I overheard a boy say, “I have to believe in God until I turn 18 or when I move out. Then I can believe whatever I want.”
I found that a little concerning. It almost sounded as though faith was being forced on him, and that he looked forward to not believing in God later in life.
Faith should never be forced on anyone.
Some could argue at this point that Christians believe just that. Even Jesus said that those who don’t believe in him will die (John 3:16-20 & John 8:24). History abounds of instances where churches killed or imprisoned those who refused to convert.
I won’t argue church history, except to say they got it wrong. Jesus never told anyone to force others to believe; he merely stated what will happen to those who refuse to believe (see Matthew 13:41-42 & 49-50).
We are all still free to make that choice, as long as we first consider the consequences of that choice.
Nor do I think we can force anyone to believe anything anyway. Sure, we can say we believe in God to appease others, but we are also fabulous liars. We, in fact, more often than not hide what’s true in our heart than what we reveal — both good and bad.
Jesus, however, knows what’s in our heart regardless. Sure, scripture says we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), but we must accept it as truth in our heart first.
Jesus will always know the difference even when those around us don’t: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” ~ Matthew 15:8 (& Isaiah 29:13)
I also had to ask a question of myself. Am I forcing my own son to believe in Jesus? After all, I take him with me to church twice a week, he goes to a Christian school, I pray with him every night, and I keep my car radio on a Christian station to name a few.
Yet I never once said, “Believe or else.”
Exposing and even immersing my son in my faith is showing him how important Jesus is. At the same time, I try to encourage him to ask questions, even (especially) the hard questions. Still, I know that no matter how much I encourage him to believe, that choice will always be his to make — the whole leading the horse to water stuff.
I think it’s important to encourage, and not threaten when it comes to faith, children most of all. They all rebel in one form or another, and if we present our faith as tyrannical, and unattractive, they will run away from it the first chance they get — perhaps permanently.
I’ll leave you with these:
“Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. ‘Honor your father and mother.’ This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, ‘things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.’
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” ~ Ephesians 6:1-4
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. “ ~ Deuteronomy 11:18-19
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6