This weekend is my youth ministry’s annual winter retreat. During it, my high school students and I are exploring the book of Revelation.
After learning what our topic is, I’ve lost track of how many times someone has asked me, rather incredulously, “Why would you study that?”
It seems that by and large, people think Revelation should be off-limits for high school students.
Because it’s filled with weird stuff.
Because it’s hard to explain.
Because people disagree about what it means and how to interpret it.
All of those things are certainly true.
There’s a lot of weird stuff in Revelation that’s hard – if not impossible – to explain. It is a book of the Bible that lots of people interpret differently.
But if you ask me, that’s exactly why Revelation is perfect fodder for a high school retreat.
It’s weirdness makes it interesting to teens. It’s a book of the Bible that teens actually WANT to know more about.
Teens quite naturally have questions about life and death as well as the end of the world and New Jerusalem. They’ve heard people talk about things like the rapture and armageddon and they want to know what those words mean and whether or not they’re really in the Bible. Teaching through the book of Revelation gives us an opportunity to be co-doubters with teens and to wrestle with questions they’re already asking. It gives us the chance to help teens understand what our unique faith tradition says about popular understandings regarding the end of the world.
Sure, Revelation is hard to explain but you know what? So is most of the Bible and yet that doesn’t stop us from wrestling with it. Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean we should avoid talking about it. In fact, maybe it’s the things that are most confusing that we SHOULD be talking about in community. When we wrestle with such things in community, others can help us make sense of them. They can also help keep our interpretations from going too far off the rails.
And speaking of interpretations, let’s be honest. There’s a lot of stuff that Christians disagree about. But once again, maybe those are exactly the things that we should be talking about in our youth ministries.
By talking about things that people interpret differently and better yet, by explaining some of those different interpretations to teens, we teach them that the body of Christ is big and beautiful; that it’s diverse and that diversity need not be feared. When we teach multiple interpretations to teens, we give them the chance to actually decide which makes sense to them. When we do that, our teens may end up disagreeing with our own interpretation of something. But you know what? They just might be confident enough in their belief – and in their faith – to stick with it later on, even when they meet others with whom they disagree.
So this weekend, my teens and I will unashamedly study the book of Revelation together.
In doing so, we‘ll come face to face with some of the different ways people interpret this book. We‘ll experience God’s love, grace, and power in new ways. We‘ll encounter a God who is big and weird; a God who is mysterious and at times, unexplainable, and one who, is, even so, worthy of our worship.
By digging deep into Revelation, we’ll show teens that nothing in the Bible is off-limits to them. In the process, we’ll also teach them that God is never off-limits either.