Fromm’s Advisor Responds
About two weeks ago, Fromm and I had a conversation that largely reflected what he said in his guest Beacon Bolt column. I didn’t panic, and when I saw the Bolt, I felt proud of him. And no, it’s not because I’m an atheist; I definitely am not. Fromm is handling this correctly. He didn’t take the easy path; he took the right one.
Lots of three year olds idolize their parents, but not nearly as many thirteen year olds do. It’s entirely normal, if not entirely universal, for teenagers to go through a period of wanting desperately to stay as far away from their folks as possible, as often as possible. It’s also normal for those thirteen year olds to grow into twenty-three year olds who call their parents a dozen times a day for advice, or just to hear their voices. During that difficult middle phase, wise parents lean into their patience and hold back from overreacting.
Fromm was raised in the church. Today, autumn of 2013, he doesn’t believe God exists. He has a choice: he can tell the truth, or he can daily go through Christian-friendly motions and put on a dishonest and deceitful front that leads people to think, falsely, that he does believe. He chooses truth. I think that pleases God, and if you disagree, go consult Proverbs 12:22 and John 8:44.
More importantly, God isn’t finished with Fromm. Anyone who heard my chapel rap at the end of October might remember that when I was Fromm’s age, I was at the halfway point of almost twenty years unchurched. I never spoke the words “God doesn’t exist,” but I went years without cracking a Bible or praying; I simply didn’t give the matter any thought at all. And I’m not the only one; I’ve sat in chapel and heard other NCU faculty testify to the atheism of their young adult years. Who we are at age twenty-two is not who we will be at age eighty-two. And it appears that God quite often sends His young adult children to the wilderness to forge our raw materials into something tested and tempered, ready for His use.
Matthew, sometimes called Levi, lived in a time where worship of God incorporated the participation of the entire community; Matthew turned his back on that community by becoming a tax collector. But Jesus chose him to be an apostle; Jesus entrusted to him the authority to deliver the gospel by his own eyewitness account of the Messiah’s words and miracles. Revelation 21:14 says Matthew’s name will be written on the foundation of the new Jerusalem. Through Matthew’s years as the most loathsome of traitors to his faith, God was at work, and when God’s chosen moment arrived, Jesus called Matthew to follow Him and become a new creation.
I am not worried about Fromm, because I have faith in God.
Now, it’s unfortunately true that some teenagers do not grow into adults who have a warm and friendly relationship with their parents. There are a lot of reasons this might happen, but parental overreaction to normal adolescent distancing is not helpful. Wise parents bide their time and let teenagers work through their changing feelings; wise parents stay nearby, ready to offer support, but not interfering in a maturing process that is essentially, irreducibly, a solo job.
That’s our duty as well.
Right now, Fromm cannot see or hear God, but he can see from us what our allegiance to God has worked in our lives. Condemning him, or strong-arming him, can’t make things better. Trusting God and loving Fromm for the lovable young man he is, can. Plus, it’s what Jesus commanded us to do.
There’s only one bit where I’ll gently dig at what Fromm wrote, so I’ll address that to him directly: you spoke of people giving you the cold shoulder, of rejecting you. It’s the right choice to tell the truth, but I also think it’s a child’s choice to tell the truth and then demand that people not respond to it, or respond dishonestly. I think you’ve got to accept that what you’re revealing may awaken something upsetting, even frightening, in people who’ve known you. In the same way you rightly decline to conceal what you think and how you feel, it seems plain to me that you’ve got to be understanding and forgiving if people are open about their (ideally temporary) discomfort with you. The alternative is for you to demand that people simulate a comfortability around you that they don’t genuinely feel. I trust you see the contradiction there. There’s a difference between condemning, which is wrong, and distancing, which may be nothing more than honesty, and I think that might be painful for you. But someone who has the fortitude to speak on this subject has the resilience to endure the rebalancing of friendships.
Both Dr. Skaggs and I spoke in chapel about the process of making our faith our own. That’s a hurdle every Christian encounters on the path to a mature faith. If people reading this knew how many NCU students, including some of the most high profile and outstanding, had sat in my office and told me they weren’t sure they believed in God, I think it would be eye-opening. Most told me later that their doubts had subsided, and for the rest, I know that God is still at work in their lives. And none had the courage Fromm has shown, so praise God for him.
When I was a child, Matthew 7:21-23 fascinated and terrified me, but today it gives me hope: Fromm is making a choice not to sling Jesus’ name around falsely in the absence of a genuine relationship. When God’s timing is fulfilled and He moves in Fromm’s life, it’ll be to forge a genuine bond. It just strains my credulity too much to believe that God can endow Fromm with this much integrity and courage and not have great things in store for him. But that will unfold on God’s timetable, not ours.
By Doyle Srader, Ph.D.