“So do you think Jesus sinned when he was on earth?” I’ve just stepped into the kitchen to join the youth group girls enjoying post-church popsicles when they drop this question on me.
I fight the urge to give an easy answer that will shut down the discussion and instead say, “What do you think?”
“Well, he was fully man, right?” says Mel, her mouth turning purple with melted popsicle. “So he had to have.”
“But wasn’t he also fully God?” I say, pulling the sticky wrapper off my own frozen sweetness.
“How is that even possible?” says Sara. “How can someone be 100 percent two completely different things?”
These are moments, truth be told, that are equally precious as they are exhausting. After running around during the service, greeting parents, giving the children’s message, and then herding the kids off to Sunday school, I don’t have a lot of energy left over for taking on deep and age-old theological questions. After church I’m inclined to offer pat responses to get them off my back and move on to lighter topics.
And yet as the girls wipe sticky hands on skirts just before lobbing saliva-drenched popsicle sticks at each other, we’re sharing a sacred moment. These girls are joining in the historic tradition of scrutinizing the beliefs passed down to them, of trying to pull apart the pieces of faith to make sense of them and then placing them back together. I’m honored to be drawn into this experience. I’m grateful that, for all the assurance of faith and the declarations of devotion we share during Sunday morning worship, they know the church is also a place where questions are welcome—are in fact needed—in order for our love of Christ and our understanding of who God is to grow.
But mostly, I need to accept that I’m not going to be able to drive all of their theological engagement home. I’d like to think that I can provide all the right answers and solidify a firm theological basis from which these youth can go forth and live well. But I know from my own experiences of faith crisis after crisis from teen years until now that this is not an easy journey for them. It’s essential for them to know they are not alone in their quests.
Minister and writer John Ortberg said, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.” These girls’ questions challenge me to look at the dusty areas of my own faith. Am I willing to delve in and explore the complexities of the biblical story, to excavate issues of doubt I’ve left dormant? Am I willing to let my faith be challenged, to continually go deeper and mature instead of taking easy answers for granted?
At every turn, I’m humbled by their questions, pulled back into my own faith wrestling. Just when I feel I’ve found a comfortable footing in my beliefs, these young women call me to enter into their doubts. They won’t let me toss simple solutions their way; through them God calls me to a deeper and truer understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.
“These are really good questions,” I say as they rifle through the box for their favorite popsicle flavors. I settle in for an ongoing discussion that won’t end today but hopefully will continue throughout our lives as we work out our faith together.