem in both the secular culture and the contemporary church.
- Young people need to know how vital the connection is between the spirit and the body. When one suffers, so does the other. A good eating and exercise routine will do much to prevent this type of doubt – which may be the most unnecessary of all sources of doubt (and depression).