I spent last Shabbat talking about faith to a group of teenagers. Discussing belief in God with this vibrant group of youngsters, and listening to their questions, and the issues they are concerned with, was fascinating and refreshing.
I addressed the pressure many young people feel from their parents to believe in God and go to church or synagogue. They all told me that this tension in the home left them with anxiety and confusion.
I explained that it is crucial to allow a process of letting their own thinking to take shape. This cannot be rushed. Every one of us grows and learns in his and her own unique way. I told them to relax and seek to discover their own experiences of God, in the Bible, in nature and in what is beautiful, good and right about life.
Faith cannot be pushed on our young people. We can offer wisdom and guidance, but they must be allowed the space to pursue their own experiences, in their own time and way, the wonders of walking with God.
I explained that the way to faith in God is not like learning a scientific breakthrough or a philosophical theory. We cannot know God purely with reason. Rather, it is through the experiences of God’s faithfulness in our lives, and the work of His Spirit to guide through the minefields of life’s everyday decisions, that are equally important on our way to knowing Him.
There are three ways of knowing God that are emphasized in Judaism and Christianity”
- Sensing his Presence in the world (Isa 40:26) — worship.
- Sensing his Presence in the Bible (Exod 20:2) — learning.
- Sensing his Presence in sacred deeds (Exod 24:7) — action.
I shared with them from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s God in Search of Man where he points out that knowing God is not a passive task, like trying to figure out how to solve a math problem. Faith is an active task, like finding a solution for the danger we find ourselves in and need to save ourselves.
Faith grows as we worship, learn and get involved in deeds of kindness through acts of love. I encouraged them to consider these things as the way to knowing God and to get involved in bringing healing to others.
And along the way, don’t be afraid to ask questions. A strong and resilient faith requires dealing with God’s hiddenness, mankind’s fallenness, and our own personal, and oft puzzling humanity.