A few months ago, I experienced a moment of personal insight that deeply transformed how I think about faith. It happened while debating whether or not to go to the grocery store.
It was mid-morning on a weekday. The kids were at school and I was at my computer working. I hadn’t had time for breakfast that day and my stomach started rumbling. As my thoughts turned to food, I realized I needed to go grocery shopping. I actually enjoy the grocery store, so I started thinking about all the delicious things I would buy for the week and the dinners I’d make.
But first I had to eat something.
I heated up some leftovers from dinner (my favorite kind of breakfast) and promptly experienced a food coma from the abundance of morning calories. When I sat back down at my computer, I audibly sighed and thought to myself, “I don’t want to go to the grocery store. I’m not even hungry now.”
I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of my own thought. What does hunger have to do with needing groceries at any given time? And why had I looked forward to everything I could buy just 30 minutes before, whereas now grocery shopping felt like a chore?
I have thought of this seemingly trivial moment dozens of times over the last few months because it is such an appropriate analogy for the role of desire in a person’s spiritual life.
Why Does Hope Even Matter?
If you spend any time around Christians, you’ll hear about the “hope we have in Jesus.” But it occurred to me that fateful grocery shopping day that we’re often trying to offer people (including our kids) something they’re not even hungry for.
In order to hunger for hope, a person needs to first have a sense of hopelessness.
To see why that’s the case, imagine for a moment that there’s new hope that a cure for a very rare disease you’ve never heard of will be found this year. One day you come across a group of people meeting at a park whose lives have all been impacted by the disease. They joyfully share about the hope we all have that the cure is coming soon…and invite you to join their group to have the hope as well.
How interested in this hope do you think you’d be? While you might be happy for the people who need the cure, the personal hope you’d experience probably wouldn’t motivate you to suddenly be as joyful as those who had personally experienced the hopelessness of not having it.
There’s an important difference, of course, between the hope of a cure for a disease that only some people have and the hope we have in Jesus: Jesus is the cure for a disease every human has—sin and death.
Theoretically that means we should all care deeply about the hope of eternal life in Jesus. But as parents, we often see that our kids don’t seem to care as greatly about their faith as we would want. They embrace the hope we keep giving them in Jesus as much as you might embrace the hope of a cure for a disease you’re not too concerned about—lukewarmly and from a distance.
And that brings me back to grocery shopping.
Hungering for Hope
Objectively speaking, I knew I needed groceries that day, whether I was hungry or not. But I didn’t have the desire to shop because I wasn’t hungry for what I needed.
Similarly, there’s a lot keeping kids in our culture full today; even if they’re Christians, there’s a good chance they aren’t hungering for the hope of eternal life. Why?
Most of us have our basic needs of food and shelter met.
We have the logistical luxury of getting almost anything we could want at the push of a button.
We value material wealth and prioritize its pursuit.
We glorify sports.
We idolize entertainment.
We’re consumed with social media.
In other words, we’re thoroughly distracted by what this life has to (temporarily) offer us. If the things of this life don’t seem so bad to kids—and, on the flip side, seem quite enticing—why should they cling tightly to the hope of what happens after they die? They feel like they’ve got a pretty good thing going on right now.
This explains quite well why we hear about kids dying with cancer who have a rock solid faith many healthy adult Christians lack. And it explains why Christians in the poorest countries of the world often seem to express a joy and hope in Christ that is frequently missing in America. When people have had their earthly distractions removed—often without choice—they come face to face with the utter hopelessness of what the world has to offer.
They hunger for something more.
And when their hunger is filled by the hope of eternal life with Jesus, there is joy—joy where, by all earthly appearances, no joy should be found.
This realization has left me with a parenting dilemma in recent months. I admittedly don’t want to force my kids into a desperate situation in order for them to hunger for hope, but I’ve realized I need to do a better job of helping them have a healthy sense of earthly hopelessness.
The Coronavirus, Hopelessness, and the Hope of Easter
At Eastertime, perhaps more than any other time, we talk about the hope of Jesus. But if we want our kids to care about that hope, this is also the perfect week to talk about the hopelessness of the world.
The coronavirus has given us an unusually powerful opportunity to do so.
Suddenly many of our distractions have been stripped away. We are confronted with suffering and the fragility of life in a way most of our kids have never before experienced.
Let’s help them fully appreciate the moment.
Here’s the lesson I want for my kids this Easter.
1. In an atheistic worldview, there is no ultimate hope.
If God doesn’t exist:
- Life is an accident with no objective meaning.
- We’re chemical specks in a vast, indifferent universe with no more inherent value than rocks.
- There’s little reason to believe we can freely make choices.
- No one should live in any particular way because it makes no moral difference.
- No one has a responsibility to anyone else because we’re just molecules in motion with no moral obligations.
- There’s no such thing as objective moral evil, so we can’t even condemn even the worst actions of society as objectively wrong.
No one should want this to be true.
But we should want our kids to understand just how hopeless such a world would be.
If God doesn’t exist, then we experience enormous suffering during a crisis like the coronavirus…and that’s the end of the story. Large groups of molecules in motion (people) are simply disintegrating into the Earth more quickly than we collectively expected.
Most kids have never thought through the logical implications of an atheistic worldview like this (in my experience, many atheists haven’t either). We need to draw the connections for them so they can fully appreciate what would be true if God wasn’t actually there: utter hopelessness.
2. Christian hope only matters if, and only if, Christianity is true.
The last thing I would want my kids to think is that we are putting our hope in Jesus because an atheistic worldview is so bleak.
Bleak things can be true things.
We should never want to put our hope in Jesus simply because it makes us feel better. We should only put our hope in Jesus because there are good reasons to believe Christianity is true.
3. The truth test for Christianity is the resurrection.
The previous point should lead us to ask how we would know if Christianity is true. In other words, we need to know what an appropriate truth test is. Unfortunately, this is where many people go wrong today. They stop believing in Jesus because they haven’t experienced a certain answer to prayer, they haven’t experienced God in the way they’d like, or any number of other reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not Christianity is true. The apostle Paul gives us the actual truth test for Christianity in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
The truth test is the resurrection.
If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, we can pack our Christian bags and go home.
4. There is much evidence for the resurrection.
I spent hundreds of hours in church growing up and never once heard any “evidence” for the resurrection. Based on what I hear from parents today, things haven’t changed much in most churches. But if this is the ultimate test of truth for Christianity, and it’s the target of much mockery in our culture, it’s a tragedy that Christians overwhelmingly aren’t equipped to articulate why we have good reason to believe it’s true.
In my new book, Talking with Your Kids about Jesus, I include a section of six chapters explaining this evidence for parents to discuss with their kids:
- Why Does It Matter If Jesus Was Resurrected?
- What Historical Evidence Is There for Jesus’s Resurrection?
- Was Jesus’s Tomb Really Empty?
- Did Jesus’s Disciples Lie about the Resurrection?
- Were Jesus’s Disciples Mistaken about the Resurrection?
- Did People Invent the Resurrection Many Years Later?
These are questions every child should grow up being able to answer.
5. Because Jesus WAS raised from the dead, we have meaningful hope that should change how we live our lives.
If Jesus was raised from the dead—and we have every reason to believe he was—it validated that he was who he claimed to be (God himself) and confirmed we can trust in his promises of eternal life…an eternal life where every tear will be wiped away, and suffering and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4).
That’s a hope worth hungering for.
That’s a hope that should change how we see everything in this life, as long as we’re not full on the world.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids on this very unique Easter is a more profound sense of the earthly hopelessness that the coronavirus has shone a light on. It’s a gift that will better wet their appetites for hungering after Jesus the rest of their lives.