Yes, especially when adults help them identify and articulate where and how the Old Testament answers basic questions like who is God, what is evil, why do people suffer, and what is the right way to live.
It starts with parents, who need to listen for ways to connect basic questions like these with the activity in a teen’s life. Research on teens indicates that they seek to be taught, not just exposed, to what we believe. Ways to teach include telling about how Job responded to God in the midst of his suffering and how the prophets risked their lives to be honest and speak the truth, for example.
Yes, as long as they are familiar with both the content and context of Old Testament readings. In a rapidly changing world, anything that is old is just old, and therefore potentially irrelevant. The Old Testament doesn’t have to be either. It’s possible to highlight themes and experiences in the Old Testament that are a part of today’s teens’ lives—with parents, friends, conflict, facing the future—and how key figures dealt with them.
Yes, as long as Bible reading, especially the Old Testament, is practiced as a regular habit. The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that only one in four (26 percent) young people reads the Sacred Scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often. Catholic young people typify this statistic. To change that pattern, young people have to be taught new habits for interacting with Scripture, especially the Old Testament.
Adults can model and encourage particular habits. They can reflect on the Old Testament readings from Sunday at youth group meetings or religion classes. They can encourage teens to memorize selected psalms and pray them daily. They can encourage them to read through a book of the Bible as part of daily family prayer. They also might encourage them to subscribe to Catholic RSS feeds on the Bible, search out online videos on Old Testament themes, or buy
Yes, but it can conflict with a strong focus on the individual. The Old Testament theme of covenant and its emphasis on relationship with God and the community can be a potent antidote to a cultural message of consumerism, individualism, and ego-centrism. It is possible to create engaging dialogue with young people by comparing and contrasting their experiences with those stories of Old Testament figures who suffer the consequences of choosing their own needs or desires over those of the family or community. Such conversations can challenge them to imitate behaviors that emphasize the importance of others and the community over the self.
All of the above. Though the Old Testament is old, it is relevant to young people. As a story of faith, the Old Testament focuses on people on a covenantal journey. Today’s teens walk a similar path. The travelers in the days of Abraham and Joseph and Moses and Isaiah’s days differ only in appearance and make for good companions for young people today.
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Therese Brown is the assistant director for operations and project management in USCCB Publishing. She has worked with young people at the parish and national levels for over 20 years as a teacher, catechist, and youth minister.