Beyond All Recognition

It was the most disorienting moment I can remember my whole life long. I knew exactly where I was — and yet I was utterly, completely lost. Lost on a trail where getting lost should have been impossible. I was standing in exactly the same place I’d been just five minutes earlier. The park was familiar, the path wide and well marked, so there was no chance I’d gone off the trail. Yet nothing looked right. Nothing even looked familiar.

It should have been easy enough, returning there to the edge of the creek I’d crossed a few minutes earlier, with its water running low enough to reveal a gravelly sort of beach on the other side of water. I’d walked that beach just minutes ago — but it was nowhere in sight. Rangers had placed flat boulders in the creek so hikers could continue on the path across the water. I could still see boulders there, all right, but they led nowhere. There was no path to be seen.

It might have been just a minute or two before I got my bearings, but it seemed longer. Even my sense of time was distorted. I started recovering at last when I connected that strange experience to another one I’d just had. It happened a minute or so after I’d crossed that creek the first time. There had been five or ten seconds of incredibly loud series of snapping, cracking, shooting sounds, as loud as rifle fire, which is exactly what I thought it was.

The Tree Across the Path: Changed Beyond Recognition

Slowly I realized it wasn’t gunfire, it was a tree falling. I looked again — with different eyes this time, you might say — and this time I saw it. It was about 12 to 16 inches across at the base, and it had been standing just five feet off the path. Now it lay right across the trail, with its crown completely covering that gravelly beach.

I have no idea what caused it to fall. Obviously I’m glad I wasn’t there at the exact moment it happened. I might have been able to jump out of its way. I don’t know. As loud as it was, I almost wonder if I’d have had ear damage anyway.

I shimmied my way over that fallen tree trunk and continued on the path back to the trailhead. Somehow, though nothing else had changed, the whole walk seemed strange after that. I thought, “This is what it’s like when your world changes in an instant.”

Our Whole World Has Changed Beyond Recognition

Something a lot bigger than that tree has fallen across the world we all live in. We thought we knew where we were, and in a way we still do, except now everything has turned unrecognizable on us.

I thought I was living in a free country, where church attendance could never be made illegal, where elections could be trusted, where restaurants wouldn’t evict diners for talking about their faith, where “science” couldn’t possibly be confused about how many sexes there are. Above all I never thought that sexual libertinism would ascend from the status of a sin, to a “lifestyle” to be tolerated, then to a choice to be celebrated, and now finally a right that far outweighs free speech or religious freedom.

That tree in the woods fell in a mere moment, and suddenly nothing looked the same there. These societal changes happened in mere moments, too, historically speaking, and now for anyone born in my generation, nothing anywhere looks the same. The disorientation I felt on that path is nothing by comparison. We’re living in world I can hardly begin to recognize.

Almost scarier than that is the fact that for Gen-X, Gen-Z, and probably some Millennials, this is normal. They know their way in the forest, but they have no idea what their home should look like.

Home Isn’t What It Used to Be

If we think now that our home should look the way it used to, we’re setting ourselves up for a hard brush against reality. I was able to climb over the tree trunk and find my way back out of the woods and back home again, but here my parallelism with life today begins to run out of steam. I’m not saying there’s no way out of these socio-cultural woods. I am saying that the trees are crashing down everywhere around us, and just about every conceivable pathway is getting crushed underneath.

I don’t expect we’ll ever find a “home” now that looks the way it used to look. I’m not entirely sure we’ll even make it out of the forest. Realistically, we’re going to have to find a new place for ourselves, right here in the middle of these dark and eerie woods. With more trees falling around us every day.

So if you feel disoriented and lost, it’s probably not because your navigation has gone awry. Far more likely it’s because the landscape has changed around you. And no one is going to wrest things back into familiar shape any time soon, so you’d better find a way to live where you are.

I know it can feel like you’re settling into a tent in the dark forest, when you’d rather be back at your nice house on your quiet street. So be it. If we have to change our expectations, then we’d better change them. Better to live in reality than in a dream of a world that is no more.

It’s Still About Hope

This is no counsel of despair, though. What we used to call “home” may not be so easy to find. It may not even be there anymore, but that was never really home anyway. Hebrews 11 tells us of Abraham dwelling in tents, seeking a new country by faith, waiting “for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The same chapter speaks of men and women “of whom the world was not worthy,” who “wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The key is in verses 13-16:

[They] confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, because He has prepared a city for them.

That familiar world we yearn for — the world that will never again be the way it once was — was never our home anyway. That’s okay. If others could live in deserts and mountains, we can live in the woods.

What Now?

We’re not just surviving here, though. We’re not even out camping in the woods, fun as that might seem to some of us (for a while, anyway). Those same saints in Hebrews 11 made a difference in the world. Their pursuit of God and their world-changing ways were often the actual reason they were bivouacking out in the dens and the caves. They “obtained a good testimony through faith” for it (Heb. 11:39). We have even more than they did. In Christ we have the fulfillment of the great promise they could only look forward to.

So how do we live in this strange new world? Some of us are ready for that question. If you are, you’re undoubtedly working on it already. But I’m more concerned right now for those who haven’t yet come to grips with the disorientation. I’m talking to those who want to go back to your old comfortable home, a free and sane world like the one you once knew. Or maybe you wish you knew what that kind of comfortable home might look like.

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Some would say there never was any such home, due to an ugly history of American injustices. Some of that “injustice” is the falsely amplified noise of trees crashing around us, but not all of it. There’s plenty of debate to be had elsewhere over how much is true and how much isn’t. Either way, it’s still looking backward to a world that is no more.

Seek God. And Rescue Someone Along the Way.

The one thing we all must do is to quit looking back that way. Not one of us will find a path back to the home we thought left behind.

We can working on clearing out damaged pathways, and we certainly should. We must do it together: Community is crucial in these days. But we also need to accept the fact that some of this change is for keeps. We need not accept it as right or good, but we must accept it as real. It will free us to start seeking the right path, the one that leads you to our true home, the way that has always been the right way to go.

Perhaps you can see that more clearly now. And when you hear another tree starting to fall, repair what you can of it. Rescue someone out from under it. And bring them home with you.

Tom Gilson

Single Does Not Mean Lonely

Singleness can feel like the participation trophy in the game of life. The default for the relationally dismayed. The “gift” no one asked for.

That assessment, however, couldn’t be further from reality. And I say that as a still-single man who aspires to marry. All of us experience singleness. And even for those who do marry, more than half will be single again. God cares about our unmarried years. He desires all of us to make the most of them. So what steps can we take to steward these years well?

1. Define Your Gift

The apostle Paul makes an audacious claim. Whereas in Genesis 2 God observes, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), Paul tells the unmarried and the widows that “it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Paul, when looking at the new-covenant community, doesn’t see marriage-lessness as a curse, but as a gift. He says, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Corinthians 7:7).

I’ve spoken to dear saints who desire marriage and do not have the life they expected. If that describes you, God has not abandoned you. You’re not stuck in a waiting room between celibacy and marriage. God desires his good, perfect, delightful will for you right now. James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17) — and Paul could certainly add, “even your singleness.”

2. Discern the Advantages

What about singleness makes it a gift? What does singleness offer that marriage doesn’t? If we cannot name the advantages that come with singleness, then despite our insistence that singleness is a gift, we don’t have much to offer to those who are living a single life.

Paul puts the advantages of singleness under the phrase “undivided devotion”:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32–35)

When I read those verses and reflect on the advantages of singleness, I see at least three.

FOCUS

In a world full of distraction, singleness enables us to focus on Jesus “without distraction.” This isn’t to say that we cannot honor Christ if we’re married — God desires married couples to love and serve each other for his glory (Ephesians 5:22–33). But singles can devote themselves to him with fewer disruptions from good but competing desires.

As singles, we’re able to be single-minded. We can focus on honoring our Lord without the complexities of a spouse and children. Quiet mornings with Bible reading and prayer. Ministering to others without being interrupted by naps and diaper-changes. Fellowship without a curfew. Decisions about the future oriented toward gospel good without weighing familial costs. Singleness allows for undivided focus.

FLEXIBILITY

“Let me check with my spouse” is probably the most frequent response to an invitation extended to a married member at my church. Singles are advantaged in not carrying the weight of accounting for another person. We can say yes more often.

When a church member texts me at 11:30 p.m. asking to meet to read the Bible, I can say yes. When a family at the church needs emergency babysitting, I can say yes. When life presents risky, God-glorifying opportunities, I can say yes. Singles’ capacity allows us to flex for the sake of the kingdom.

FREEDOM

Paul states his desire for singles by saying, “I want you to be free from anxieties” (1 Corinthians 7:32). Freedom from the obligations of marriage enables singles to do what married people cannot. Whereas marriage is helped by stable routine and clear obligations, singleness provides mobility.

Valuing singleness doesn’t diminish the value or dignity of marriage. Paul wrote both 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5. He can exalt the value of marriage and express his preference for singleness. Singleness provides good opportunities that marriage does not.

3. Desire and Be Content

What about singles who deeply desire marriage? How can we endure seasons of discontentment? We need to clarify what we mean when we talk about contentment. Paul writes to the Philippians,

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:10–14)

First, you can be content in singleness while desiring to be married. Paul thanks the Philippians for assisting him while in prison. I don’t think Paul is telling the Philippians that he desires to stay in prison because he is content in all circumstances. Between being hungry or well fed, he prefers being fed (“It was kind of you to share my trouble”).

Desire and contentment are two different realities. You can desire marriage while still being content in seasons of singleness. If you are single and desire to be married, then, don’t feel guilty about that desire. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Enjoy your singleness and look for a spouse!

Second, contentment sees the goodness of God in one’s circumstances, not detached from them. Do not try to find your ultimate satisfaction in the future fulfillment of a spouse. Find your satisfaction in Christ in your season of singleness. Our focus in singleness should not be primarily oriented toward the hope of future marriage. Our faithfulness in singleness is valuable because it honors Christ. As Sam Allberry says, “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency” (7 Myths About Singleness, 120).

Third, you can be content in singleness and still struggle with the difficulties that come with singleness. We intuitively understand this about marriage. Difficulties in marriage don’t necessarily mean discontentment in marriage (though it can certainly lead there). Christ can handle our delights and our disappointments. You can be honest about the difficulties of singleness while trusting Christ in “in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12).

4. Devote Yourself to a Church Family

In Mark 10:29–31, Jesus says,

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Jesus promises us a family worth a hundred times more than anything we may leave — now in this time. The family that Jesus promises is his church.

Here’s an excerpt from our church’s covenant:

We . . . promise to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to rejoice at each other’s happiness; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and Christian courtesy in speech; to restore one another through discipline; to be slow to take offense, but always ready to reconcile immediately in obedience to Jesus, the head of our church.

What does that sound like? It sounds like a marriage vow. Commitment to a church provides an explicit, mutual responsibility in a spiritual, familial relationship. For a Christian, then, a single life need not be a lonely life. The most practical ways you can practice undivided devotion to Christ will come through a love for his church (John 13:34–35).

Single, Not Lonely

Life in the local church enables me to serve in ways I can’t alone. I get to babysit children while their parents go on dates. I get to go out of my way to spend time with a shut-in that lives further away. I get to use my time to serve in ways that would be difficult for other members in the church. There is no selfish singleness in the kingdom of God. While married Christians expend most of their energy for their physical family, I get to expend most of my energy for my spiritual family.

Living with the local church also lets me depend on other Christians in times of need. A warm, homecooked meal is a phone call away. Church members who know me cry with me, challenge me, and encourage me as I pursue Christlikeness. It doesn’t mean they love me perfectly (I don’t love them perfectly either), but in this life, my church has been as precious to me as brothers, sisters, mother, father, or children.

Singleness has its fair share of joys, difficulties, and opportunities. But our faithfulness now displays our hope in future glory, when people will “neither marry nor [be] given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30), because we’ll see our Bridegroom face to face. And when we see him, we’ll know that the investment we made in this season was worth it.

Facing the Inevitable

Seventy years ago, on the last Saturday morning in January, the MV Princess Victoria left the port of Stranraer in South-West Scotland. She was heading for Ireland with 179 people on board – but never arrived.

The flawed design of the ship meant that the car deck was flooded as ferocious waves pounded against her, in the worst storm anyone could remember. Distress messages were sent out, but the confusion of the storm meant that for most of the time, the wrong location was broadcast.

Finally able to get their bearings, the radio operator stayed at his post, allowing others to escape. He broadcast SOS messages until the very end and was posthumously awarded the George Cross. The captain and ship’s officers all went down with the ship. 135 perished and only 44 survived.

The sinking ship is vividly portrayed in a painting by Norman Whitla (late father of RPTS Professor David). The painting shows lifeboat number four, containing women and children, about to be dashed against the side of the ship. As a result, only men survived the disaster. Those who lost their lives included the Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Although largely forgotten, the Princess Victoria was the Titanic of its generation and remains one of the biggest peacetime maritime disasters in British waters.

‘God had put her there on purpose’

Many stories have been told about the heroism of those on board. One of the lesser-known is about Nancy Bryson, a missionary who has been called ‘the heroine of the Princess Victoria’. She was back on furlough from Kenya with her husband and three children, and was returning to Northern Ireland after speaking at some meetings in Scotland. According to her daughter: ‘She was one of the bravest women on board who whispered words of comfort to other passengers and led them in singing a hymn. She also tried to help a three year old child into one of the lifeboats but failed to do so, going under (the water) herself in the process’.

As a poem written about her recounts:

‘The last few hours of her life were gladly given o’er
In bringing consolation to hearts now sad and sore;
She spoke of Jesus and His love, and all His power to save,
She told the tale of heaven and home, and life beyond the grave.

As Nancy Bryson told the tale of Jesus’ wondrous love
We know that many passed that day into the home above.
Where there is no more sorrow, no parting, and no sea,
Upon whose shore no storm will beat through all Eternity’.

Tho’ Nancy Bryson has passed on, ‘tis true she speaketh still,
Her fame has gone through all the world, and surely ever will.
God had her there on purpose, upon that ship that day,
To point the soul to Jesus, the true and living way’.

The lady in the fur coat

What a contrast she was to another woman on board that day. That secondly lady was seen walking round in a fur coat clutching bags. Someone told her to forget about them, but she replied: ‘This is all the money I have in the world’. She was later seen dead in the water, still tightly clutching those bags.

It’s a graphic illustration of the fact that ‘we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world’ (1 Timothy 6:7) and that ‘when he dies he will carry nothing away’ (Psalm 49:17).

Promising life but bringing death

Yet there is another tragic irony to the story of the Princess Victoria. Many people ended up being killed by the very thing they thought would save them – their lifejackets. As with the Titanic: ‘Although used as a lifesaving device, the lifejackets on board were actually one of the main causes of death. Due to the dense material used, jumping overboard from 3 meters or higher, increased the risk of the wearer breaking their neck upon impact with the water’.

One of the Princess Victoria’s survivors, chief cook John McKnight, said that his neck was badly cut by his life jacket when he ended up in the sea. Proper procedure was to hold the cork lifejacket down and away from the neck – not easy to remember in the confusion and panic.

If the story of the woman in the fur coat reminds us that riches can’t save us, then those killed by their lifejackets are a picture of those who think their good works will save them. They jump into the sea of eternity holding on to their good works and trusting in them for salvation. And yet they can’t hold us up – because our good works are never good enough. To rely on them will spell disaster: ‘For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”’ (Galatians 3:10).

Many around us – like the woman in the fur coat – cling onto the things of this world as death approaches, unwilling to face the inevitable.

Others try instead to live a life of good deeds, thinking that will save them. But they find out too late that it won’t.

By God’s grace may we realize in this life, as the Apostle Paul did, that ‘the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me’ (Romans 7:10) – and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, by which ‘God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do’ (Romans 8:3).

I Am What I Am

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”—Exodus 3:14

The God Who Is?

As one of the more mysterious utterances in the Old Testament, God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14 has received countless examinations by biblical interpreters. Perhaps the best-known interpretation views God’s statement—“I AM WHO I AM”—as an expression of his aseity, or his self-existence. As the ultimate, uncreated being, God simply “is.” This interpretation goes all the way back to the intertestamental period, evidenced by the Septuagint’s translation of this phrase as, “I am the one who is.”

While we certainly should affirm the self-existence of God, we must ask if such an interpretation makes sense in the immediate context of this passage. Would Israelites suffering under the weight of Egyptian oppression truly need to be informed of God’s ontological aseity? Does the flow of the narrative lead us to conclude that God would reveal this rather philosophical aspect of his identity at this particular juncture? I suggest not, and the broader context of Exodus seems to point us in a different direction.

A Three-Part Answer

In seeking to understand Exodus 3:14, the first item to observe is that God provides a three-part answer when Moses asks by what name he should identify God to the people of Israel:

(1) God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14a).
(2) And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14b).
(3) God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:15).

Interestingly, the most elusive phrase—I AM WHO I AM—is not the answer that God tells Moses to communicate to Israel. This answer is seemingly just for Moses. This means that whatever we conclude about God’s communication here, the names revealed in (2) and (3) must be sufficient to answer Israel’s inquiry concerning God’s identity. When we compare (2) and (3), we see that they are clearly parallel statements:

(2) Say this to the people of Israel:
      I AM
      has sent me to you.
(3) Say this to the people of Israel:
      The LORD,
            the God of your fathers,
            the God of Abraham,
            the God of Isaac,
            and the God of Jacob
      has sent me to you.

These parallels suggest that the names “I AM” and “the LORD” are interchangeable to a certain degree. Further supporting this is the observation that the English phrase “the LORD” translates the Hebrew name Yahweh, which appears to be a third-person form of the verb “to be,” the same verb underlying the name “I AM” (ehyeh). Therefore, our conclusions concerning the more common name “the LORD” can help us understand the significance of the less common name, “I AM.” Our understanding of “I AM,” in turn, will hopefully shed light on the related and ever-perplexing statement, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Did the Patriarchs Know “the LORD”?

When we examine the statements above, what immediately jumps out is how “the LORD” is described as “the God of your fathers,” which is specified further as “the God of Abraham, the God Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This is especially interesting since God will later tell Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them” (Ex. 6:3). Yet in the patriarchal narratives, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each address God by his name, Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 15:2; 26:25; 28:16). How are we to make sense of this?

The name Yahweh fundamentally relates to God’s faithfulness to his people.

Clarity comes when we see that, throughout Exodus, God repeatedly promises to act in certain ways, with the result that people will “know that I am Yahweh.” This doesn’t mean that people will simply acquire awareness of God’s label Yahweh, since God has already revealed that name in Exodus 3. Rather, to “know that he is Yahweh” means that people will experience the true nature of God’s character—they will experience what the name Yahweh signifies.

In Exodus, people come to “know that he is Yahweh” either when they experience God’s salvation/provision for Israel (Ex. 6:7; 7:5; 8:22; 16:12; 29:46) or his judgment against Egypt (Ex. 7:17; 10:2; 14:4, 18). This suggests that the name Yahweh fundamentally relates to God’s faithfulness to his people. It’s in this sense that the patriarchs did not “know Yahweh”—they knew of his name and received his promises, but they never experienced the full expression of his faithfulness to those promises through his powerful salvation and judgment.

I Am with You

With this broader background in view, we can return to Exodus 3 and see a hint of this theme of God’s faithfulness. God first introduces himself to Moses as the God of the patriarchs (Ex. 3:6) and specifies his intention to fulfill his promises by bringing Israel to the land of Canaan (Ex. 3:7–9). God then calls Moses to lead the people out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10), Moses questions his adequacy for this task (Ex. 3:11), and God assures him by saying, “But I will be (ehyeh) with you” (Ex. 3:12).

Here God uses the very word that he will use in Exodus 3:14 to identify himself as “I AM” (ehyeh)—the Hebrew may be translated either as “I am” or “I will be.” In this verse, God is assuring Moses of his faithful presence as he commissions him to serve as a vessel of salvation for Israel and judgment against Egypt. This broad background and immediate narrative flow suggest that the names “I AM” and “the LORD” pertain to God’s faithfulness to his people: he is with them, will save them, and will judge their enemies.

By extension, the elusive phrase “I AM WHO I AM” most likely refers to this facet of God’s identity as well; some have viewed it as a superlative (“I am the most faithful one”) while others opt for a different grammatical understanding (“I will be what I will be [that is, with you]”). Either way, both the broad and immediate context of Exodus suggests that rather than reminding his people of his aseity, by revealing his name God is seeking to encourage his weary people of his faithful presence in their midst.

Matthew R. Newkirk

Should I Take a Break from Social Media?

Social media is meant to be a platform to connect and encourage family, friends, and other acquaintances. When Myspace burst onto this scene in the early 2000s, people were elated to share their profile status, play their favorite music, or just be able to express themselves to people who wanted to know more about them. It was a great way for people to feel seen and known and connect with old and new friends.

But over the years, what once was a way to post pictures of special events and post status updates about what’s going on in life has become a place for cyber bullies to post anonymous comments at leisure and people competing with others rather than rejoicing over others’ accomplishments. It has also become a platform where people share their political views, and worse, if someone disagrees, they can unfollow them, unfriend them, block them, or worse, leave nasty, derogatory comments on their posts. Social media can be a great tool for connection and networking. But if you find yourself dreading scrolling through your feed each day or notice you spend more time scrolling than engaging with the people in front of you, it may be time to take a break. 

Here are six reasons to take a break from social media:

1. It Brings Out the Worst in You

Social media was a great way to keep people connected, especially during the pandemic. However, studies now show mental health issues are at an all-time high. People are struggling with anxiety and depression like never before. Take a moment as you go through your feed and analyze your feelings as you scroll. Do you get a genuine sense of happiness? Fear? Jealousy? Anger? While social media has allowed us to know more about our friends and family than ever before, some of what we know are the most undesirable traits. If the thought has crossed your mind to unfriend people, especially those you love, it may be time to take a break.

2. It Takes Away from Valuable Relationships

Any technology, even if used correctly, can pose a distraction in our lives and cause us to miss out on important relationships. Watching too much TV or playing too many video games can have a similar effect as social media. Studies show people look at their phones hundreds of times a day. Taking a break does not necessarily mean getting off social media altogether or even fasting from it for a long period of time. Instead, if you are confident you have more firm control, consider setting strict boundaries and commit to not looking at social media after a certain time. Make a point to put away your phone at 7:00 or 8:00 PM to leave room for valuable face-to-face conversations. You may find setting this boundary enhances your relationships and allows you the deep intimacy and connection you’re craving but aren’t finding through looking at social media. 

3. It Leads to Temptation

Social media is great for catching up on a long-lost friend’s relationship status, seeing pictures of your close friend’s wedding, or seeing a video of your nephew celebrating his first birthday. But the ads that Facebook and Instagram are allowed to show in your feed can cause you to get into bad habits (and even commit sins) you wouldn’t normally commit if you weren’t on the platform. For example, do you find you are going to websites searching for food, clothes, or other items because you saw them in your feed on Facebook? Is it now a casual habit to visit an ex-boyfriend’s page though your profile shows you are happily married to someone else? 

Furthermore, platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram have very loose rules regarding what people can post. Therefore, videos of women taking their tops off or people committing lewd acts can easily pop up in your feed if you’re not careful. Even with setting strict control features on your phone, those videos can still pop up. If you find this is a problem for you, seek the help of an accountability partner or a leader in your church to whom you can confess to and let them know there is a problem. Fasting from social media for even a month can reset your brain from wanting to look at those photos. When you resume social media from your break, make sure the settings on your phone are set to private so that public ads and other sensitive material doesn’t come across your feed. 

4. It Distracts from Important Responsibilities

While it may be difficult to recognize a problem with excessive social media usage, one way to determine if it’s a problem for you is if you find yourself putting off important chores or tasks to continue to scroll your feed. If you prioritize posting a selfie or taking a video of your dog to get the attention you crave, it’s time to take a break. Get a blank sheet of paper and make a list of all the important tasks you have put off because of social media. Commit to turning off social media for one month, and in that month, seek to do as many of those chores as possible. At the end of the month, you may find you may not want to go on social media as often. Or even better, you may not want to go on it at all.

5. You Idolize the Attention

When you post about a particular accomplishment, you will receive a barrage of encouraging words, likes, and heart emojis. This is a good boost to your social page, self-esteem, and helpful to your overall self-concept. But when you are obsessively checking your phone to see who has liked your post or counting your likes and emojis, this can be a great detriment to your spiritual life, your view of yourself, and of others. You may even take it one step further and unfriend someone whom you feel has not been liking your posts enough. When gone unchecked, social media can destroy relationships because we look to it for encouragement and affirmation of ourselves rather than looking to God. Any avenue outside your Creator you seek to find encouragement and affirmation in your life is looking in the wrong place, and social media is no different. Instead of looking to social media for words of affirmation, look to the Word of God. There are sixty-six books full of examples of how the Almighty God loves us, solidifies our identity, and allows us freedom and new life through salvation. Double the time you spend in the Word, and you may find your social media usage goes down exponentially. 

Social media, when used properly, can be a great way for you to express your personal preferences, establish connections with longtime friends, make new friends, and above all, proclaim the gospel message. Social media can be equally detrimental if we are not careful. Take a hard look at the paragraphs above and analyze your heart. Are you falling prey to the devil’s schemes through any of the above? If so, limit your time, or you can take a social media fast. It can be for one day, one week, or one month. Commit to fixing your eyes upon Jesus during that time. Dive deep into the Word and communicate with God through prayer. When your established fast is over, the desire to get connected and receive affirmation from social media may all but disappear.

Humans Are More Than a Math Equation

Earlier this month, cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty to fraud after the shocking collapse of his multibillion-dollar crypto exchange company FTX. It’s a complicated case, but the central allegation is that Bankman-Fried used money from one of his businesses to pay the debts of a different one, defrauding investors and customers. The fallout has been incredible. Some estimates place what he owes investors at up to 8 billion dollars.

Make As Much Money As Possible — And Give A Lot of It Away

As he tells the story, 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried never set out to be a billionaire business tycoon. While in college at MIT, he was approached by William MacAskill, a well-known philosopher, professor, and author, who encouraged Bankman-Fried to join a movement of philosophers and philanthropists called Effective Altruism.

Most effective altruists deny the existence of both a Creator and that the universe has any ultimate purpose, although there are some who claim to be Christians. Most believe that human beings are here by chance, but as long as we are here, we have a moral duty to alleviate the suffering of the most people possible. Mostly, this is meant in a mathematical sense.

Allegedly, MacAskill convinced the promising young techie that he had a responsibility to make as much money as possible and give a lot of it away. After all, not everyone can become a billionaire investor, and even fewer would become charitable billionaire investors. Sam Bankman-Fried believed he could and decided he would, often talking about causes as diverse as supplying mosquito nets for malaria-vulnerable areas to protecting the world from killer robots.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Our Compassion

This focus on consequences, rooted in an ethical theory known as utilitarianism, is a first concern with Effective Altruism. In this view, a good end justifies any means. Effective Altruism tends to measure “good ends” in terms of the number of deaths prevented. Of course, protecting vulnerable life is also a biblical value, rooted in a belief that every human being has inherent dignity and eternal value. However, in a biblical view, a life is not only measured by its length. How we live matters as well.

Ethical utilitarian Peter Singer, also a self-described “Effective Altruist,” has a favorite thought experiment. If you see a small child drowning in a pond, should you always jump in to help? What if you were wearing a new pair of expensive shoes that might be ruined in the mud? The correct response, of course, is that a child should always be prioritized over shoes. Based on this hypothetical, Singer preaches that it’s therefore wrong to ever buy nice shoes because that money could be used to prolong life somewhere.

This kind of moral reasoning often leads to prioritizing human life en masse over human lives in particular. Certainly, we ought to work to prevent as many deaths as we can. Preventing and treating malaria, for example, is to address the No. 1 killer of human beings in the history of the world. However, it’s essential to remember that human life has infinite value because every human life has infinite value. Thus, the effectiveness of our compassion cannot be adequately measured only in totals.

Measuring the effectiveness of Effective Altruism requires an omniscience that human beings simply do not have. In Singer’s thought experiment, we are able to see the boy in the pond. However, we’re not able to see whether or not employment, economic mobility, and community development would have led to a fence around the pond, better schooling opportunities, or some other positive developments that could prevent future drownings or perhaps even this one. In this view, anything less than knowing everything makes living a moral life impossible. The result is kind of like a parent telling a stubborn child to eat his or her dinner because a different child is starving on the other side of the world, as if the two scenarios are related.

A Christian moral vision does not reduce humanity or humans to a math equation. As ethicist and theologian Oliver O’Donovan has put it, “to love everybody in the world equally is to love nobody very much.” Rather, as Paul instructed the church at Corinth, real good is brought to the world when we each “lead the life that the Lord has assigned. …” In this view, an expensive alabaster jar of perfume poured on the head of Jesus, rather than being sold to help the poor, is not wasted. A widow’s mite can have infinite value, while a multimillion-dollar collaboration of government charities that prop up dictators, corruption, and horrific evils could bring more harm than good.

He’s Not Jesus

Both extroverts and introverts can lead well. Both can lead poorly. Personality is only one part of leadership. However, your personality as a leader comes with intrinsic advantages and challenges. The extroverted pastor tends to work a room better than an introvert. The introverted pastor tends to listen better one-on-one. 

Partly because they are more outgoing, I believe extroverted pastors will get the benefit of the doubt—more so than introverted pastors. Many have tackled the subject of how introverts can overcome weaknesses, but I haven’t noticed as much written about extroverted pastors. 

As an extrovert, I’ve noticed some painful shortcomings in my leadership. Perhaps I’m alone in some of these struggles. But maybe some of you can relate. 

  • Extroverts can talk too much. I process my thoughts by talking to others. Nobody will wonder what I’m thinking because thinking and talking are synonymous for me. Many times, this trait works to my advantage. I can hold a conversation. But talking too much is annoying. Not listening is rude. I’m guilty. 
  • Extroverts can bounce too much. I love a room full of people. Bouncing from person to person and conversation to conversation is fun. I enjoy seeing people engage with each other, especially in the church! However, this tendency can come across as superficial, especially when someone needs me to focus deeply on their words. 
  • Extroverts can overshare opinions. I have lots of opinions, and I’m glad to share them. However, there is wisdom in restraint. I admire people who don’t feel the urge to share every opinion on every subject. Maybe one day I’ll be more like them. 
  • Extroverts can assume every group needs to be large. Every time a group gathers at the church, I want to invite everyone. Usually, this tendency is good. That is, unless the group is designed to be small or confidential. The “come on by” and “the more, the merrier” mentality is not always wise. 

Part of being a better leader is practicing to be a better leader. So I’ve started some exercises to help temper my extroverted nature. 

  • Literally stop talking. I will challenge myself in my head, “Sam, stop talking. Now.” When I have the urge to say something, I’ll tell myself to wait another minute. Then another minute. Then maybe another minute. After I feel like I’m torturing myself, then it’s usually good to say something. 
  • When you feel the urge to move to another person in a crowded room, stay five more minutes in the current conversation. This tactic has helped me dive much deeper into conversations. Don’t look past people. Don’t interrupt their flow of thought with “yes” or “uh huh.” Simply look them in the eye and listen. 
  • Ask more questions instead of giving opinions. Short but rich questions allow the other person to expound their thoughts. Questions like “Why do you think that is?” or “How does that make you feel?” help open avenues to better conversations. 
  • Seek out the wisdom of introverts. Find the reserved sages in your church and spend a lot of one-on-one time with them. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence with them for extended periods. They will give you incredible insight when they speak. 

Both extroverts and introverts have strengths and weaknesses built into their personalities. Extroverted pastors will have some natural struggles in shepherding their congregations. You can overcome many of these struggles with a few tactics and a little practice.

Before He Returns…

Does the New Testament teach that Jesus may come at any moment? The apostle Paul shows us quite explicitly that it is right to discern what events must precede the Lord’s coming. When confronted with the apparent hysteria about the day of the Lord being already present, he responded, “Let no one deceive you in any way.1 For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:3). Paul’s answer in his day to the question, What events are yet to happen before Christ comes? is twofold: (1) the rebellion must come, and (2) the man of lawlessness must be revealed. These two events are still to come, as I write in the fall of 2021. Paul does not treat these two events as so ambiguous that they cannot be discerned when they come. The appearance of the man of lawlessness will be globally sensational and brief:

[He] opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. . . . And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thess. 2:4, 8)

For any of the Thessalonians who were prone to think that this man of lawlessness was far in the future, or for any of us today who are prone to think that he is far in the future, Paul adds this remarkable warning: “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7). Already—in the first century, and today.

This is similar to John’s way of speaking about the antichrist: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). Paul does not say, “Many men of lawlessness have come,” but he might have. What he says is, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.”

The point is this: don’t relax your vigilance, thinking that the man of lawlessness (or antichrist) is far off, because the very essence of his deceptive power is now at work and could so deceive you that you would be oblivious to the deadliness of his arrival. Let me say that again: just when you think the end is far in the future, the satanic mystery of lawlessness may so cloud your mind with deception that you cannot see the soon arrival of the man of lawlessness.

Coming Rebellion

The “rebellion” (or apostasy) is also still in the future. This event is less definite than the appearance of a man who proclaims himself to be God, but it can’t be reduced to a centuries-long process of seasons of apostasy. Paul believed that it would be discernible enough that he could use the absence of it as evidence that the day of the Lord was not yet at hand.

It would be true to say, “The mystery of apostasy has already begun,” just as Paul says, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In fact, Paul does speak this way about a coming defection from true faith. He says in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,” and he treats those people as already present and deals with their error (1 Tim. 4:1–5).

Again Paul says, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . .” Then he follows this end-time prediction with, “Avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:1–2, 5). In other words, Paul views the signs of the end as more or less always with us.2 What will be different about the end is the degree and intensity of evil. Paul shows this by referring to the present “restraint” (2 Thess. 2:7) on evil, which will be removed, thus giving rise to greater evil at the end.

The fact that there are historically repeated prefigurations of endtime events means that most of the precursors of the second coming are not of such a nature that they allow for discerning the closeness of the end. They are real, but also imprecise. They are meant to make us vigilant, knowing that very quickly, the common evils of history might escalate into the climactic events of the end.

Finishing the Great Commission Is Hard to Recognize

What about the promise that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14)? Does that enable us to know the time of Jesus’s coming?

I have tried in other publications to define the nature and extent of “all nations” in Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19. In other words, I have wrestled with what the completion of the Great Commission looks like.3 But on the basis of almost fifty pages of wrestling, my conclusion is unsatisfactory to anyone hoping we could use the progress of world evangelization for predicting the time of the Lord’s return. For example, I write, “The point rather is that as long as the Lord has not returned, there must be more people groups to reach, and we should keep on reaching them.”4

The only change in that sentence I would make today is to add that that the completion of the Great Commission includes the extent of evangelization and obedience within people groups, not just reaching new ones. This is the point of 2 Peter 3:9, which teaches that the second coming is delayed for the sake of the full ingathering of the elect.

Therefore, Matthew 24:14 teaches us that every advance of the gospel is both encouragement that the Lord is nearing and incentive to “hasten” his coming (2 Pet. 3:12) by giving great energy to world evangelization.

What Will Happen before Christ Comes?

Of all the events leading up to the second coming, two are more precise than the others: the appearance of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3) and the cosmic events described in Matthew 24:29–30.5 Jesus describes the cosmic events like this:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:29–30)
We have no warrant to be sure that Christ’s coming is ever more than a few years away.

I understand these cosmic events as real cosmological events, just as the coming of Christ is a real bodily, spatial, visible, audible event. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ in literal flesh and blood, and with the resurrection in a body that ate fish and showed wounds, and with the ascension of that body on literal clouds, and with the promise of the coming of that glorious body to a literal earth, we should be slow to treat the signs accompanying the second coming as metaphorical. Jesus and the apostles give no hint that they are not describing cosmological reality.6

From the way Jesus describes the events of Matthew 24:29–30, it seems that they happen in immediate conjunction with the appearing of Christ. These signs do not appear to happen far enough in advance of his coming that they could be used to calculate his near arrival. They happen at his coming. I do not know what a darkened sun will be like (how dark?), or a moon not shining (eclipse?), or stars falling (disappearing—or meteorites?), or the heavens shaken (with thunder?). I do not know what the “sign of the Son of Man” is, but it seems to be virtually simultaneous with Christ’s appearing.

Therefore, these cosmic events do not tell us when the end will come. They tell us that it is now here. The cosmic displays, Jesus says, will announce his appearing like lightning: “As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27).

No Warrant to Assume He Is Not Near

We do not know how much time must elapse before Jesus comes. Let that be clear. We do not know. We err to say otherwise. But we may err in the other direction as well—presuming to think that he must not be near. You may remember that I made the statement earlier that we have no warrant to be sure that Christ’s coming is ever more than a few years away. To be clear, I do not know if Christ is six years or sixty years or six hundred years away. What I am saying here is that no one has biblical warrant for being sure Jesus is more than a very few years away, like five to six years. And it may be closer.

What You Cannot Forget

After nearly two decades, the memory is still vivid: standing in the living room with the phone to my ear, listening as my friend and pastor, Rick, described to me through sobs how one of the young, vibrant couples in our church had just been in a terrible car accident. The husband had survived. But the wife had not. And neither had their unborn son — their first child, whose birth they had been anticipating with so much joy.

I stood stunned, trying to process this new reality. I could see her laughing with a group of people after church the previous Sunday. Now, she was suddenly gone — taken, along with her child, in a violent event that unfolded in a few seconds. Rick asked me, the leader of the worship ministry, to begin thinking and praying over possible music for the funeral that would likely be held the next week.

If my memory is accurate, the first song that came to mind, almost immediately, was one of my favorite hymns: “Be Still, My Soul.”

Song for Deepest Sorrow

I have loved this hymn since my late teens. When sung to a beautiful arrangement of the tune “Finlandia,” it has, to my ear, perfect prosody — that’s the term musicians use to describe how “all elements [of a song] work together to support the central message of the song.” And the central message of “Be Still, My Soul” is the resurrection hope Jesus gives us in the face of the devastating death of a loved one.

The powerful lyrics come from the pen of a German woman named Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel and began appearing in German hymnals in 1752. Little is known about Katharina. Some believe she may have been a “Stiftsfraulein,” a member of a female Lutheran “stift” (convent) in the town of Köthen (one hundred miles southwest of Berlin), and that she had been significantly influenced by a pietistic Christian renewal movement.

No record survives of the specific event(s) that inspired her to compose this deeply moving hymn. But such specifics aren’t necessary since we all experience the kind of devastating losses she writes about. And when they come, we often find ourselves enduring an internal hurricane of disorienting grief, in desperate need of the peaceful shelter of hope. And the gift Katharina has bequeathed to us — in the four verses most English hymnals contain (she wrote six) — is this profound poetic reminder of the one shelter for our sorrowful, storm-tossed souls: the faithfulness of God.

‘The Lord Is on Thy Side’

She begins in verse one by reminding us of the unshakable foundation on which we stand by faith:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The first line is a near quote of Psalm 118:6: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.” But the rationale for why we have any right to make this otherwise audacious claim is gloriously stated in Romans 8:31–32:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

In the swirl of grief, we may wonder, “All things? Then why did God not spare my loved one from death and me from such anguish of separation?” To which the Holy Spirit, through the great apostle, graciously, hopefully, and gently replies,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39)

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord is on your side. And he will lead you through this vale of deep darkness to the eternally Son-lit, joyful land of everlasting love (Psalm 23:4, Revelation 21:23).

‘All Now Mysterious Shall Be Bright at Last’

In verse two, Katharina reminds us of the great promise purchased for us when the Father did not spare his own Son for us: freedom from the curse of living with the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge we insisted on having, while lacking the capacities to comprehend or mange it.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Now, God’s purposes in allowing evil to wreak such grievous havoc are largely shrouded in mystery, and so can appear senseless. But it will not always be so. For Jesus came to undo all of the effects of curse. First, he came into the world to undo the curse of death (Genesis 3:19). And then, when we finally experience life free from remaining sin and beyond the threat of death, we shall be given knowledge more wonderful than what we sought from the Edenic fruit: we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will soon make all you now find so mysterious bright at last.

‘Jesus Can Repay All He Takes Away’

In verse three, when the sword of grief has pierced our hearts at the deaths of our dearest ones, Katharina applies the balm of gospel promise to our throbbing wound.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

That last line echoes the great faith-filled, worshipful declaration Job made upon the news of the deaths of his dear children: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). But Katharina’s words declare the biblical promise of a greater restoration than Job experienced on earth. For God has promised that even the severest losses will someday seem like “light momentary affliction” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” they produce (2 Corinthians 4:17).

But this verse also describes a Christian’s paradoxical experience in the very anguish of bereavement. For those who, while grieving, place their trust in their best and heav’nly friend receive a foretaste of the riches of Jesus’s fullness as they come to “better know His love, His heart.” They often experience new dimensions of the reality of what Jesus meant when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will never depart and will repay from his own fullness far more than all he takes away.

‘We Shall Be Forever with the Lord’

One week after that tragic car accident, we gathered in the sanctuary to remember the lives and grieve the deaths of that young wife, daughter, sister, friend, and expectant mother, and the baby boy she and her devastated husband had looked forward to bringing into the world. But we did not grieve as those “who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

My clearest memory of the funeral was being so deeply moved and comforted by the way I heard my brothers and sisters sing “Be Still, My Soul,” especially the last verse:

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Here is every Christian’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), the reason Jesus is for us “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Katharina’s words helped us encourage one another in the hope that there is coming a day when “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18). They helped us together preach to our souls,

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will soon gather us all together again, safe and blessed, in his presence — where his full joy will be our full joy, and where all that gives him pleasure will be all that gives us pleasure forever (Psalm 16:11).

Then, having done our best to still our souls through faith in God’s faithfulness, we escorted the earthly remains of our sister and baby brother to the cemetery, where we sowed their perishable, weak, and natural bodies into the ground in the hope that Jesus will raise them with imperishable, powerful, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). And upon the grave’s marker, the loving husband and father, whose loss had been incalculable, yet who in faith believed Christ had greater gain for the three of them, had this text inscribed:

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;      when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. (Psalm 17:15)

Parents Are Not Teaching Their Children to Pass On the Faith

While mental health concerns top the list of worries for parents today, and studies suggest religion is good for mental health, passing on their religious beliefs to their children is not highly prioritized by US adults with children younger than 18, new data from the Pew Research Center show.

Across racial and ethnic lines, overwhelming majorities of U.S. adults with children younger than 18 believe being a parent is either one of or the most important aspect of who they are as a person. But when it comes to prioritizing the passing on of their faith to their children, white Evangelicals and black Protestants are the only two Christian groups where a majority of parents prioritize this.

“Parents place less importance on their children growing up to have religious or political beliefs that are similar to their own. About a third (35%) say it is extremely or very important to them that their children share their religious beliefs, and 16% say the same about their children’s political beliefs,” Pew researchers Rachel Minkin and Juliana Horowitz said in Parenting in America Today released on Tuesday. “Republican and Democratic parents are about equally likely to say it’s at least very important to them that their children share their political beliefs.”

Data for Parenting in America Today came from some 3,757 U.S. parents with children younger than 18, which was collected as part of a larger survey conducted from Sept. 20 to Oct. 2, 2022, to better understand how American parents approach parenting.

Only 40% of black parents and 39% of Hispanic parents in the study told researchers that it’s extremely or very important to them that their children share their religious beliefs. That share is even lower among white and Asian parents where only 32% say it’s important that their children share the same religion.

Some 70% of white Evangelical parents and 53% of black Protestants said it is important that their children share their religious beliefs. Among white non-Evangelical Protestants that figure is only 29%, while only 35% of Catholic parents say this.

At the same time, researchers found that 40% of U.S. parents with children younger than 18 “say they are extremely or very worried that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point.”

The concern for mental health of their children among parents today is even larger than their concerns about “certain physical threats …, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy and getting in trouble with the police,” researchers said.

“Concerns about mental health are felt more acutely by white and Hispanic parents: 42% of white parents and 43% of Hispanic parents say they are extremely or very worried their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, compared with 32% of black parents and 28% of Asian parents,” researchers wrote.

Results of a survey of nearly 10,000 young people ages 13-25 about their beliefs, practices, behaviors, relationships and mental health published last October by Springtide Research Institute in The State of Religion & Young People 2022: Mental Health–What Faith Leaders Need to Know, it was found that during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, 53% of respondents reported that mental health was their biggest challenge. Yet only 34% reported being comfortable talking about their struggle with adults.

Some 57% said new spiritual practices helped them endure the pandemic and more than half (51%) said they turned to prayer. Others turned to activities like reading, yoga, the arts or being in nature.

The study found that while religion and spirituality “can be strong antidotes to much of what contributes to mental-health struggles among young people” and that “people who are religious are better off mentally and emotionally,” only 35% of the respondents said they are connected to a religious community.

Respondents connected to a religious community were found to be more likely to say they are “flourishing a lot” in their mental and emotional well-being (29%) than those not connected to a religious community (20%).

Respondents who say they are “very religious” were more likely to report that they are “flourishing a lot” (40%) compared to those who say they are not religious (17%). Respondents who are “not religious” were more than twice as likely to say they are “not flourishing” (44%) than “very religious” respondents.

The study appeared to confirm decades of previous research pointing to a positive relationship between religion, spirituality and mental health.

Josh Packard, Springtide Research Institute’s executive director, noted that “solutions to mental-health struggles are more complicated than just ‘give young people more religion'” as about 20% of “very religious” respondents reported they are “not flourishing.”

The new data from the Pew Research Center appears to suggest a certain level of pragmatism among parents as they seek to do what’s best in a society that has grown more open including when it comes to expressions of faith.

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