Young Sheldon episode tackles struggles in faith


While it’s a comedy about a boy-genius, CBS’s “Young Sheldon” took up some heavy theological topics in last weeks episodes titled “A crisis of faith and octopus aliens.”

The show is a spin off of the Big Bang Theory where Iian Armitage plays Big Bang Theory character Sheldon Cooper as a child. It’s a comedy featuring this boy who’s incredibly brilliant in a family that’s pretty ordinary. His mother Mary (played by Zoe Perry) is an Evangelical Christian.

In this episode,  a family friend passes away and Mary’s character is thrown into a Spiritual crisis.

Her pastor tries to help by saying what works for him (serving others). Serving others is great. Serving others is healthy and it can be helpful to some people in a time of depression, because it shifts your focus onto others and their needs. In the episode, Mary attempts to throw her into service, church activity, Bible studies, plants a new garden. Yet she still can’t get over her sadness.

She turns to drinking and withdrawing from faith, stops saying grace and doesn’t go to church one weekend. Sheldon notices the changes in her behavior and reaches out in his concern.

“Faith means believing in something you can’t know for sure is real, and right now I am struggling with that,” Mary says.

Sheldon doesn’t believe in God, but throws in an apologetic for his struggling mother:

“Did you know that if gravity was slightly more powerful the universe would collapse into a ball? Also if gravity was slightly less powerful the universe would fly apart and there’s be no star or planets,”

“Gravity is precisely as strong as it needs to be and if the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the strong force wasn’t one percent, life wouldn’t exist, what are the odds that would happen all by itself?”

-Young Sheldon

When his mom question points out that Sheldon doesn’t even believe in God, he says he doesn’t, “but the precision of the universe at least makes it logical to conclude there’s a creator.”

I really thought it was a great episode. I appreciate how it dealt with the subject of a person hitting a Spiritual wall. Because a significant part of Mary’s character both on Young Sheldon (and the same character on Big Bang Theory) is that she’s an Evangelical Christian. I didn’t think the episode was making fun of faith, rather I thought it was a sincere look into real struggles.

The road of faith is not without its twists and turns, not without its bumps. It’s not without construction and slow downs.

The temptation can be to want to make ourselves busy. That’s what Mary’s character initially does. But in the face of tragedy, in a world where people sin and where death is a result of that sin and where death is a consequence of the fallen world that all will face, to take that to God, and to lament the death that is in the world. It was not the original creation for the world, and it goes against our natural inclinations. Lament is a common practice in the Bible. It’s a practice that I think the modern American church (especially WASPs often overlook).

Lament is an expression of grief and sorrow. Lament is based in the reality of who God is. Lament is based in a high view of the goodness of God in a fallen world.

I think it’s important to be humble and to recognize that God is God and we are not. That God is sovereign.

I think it’s important for Christians to remember the promises of God. And to remember them for what they are, not as caricatures or distortions. God doesn’t promise that life will be without pain (he promises the opposite). God doesn’t promise life will be without loss (he promises the opposite). God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be happy with our situations, or that things should be easy, or that we’ll be free of suffering. He promises the opposite.

Sometimes our major misgivings with God come from a faulty understanding of who God is or what he has promised. Life is hard. The Bible doesn’t hide from that reality. Some churches can create this pressure that everything should always be ok, or that if you have enough faith, you should always be happy. Those aren’t Biblical views.

The promises that God does make are that those who mourn can be blessed, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). That everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). That nothing can separate us from the Lord of God (Romans 8:38). That there is grace and redemption for sin and that God has given us every Spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). That God hears the prayers of his people (1 Peter 3:12). And so many more promises the Bible makes.

Sadly, many people turn away in times of despair.

Where is your hope?

People put hope in a lot of different things. For some, they put hope not in God but in the Church. The Church is great, but that is not our hope. For some, people put their hope in their efforts, their pursuits, their activities. That too will inevitably fail you. Our hope must be in the good, loving, and eternal God of the universe.

Spiritual depression is common in the Christian life. Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the Church struggled with it. Because, as Mary said in the show, faith is believing in something you can’t know for sure. And when that is coupled with our sin, with our unfulfilled hopes, and with the sin that is in the world, sometimes there are struggles. There can hopefully be solace in knowing that. You’re not alone.

And while we change, God is unchanging. And God continues to invite us into life through his son Jesus.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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