In the 1970s, psychologist Dr. Frank Wesley wanted to solve a mystery. He had discovered a similarity among the vast majority of American soldiers that defected to North Korea during the Korean War, twenty years earlier. They all came from the same basic training camp. But why? That was the mystery. Further investigation revealed that recruits from this camp were all taught the same things about the North Koreans. That they were barbarians; murderous, violent, baby-killing, psychopaths. Of course, when these troops were later captured, they were often shown the opposite; compassion, mercy, and sometimes friendship. The instructors were trying to make the troops better fighters, but the picture they painted did not match the reality the captives experienced. And in that moment of shock, they defected.
I think this is a useful lesson for a lot of reasons. Think, for instance, about sending your kids into the world for whatever reason; a school, job, extra-curriculars, etc. You try your best to prepare them for the difficulties the world creates. If you drill in the idea that, “All worldly people are selfish, hedonistic, vapid, losers,” what is it that your child is actually going to discover? They are going to find a lot of altruistic, friendly thinkers. And some of those people will end up being their friends. The people in the world are not always the monsters that their sin makes them out to be. Now, what will your children think of your assessment? Your opinion? Your credibility? It’s been well recorded that many young people who leave their family’s faith and influence do so because they found someone in the world who treated them like a thinker; who helped them answer questions. What would be a better way to prepare your children for living in the world but not being of it? There are more accurate ways to describe the sometimes well-meaning but still lost world. “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind…” (Eph. 4:17ff).
Good news. This goes the other way too. Worldly people too often have an awful view of Christianity and religion in general. From youth, they’ve been told quite a few falsehoods about God, the Bible, and Christians. And since most of what gets shared out there is not actually what we are like or what we believe, we have a great opportunity not to live up to their stereotypes of us and surprise them. I’ve been in several conversations that ended up, “Hey, you Christians aren’t as bad as I’d thought you’d be.” That is a moment when one might be interested in defecting. Peter said it like this, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Pet. 2:12).