When I was about 10, someone told me that the end of the world would probably come before I graduated from high school. According to this person, the “signs of the times” were all there, and it was pretty likely I would see heaven before I saw 18.
I don’t know if I was more terrified or devastated. I didn’t know what the Bible said about the end of the world, but I guessed it wouldn’t be a happy event. I also dreamed of being an adult someday, and was sad to think that would never come for me.
When I expressed my dismay by saying, “I don’t want that to happen!” I was told, “You don’t need to worry about it. Just trust the Lord.”
While a doomsday prediction was difficult for my developing mind to comprehend, I was no closer to understanding the meaning of a faith where my human fears and concerns were summarily dismissed with a call to “trust the Lord.” What did that even mean? I had no idea. But if I had a penny for all the times I was called to disregard my concerns in favor of a general trust in God, I would be a millionaire.
My experience with end-of-the-world predictions may be relatively unique, but my experience with adults portraying Christianity as a simple belief system that we accept and then live happily ever after with appears to be common.
In doing research for a book proposal I’m working on, I’ve been reading all the data I can find on what is turning 60+% of 20-somethings away from the Christian faith they grew up with. Though I’ve never seen it summarized this way, I believe a common thread is that many young adults grew up surrounded by a romanticized notion of what Christianity is or should be. When day-to-day faith doesn’t stack up to their expectations, they’re crushed by its messy reality and ultimately reject Jesus.
Their stories sound like this…
- They couldn’t find every desired answer to tough questions about faith. They stopped believing in a religion that couldn’t offer complete intellectual satisfaction. Somehow they missed the messy part of being a Christian that longs for more knowledge of God’s ways, but has to accept that He didn’t tell us all we’d like to know.
- Something bad happens to them or someone close. They stop believing there can be a good God. Somehow they missed the messy part of Christianity that says we should expect bad things to happen.
- Christians they know mess up, leading to grave disappointment. They stop believing Jesus has the power to provide lasting transformation and reject Him entirely. Somehow they missed the messy part of Christianity that acknowledges sanctification does not lead to perfection and sin will always be part of our lives.
Now, I didn’t say the Lord is messy. I said our faith is. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world with imperfect knowledge of God. No one has found perfect faith while searching through all that imperfect rubble. Yet, somehow, all those years of taking children to church and telling them about God has resulted in the expectation that faith looks much cleaner than it is.
How does Christianity get so romanticized?
I believe it happens when…
We dismissively counter people’s genuine concerns or questions with “just trust God” or “just have faith.”
The reality: Biblical faith is never described as an alternative to seeking understanding. On the contrary, elaborate explanations of God’s wisdom are given through Jesus’ parables and the words of New Testament writers. Dismissing our kids’ questions with “just have faith” leads to an expectation that “strong faith” should eliminate the need for deeper understanding.
The result: Feelings of spiritual failure when questions inevitably arise and remain in adulthood.
We over-emphasize the concept of “God’s plan.”
The reality: Of course God has plans. But the specificity of His plans (for the world overall? for your life overall? for your daily life?) and how they work out through our will is not clear. When we suggest that every bad thing can be swiftly remedied by a comfortable reliance on “God’s plan,” we lead our kids to believe that a Christian’s view of life should be simple – life is just a series of events scheduled by God.
The result: Disillusionment with God when bad things happen and are chalked up to “God’s plan”; this is followed by doubt that a God who “planned” such things would exist.
We aren’t transparent with our own doubts and struggles.
The reality: In our quest to present a bullet-proof faith in the midst of a world where Jesus is clearly a target, it’s tempting to minimize our own doubts in favor of portraying an idealized confidence. This unrealistic portrait of faith, however, leads our kids to believe that their own faith isn’t working when it doesn’t stack up to the perceived faith of others.
The result: Belief that doubt is abnormal, which leads to exasperation and eventual abandonment of faith when all doubts cannot be reconciled.
Real faith is far from romantic; it’s messy. As Christian parents, we need to be careful to not make it look easier than it is.
What do you think? Do you see evidence of faith being romanticized?
Are there ways you may be romanticizing faith with your own kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts.