In my second week of starting university, I remember breaking down in tears in front of my law tutor. I hadn’t studied legal studies in school and everyone else in my class had, so I panicked and told my tutor that I didn’t know enough to be in this class. But she looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’ve actually got an advantage here. Though you may not know anything yet, you’re starting with a clean slate. Everyone else in this class has to unlearn everything and learn it correctly a second time.”
Those words have always stuck with me. I believe there is a spiritual truth to them; an uncomfortable truth for many of us.
Often, we presume that children raised in the Church have an advantage in knowing about God from a young age. But how many times have you seen young people leaving the Church, and been confused as to why, since they were given such a good Christian upbringing?
What if individuals raised in the Church face a real spiritual disadvantage because there is “nothing” left for them to learn? When you have grown up listening to prophecy seminars, learning all the historic and scientific proof for Jesus, singing about love and grace, and rattling off stories from the Bible . . . what is left to offer that may transform their heart? These individuals already know of their need for mercy and grace yet their struggle to experience a relationship with Jesus is often overlooked.
Growing up in the Church, I struggled with this for a while. I went to church every week, I was knowledgeable in the Bible, thought I knew all the science and history arguments to back up biblical Creation, the flood and Jesus’ death and resurrection. I couldn’t deny Jesus was my only source of salvation through grace. But while this would bring others assurance and peace, it was a massive source of anxiety for me.
Why? I didn’t love God.
I wanted to! Oh, how I wanted to! I wanted to go to heaven and live forever . . . I really wanted to love God.
But I just . . . didn’t.
So, I would pray for God to talk to me, like He had talked to people in the Old Testament—because maybe then I could get to know God, feel His love for me and possibly love Him back. But I never heard God’s voice. I never had my prayers answered. I tried reading the Bible, starting in Genesis and quickly gave up in frustration. God seemed to be so involved in Abraham, Jacob and Joseph’s lives . . . why not mine?
I was convinced that hearing God’s voice or seeing Him answer some of my prayers would transform my heart and cause me to love Him. I worked so hard to try to love God, reading my Bible and praying earnestly.
But I eventually learned that love doesn’t work like that. You can’t force love. You can only experience it. And I think this is what is missing from generational Adventism—and what has become a stumbling block to our faith. We presume that teaching Scriptures and facts about God is enough to pass on to the next generation. It isn’t. Jesus said in John 5:39, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” We have done well learning all the “facts” about God, interpreting Scripture and uncovering sound doctrines and theology . . . but we have forgotten to pass on the most important element of faith—sharing our experiences.
There is something special about personal experiences that pulls on our heartstrings. Something unique about sharing our struggles that connects us to one another. Some of the greatest sermons preached in scripture were not deeply scriptural or profound in any major way; they were simple and carried a simple message—”God changed my life. He can change yours too.” Jesus is not only found in truth, in facts and in the Bible. He is found in people. In their stories, in their service, in their sacrifices, in their shame and in their struggles. There is a reason why God commissioned us, sinful humans, to spread the gospel—because Jesus cannot be taught; He can only be experienced.
Are we neglecting the opportunity to share with one another our own experiences with God’s love? Are we so afraid of vulnerability that we are neglecting God’s calling to tell of what He has done for our lives? Are we too busy to meet each week and just be real—talk about our struggles and experiences, and pray together? Are we busy reading our Bibles and searching the Scriptures, yet failing to really live life with Jesus?
So, what about if you are a generational Adventist? What if you are the person struggling with no desire to read the Bible, find it hard to pray, and are sceptical of miracles and answered prayers? You’re not alone. We know from the Scriptures that the Israelites struggled with generational faith too. Time and time again, the Israelites would simply “go through the motions” of faith, believing they were God’s people yet struggling with the feeling of not experiencing God in their lives. In these instances, what was it that caused the Israelites to fall in love with God and be revived in their faith? I see three main elements become clear throughout the Old Testament: reflection, confession and community.
In periods of revival, the Israelites would reflect on their past and confess their sins. The laws of God would be read to the people and remind them of the vileness of their sins and how desperately they needed grace. Conviction and repentance would fill their hearts as their sins and their punishments were read out before everyone. Confrontation was essential for revival. They would also be reminded of their history, of who they are as God’s chosen people; a nation set apart for the sole purpose of God showing His love to the world. They would be told of the countless times God showed up for them through miracles, in battle, in mercy and in judgement, and refresh their minds of His unending and unfailing love. Together as a community, they would pray together and worship God. Their faith was never isolated; it was co-dependent and mutually encouraged and held accountable.
Just like the Israelites, the power of hindsight can open our eyes to our sin and shame and show us how God has been present and loving towards us all our lives. And like the Israelites, none of us were ever meant to walk alone. Instead, we should lean on one another in times of spiritual need. Our churches are full of generational Adventism sufferers, hiding in pews and saying “Happy Sabbath” each week—you might even be one of them. Church wasn’t created to share facts and knowledge about God (though that is important!). Church was made to be a community where we can be honest, vulnerable and open about our experiences with God.
I encourage you, whether you are spiritually strong or need help, to share your experiences with your church community. Share your ups and downs, highs and lows, and tell the love story of Jesus in your life.
Adventists have biblical knowledge down pat, but how are we doing relationally?
Olivia Fairfax is a production assistant at Adventist Media while finishing Law and Psychology (hon) degrees at Macquarie University. She loves writing, analysing everything, playing piano, laughing with loved ones and cuddling cats.