Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Hail Mary, Blessed Art Thou Among Skeptics

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is the Virgin Mary (hence the name of my baby girl, Mary Matthews.) Very often, the honest, authentic, and skeptical nature of Mary is lost in Christmas sentimentality.  Working from the text in Luke 1: 26-38, here are several ways in which Mary serves as a superb model and entry point for teenagers struggling with and doubting Christian faith:

11.)  Mary questions whether things that come from God are good or bad.
When the angel appears to Mary to deliver a message from God, she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (v.1:29). She did not just assume that all circumstances or words that originate with God are good. In reality, this is the deepest question with which teenage skeptics wrestle. At the bottom of their doubts- regardless of whether they identify themselves as an atheist or agnostic- they believe in a higher power. However, they question whether that “god” is personal and good. Mary, the mother of God, shares their same hesitations when the angel appears to her.

22.)   Mary wrestled with questions about science and religion.

When the angel pronounced to Mary that she had conceived a child, she asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Given that Mary stands as perhaps the most celebrated and revered woman in Christianity (or any world religion for that matter), many teens may be surprised to see that she raised doubts about science and religion. She did not just assume, “Well, of course, the answer is that God will perform a miracle.” Mary raised the reasonable question that her conceiving a child defies the biological explanation of how children are conceived, since she not had sex before. She needed help and reassurance from God to come to where she could believe that God would and could perform a miracle and that He is at work in this realm. What a comfort to teens that struggle with questions over science and faith that their struggle is not new and that even that strongest of Christians experience it too.

33.)  Mary came to faith in light of suffering.
So many teenagers resist embracing God because they have suffered trauma or see so much evil in the world. Many times I hear teenagers say that they never can believe that there is a good God because they have seen and experienced so much suffering.  Mary serves as an example of one who has experienced the worst and still maintains faith in God. Mary is a poor, disenfranchised woman who will become ostracized from Jewish society because she appears to be a whore. Her family will have to flee and leave the country due to wicked leaders who want to slay her baby. Herod will murder all of the children in her hometown on account of her child’s special status as King of Kings. A suffering teenager, who really wants to believe but simply can’t, may find comfort and hope in seeing how much the matriarch of Christianity suffers and yet still can embrace God.

44.)  Mary’s faith comes from God, not effort.
In my own life when I fail to walk in the reality of God’s goodness and the benefits of Christ’s death on the Cross, I futilely try to muster up faith to believe. I have found that I have to ask and trust God for the faith that I need to walk in His truth. Mary’s transition from doubt and questioning to humble obedience does not come through effort, self-talk, or technique. God does something in her heart to make that giant leap across this spiritual impasse. After hours of conversation and reference to apologetics, I often come to the conclusion with a student that he or she needs to ease off trying to generate faith and simply ask God to give them the faith they desire. Mary’s incredible faith appears to come by God’s miraculous work in her heart as opposed to Mary’s spiritual determination. 

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