For years, one of my high school students wrestled with the story of Jonah.
She knew it well – at least the Sunday school version of it. She'd grown up hearing about how Jonah disobeyed God and got swallowed by a big fish. While inside the fish, Jonah had a change of heart. So the fish spit him out and he went and did what he should have done to begin with: Preach to the people of Nineveh.
As a child, this student accepted the story of Jonah at face value (like most of us do). But by the time she got to high school, there were a lot of things that troubled this teen about Jonah.
Why would a good God cause such a bad storm?
How could God abandon his servant, Jonah, in the belly of a fish?
Was the time inside the fish God's way of punishing Jonah?
Since Jonah eventually ended up doing the thing he didn't want to do, does that mean he didn't really have a choice in the matter? Did Jonah really have free will?
Throughout her years in high school, this girl wrestled earnestly with the story of Jonah, which in a lot of ways, seemed to be her Biblical nemesis. Eventually, she even used the story of Jonah to lead a discussion about fate vs. free will for our high school ministry.
Even so, her questions remained.
I lost track of how often we'd talk about her questions together. In many ways, I became this student's co-doubter. I created a safe space for this girl to raise her questions and occasionally helped guide her to some answers.
Despite this, I felt like this was a situation where we'd take two steps forward and one-step back – something that I think is so often true of faith in general and youth ministry in particular.
Eventually, this student took her questions with her to college, where she continued wrestling with them.