Gen Z is Finding the World Isn’t Safe. What Do They Need to Hear From Christians?
The COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for Christians to exemplify compassion and address the problem of evil, says Ben Bennett of Josh McDowell Ministry.
People graduating college this spring might not get jobs. Young adults who’ve just started their careers may lose their jobs. Many already have. High school students are left in the lurch, not sure when they’ll go back to school, or whether any of their dreams will pan out the way they planned. The world’s been turned upside down, for none more so than members of Generation Z, those born after 1996.
“I think for Gen Z this pandemic is leading many to believe at a deep, deep level for the first time that the world isn’t safe,” author Ben Bennett told The Stream.
Burdened With More Depression, Anxiety
Bennett is the Director of Resolution at Josh McDowell Ministry, a new initiative “to help hurting youth find hope, healing, and freedom.” Working frequently with members of Gen Z, he’s well acquainted with the issues they face, and how they’re handling the current crisis.
Members of Gen Z (sometimes called “iGen”) already battle alarming rates of mental illness. Seven in 10 teens consider anxiety and depression “major problems” among their peers. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people age 10-24.
“Words like ‘anxious’ come up all the time in conversation,” Bennett said. He noted mental illness wasn’t something much talked about in the past.
Bennett agrees the pandemic could negatively affect Gen Z’s view of the world. But he thinks it’s a “completely different experience” than 9/11 was for Millennials. One big difference is its comprehensive nature.
“Every single person is experiencing some kind of individualistic loss or suffering,” he said. “It’s as if, to some extent, their worldview … is being rocked, and the things that they might have been looking to for identity are being stripped out of their hands.”
Bennett expects an “increase in trauma, mental health issues, suicide, [and] porn addiction” for Gen Z as a result.
The Problem of Evil is a Problem for Gen Z
Another hallmark of Gen Z is their lack of religious faith. A 2018 Barna report found that today’s youth identify as atheist at double the rate of U.S. adults. For Gen Z, “the problem of evil and suffering is a deal breaker.”
This isn’t bad news for Christians evangelizing the next generation, Bennett said. “I think the evil we are seeing now presents an opportunity for compassionate response.” The problem of evil is something “that both the Christian and non-Christian need to wrestle with.”
“In my exploration I’m convinced that the Christian worldview offers the most hope, answers, and relief to the problem of evil,” he added.
He also pointed out the different way Gen Z approaches questions about faith. Their primary question isn’t how to get to Heaven, or even whether Christianity is true. “They’re asking, ‘Is Christianity good?’ And ‘How does Christianity change life here and now?'”
“I see this pandemic as an opportunity for us to compassionately engage and answer those questions and have spiritual conversations while also taking action and helping alleviate suffering,” he said.
Purpose From Crisis
Bennett predicted that the pandemic and resulting crises will push some members of Gen Z into deeper cynicism. But it could also “drive some to exploration of those philosophical and spiritual questions.”
Despite a lack of religious faith, Gen Z is “connecting around social issues and collectively crying out for justice.” The pandemic will only increase those tendencies. That, in turn, could lead them on a quest for real answers. He explained:
For some I think this will drive them to a trajectory of wanting to find solutions and meaning and purpose in life. [They will ask] questions like, “If life is random and there is no purpose, then why do we care so much about pain and alleviating suffering and helping others?” “Why does my blood boil when I see injustice?” “Why do we want to help our fellow man who is suffering?”
“Purpose will be born from crisis,” he said. That could also be true for the rest of us. The COVID-19 pandemic created a wrestling ring for a generation already fighting mental illness and spiritual uncertainty. For Christians of every generation, it created a mission field.
Liberty McArtor, former staff writer for The Stream, is a freelance writer in the great state of Texas, where she lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with her husband and son. Follow Liberty on Twitter @LibertyMcArtor, or learn more about her at LibertyMcArtor.com.