The other day I was talking to a friend of mine as we waited for our kids to finish an after school activity. Our conversation at some point turned to the importance of taking your kids to church. For a moment, my friend paused in a deep thought, then looked at me pensively and said, “I just want to be sure my son has hope, you know? Without God, there’s just no hope.”
I nodded. I agreed. Without God, there is no hope.
But I’m concerned about the way I’ve been seeing Christians, like my friend, speak about that fact lately. Her comment was the latest in a string of related hope statements I’ve noticed in recent weeks as I’ve observed conversations between believers and unbelievers online.
The conversations go something like this. An atheist will state something opposed to a belief in God (this could be just about anything), and a well-meaning Christian will reply something like, “Without God, life is meaningless. We’re just an accident, we have no purpose, we’re all headed to nothingness, this universe doesn’t matter at all, and there’s no hope.” You can almost hear the Christian confidently slamming the case closed.
I believe that my friend and the other Christians I’ve seen discussing hope like this are well meaning, but are ultimately speaking of hope in a misleading (and possibly harmful) way.
Here’s why we, as Christians, and especially as Christian parents, need to be careful how we talk about hope.
1. The desire for hope is not a reason to be a Christian.
This week I laughed out loud when I saw nearly identical Facebook ads from two different presidential candidates on the same day: “Join my campaign today and get a free bumper sticker.”
Amazing news! It doesn’t matter which campaign you follow, you can get a free bumper sticker either way! Things are really looking up…if you’re in the market for a free bumper sticker.
In the same way, if you’re in the market for hope, that can be found in all kinds of ways. For example, Islam and Mormonism both offer “hope” in the form of an eventual paradise for the faithful. But their claims about truth—including how a person reaches that paradise—couldn’t be more different. As another example, read this person’s story of deconversion from Christianity, in which he concludes that he’s now creating his own belief system about God because, though he’s no longer a Christian, he still needs “hope.”
Our job as Christian parents is not to give our kids hope. Hope can be found in all kinds of places, just like bumper stickers. Our job is to teach our kids truth, and to teach them how to discover that truth themselves.
If Christianity isn’t true, you’re only giving your kids false hope, which the apostle Paul points out is absolutely pitiful: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
2. Conversely, the hopelessness of a worldview is not a reason to reject it.
Just as hope isn’t a good reason to be a Christian, it’s also not a good reason to reject a worldview without it.
If Christianity is true, we have reason to have hope. We can confidently believe that we were specially created by God for a purpose, that when we die, there is truly an eternity of paradise awaiting believers, and that the terrible wrongs of our fallen world will be made right.
If atheism is true, we have no reason to have hope. We really are the product of blind, undirected evolution, when we die it’s truly the end, and there will be no final justice where wrongs (however an atheist defines them) will be made right.
These are simply factual statements about the implications of these worldviews being true. With respect to objective meaning and eternal destiny, Christianity is hopeful and atheism is hopeless.
But the hopelessness of atheism doesn’t mean it’s not true. There’s nothing about our mere existence which necessitates that eternal hope is a reality.
When Christians point out to unbelievers that the atheistic worldview is hopeless, it’s as impactful as pointing out that a unicornless worldview is less fanciful. So what? That might be reality. There may be no unicorns, no matter how much I want to live in a more fanciful world.
Focus on What’s True, Not What’s Hopeful
If Christianity is true, all kinds of wonderful things flow from that truth. We really can delight in hope, and we absolutely should make sure our kids understand what awaits believers.
But we have to carefully avoid focusing on hope as a reason for faith. As Paul said, false hope is a pitiful thing.
What’s important—vital—is that our kids know that what they believe is actually true…whether that truth hurts or not.
Parents, please take that seriously: Study the objective evidence for the truth of Christianity so you are readily prepared to give your kids good reasons for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15). Hope untethered to reality is as fleeting as the clouds in the sky.
If you need reading recommendations, check out my 16 Book Recommendations for Studying Apologetics. Additionally, my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, is available now for pre-order.