Preparing teens for adulthood is often accomplished best with great food around the dinner table. Through this setting, we begin to dialogue over the theories, ideas, and issues of the day. The subjects can vary from the day’s events and funny YouTube videos to deep discussions on what it means to be a Christian. I watch as this next generation fearlessly tackles the complexities of gender roles, addictions, mental illness, depression, and more.
Where Does Help Come From?
Recently, our family’s discussions led us to questions about the role of the church in dealing with complicated situations. One specific incident involved a family in our community where the father, due to years and years of sinful choices, began displaying signs of mental illness. In many ways, the wife and children were left to fend for themselves, as he was unable to keep a job and provide. The complexities that surrounded the issue were nothing short of severe, and no cookie-cutter answer could help.
The church was called upon to help the couple as they struggled in their marriage, and the kids were left hurting by the years of emotional abuse inflicted by the father. However, without the adequate knowledge or understanding, the remedies offered were simplistic and barely scratched the surface of the true problems.
Example from Scripture
The variety of issues facing the church today are not new. Remember, we had Paul writing to the church at Corinth on some pretty notable sinful behavior. As I discussed this particular family’s problems and the church’s response with our teenagers, I was able to share what I had recently learned from the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37, ESV)
The thieves and the devastation they inflicted upon the man in this story correlate well with the family in our table discussion. The mother and children were stripped of their dignity and left wounded because of the years of sinful choices the husband repeatedly made.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road…
If we had stopped reading at this point and were asked to finish the story, we would hope the priest (think modern-day pastor) would have overwhelming compassion and immediately tend to the man’s needs. However, that’s not the case with the priest nor the Levite. Both of these men assessed the problem, realized the cost of getting involved, and decided to go along their way. According to Jewish law, the priest and the Levite would become “unclean” if they helped this man, and the time, energy, and money it would cost to remedy it would be significant.
Then the Samaritan approached and, surprisingly, responded. When Jesus mentioned the Samaritan, I’m sure the listeners to the story were a bit shocked. The Samaritans were considered heathen people to the Jews. They were worse than Gentiles, and yet there seems to be a point that Jesus was trying to drive home with this story.
Where are the Samaritans?
As with the family in our discussion, the wife looked to the church for help. But due to time, money, and the messiness of the situation, the church simply passed her by. Getting involved would require more than a one-hour counseling session, a twelve-step program, or a Bible study. It would require more than one elder or deacon. It would require a congregation. It would require dealing with sin and comforting the victims. It would require financial help to the wife and church discipline for the husband. It could also require recommending divorce and walking that long road with the injured.
Similar to the Samaritan story, the wife and children found help and support through programs in the community for battered women and protection from local authorities. A few individuals from her church helped, but justice and equity were not found through the church leadership. Instead, the justice system and a courtroom are where she was validated and found peace.
As our discussions wrapped up for the evening, we talked about disappointment in the church’s response. We pondered the truth that Jesus clearly wanted Christians to note, that even the world is willing to get involved with messy situations. We also recognized that many churches are positively responding with recovery programs, and there is a growing trend in the younger generation to tackle these issues head on.
Although the number of complex issues seems to be increasing, I find hope in the conversations I had with our young adults. With tenacity, they seek truth and justice while desiring to see the gospel lived out in a manner that affects culture. I have no doubt the world, and more so the church, is in need of more Samaritans. And I think our young adults will be the next generation of them.