Pastor for more than 25 years and there is no end to the questions one might receive from a young person. Over the years you become accustomed to questions about Heaven, Hell, pets, and other existential queries any normal elementary age child might ask.
A couple of weeks ago following our Sunday gathering, one of our young fellows asked me as he was leaving church that morning, “Where did Cain get his wife?”Er, uh. Answer that one in 60 seconds or less. After all, there were hands to shake and necks to hug.
It might take some doing to answer such a question since it was not your run of the mill elementary age question; at least not in my 25 plus years. Or put another way, I suspected a flippant answer like, “You’re too young for that sort of question,” would not suffice. And, it should not.
My friend Greg continues to pound the proverbial table about Christian education in local churches. You should know up front that he knows, or knew, something about the subject. I say knew, as Greg is no longer involved in Church, a local church, or Christianity except as a Freelance Religion Writer. He once served in Church, a local church, and maintained the faith as a Staff person and Pastor. Today he teaches college students a variety of subjects.
One such class is World Religions. Often he faces young first and second year college students who show up in a World Religions Class underprepared, or un-prepared, to face some rather difficult questions. Immediately I hear the drumbeat signaling the need for more apologetics work in Christian Youth Ministry. May be needed. But, I fear what is really needed is a place where these questions may be pursued on their own merits rather than as a means to instill patterned responses that fall when the initial response is offered.
Take the question of Cain’s wife. There are not a few answers. One may suggest the point of the story is not about Cain’s wife. That it is mentioned simply describes how life went on for Cain who became the father of Enoch about whom it is eventually is reported, “walked with God and was not.” Another possibility is that he married a sister. Since the story of Cain killing Abel serves a particular function, we do not have record of all the children born to Adam and Eve. This, of course, raises another question as to the later prohibition of incest. But, we should not bring that one up with children. Then, there is the idea that Adam and Eve may have lived many years and had many children before the events described in Genesis 4 so that by the time Cain needed a wife he married not his sister but a descendent from an unnamed sibling. We still face what do to if it was not a niece several times removed. Maybe the answer lay in another way to understand Adam and Eve. They were archetypal, representatives. They give us the occasion that befell every human couple given the choice between faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God. For many this is a bridge too far because then it calls into question other stories. Or, finally though this series of possibilities is not exhaustive, we could simply say, “I don’t know.”
My point is not to answer the question here. My aim is to suggest we have failed to create a space where young people, and even their parents, feel freedom to ask questions, any question. We feel it somehow disrespectful. But, I believe it is fear. For too long we have repeated the same answers until someone finally said, “Wait.” Then, when faced with our answers either create a speculative solution that defies normal sense or we move the question to the arena of, “It is not for you to know.” Neither of these polarizing options help the young college student, even if you arm them with evidentialist, presuppositionalist, or naturalist apologetics. For even in those instances you end up arguing a priori positions rather than actually facing the Text.
Greg thinks the Church, local churches; Christianity needs to help their young people face these questions so they do not feel the need to give up their faith. Did you read that one? Greg is not interested in, as some well may be, disabusing young people of faith but that when they get ready to answer the ethical questions of life based on the faith they hold dear that it not crumble when students learn the answers they were given do not hold up as they were told.