Answering ‘Genesis questions’ reaches young offenders for Christ
The hard steel door slams behind me as I enter a room packed with what I affectionately call ‘teenage skeptics’. Their prevailing doubt began somewhere around age 12. In these ‘primitive’ stages of sceptical development, there is no talk of deep philosophy or high-browed scientific jargon … instead, we unearth the fruit of first-grade science classes, dysfunctional families and rebellious hearts. Here at the Juvenile Detention Center in Medina, Ohio, there is no question that the inmates are well on their way to becoming fully-evolved cynics.
However, when stripped of their nose rings and dark street clothes, these youths look innocently naive and woefully misjudged. They are simply children who, because of their abusive families, failing grades, evolution-saturated education, and the evils of society in general, have been robbed of any sense of personal value, purpose or security. I know that God’s Word has the answers for them, and I begin communicating how Jesus Christ can change their lives. But then suddenly, like a camera flash in a dark room, ‘it’ will come up. Not how to love a drug-addicted parent or how to conquer anger problems, but a question about Genesis.
A pimple-faced youth will throw his hand in the air, just when I’m getting to the ‘big point’ of my Gospel message. I’ve spent time building to this moment, weaving illustrations and Scripture together, preparing to bring it home and make it personal. I see the insistent hand in the back row. Expecting a relevant comment or soul-stirring inquiry, I pause and look at the questioner.
‘OK, Dan, but there’s no way all the animals fit on Noah’s Ark!’ he’ll say with a flash of challenge in his eyes.
‘Yeah,’ chimes in a girl on the other side of the room, ‘and the dinosaurs. What do you say about them?’
And with that, my tidy devotional thought is cast ruthlessly beneath a deluge of doubts, fossilized under the crushing weight of humanistic sediment. Now a ‘fountains of the great deep’ scepticism bursts forth, and the questions rain down torrentially for the next 40 minutes.
Personally, I’ve grown to appreciate these questions; in fact, I would confess that I even look forward to them. Some teachers avoid Genesis issues, believing them to be smokescreens thrown up by the devil to distract attention from the ‘real’ message. My experience has taught me otherwise. Leaving questions of biblical reliability unanswered allows the flood of scepticism to wipe out any trace of relevance from the Christian message.
Why does Noah’s Ark need to be explained at the end of a message about sexual purity? What on earth does Cain’s wife have to do with a lesson on drug addiction? How does the extinction of the dinosaurs relate to a discussion about family relationships?
Whether a person is 17 or 70, he needs to know that the Bible is true before he will commit his life to obeying it. We don’t have to provide answers to every conceivable objection, but we do need to demonstrate our confidence that every part of the Bible is true—that Genesis 1:1 is just as accurate as John 3:16. And, in the case of my juvenile detention centre friends, I know that if I can get them to understand their origins, digging down to the very deepest strata of truth, my fossilized devotional will finally come to life.
Building a foundation
If I don’t have answers to their ‘Genesis questions’, why should they trust the rest of what I’m saying? Why should they believe the words of Jesus if the first book of the Bible is full of fairy tales and contradictions? If the animals didn’t fit on Noah’s Ark, or the dinosaurs really did roam the earth millions of years ago, then the message of hope I proclaim is completely invalidated.
I remember one Sunday morning in particular, at the juvenile detention centre’s church service. We spent a good hour in dialogue about Genesis 1, the days of creation, where fossils come from, how dinosaurs lived with man, and a host of scientific issues. There was one guy, whom we’ll call ‘Mike’, who was particularly sceptical. His questions seemed almost venomous; he was ready to contradict or challenge every assertion I made.
Although he might have seemed like a lost cause, I dutifully responded to his questions, hoping that at the very least they were provoking thought among the other students. But at the end of class, a shocking thing happened. In front of all his sceptical buddies, this juvenile offender respectfully raised his hand. ‘Thank you so much for coming. I never believed in God before, but today you’ve shown me that I can.’
What looked like venomous attacks were really the heart-questions of a young man who wanted to know if he could have faith. Creation served as a ‘door-opener’ for the gospel! Taking time for truth builds a foundation—it plants a seed of confidence that the Creator exists and that His Word can be trusted!
Genesis lays the foundation for everything about our faith—in those historic accounts about the creation of mankind and the serpent’s deception, we can find a well-preserved answer to life’s deepest questions. So, whether you brave the world of steel and glass at the local jail, teach Sunday school in your church, or try to make the message of Jesus real to the guys at work, you need to gain as much wisdom as you can from the ‘book of beginnings’.
We’ve all been ‘evolutionized’
It is hard to find a person who hasn’t been influenced by evolution. This presents a hurdle that we must overcome if we want to reach our generation. People today don’t only need the reason for the hope that we have; they need to know that hope is possible in the first place—that a God exists who is personal and powerful and cares about their existence.
One girl whom we’ll call ‘Tamara’ was sitting in the second row, looking detached from the whole ‘Bible study thing’. But her casual demeanor turned to an angry variety of ‘teenage sceptic’ when I mentioned homosexuality. She interrupted me in a harsh tone: ‘So are you saying that everyone who’s a homosexual is going to burn in hell? It’s not their fault, you know!’
I told her to hang on just a moment as I finished my previous thought. Then, gently and carefully, I began to answer her.
‘I didn’t say homosexuals are all going to burn in hell. I’m just trying to explain what the Bible says. It calls the gay lifestyle a sin because that kind of living goes against the exciting purpose God made humans to fulfill.’ I spent some time detailing what life might have been like in the Garden of Eden, and how God is working to re-create people so that they can be part of His family again. ‘Just like lying, lust or greed, homosexuality separates people from their Creator and His plan. The good news is that Jesus came to bring hope to all of us!’
Tamara, who was probably expecting a ‘fundamentalist’ bash against the evils of sodomy, immediately switched out of ‘teen sceptic’ mode and began to cry. A kind, Genesis-based answer struck a nerve deep in her soul. Her ‘off-topic’ question opened the door for us to discuss the purpose of life and, ultimately, the thrilling hope of restoration that Jesus offers.
A reason to believe
The faces of Tamara, Mike and the countless other sceptics I’ve met remind me of how much our world needs the peace and love of Christ. But how can we reach them? What can unlock their doubting hearts and allow us to present the life-changing message of Jesus? Genesis is the key! Its simple accounts of the history of the universe can turn evolving sceptics into new creations. And as our class comes to a close, and the juvenile offenders line up and head back to their heartbroken worlds and shattered relationships, I have the quiet confidence that at the very least, I’ve left them with a reason to believe that ‘[God] exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6).