Are We Replacing God With Justice?
How many times have you heard a student say, "Church isn't my thing. I'm a good person. I help others out and care deeply about social issues." To understand the disconnection between Gen Z and the church, we need to recognize that this generation was born into a time where religion and Christianity are no longer a significant influence within today's culture. We must acknowledge the Christian church has been in a power position for so long, and our history of not living and standing for what we say we believe ( Ex: Love your neighbor as yourself) has cut into our credibility. The Barna Research Institute declared that teens 13-18 are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheists. This Post-Christian context allows our teens, and even leaders, pastors, and mentors, to demonstrate the love of Christ in a world that so desperately needs it.
How do we do this effectively with a generation that seems so different from the era we grew up in? First, we need to understand that Gen Z tends to be inclusive of all people, practices, and perspectives. They are open-minded and sensitive to other feelings and opinions. With Gen Z, we need to acknowledge that they have grown up in a time of domestic terrorism, school shootings, climate change, and discontent with media and government. Because of this, they prioritize happiness, safety, the environment, embracing the poor, and equality over thing else. This is a stark contrast to generations past who have valued possessions, high-paying jobs, and stability. The positive side of this is that they embrace varying perspectives and are more inclusive than previous generations. They are comfortable with people who differ from them, who believe differently than they do, and tend to be more accepting of differing viewpoints. The negative side is that they tend to be wary of declaring anything right or wrong. They seem to have a more flexible moral compass that leads to paths of indecision when it comes to values or convictions.
As the Christian community, our most significant ability to influence and change hearts and minds within this generation is to encourage students to develop a Christian worldview that exemplifies truth while demonstrating compassion and concern for others. Teaching them to examine what this means and how that affects our reading of scripture while understanding God calls us to balance both truth and compassion.
This generation needs leaders, parents, and mentors to break down the false dichotomy that justice and the Bible are mutually exclusive. Instead, we need to point out that justice fits squarely within the framework of biblical Christianity. We see this flow fiercely out of the gospel as a practical result of a loving God. Our God is a God of compassion and justice, look no further than Psalms 68:10 where he cares for the needy, Isaiah 41:17 where he cares for the poor, Psalms 10:17-18 where God fights for the oppressed, and finally, Micah 6:8, which says "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
If we want to live out justice the way Christ commands and encourages, we must make the gospel a foundation on which we build our life. Walking humbly with God should be a catalyst for doing justice; if we can acknowledge our shortcomings and God's greatness, we will desire to provide hope and care to others. Letting our students know that the only way we will see humanity flourish and reduce global suffering is to deal with the biggest problem facing humankind as a whole: sin and death. We need a holistic view of justice and providing solid biblical foundations with knowledge and research to back it up will hold water with your kids.
If our students struggle with this, then point them to the famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, "We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Meaning we are to take the view of those who suffer and fight for them when they may not have the means to fight for themselves. Bonhoeffer's devotion to the gospel is what fueled his passion for justice. Loving our God and showing commitment to who he is will push us to serve him and what he has instructed us to do to honor him. In honoring him, we will want to love our neighbors, which means meeting their physical needs while recognizing that their most crucial need is spiritual.
This is what Jesus did. Jesus first tended to the physical needs of those he met and then followed by discussing the deeper. Jesus comforted the poor and then spoke of spiritual richness. He gave water to the thirsty and then talked about living water. Jesus fed the hungry and then spoke about the bread of life. He cared for the little children and then spoke about being a child of God.
Jesus did not ignore or turn a blind eye to the suffering of this world as many Christians do today. Whether out of self-righteousness or oversight. He never made justice and truth an either-or conversation. He prioritized eternal suffering while caring for the temporal. Jesus cared about suffering in all areas, and his love for his people led to action.
If Gen Z wants to change and save the world, we need to impart the knowledge that to do so requires us to live like Jesus, love others like Jesus, and fight for others as Jesus did. If we want to make a difference for the eternal realm, we need to recognize the importance of loving others while imparting honest truths. It's only when both sides can see the importance of the other and respect and come together that change can happen.