Ecclesiastes and the Postmodern Teenager: 4 Ways to Resist Casual Faith
Follow along with us this week and next as we delve into various aspects of the book of Ecclesiastes, and the many ways it speaks to the life of the post-modern teenager.
Some theologians say we live in a “world come of age.” The world has “grown up” enough that we don’t need supernatural explanations to make sense of life. Most teenagers in our postmodern society walk through their day with very little knowledge of their need for faith in God; they give him little thought.
The sun will rise. The car will start. The school-day will go on as expected. The greatest miracle most students hope for is a good grade on a test they didn’t study for, or maybe that the special guy or girl would finally notice their existence.
Most days, teenagers have very little awareness of their need for God.
As Christians, we intellectually know that we do need God to make sense of our world and our daily life, but so often in day-to-day living we lose sight of the miraculous. Even Christian teens struggle to know how their faith should shape their friendships, schoolwork, and extracurriculars.
The Jewish writer, Abraham Heschel, wrote in God in Search of Man, “The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted…. Modern man fell into the trap of believing that everything can be explained, that reality is a simple affair which has only to be organized in order to be mastered.”
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 offers a warning against such casual faith. How can we help our students avoid casual faith in a “world come of age”?
1. Teach about God’s holiness. The author (probably King Solomon) tells the reader about how big God is. He says, “go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (v.1), “God is in Heaven, you are on Earth, so let your words be few” (v.2), and “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it” (v.3). Solomon puts the reader in their place. Because God is Holy, come before him with reverence and humility. Verse 1 literally says, “Keep watch over your feet as you walk into the house of God. To approach to listen is better than to give the sacrifice of fools, they do not even know they are doing evil.”
When students come before God, do they “keep watch over their feet” because they are in awe of him? Or is their worship marked by casual faith?
Is God a matter of convenience to them; like a butler there to serve when they have need of him? Do they pray to their buddy in the sky, or to the Holy creator of all things who loves them enough to die for them? When our students read Scripture, do they hear the holy Word of God, or are they reading an old book of wisdom, suggestions on how to be a “good” person? Casual faith is no faith at all – it is the lukewarm faith that Jesus will spit out of his mouth when he returns (Revelation 3:16).
2. Train students to Listen to God’s Word. In our attempt to help students experience the work of God, we have put them to work for him before they’ve actually listened to his Word. Solomon says it is better to listen than to offer the sacrifice of fools. When we view our faith as something we do (instead of receiving a new identity as a beloved child of God) then we offer the sacrifice of fools.
The word “listen” doesn’t merely mean “to hear,” but “to hear and to do.” Remind students of the thousands of times they’ve “heard” their parents’ instructions but didn’t obey… We can guide students to discover their new identity in Christ, through the gospel, and then to live into it by listening to God’s Word.
If we received God’s Word with humility, and obeyed by faith, our schools and communities would be radically different. Perhaps we really would be a “world come of age.”
3. Encourage students to be slow to make commitments. Solomon writes in v.2-3, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.” The Bible is full of examples where people made vows before the Lord without thinking it through, and the results were less-than-stellar.
Commitments to God should not be impulsive or half-baked.
This obviously runs counter-cultural to much of what we see in ministry, especially among youth. We have probably all experienced the high-pressure altar call. We’ve seen students make commitments because of an emotional high, only to have them voice confusion about that commitment the following day.
4. Cultivate a gospel-centered worldview. It is through confession of sin and repentance that anyone becomes a disciple of Christ (Mark 1:15 & 17). As Martin Luther famously wrote in Thesis #1, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” For this to happen, teens need to wrestle with the reality of their sin and guilt before a Holy God.
A gospel-centered worldview is built on two key foundations: our great need for God, and God’s amazing grace. When students live with this worldview, faith in Christ will not be casual, but central to everything else.
We live in a world that thinks it operates without God in the mix. Our students swim in the sea of pop culture where Jesus is either absent, or a cartoon figure to be mocked. In many ways, we also fall into the trap of treating God lightly. Grace becomes assumed and taken for granted. Prayer is “the least we can do.” And we struggle to connect the mundane rhythms of our kids’ school-life to God’s glorious plan for his Church.
When the Holy God of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 is the same God who invites us to call him Abba Father, our view should change. In the midst of daily life, we follow Jesus as disciples as we do all things for the glory of Christ and for the good of others. In doing this, we are keeping the Greatest Commandment and letting the light of the gospel shine in the world.