An Open Letter to Teens Facing Doubts about Christianity

This article is part of the Open Letters series.

Compassion for Doubters

“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). These words are spoken by a desperate man. He has brought his son to Jesus to be healed: “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Then the father replies, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22–24).

Perhaps you have felt like this at times. Perhaps it is how you feel right now. You believe in Jesus, but sometimes you are not sure. You find the Bible hard to understand. Things it teaches are so different from what your friends believe. Sometimes you find yourself wondering what is really true. What if modern science has disproved God? What if Christians really are just bigots for not embracing same-sex marriage? What if all religions are equal paths to truth? What if Jesus never even existed, or his claims have been exaggerated over time? You know kind and thoughtful people who believe these things, and doubt creeps in. If this is how you feel sometimes, you are not alone. And you do not need to be afraid that your faith will crumble away if you ask hard questions. Asking questions is often the best way to learn, and Jesus is much more clever than we are. So we do not need to worry that we might outthink him! In fact, he calls us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

ESV Teen Study Bible

The ESV Teen Study Bible informs the mind, encourages worship and communion with God, and promotes living for the Lord in day-to-day life. 

Faith and Science

So, what about those questions? Some people think that modern science undermines belief in a creator God. But the people who first developed modern science were Christians. They did not view science as an alternative hypothesis to faith in the God who made the world. They saw it as a way of finding out how God made our world. Faithful Christians all agree that God created our world and everything in it. But faithful Christians sometimes disagree about the details of how God created the world. In fact, Christians have been debating the relationship between what we dis- cover through science and what we discover through Scripture for centuries! Maybe you will become a scientist or a theologian someday and join in those discussions. But right now it might encourage you to know that some of the top scientists in the world — in fields from biology to physics and from psychology to astronomy—are serious followers of Jesus. Their science has not made them trust God less. It has made them want to worship him more!

Sexuality and Marriage

What about the Bible’s teaching when it comes to sexuality and marriage? In our culture today many people think that restricting sex to lifelong marriage and defining marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman is mean and hateful—especially toward people who might want to marry someone of their same sex. But if you dig into what the Bible says about sexuality, you will find that it is not a story of hate. It is a story of love. We do not get to invent the story. It is a love story written by God himself, in which Jesus is the husband and the church is his wife. The story starts in Genesis, when God makes humans male and female in his image (Gen. 1:26–27) and then brings a man and a woman together as “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). But, as the Old Testament continues, we start to realize that human marriage is a signpost to something much greater, as God is compared to a loving, faithful husband and God’s people are pictured as his wife. But the mar- riage is failing, because God’s people keep spiritually “cheating” on him with other so-called gods. But, when it seems like all hope is gone, Jesus comes as the bridegroom (Mark 2:19–20; John 3:29–30).

Paul helps us understand what this means when he explains that Christian marriage is a small-scale model of Jesus’ love for his people (Eph. 5:22–31). A man and a woman joined together as “one flesh” in marriage is a picture of Jesus’ being one body with his church. It pictures both the fundamental difference between Jesus and his people and their amazing, everlasting, life-creating unity! But, while the Bible confines sexual and romantic love to opposite-sex marriage, it also calls for deep love between people of the same sex. Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” ( John 15:12–13). People often say that “love is love.” But the Bible teaches us instead that God is love and that we get little glimpses of that love in different kinds of relationships, such as those between husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend.

Other Religions

What about the claim that all religions are equal paths to truth? People sometimes say that all religions teach us basically the same thing and that it is arrogant to think that one religion is right and the others are wrong. But, even if we compare only the three major world religions that believe there is only one God ( Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), we find irreconcilable differences. For instance, Christians believe Jesus to be the creator God made flesh, while unbelieving Jews and Muslims totally reject this claim. In addition, Christians believe that Jesus died on a cross and was physically raised from the dead three days later, while unbelieving Jews believe that he died and stayed dead, whereas Muslims believe that Jesus did not die but only seemed to die. It is not respectful to people who follow different religions to say that they all believe the same thing. It is disrespectful, because it shows we have not listened carefully to what each of these religions teaches. When it comes to Jesus, he either died on a cross and was raised from the dead or he did not and was not. If Jews are right that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christians are wrong. If Christians are right, then Jews and Muslims are wrong.

As followers of Jesus, we must tell people the truth. But we must never do so arrogantly, as if we think we are better than them. Instead the Bible calls us to explain the reason for our hope in Jesus with gentle- ness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). According to the Bible, we are so bad that we needed Jesus to die for us! But anyone can get in on Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and new life if he will only put his trust in Jesus.

Reliability of the Gospels

Maybe you have doubts about the accounts of Jesus’ life in our Bibles: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Perhaps friends have asked you how you know that Jesus even existed, or how you know the Gospels are not mythologies made up long after Jesus lived. Once again, it is worth finding the answers to these questions. First, even atheist historians believe that Jesus was a real person who lived in history. We have evidence for the basic facts of his life from early texts written by people who did not even like or support Christians. So there is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure.

Second, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life in our Bibles were written well within the lifetimes of people who saw Jesus’ acts and heard his teachings. In fact, they were written down when Jesus’ first disciples — those who traveled with him and learned his teachings as their full-time job—were getting old and starting to die out. After Jesus’ death and resurrection these people had journeyed far and wide, telling people about Jesus’ life and teaching and spreading the news that he had risen from the dead. It was vital that the memories of those first eyewitnesses be written down before they died. The Gospels are not mythologies made up long after Jesus’ death. They are faithful biographies that give us access to eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Faith and Doubt

We have taken a quick look at a few questions that might be causing you to doubt. But you may have many others. Do not try to ignore those questions. Instead, take time to ask them. Look for helpful books you could read on the topic. Talk to older Christians you trust, and pray that God would help you find the answers to your questions.

Our faith may be weak, but our Savior is strong.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his first disciples “you of little faith” (Matt. 6:30). Perhaps that description fits you. You have put your trust in Jesus, but you still feel like you have only a little faith. Time and again in the Gospels we see Jesus’ disciples having less faith than they might hope. One day they are in a boat when they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matt. 14:28). Jesus replies, “Come,” so Peter steps out of the boat. But, when he sees the wind, Peter gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and grabs Peter, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:30–31). Sometimes we might feel like we are drowning in doubt. But if we call out “Lord, save me!” to Jesus, he will make sure we do not sink.

This does not mean our doubts will disappear. We might struggle with doubt on and off throughout our Christian lives. Peter’s trust in Jesus had some major wobbles. Most seriously, Peter promised he would follow Jesus even to the death, but, when the moment came, three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Yet Jesus still had hold of him, and, if you put your trust in Jesus, he will take hold of you as well. Our faith may be weak, but our Savior is strong.

If you read the Gospels or look at your own life, you will find that following Jesus is hard. Jesus said it would be. He said that following him is like picking up a cross and that it is only by losing our life that we find it (Matt. 16:24–25). But we do not choose between believing in Jesus and a better option. No one else will ever love us like he does, and, if we start believing that there is no God who made the world and sent his Son to die for us, we will soon discover that the world is meaning- less. You see, if there is no God and we are made only of atoms and molecules and not also in God’s image, then there is no point to our lives at all. But if there is a God, and if he did send his one and only Son to die for us so we can have our sins forgiven and live with God forever, then everything takes on fresh meaning.

At one point in John’s Gospel lots of people who have been following Jesus turn away from him. So Jesus asks his twelve disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66–69).

Following Jesus is hard. But it is absolutely worth it. He has the words of everlasting life, and he calls us to follow him together with other sinful people who have just a little faith as well. So, let us team up with other Christians, like his first disciples did, and cry out to Jesus like that desperate father, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” Jesus loves to answer that kind of prayer.

This article is adapted from the ESV Teen Study Bible.

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