Before retiring, I taught in a Christian school and we were blessed to have a course called Christian Life Studies which was taught throughout Years K – 12.
There was a progression in the course: the Junior School (K – 5) would pray, worship and learn some Bible stories. This continued through the Middle School (6 – 8) with increasing life application. In Years 9 and 10, the course dealt with human behavior and issues in society from a Christian perspective.
The course in Years 11 and 12 was accredited by the Board of Senior Secondary Studies and students could use subjects in it for majors and minors towards their ATAR scores. Subjects included Old and New Testament Studies, Church History, Worship, Mission, Ethics and Relationships. It was a joy and a challenge to teach some of these subjects to students who were curious and questioning, as well as to some who were resistant and apathetic.
When I taught Years 9 and 10, I often began the year by asking them what questions they had about God, Christianity and life in general, with the promise to explore these during the course. So here I am piggy-backing on Gavin Lawrie's article (published 31<sup>st October 2017) about teaching Scripture in primary school.
These are some of their questions, in no particular order:
Do angels exist?
The Bible is full of references to angels. They are heralds of good news, they warn people, protect people and they fight for us, among other things. There is also a spiritual battle taking place that angels are part of.
The book of Revelation describes John's vision of heaven as a place where there is constant praise and worship of God by angels and others.
I also pulled out an old book by Billy Graham: Angels, God's Secret Agents (published 1975) which was very helpful. There are many examples of people entertaining angels unawares, particularly in missionary contexts.
Is the devil real?
Yes, was the simple answer. We delved into the whole angel rebellion in heaven with one third of the angels following Lucifer and wanting to be like God. We talked about how scholars have inferred a lot about the devil and that some references are very obscure. But in the end, the devil only does what God permits him to do – he is not bigger or more powerful than God.
C S Lewis' The Screwtape Letters was a useful reference about what the devil does.
What are heaven and hell like?
Again, the simple answers from my understanding were that heaven is to be in God's presence, and hell is where God isn't. Dante has a lot to answer for in his images of a tortuous hell, but as a deterrent from going there, the images are ghastly enough to work well!
By contrast, the images of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 are amazing and confirm the idea that heaven is where God is. We also talked about people who had died and been revived, having caught a glimpse of heaven.
If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?
God is not a puppet master: he has given us free will so we have a choice about following him or not. He is true to himself – he must judge sin but love the sinner. That's why he sent Jesus, his son, to take our place in his judgment.
Sin has tainted everything in this world: from a perfect original creation we now have aberrations like bacteria and viruses that cause disease (not forgetting mosquitoes!). We have people who cause others to suffer out of greed or self hate. So suffering is a consequence of sin.
We will suffer because Jesus himself suffered. Again there are many testimonies where God has met people in their suffering.
How do we know that the God of the Bible is the only true God?
The God of the Bible is the only god in the world with whom one can have an intimate relationship. We call him Father and he loves us – no other God is like that. He not only loves, but extends forgiveness to us, recognizing our human condition. Truly, no other god is worthy of being called God!
It is quite difficult to convey in a few words what sometimes took a whole 50 minutes in a period to discuss. Some of what I've written seems simplistic, and it certainly doesn't do justice to the real spirit of questioning and curiosity that was usually present in these classes.
Obviously, there are no simple answers and much depends on the denominational background, or lack of, that the students had. In some families it seemed that the students weren't allowed to question, or were given rote answers that didn't satisfy them. Perhaps this speaks for the inadequacy that parents may have felt.
I found the key was to be honest: if I didn't know the answer I would not pretend I did. We came across many paradoxes and conundrums that were unsolvable. We also picked holes in many "solutions" given by authority figures.
All in all, we had fun: the students were allowed to express their doubts and questions, and I was both challenged and amused by their thoughts. And I pray that God was glorified in all that.