3 benefits of teaching teenagers the hard parts of Scripture

June 8, 2020

Growing up, I heard a lot about Joseph. His coat. His dreams. His betrayal. His plight in prison. Then there was God’s sovereign hand in Joseph’s unexpected climb up the Egyptian power ladder that resulted in incredible provision for his family. These stories were colorfully and memorably shared to us as kids and referenced as we grew, reminding us “God works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28).

But wedged in the middle of Joseph’s redemptive narrative is a big problem: Genesis 38. This is a chapter we like to fast forward, the way Dad dives for the remote when a family movie presents an unexpectedly mature scene. This chapter is all about Judah, Joseph’s big brother (and the one who famously suggested they sell their irritating baby brother into slavery), and his interactions with a prostitute that turns out to be his daughter-in-law Tamar. In other words, yikes. Or as Kevin DeYoung says in his kids’ book, The Biggest Story, “Judah did such dumb stuff, we don’t even want to talk about it.” I love the way DeYoung handles this for kids—neither exposing kids to an unsuitable brain-pretzel nor side-stepping the acknowledgement of grievous sin.

Even still, DeYoung’s wise treatment of Genesis 38 for kids begs the question: When should we talk about the prickly passages—particularly the ones that don’t resolve as neatly as Joseph’s?

During the teen years (which is a prickly passage of another sort), engaging with the awkward, upsetting, or mind-boggling parts of Scripture is important. Shepherding teenagers through hard passages will bolster their personal discernment as they navigate awkward, upsetting, and mind-boggling scenarios in their lives, it will engage their curiosity, and it will strengthen their spiritual muscles for a lifetime of faith.

Bolster personal discernment

When I first encountered Genesis 38, I was a teenager spurred on by independent reading plans and encouragement to “stay in the Word,” which meant the Bible’s content was no longer thoughtfully curated for me. The familiar Joseph narrative featured what seemed like an R-rated commercial break, and I had no idea what to do with it besides shove the thing under the rug. Meanwhile, at school, I overheard other shocking tales of sexual exploits. These were harder to shove under the rug because they so often hung in the air around me. 

Shepherding teenagers through hard passages will bolster their personal discernment as they navigate awkward, upsetting, and mind-boggling scenarios in their lives, it will engage their curiosity, and it will strengthen their spiritual muscles for a lifetime of faith.

Many of our young people are in a similar boat, but there is good news: facing difficult texts can equip them to face difficult situations and issues. When we come alongside a high school or middle school student and help them process difficult things in the Bible, we are simultaneously discipling them to process other difficult subjects, and we are positioning ourselves as trusted advisors who are unafraid of sticky subjects. Both can contribute greatly to bolster a student’s personal discernment: they have seen hard stuff handled with integrity, and they have gained a mentor who makes it a habit to talk with them about the hard stuff.

Engage curiosity

Teenagers are notorious for both their big questions and their superhuman ability to sniff out anything phony. While an adult who dives to fast forward past the tough stuff will quickly lose credibility, an adult who is willing to tackle intense questions and cling to authenticity in the process is a great resource indeed. Instead of subverting a teenager’s curiosity about the Bible, we have an opportunity to engage it and capitalize on it by training them to interpret the Bible with integrity. As any educator knows, teaching at the point of need is the most powerful opportunity. There’s no better time to equip a believer to interpret the Bible and investigate context than when he or she is asking the biggest questions—and there are strong odds that’s during the teen years.

Strengthen spiritual muscles

However, as any seasoned believer can attest, being equipped to interpret Scripture doesn’t mean we find all the answers to our questions. Thankfully, both the Bible and our churches are filled with people who had to choose to follow the Lord in the midst of the unknown. This is likely the position from which King David is writing when he penned, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psa. 139:6). Engaging teenagers’ questions—especially the unanswered ones—lays an important foundation for longterm faith. Rather than placing their hope in answers, young believers have the opportunity to place their hope in our God of mystery.

They’ll also experience the unparalleled joy that occurs when our mysterious God makes himself known. What a treasure to dig into Genesis 38 and begin to see that this turn of events was God’s strange provision not just for Judah, but for the Lion of Judah—Jesus himself. (Jesus’s lineage in Matthew 1 demonstrates that Jesus is a descendant of Perez, one of the twins Tamar conceived with Judah.) In the more familiar Joseph narrative, God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers to preserve their family by offering grain during a time of famine. In the Judah narrative, God used the sin of Judah to preserve the family of God—by offering the Bread of Life. 

As students endure the difficulties of adolescence, we can tell them, “God works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28)—but we can also shepherd them through prickly passages that prove it. The difficult parts of the Bible can bolster their discernment, engage their curiosity, and strengthen them in their faith, in which they can cling to the end of the story: “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Rev. 5:5).

Caroline Saunders

Caroline Saunders is a writer, pastor's wife, and mother of three who believes in taking Jesus seriously and being un-serious about nearly everything else. She loves serving women and girls through writing, through her church, and through a parachurch women's ministry she started with her best friends called Story & Soul. … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24