In mathematics, at least the last time I heard, one plus one still equalled two. If my teenage daughter comes home to argue that it is three with me, I can imagine I would quickly get frustrated.
What happens when teenagers ask questions of their faith?
Did Jesus exist? How do we know he is God? Does God matter anyway? Why bother with Church when it is irrelevant? Don’t all religions believe the same stuff anyway and why believe any of it when they cause most of the wars? Why do Christians have to make life hard for people who are LGBTQI or wanting an abortion or are in pain and wanting to end their life?
The list seems endless.
Sometimes such questions may feel like an attack on our beliefs. One reaction can be to become defensive. Why question mathematics? Why question religion? This is what we believe! You need to have faith and trust that this stuff is true!
Rewind our Church two thousand years, and people struggled with similar questions. Was Jesus God? But how could he also be human? If he had come to save us, why were so many Christians being cruelly tortured and killed for their faith? Why did believing in Jesus cause families to fight and breakdown?
Teenagers are brilliant because they want to know stuff. They want to know what will help them get on with this wild and wacky life.
And at the same time, they don’t want to know and don’t care – because it is all too big and confusing and sometimes it is better just to laugh and have fun with friends.
I think I can fall into the trap of either taking everything a teenager says too seriously or also not taking it seriously enough.
I certainly want to encourage their questions, because if there aren’t good answers then why believe? And if the answers aren’t relevant to us – if they don’t make any difference to life – then why waste our time believing in God stuff?
I want to encourage our teenagers to question, to challenge, to discover new ways of making sense of life. After all, it is theirs to live and I want them to do so in a way that will bring joy and meaning to their days.
If I can help through sharing my struggles and insights, then I am grateful they have taken time to listen. Equally, I want them to have fun, and enjoy not caring too much about stuff.
Teenagers are brilliant because they haven’t forgotten to ask why and they hopefully haven’t forgotten how to have a good laugh and shrug their shoulders at it all.
They remind me to aspire to have that same heart of curiosity and playfulness when it comes to the God stuff.
Richard McMahon, who is the Director of Pastoral Planning & Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta, is the father of four children, including two teenagers, and offers adult support to the Engadine Antioch Youth Community.