By Dr. Kaia Kloster, FaithSearch presenter
Reaching out to incarcerated youth has been an eye-opening venture. It seems their greatest question regarding God is the timeless question of, “If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?”
One young man stands out in my mind—one of only two who attended on this particular day. When there are many, they put their guard up. With only two, this young Native American was soft-spoken, but was willing to bare his soul. When I asked why he had chosen to come, his answer was, “I think I need a little Jesus.” To which I replied, “Don’t we all!”
He went on to share how both his mom and grandma had been encouraging him to pray and go to church. It seems he now thought he may as well give it a shot. He was quick to point out more than once, however, that he wasn’t too sure he believed there really is a God. When I asked him what made it hard for him to believe in God, the look in his eyes and the hushed brokenness in his voice crushed my heart. He had never experienced any of the good, the blessings, which God seems to promise in the Bible.
On the streets, it had never paid to “be good.” Being good got you taken advantage of, beaten up, or abused. It didn’t get you food or clothes or a safe place to sleep.
I have been thinking of those who did not choose to be born into poverty, addiction, neglect, or abuse. No more than I got to choose to be born into a home with Christian values, stability, food, safety, and love. Rather than my typical response of why there is suffering in the world – the Fall, no personal accountability, the lack of a good work ethic – and pointing my finger at them, I found my finger pointing back at me, at Christ’s Church.
Where had we been as Christians? If we are to be the light in this dark world; if we are to be the hands and feet of Christ; where had we been?
As this young man was stealing food in order to eat, I may have been at a restaurant, a party, or a potluck at my church. As he was shivering in the cold without warm clothes or even a place to sleep, I may have been in my recliner in front of the fire, taking a hot bath, or crawling into my warm bed. As this young man questioned whether there really is a God because he had never experienced the rumored love or the promised blessings, I realized how I had failed him, how the Church had failed him.
If one Christian had stepped into his life – not just to drop off a quilt, or a donation for the school he no longer attended, but really stepped into his life – with mentoring; with a meal at a family dinner table; with new shoes to wear as they played a game of scrimmage together; or with a phone call to see how he was doing. If one Christian had left their white picket fence world to enter into his messy, hard world, he could have seen Christ. He could have known there is a God. That would have been his evidence. He may not have ended up sitting in the seat across from me.
It’s not considered respectful for a Native American to stare into the eyes of an elder, it would be considered aggressive or rude. So when he did lift his downcast eyes to meet mine briefly, all I could answer in that moment was, “There’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘They will know we are Christians by our love.’ I’m afraid we haven’t done that very well.”