Writing about the “un-churched” in a letter to Christians in Rome, Paul has something very surprising to say. “What can be known about God is plain to them,” he writes, “because God has shown it to them… through the things God has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
Taking this early Christian leader at his word, our Youth Group studied a few of the most magnificent, important, and disturbing creations of God using stories told by mainstream scientists and historians. We discovered how unusual it is to find Oxygen in an atmosphere, how distinct and diverse species of bacteria became one in the Eukaryotic cell, and how mind-blowing Einstein’s theory of time really is. We also shared fun, goofy stories about giant prehistoric mushrooms and flower bulbs that sold for as much as a house in 17th century Europe. Once we even stared into the face of tragedy and wrestled with the theological questions raised by the story of smallpox. In the process, a few of our youth rekindled their faith and many more got excited about learning about God through the stories that mainstream scientists tell about the world around us.
This was important to do because the Barna Institute has identified “the church coming off as antagonistic to science” as one of the prominent reasons young Christians disconnect from the church in their late teens and early twenties. Rather than say, “Christianity is not opposed to mainstream science,” we strove to show this fact by listening to the stories that scientists tell without an agenda and by remaining mindful of points of connection to or tension with our faith.
On the whole, the feedback on the unit has been extremely positive. The youth felt that their observations and opinions were valued (9.4), their doubts and convictions were honored (9.9), and that space was made for questions without obvious answers (9.9). Assumptions were challenged (8.6), faith was strengthened (8.3), curiosity was fueled (8.5), games were fun (8.4) +worthwhile (8.9), and a friend would have had fun if invited (9.1).
I’m really thankful for the trust, support and cooking of our wonderful parents of Faith youth, the volunteer commitments of Charlotte Lohrenz, Katherine Rhodes, Nate & Angela Mott, and Erin Caskey, and the insights, passion, and creativity of our talented youth. Together we learned a lot about God “through the things that God has made”;in conversation with each other and with God, moreover, we discovered new passages of scripture and saw familiar biblical messages come to life in new and exciting ways.
Below are a few illustrations of this:
Genesis 1:1-2 “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void.” (The story of life on earth before oxygen in our atmosphere).
1st Corinthians 12:18-19 “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of small be? But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (The story of the incredible partnership that makes complex life possible.)
Romans 12:17-18, 21 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (The story of parasitic wasps being transformed into benevolent pollinators by the gentle persuasion of flowering, fruitful angiosperms.)
Ecclesiastes 3:11,14-15a “God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end… I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before God. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is.” (Brain Green’s take on Einstein’s theory of time)