It was the summer of 2013 and I was on a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Family is so important to me and since moving away in 2008, I just don’t get to see them as much as I would like. So every chance we have to get together turns into a special time. While at dinner one evening my mom said something she has told me many times throughout my life. She began to tell me about this amazing girl that I would marry one day and how God had someone special in mind. Instead of responding with something like “Yeah mom, I know.,” which I had done many times before; I said something different. I remember looking at my mom and saying something like, “Where is she? You keep telling me about this girl, but I don’t see her anywhere. Can you please tell me where she is at? Does she even exist?” Then I quickly began to feel guilty because my mom only meant the best for me.
This story recently came back to mind as I tried to find an example for my new talk on the existence of God. I realized that this is often how we talk to students. We keep telling them how amazing God is and how he loves them, cares for them, and wants a relationship with them. While these things are completely true, we have students who respond just like I did. Where is he? Does he even exist? What we sometimes forget to realize is that everyone has to start somewhere, and we aren’t all at the same level. As I thought about this, I thought about four different relationship levels.
- Non-existence or blind faith
- Belief that the person exists
- Start the relationship and get to know the person
- Belief in the person leading to a deep, committed, and lasting relationship
This makes sense when you think about friendships. Everyone starts at level 1 and is not aware of the existence of the other person, or they are told that there is a special person out there for them creating a blind faith. Then one day we reach level 2 and meet the person (with students you check their Instagram). This is the physical evidence. But just because you believe that they exist doesn’t mean you have a committed relationship. You then have to move to level 3 and start to get to know the person. Many times we don’t move to level 3 because we have false ideas about the person. Maybe we think they are weird or that we wouldn’t get along. Other times we think we will be best friends, but after the relationship begins, we realize how different we are. And then there is a time where we get to know the person and it leads to level 4; a deep, committed relationship where we believe in the person and trust them. From that point we continue to grow deeper in our relationship the rest of our life.
That evening, in the restaurant with my mom, I experienced how a person’s place on the relationship spectrum affects how they hear what you are saying. My mom was at level 4. She understood how amazing level 4 was and because she loved me, she wanted the same for me. That is why she has continued to tell me about how amazing it will be my whole life. However, while at level 1, I can either choose to have a blind faith or will become tired of hearing it. It is easy to believe blindly while young, but over 20 years of no evidence led to becoming upset.
I think we do the same thing with students and God. We keep telling them how amazing the level 4 relationship is with God, but we don’t help them move from level 1 to 2. This either creates a blind faith or a bitterness. They ask for evidence and we sometimes don’t give it. We tell them to “just have faith,” but this can only last so long. The other scenario is that they hold on to their blind faith until college only to have it shattered by a secular professor. When evidence is demanded, our students come up short. This can lead to doubt and cause some to walk away from the faith.
Other people are at level 2. They believe that God exists, but believe that he is evil, judgmental, wrong, or a bully. Students think God will just make their life boring with all the rules. This false view of God keeps them from wanting to start that relationship. If this is where they are, then we need to show them the truth about God.
So, instead of continuing to only talk about God’s love or power, lets add to it the fact that Christianity is true. Lets provide intellectual reasons as well as emotional reasons. When our students begin to see the facts and the intellectual reasons for believing in God, then a deeper understanding and relationship is formed. This deeper understanding fills in the gaps and can lead to a more passionate love for God.
The same is true with every other hobby. I love watching baseball because I understand it at such a deep level. Other people only see someone throwing a ball fast. Those that understand art see brush strokes when I only see a building. Musicians can hear harmonies when others just hear sounds. Computer programmers understand the code while some just hope to hit a power button. This deeper understanding leads to a more complete love. When people only understand the basics, they get bored very quickly. Many of our students only know the basics of Christianity. God loves me, he died for me… that’s it. No wonder they’re bored!
Let us keep telling people about the amazing love that God has for them. Let us keep telling them about how God is powerful, holy, perfect, and just. But let us not forget that everyone has to start somewhere. Let us have the ability to understand where someone is at in their relationship with God and help them get to the next level. Moving closer to that level 4 relationship with God is something to be excited about!