Thanks for this important question.
As the answers we give always need to be contextualized, let me give you a roadmap as to what might be helpful.
First, I would suggest that when kids share that they no longer believe in God, I think the most meaningful way to approach that is to ask a question. In this case, if they are saying that it is because of the violence/killings in the Old Testament, I would ask them what it is about the killings and violence that makes them not believe. As a general rule, questions are always better than statements. Of course, there will come a point in the conversation when we need to give an answer, but the starting point should be questions. As has been mentioned by Ravi Zacharias and several of our team members, questions:
- Make people think.
- Expose Contradictions.
- Open up a person within their own world view.
Generally speaking, questions enable our conversations to be thoughtful and civil as opposed to turning into heated debate. The former is what we are after, of course.
So let’s work out how this conversation might develop. If the Old Testament is truly the issue that is keeping one from belief, I think it might help to look at specific texts and do a case-by-case study.
Let me suggest a few books and then give you a few principles that I have found helpful on this topic.
God Behaving Badly, David T. Lamb
Is God A Moral Monster, Paul Copan
Hard Sayings of the Bible, Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, Brauch
General principles that I apply when I read the Scriptures are:
The Bible is a very sophisticated book that was written by a specific person, to a specific audience, in a specific context. Since this is the case, to understand the meaning of passages in the Bible, I need to understand the context in which the passage I am reading was written. I remember the Bible Scholar John Walton saying that we not only need to translate the language a text was written in, we need to translate the culture. We can apply this same rule of understanding how historical events have taken shape; if we fail to understand the culture in which a certain event took place, we will not understand the full meaning of the event itself. The books I cited above give helpful contextual background to some of the tricky passages in the Bible.
When I find a tricky passage that causes me to question God’s character, I remind myself to let the things I do know about God illuminate the things I do not know about him. There are many things that we do not know about God, but there is so much that we do know about him. When we come into hard places in which we question God, we ought to be encouraged that God does not discourage our questions! But more, we should not forget that he is one that has revealed himself to us in history and through the Scriptures. Despite having much we do not know about him, we need to let the things we do know about God shed light on the things we do not know. Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, Nicky Gumbel has a great line that is important here: “Don’t doubt in the dark what you know to be true in the light.”
Let me just add one more principle: Do not be afraid to admit that there are indeed hard passages of the Bible. So often we can get into this ‘robo-Christian’ mode of thinking that we have all the answers and that faith is clean and clear. Life is not like that, relationships are not like that, and the Christian faith is not like that. It can be like a whoosh of fresh air to have a conversation and hear a person say that they have a hard time understanding things. The reality is, there are some passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. There are very meaningful ways of answer the questions! But the point here is to simply acknowledge that are hard passages to interpret.
These are just a few thoughts for now, but I hope you find it helpful!