I am Peter. And Jesus knew I would return.
But when you return, you see Jesus differently. I see Jesus differently. I wouldn’t have come back if it meant returning to the same god I knew before. I wouldn’t have come back if it weren’t for Jesus.
“I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”
I see so much doubt in my peers. I include myself in that statement. I see so much doubt in myself too. I see a group of new adults who were raised inside Christianity. Who know the ins and outs of their faith intimately, but who also have seen the dark and ugly sides of their faith just as intimately.
Even in my first year of college, I had so many friends tell me they either believe drastically different things about God than they grew up with, or they no longer believe in Him at all. I understand this change in worldview, it’s happened to me too.
People say college is where Christian kids go to lose their faith. I almost lost mine. And at risk of being too honest, I want to explain why.
Second generation Christians, raised in environments similar to my own, are sold a spiritual product. We’re taught our entire lives to believe very specific things. We’re taught that believing a certain way will give us peace. We’re promised eternal security if only we have faith enough to accept it. We are taught this is the only way. That our specific set of theology is the only true theology.
Children believe whatever those they trust teach them. And so, children create a portrait of God based on whatever they are fed from a young age. None of those things are necessarily bad or wrong. Children need spiritual structure set up for them, because they are too young to understand most things by themselves. The danger is that we often teach our personal beliefs under the guise of being 100% Biblical truth. And as those children grow up, whether it was the intention or not, they find themselves thinking anything different from their original set of beliefs is sinful and wrong. Caught up in shame, guilt, and constant internal chaos because they’ve been mentally trained to feel that deviating even the slightest bit is dangerous.
How can a teenager personalize his walk with Jesus, when every time he thinks he might disagree, spiritual leaders stomp out his questions with the words, “We are older, wiser, and have more life experience than you, of course our way is the right way”?
I know a good majority of the time this isn’t the intended end. I know leaders are human, and I am human too. But intentions aside, it’s how it looks to us. It’s what we experience. Peoples good intention can sometimes backfire. And that is what happens with us: somewhere in our journey, usually in late high school or college, we realize that outside of basic truths of salvation and the nature of God, theology simply isn’t black and white. We realize, that even if the Bible is the ultimate authority, there just isn’t only one way to interpret Scripture.
We perceive from the fallible, vaguely worded statements of pastors, parents, and mentors, that truth; God, denominations, politics, social justice, and personal conviction are all synonymous things. That a person can’t believe in God and also lean towards the political left. And perhaps that is result of our own fallibility, and reading between the lines more than we should have, but nevertheless it is what we experience. So, as Jon Acuff eloquently put it: “[we] cobble together a view of [God] that is untrue. From bad sermons and bad books and bad theology and bad friends, [we] build a bad God.” And as we grow up, we realize how difficult it is, to separate God from the beliefs we may no longer agree with. So, we trash the whole thing.
I was there. A freshman in college with a brain full of theological ideas I had always believed to be 100% accurate, and a heart full of growing doubt. College is the first time most of us have enough independence to even consider rethinking our beliefs. So, when one of my best friends admitted to being a full out agnostic, everything I had formerly believed came crashing down. If someone who had, at one point, been one of my primary sources of spiritual encouragement could now set it all aside and call it all untrue, there had to be a good reason. People don’t come to such conclusions lightly. You don’t go to bed a Christian and wake up an agnostic. And as we discussed the issue, the doubts and issues I’d kept in the back of my heart and head were all suddenly front and center. I didn’t know what God looked like anymore and I was faced with either figuring it out, or dumping Christianity all together.
Jesus saw those events in my life before they happened. He knew I would fall away. “Satan desires to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail.”
I am Peter. And Jesus saw me wrestling with the core of my beliefs, unable to separate religious tradition from life-changing relationship. Saw me on the brink of running. Saw me denying Him. “I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail.”
And inside those moments, He sent words to keep my faith from failing.
“God is perfectly revealed in Jesus. Jesus does not change God, Jesus reveals God… [and] Jesus tells us that the great work of the Father is to give life to the dead” [Zahnd].
I am Peter. And after I had denied my savior, those words saved my faith.