On this post, we will try to answer all the questions that come up from
The Big Four Questions of faith Sundays.
Questions from: Is there a God?(24th January)
1. Is it ok to have doubts?
Absoulutely. Doubt is the other side of the coin of faith. Doubt is faith struggling to believe. Doubt says “I do believe but help me with my doubts.” It’s unbelief we need to fear, not doubt.
II. The existence of God
2. If there is a God, why does He not just prove His existence so everyone knows?
3. Why is God invisible? Wouldn’t it be better if we could see Him?
4. Why doesn’t God make things easier by speaking to us with a physical voice, like he did in old Bible stories?
5. Why doesn’t God make it more obvious that He exists? E.g. talk to us, give us signs, etc.
God has made himself known through his creation. So clear and unmistakable is his existence and glory that no-one has an excuse for unbelief. This is how it works. In our minds God has put forensic thinking “common sense” processes that – even from childhood – work from evidence to conclusion. “Things that are complex can’t just happen they demand a Creator”, and so on. Why doesn’t God sign his name on every leaf and flower? Because he wants us to use our minds? Because he has written his signature on every leaf. Why doesn’t he use signs? We wouldn’t believe signs if we saw them. Many saw the miracles of Jesus and yet refused to believe. The real problem is that we suppress the truth about God because we don’t want to acknowledge the existence of God who – then – we’d have to obey! Due to our rebellion against God we refuse the evidence so we can do our own thing.
6. Why would a good God allow good people to suffer?
7. If there is a good God, why is the world in such a mess?
We plan to answer these questions in our next session, February 28th, “What about suffering?”
IV. Uniqueness of Bible and Christianity
8. Aren’t all religions the same? Why should I think Christianity is any different?
9. Why is the God of the Bible more believable than that of other religions? Specifically: what sets the Bible apart?
10. Wasn’t Jesus just a good man?
11. Christianity seems to rest on believing the Bible is true. How can you be so sure that it is true and not just a story book?
We’re going to answer these at the fourth session on April 24th, “Don’t all religions lead to God?”
V. Problems with Christianity
12. Christians talk a lot about what they believe, but practically their lives don’t look any different to ours, they have expensive cars, big houses, and they moan and gossip like us. If Christianity is really so amazing, why don’t we non-Christians see that looking at Christian lives?
13. Both Christians and atheists argue convincingly for and against God when there’s no opposition, but their lives look the same. Surely the followers of Jesus would act and live differently to non-Christians?
Post-Christian living is radically different from pre-Christian living and any non-Christian who has spent time with Christians will know that to be true. The differences don’t lie externally in the size of car – though wealthy Christians are generous – or size of house – though Christians with large houses use them to serve others – the differences lie in things like selflessness, love and sacrifice for others. Yes Christians fail, because they remain sinners all their days. Christians are not saved by God because they are good they are saved by the amazing grace and mercy of God. The differences may not be noticed by non-Christians. Jesus said that light has come into the world but people prefer darkness to light – and so the non-Christian may run away from the Christian community because it shows up his wrongdoing – and then he judges the church from the outside. In the first century notorious slurs – all utterly false – were levelled by pagans at Christians from the outside. They called Christians cannibals because they had heard this distant story about communion (eating bread and wine which represents the body and blood of Jesus). They called them immoral, because they heard about the fellowship meals they enjoyed together, men and women in the same room, and imagined that they would be doing what they did (or wanted to do) at their drunken parties. The most remarkable thing about becoming a true Christian is the life-difference it does make, “all things become new.”
14. How can Christianity be a credible faith with all the stories of corruption, child abuse, cover up, etc. in the Christian church emerging through investigative reporting?
There are two forms of corruption stories in “the church”. The first are by people who call themselves Christians but are not. Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is a Christian. Not every Christian “leader” whatever title might be given to him or her is a true Christian leader. Furthemore, in some branches of Christendom the outrageous notion exists which says that if you do not marry you are holier than those that do marry, and those who lead are expected not to marry. What happens? They burn with sexual desire and instead of that good gift being directed towards the good aim of heterosexual marriage, it gets misdirected in sinful activity – and consequent scandal. Until such churches banish the ridiculous notion that sex is somehow unworthy of church leaders such scandals will only continue. The other form of corruption story is when a true leader falls. In such cases they are to repent and be rebuked so that everyone will learn from them. True believers can fall, but true believers will repent.
15. What does the bible say about the world ending?
The Bible teaches that Jesus will return one day to bring the world to an end. After that there will be the day of Judgement and then eternity- either eternal heaven or eternal hell.
16. If there is an omnipotent God, why was He disappointed with Adam and Eve, and banished them from Eden and flooded the Earth as a punishment if He already knew it would all happen before He even created us all?
This is one of the many mysteries we don’t understand. All we can say is that (i) in some way God is glorified (made famous, character revealed) through the tragedy that unfolded. For example we would never know what mercy was (love to those who don’t deserve it) if Adam and Eve had not fallen). (ii) The end result will be better than the first: heaven will be better than Eden.
17. Didn’t Christianity & Islam originate from the same part of the world? Aren’t they related? Why do both faiths inspire and provoke such strong followings and rebellion all over the world, unlike other faiths?
Yes, superficially, both are related because they both trace back to children of Abraham. I cannot see, however, any evidence that Chrsitianity provokes rebellion. It provokes strong followings, that is true, but those strong followings do not lead to holy war – taking away the lives of others, but instead lead to persecution and martyrdom – the giving up of their own lives.
18. Was there something particular that convinced you that God was really there, or a particular time/situation that convinced you? Yes, all Christians point to the day or the period of time when they were “converted” – God worked in their hearts in one of many different ways, and brought them to believe in his Son.
19. What does the Bible tell us about the age of the earth?
I don’t think it tells us very much. The Bible is there to tell us about God and how to know him, not to tell us about such details.
20. How does God make decisions?
Everything he does is righteous, but beyond that we cannot know, except that his ways are higher than ours.
21. Where do animals go if they don’t go to heaven?
Animals were not made in the image of God and although there may be animals in heaven “the lion will lie down with the lamb”, they are of a much lower order in creation than we are; or to be more accurate, we are of a much higher order than they. The emphasis in the Christian message is people getting ready for heaven.
22. The Trinity, is God really 3 persons?
Yes, 3 Divine Persons. We could put it like this: “There are Three who are God. And yet there are not three gods for the Three are One.” Can we understand this high mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? No. Can we state it? Just about. But it does have amazing spin offs. For example it explains how God can be love. Love requires a subject – someone to love. If there was no plurality in the Godhead how could God ever know what love was?
The above answers were written on Tuesday 26th January. Please return for future answers. Thankyou.
Questions from: What about Suffering? (February 28th)
General questions about the origin of evil and suffering
1. Where does evil come from? If God is holy and created a perfect universe where did the first evil thought, deed come from?
Evil does not come from God, we need to start there. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all”, we read in 1 John 1:5. According to the Bible there is real mystery around the origin of evil: perhaps because our minds could never take it all in. What we know is this: Evil started in the invisible angelic world, when an angelic being rebelled (Satan, the Devil, the evil one) against God (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28) and was thrown out of heaven, we assume along with those who rebelled with him. Satan first appears in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden and leads Adam and Eve astray. Where the first thought of rebellion came from is a complete mystery. Christians are very happy with mystery – we don’t know everything.
2. Why would a good God allow good people to suffer? If there is a good God, why is the world in such a mess?
The world is in a mess first of all because of Satan. Satan then tempted Adam and Eve who “fell” themselves from their perfect state into a state of sinfulness – they now found it easy and natural to hate and hurt. So people are the second source of “mess”. The third source of mess is the natural world which since Adam and Eve’s fall also fell. There is in nature a mysterious bent and twist and curse, out of which comes death and disease and the cause of so much suffering.
Why does God allow people to suffer? Part of the reason is mysterious; part of it is as follows: (i) we are not robots, and the ability of Adam and Eve and ourselves to choose carries with it the risk of them and us choosing wrongly. So vital is the ability to choose, that we are not human without it. So in creating creatures with the noble ability to choose, God also created creatures with the ability to choose wrongly – and so much of our suffering comes from us choosing wrongly. The alternative is to create beings without a will, but then beautiful things such as love could not exist, for love must be volitional to be true love (If I must kiss my wife, then whatever that kiss is, it is not love). (ii) Good can come out of suffering. Strangely, in a fallen world, it often takes pain to bring about good. Without it, for example, designers might be careless: the crash of a plane results in safer planes. Without the pain of being burnt a child might not learn to avoid heat, so pain is a teacher. (iii) Might there not be reasons we simply cannot see for God allowing suffering? Just as a little child could not possibly fathom a parent introducing discipline into his life – for his good, so might not God have reasons through pain which we simply cannot fathom? I don’t mean all to correct us, but for other reasons? Because we can’t fathom them, doesn’t make them impossible.
3. If God is all powerful and sin is the cause of suffering, why does He not stop people sinning?
Some of the reasons are to be found above. The key here is that to stop people sinning, God would have to remove their free will (programmed not to harm) and then they would not be human. The gift of free will is what makes us human, but of course it is a two-edged sword.
4. Why did God create the world when he knew that most people would end up going to Hell?
Who says most will go to hell? How do we know that? If one statistic about miscarriages is true, as many as 50% of babies conceived never see the light of day, and we can be fairly sure that a child who dies before they are able to reason and choose will go to heaven (2 Samuel 12:23, Genesis 18:25). So that is 50% of all the people who have ever lived! And what of the other half of humanity? Many of them have heard the Good News of Jesus and responded to it. And of those who go to hell, that in Scripture is their choice: to those who do not want God in their lives in this world, heaven, filled with the glory of God, would be an unwanted miserable hell.
5. How can Christianity be the world’s answer to suffering when like other major world forces of civilisation, kingdoms and people who claim to represent God have contributed to the suffering of others e.g. the Crusades, colonisation, child abuse, etc.?
The Crusades had nothing to do with Christianity. They were connected to a false version of Christianity, but there is no hint anywhere in the New Testament that in Christ’s name Christians are to take up arms, form an army and fight. Colonisation had nothing to do with true Christianity. Anyone who abuses a child is not a Christian. A true Christian is someone who believes in Jesus and lives a new life. The real problems began when Constantine “became a Christian”, 312, and a false form of Christianity, called Christendom (Christianity + earthly kingdom) emerged. From then onwards this false version of Christianity confused and combined Christianity with the state: the error is still around today.
Questions about good coming out of evil
6. Romans 8:28 “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” – How can suffering be for our good?
Part of the answer is to be found in the answer given to Question 2, above. For a believer, suffering accomplishes many good things. Suffering makes us depend on God, suffering refines our faith, suffering humbles us, suffering is sometimes used by God as discipline, through suffering God’s power and glory may be displayed.
Suppose, and here our faith must rise to its greatest, the great plan of God is his glory. The great project of the universe is to reveal the glory of God (this is not boastful, because in God’s case, his glory is real, unlike the vain glory of men). This means to reveal what God is like. And suppose that in the absence of sin and suffering, many aspects of God’s glory cannot be seen. So for example, without sin, the amazing grace of God (love in spite of) would never be known. If there were no sinners, the idea of love to the unworthy would never be known. Suppose that the power of God in overturning evil for good could also not be seen without evil in the world. Suppose that the compassion of God towards the suffering could not be seen unless suffering existed. Suppose that heaven will be all the more wonderful for us having experienced suffering on earth? Just suppose for a moment, that God, in his eternal wisdom, allowed suffering and sin to enter the world to reveal his glory, and just suppose, for a moment, that we are all, in point of fact, the better for it?
Questions about innocent people suffering
7. Why does God allow natural disasters where innocent people die? Like the Indonesian tsunami?
The central issue here is the word “innocent”. According to the Bible no-one is innocent. We all know God exists from the beauty and marvel of creation and from our consciences, but we have all turned away from God. With respect to a particular disaster, that may not be a direct punishment from God on those people, but in terms of where those people – and we – stand at the judgement seat of God after death, we are all in the same boat – we are all sinners who deserve God’s judgement. That is why God sent his Son, Jesus into the world, to pay for our sins, so that we might not be condemned. People once came to Jesus about a natural disaster and his response was to say “Unless you repent, you too will perish”. In other words, a natural disaster should lead us to ask the serious personal question: where do we stand before God, should we meet him today, rather than pondering a theoretical philosophical question. Where do you stand before God?
8. Why does God let innocent children be hurt, killed and abused?
Everyone who abuses or kills children will one day pay for their wrongdoing. A day of Judgement lies ahead of everyone. I cannot tell why God allows this to happen.
9. Can you help me to understand the suffering of children who from the moment of birth know hunger or harm, but have never heard about a loving God?
I cannot understand such terrible suffering, but know that the God of this world will do justly on the last day. There are many things we do not know. It is our task to take the Good News of Jesus to the world, so that they won’t die without having heard of his love and forgiveness.
Practical Questions about helping people through suffering
10. How can we help fellow Christians who are going through suffering? How can we walk with them through it and why is this important?
Sometimes helping is just listening silently – being there for them. Sometimes helping is reminding them of God’s love and his promises to them. Sometimes it is a meal and always it is prayer. Sometimes it is introducing them to someone who has walked that way before and can empathise with them. Judgement is not what they need – Job’s comforters were everything but comforters when they merely condemned the suffering Job. Honest talk may have to come at some point, but weeping with those who weep is the immediate Jesus way.
11. If we knew where suffering comes from: Satan, the Fall or people…are we able to distinguish between the source of where our suffering comes from and should our response and view of the situation differ accordingly?
Most of the time, it seems to me, we can’t distinguish the source. Take Job as an example. He did not know that the ultimate source of his suffering was Satan (we’re told that for our understanding and comfort). From his perspective suffering came from some raiders, natural disasters and illness. Satan, sinners and natural disasters all played a part in his suffering. A believer asks in all suffering “is this the loving discipline of my Father in heaven?” – is he trying to tell me something? A believer trusts that in all suffering God is working out his good purposes. Whatever the source, God is in sovereign control of the outcomes.
Questions about specific kinds of suffering
12. Many people make an expression of faith on their deathbeds or when they are suffering? Isn’t this more an expression of fear than faith?
There are many examples of people repenting on their deathbeds and of people coming to faith whilst they are suffering. I am wary of speaking for them all or of trying to ascertain their true motives or the genuineness of their repentance and faith. However, being close to death or experiencing suffering can bring into focus the big questions of life such as; Is there a God? and Is there life after death? It is possible that the initial response is fear, but this fear could lead to looking at these questions and seeing those questions answered in Jesus who claimed and showed that he is God and said that he is the only way to eternal life. Fear could be the catalyst to start thinking about Jesus, but true repentance and trust in Jesus is through faith and not fear. We live in a fallen world and death is the one certainty of life, so I would argue that those repenting on their deathbed or coming to faith through suffering are doing so from a clearer stand point then those of us who lead a comfortable life and instead are more absorbed by the eternally inconsequential issues such as exams, football results, promotions, house prices and so on, rather than those of eternal significance such as What happens when I die?
13. Why does God allow dementia and Alzheimer’s in people for years so they act against their faith?
This is a good question. I cannot say why God allows this, but I believe that though they may be acting against their faith outwardly, this does not necessarily reflect what is going on in the core or heart of the person. The degeneration of a person in this way shows the way we are created by God. We have a spirit (or soul) which lives in our bodies and is somehow connected to our bodies. But while the body is mortal and can decline, the spirit or soul lives on and is not subject to the same ravages of the fall. So a believer may find their souls imprisoned in a decaying body which no longer reflects the true total person. If a loved one is saying things out of character with their true faith we should not be worried about their spiritual state, but pray that God will keep their souls to the end, which by his great power can and shall do.
14. You said that Cornel has an exciting story about how God worked in his life, can you tell us a bit more about that if you’re happy to?
Answer coming soon
15. A personal question for Cornel. Have you ever blamed God for your situation? You’re such a witness to others but have you ever doubted God?
Answer coming soon
16. In the most severe cases, can euthanasia ever be seen as just in the eyes of God?
Euthanasia (good-death) needs to be defined carefully in a “medicalised” world. There is a time to die, but today I can be put on all sorts of machines that can prevent me from what would have naturally happened at the very end of my life, and delay my death by another week. Should an aged patient ask to allow nature to take its course, since the time has come, that is not euthanasia. Euthanasia in any other setting, “I want to decide the hour of my death” when that hour is not the natural hour of death is the same as murder. God is the author of life, and he determines the day of our death. Any attempt to alter his timings is sin. We are so fortunate to live in the age of the Hospice, which was started by Dame Cicely Saunders, a Christian woman who wanted people at the end of life to die naturally and without pain as far as that was possible. Thanks to the amazing advances in medicine and end-of-life care, this is now possible. Dying naturally prevents the feelings of guilt which anyone who takes their own life bequeaths to their remaining families: Did I care enough for her? If only I had been around more often she wouldn’t have asked for euthanasia.
Is there life after death?
Don’t all religions lead to God?