Stop Trying to Give Your Kids Christian Hope

Stop Trying to Give Your Kids Christian Hope

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine as we waited for our kids to finish an after school activity. Our conversation at some point turned to the importance of taking your kids to church. For a moment, my friend paused in a deep thought, then looked at me pensively and said, “I just want to be sure my son has hope, you know? Without God, there’s just no hope.”

I nodded. I agreed. Without God, there is no hope.

But I’m concerned about the way I’ve been seeing Christians, like my friend, speak about that fact lately. Her comment was the latest in a string of related hope statements I’ve noticed in recent weeks as I’ve observed conversations between believers and unbelievers online.

The conversations go something like this. An atheist will state something opposed to a belief in God (this could be just about anything), and a well-meaning Christian will reply something like, “Without God, life is meaningless. We’re just an accident, we have no purpose, we’re all headed to nothingness, this universe doesn’t matter at all, and there’s no hope.” You can almost hear the Christian confidently slamming the case closed.

I believe that my friend and the other Christians I’ve seen discussing hope like this are well meaning, but are ultimately speaking of hope in a misleading (and possibly harmful) way.

Here’s why we, as Christians, and especially as Christian parents, need to be careful how we talk about hope.

 

1. The desire for hope is not a reason to be a Christian.

This week I laughed out loud when I saw nearly identical Facebook ads from two different presidential candidates on the same day: “Join my campaign today and get a free bumper sticker.”

Amazing news! It doesn’t matter which campaign you follow, you can get a free bumper sticker either way! Things are really looking up…if you’re in the market for a free bumper sticker.

In the same way, if you’re in the market for hope, that can be found in all kinds of ways. For example, Islam and Mormonism both offer “hope” in the form of an eventual paradise for the faithful. But their claims about truth—including how a person reaches that paradise—couldn’t be more different. As another example, read this person’s story of deconversion from Christianity, in which he concludes that he’s now creating his own belief system about God because, though he’s no longer a Christian, he still needs “hope.”

Our job as Christian parents is not to give our kids hope. Hope can be found in all kinds of places, just like bumper stickers. Our job is to teach our kids truth, and to teach them how to discover that truth themselves.

If Christianity isn’t true, you’re only giving your kids false hope, which the apostle Paul points out is absolutely pitiful: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

 

2. Conversely, the hopelessness of a worldview is not a reason to reject it.

Just as hope isn’t a good reason to be a Christian, it’s also not a good reason to reject a worldview without it.

If Christianity is true, we have reason to have hope. We can confidently believe that we were specially created by God for a purpose, that when we die, there is truly an eternity of paradise awaiting believers, and that the terrible wrongs of our fallen world will be made right.

If atheism is true, we have no reason to have hope. We really are the product of blind, undirected evolution, when we die it’s truly the end, and there will be no final justice where wrongs (however an atheist defines them) will be made right.

These are simply factual statements about the implications of these worldviews being true. With respect to objective meaning and eternal destiny, Christianity is hopeful and atheism is hopeless.

But the hopelessness of atheism doesn’t mean it’s not true. There’s nothing about our mere existence which necessitates that eternal hope is a reality.

When Christians point out to unbelievers that the atheistic worldview is hopeless, it’s as impactful as pointing out that a unicornless worldview is less fanciful. So what? That might be reality. There may be no unicorns, no matter how much I want to live in a more fanciful world.

 

Focus on What’s True, Not What’s Hopeful

If Christianity is true, all kinds of wonderful things flow from that truth. We really can delight in hope, and we absolutely should make sure our kids understand what awaits believers.

But we have to carefully avoid focusing on hope as a reason for faith. As Paul said, false hope is a pitiful thing.

What’s important—vital—is that our kids know that what they believe is actually true…whether that truth hurts or not.

Parents, please take that seriously: Study the objective evidence for the truth of Christianity so you are readily prepared to give your kids good reasons for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15). Hope untethered to reality is as fleeting as the clouds in the sky.

If you need reading recommendations, check out my 16 Book Recommendations for Studying Apologetics. Additionally, my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, is available now for pre-order.

14 Comments

  1. CB on November 11, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Hope is defined differently in the secular world than it is in the Kingdom of God.
    The Webster dictionary says hope is “: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true”
    But the bible says this about faith—which is congruent to hope for those who are In Christ ” Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”
    Our Hope as a Christian is grounded in the word of God, and God cannot lie.
    Titus 3:7 “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
    I don’t think it’s beneficial to downplay Christian hope with our kids, but rather define it differently. The secular world cheapens it, just as everything else that is ‘good’ is cheapened in this world. It’s not to be downplayed, it’s to be distinguished as ‘different’ than what the world has to offer.
    Continue to teach the truth…but don’t neglect to teach them the beautiful hope that ‘being In Christ’ offers….For anyone who has faith, they also have hope!



    • Heather on November 11, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      Thank you, CB, for putting into words what I was thinking. Natasha, I think what makes all the difference is how we define/present ‘hope.’ If all we are offering is hope for the sake of hope -just offering something to believe in, anything to get us through this life, like a cup of coffee to get us through the day – then I agree with you that it could be damaging. So we need to be careful that we are not holding up hope for the sake of hope, of having something to cling to, whatever sounds good. But our hope is not just a ‘feel good’ idea, it is based on God’s truth, His promise to work all things out for good, make all wrongs right, and wipe every tear away, get rid of sin and death. This is what our hope is. So in this way, it is not damaging to hold up this hope as something to draw you to Christ. It should be something that draws people. And this is the kind of hope that people who do not believe in God cannot offer. But I can see your point in that we cannot hold up hope (as just having something to believe in to get us through a discouraging life) as the reason to believe. But we can hold up Hope (the truths of God’s Word, the promises He has made us about sin, salvation, healing, eternity, etc.) as one of the best reasons to believe. Because if we do not have this Hope, we really have nothing and are fooling ourselves in this lifetime. So I guess you have helped me remember to be more careful about how I present biblical hope. It’s not a cup of coffee to get people through life. It is a lifeboat to drowning people. It is God’s truth and promises that give us a reason to believe.



      • Natasha Crain on November 11, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        I agree that it’s a matter of how we define/present hope. Unfortunately, what I often see is that Christians present it as I described in this post…as if the fact that we have hope and others don’t somehow has implication for the truth value of Christianity. It doesn’t. As I wrote, people can find hope in all kinds of ways. I agree completely that Christianity is filled with hope…I think we just must carefully frame these discussions with our kids (and nonbelievers) as “Because Christianity is true, we have hope” rather than the often implied “Hope is important, so be a Christian.” Especially in a world where our kids will be confronted with so many different truth claims, it’s important that we help them think about this well. In other contexts, where we’re talking with them about the hope we have GIVEN that we already are convicted of the truth of Christianity, it’s absolutely important, necessary, and wonderful to talk about our hope in Christ. This post is just focused on the logical priority of being able to help our kids establish why they don’t have a false hope.

        I hope that makes sense. 🙂



        • Heather on November 11, 2015 at 12:44 PM

          Great, clear reply. I like the part about “Because Christianity is true, we have hope” instead of it being “Hope is important, so be a Christian.” Very important distinction. But I do think some people enter Christianity through the gate of Hope. They might not yet agree with the truths of the Bible, but they are drawn to what Jesus offers. We could teach them all the truths we want but if they do not find any real, eternal benefits or hope then they might not want to embrace it. So I guess it is a balance. Sharing with them real truths to believe in and hope for, yet not making it sound like our hope is what makes Christianity ‘true.’ Because like you said, all religions offer some kind of hope. Even atheism offers its own kind of hope (yet not an eternal hope). So we cannot say that one is more true than the others because of the kind of hope it offers. Hope does not prove truth, but it is what draws many to it. I guess I do not want to downplay hope because it really does draw many and sustain many. Amyway, you make sense here and I see what you are saying and agree with you. It is important to not hold up hope as ‘the reason Christianity is true.’ But it is equally important to hold up biblical hope as the reason why we believe and why people should want to believe. Jesus offers a hope that no one else does. It is just up to each person to decide if they want the hope He offers or not. (I hope I haven’t repeated or rambled too much. I am typing on a tablet and cannot go back and check or fix what I already typed. If I do, I lose my place and cannot get back in.)



        • Heather on November 11, 2015 at 1:03 PM

          Oh, and I totally agree with you that we need to teach our kids about why the Bible can be trusted, why it is reliable. Such as the ‘Case for Faith’ and ‘Case for Christ’ and ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ books, etc. We cannot base our reason to believe in the Bible on the hope it offers, but on real reasons why the Bible is valid and trustworthy. This is, I believe, the point of your whole post. And it is a critical, great point. We do not have hope in the Bible because that hope sounds good. We have hope in the Bible because it is historically reliable, proven, verifiable, etc.



      • CB on November 11, 2015 at 1:17 PM

        Heather, you really hit the nail on the head with this “But we can hold up Hope (the truths of God’s Word, the promises He has made us about sin, salvation, healing, eternity, etc.) as one of the best reasons to believe. Because if we do not have this Hope, we really have nothing and are fooling ourselves in this lifetime. So I guess you have helped me remember to be more careful about how I present biblical hope. It’s not a cup of coffee to get people through life.”
        I think that’s one of the greatest stumbling blocks for atheists…it’s like they see our hope the same way as the world defines it. It’s not the same, and it’s exceedingly difficult to honor it with a definition that it truly deserves. I didn’t understand this ‘hope’ until my spiritual eyes were opened. We have to do a better job of trying to explain it. But then there’s this: 2 Corinthians 4:3-5, 1 Corinthians 1:18,19 and Ephesians 6:12. Our human arguments won’t do a darn thing until God is in it.



        • Oliver Pineda on November 11, 2015 at 5:55 PM

          Our Hope as Christians is grounded in Christ not the word of God. Sure the word of God is true and doesn’t lie but if by the word of God you mean the bible then this is also false and idolatry in the eyes of some Christians. Think about this, before there was the Christian bible in the time of the apostles after Christ’s crucifixion, you weren’t Christian because you had the bible but rather because of the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. The yruth of Christ’s resurrection is where hope is found. So please, give it some thought and don’t make the base of your faith the bible but rather bud your faith on Jesus. God bless you brothers and sisters.



  2. Jen Harwood on November 11, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    Thanks for sharing! It seems to me that this is one more step down the slope to finding the lowest common denominator for Christianity. If hope is all we’re grasping at, we’re aiming too low. However, I think few people who would cite hope as a reason for faith would really be shooting that low – they just maybe aren’t aware of the implications of that thinking.



    • Natasha Crain on November 11, 2015 at 11:43 AM

      I agree completely. Many people who frame conversations this way aren’t meaning to suggest what they are actually suggesting. I hope this will help some think about the implications of that thinking.



  3. Judas Peters on November 11, 2015 at 12:03 PM

    Natasha,
    You are probably the most reflective and sincere blogger I’ve read in a long time!

    I’m an atheist by the way, and your advice regarding hope(lessness) can pretty much be applied to any belief system you have, at any time, in any place.

    I often am in the opposite boat – I hear atheists say that if God were real, then that would be a horrible God. And I’m left saying, “It doesn’t matter what you hope is true, it matter’s what’s ACTUALLY true!”

    Anyway, I love your posts. While I disagree with many of your beliefs and conclusions, I think you’re very considerate, thoughtful, and intelligent.

    -Judas P.



    • Heather on November 11, 2015 at 1:16 PM

      Judas, I loved reading your respectful reply. I wish more conversations between people of different beliefs could be like that. I have often said the same thing . . . That our beliefs do not make things true or not. If God is real, then an atheist’s belief that ‘There is no God’ will not change it. But if God is not real, then a Christian’s belief that He is real will not make Him real. I guess all we can do is evaluate the options out there, decide which one we want to stake our life/souls on, and be willing to live with that decision. That is what faith is about, isn’t it? I think this is why Natasha is so clear about saying that we need to base our faith (a Christian’s faith) on why the Bible is valid and can be trusted. This gives us real reasons to believe (or so we think), instead of it just being ‘We believe this because we want to believe it’ or because ‘we like what it says,’ It is not about what we want to believe or if we like it. Like you said, it is about what is actually true.



  4. Jana on November 11, 2015 at 8:39 PM

    Hi Natasha

    I never considered it the way that you are stating hope now! My husband is an atheist, and I also gave him the “hope line”. One day, we had a discussion and he admitted to me that there are some aspects of atheism that is difficult for him such as no life after death. The hopelessness of it however is not what convinces him whether atheism is true or not. Clearly his atheism is based on very specific reasons, difficult or not. This is when I have to believe in a God of miracles because seeing how deep his atheism goes, and on what it is based can be very discouraging and I feel like crying for days. Thank you for the work that you are doing. I don’t know how you do it, but you always take my breath away with your headings 🙂 and then you come from a direction that I never thought of considering. You encourage me to think more critically, and to really THINK about what people and popular slogans are really saying.



  5. Carol on November 13, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    I greatly appreciate the perspective of this post. I think a slightly different way to put it that goes along this line of thinking is the realization that the word “hope” means something so different now than it does in the Bible. Hope means confidence, whereas in our world, hope means doubt. If I say I’m coming to your party tomorrow and you say “I hope so” that’s an expression of doubt. In the Bible it’s an expression of confidence. My hope (trust, faith, confidence) is in the Lord.

    This can also be applied to the oft used (and worn out) phrase, “something to believe in” (which has been used even by those claiming Christianity as an excuse to teach kids that Santa is real).

    Another common one in our society is the admonition to “have faith” without an emphasis on the object of our faith. Faith alone is an empty concept, but faith in Christ is the foundation of our lives.

    Often God’s definition differs from our own. Love is a concept often tossed around in our society, and usually defined by the idea that the object of our love makes us happy (hey, even Kermit and Miss Piggy sang that to one another during their wedding in Manhattan!)
    God’s love, however, is an action word. It is defined by what it seeks to do for the object of that love. Thus the sacrifice on Calvary is the greatest definition of God’s love to us.



  6. […] Crain’s ChristianMomThoughts.com — be sure to check out her recent post about Why We Should Stop Giving Our Kids Christian Hope and her post 65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to […]