Based on my experience ministering to young adults, it has become clear that many of them blame God for the pain in their lives. Some of them do it outright and boldly, expressing great anger at God for letting bad stuﬀ happen to good people. Others are more subtle, but they clearly question why a God of love would let bad things happen. God takes the blame for every painful moment and every painful action that has ever occurred in their young lives and in the world around them. If we church leaders want to reach the next generation, we are going to have to help young people deal with all this pain, along with the anger that emerges from it.
When I listen to young people talk about their pain, I try to remind them that there are three primary causes of pain in the world. This post will only focus on the first cause of pain in the world. Please make sure that you come back and read the next two posts so that you get the full picture of what I am trying to say about pain.
The ﬁrst cause of pain is our own sin. God has declared certain behaviors to be sinful. Because young people, who typically have a postmodern worldview, struggle with the concept of absolute truth, they will struggle to accept that there are certain behaviors that are sinful. Though postmodernists may struggle with the concept, that struggle does not negate the reality that certain actions are wrong. Though some people may feel God’s declarations about sin are arbitrary, that is not the case. God has declared certain actions to be sinful because of the great pain those actions cause either in our lives or in the lives of others.
Just as God has declared certain actions to be sinful, He has also declared certain attitudes and behaviors to be right. Right behavior brings more health and happiness and less pain into our lives. Wrong behavior steals our happiness and creates greater pain in our lives. Committed Christians accept these declarative absolutes. We read about them in the Bible and seldom question why they may be right or wrong. We just try to follow them the best we can. But postmodern people are not going to accept right and wrong without asking questions about why those actions are right or wrong.
Churches often do not know how to respond when young adults question what the Bible says about sin. One way to respond to these questions is by showing the connection between sin and the pain that results from sin. We can help postmodern people realize that God is not a cosmic killjoy who is trying to keep us from having fun. God is a loving Father who is trying to keep us from hurting ourselves or others.
Here is one example of how our own sin impacts our lives in negative ways. I met Sahara shortly after she moved to our area. Though she was not religious, she heard about our church and thought it would be a great place to meet new friends. Sahara is quite outspoken in her opinions on many things, including her lifestyle choice of lesbianism. She is a leader in a pro-lesbian group that is sponsored by a local organization. She makes no secret of her feelings on that issue or a host of others.
Sahara’s strong opinions often result in her making many poor decisions, which have had an adverse eﬀect on her relationships and her sense of well-being. Her choices have caused a great deal of pain in her life, but she is so conﬁdent that she is right that she seems incapable of changing course so her life can have less pain. Her pro-lesbian group told her this pain was caused by the narrow-mindedness of others. They told her that if her family and friends would just accept her lesbianism, then she would feel better about herself. Sahara has worked hard at pressuring those around her to accept her lifestyle choice. Many have done so, but she is still miserable, which demonstrates that others’ acceptance of her choices will not end her pain.
At one point Sahara’s many issues compounded themselves so much that she could barely function. One evening after church, she began to talk about why she so badly needed us to accept her sexuality. I had heard her repeatedly share her opinions on the matter, so I decided it was time to confront her about her choices. I explained, with as much love as I could, what the Bible says about her choices—not only about her lesbianism but about a number of other negative choices she regularly made. The conversation got very tense. She said she did not think she could come back to a church that did not accept her the way she was. I pointed out that she did not seem very happy the way she was, and it would be wrong of us to ignore her deep pain. I suggested that much of her pain was a result of something being wrong inside her, which the Bible identiﬁes as sin.
Sahara got defensive and left angry. We did not see her at church for a couple of weeks. But then she came back. She declared that she was going to work on all of her problems and try Bible reading and prayer. After several more weeks, she declared herself a “half-Christian.” By that she meant that she now believed there was a God, but she was not quite ready to commit to Him. God is doing a deep work in Sahara’s life. God is showing her a way out of pain, but it requires her to make changes in many of her lifestyle choices.
The method I used with Sahara was to show her the connection between her poor life choices and the pain she was experiencing. By using this method, I was able to help her understand that I was not trying to judge her but to help her out of her pain. It has taken a long time, and the process is not yet ﬁnished, but I am conﬁdent that He who began a good work in Sahara will complete it when the time is right
Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.