Answering the Questions of Searchers

People outside and inside the church are asking questions about God, the church, the Bible and faith.  Some are scoffers.  They are cynical, hurt and unsure they can ever worship God again.  While they are worthy of our love and ministry, we will prepare to talk with whose who are seeking God.  God-searchers may ask tough questions, but they also want our responses to be relevant to their lives.



 

      How can I believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people?


                          Answering the Questions of Searchers--Series

 

 

Here is a question often asked by puzzled, but interested people:

How can I believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people?

 

This question is generally referred to as the problem of evil.

Who does not have a problem with the problem of evil?

 

Let us look at the sources of evil.  Natural evil, such as earthquakes and tornadoes, seems to come from the nature of the world in which we live.  Moral evil, on the other hand, originates from human failure and wickedness.  Natural evil is more problematic than moral evil, because humans can choose to hurt others.  If people are free to choose, God cannot be held accountable.

 

Exceptions to the problem of evil exist. For example, those who believe in many gods or a limited god do not have a problem with the problem of evil.  Atheists have no problem of evil to face. Only Christians must explain the problem of evil, because we wish to think God is almighty and all loving.  Christians also choose never to be casual or careless with human suffering.

 

Christians face the problem of evil squarely.  We believe God is just. We believe God is noble in His purposes. At the same time, He is the one who sustains the evil world in which we live.  So we are compelled to acknowledge God allows evil to exist. Simultaneously He shows His goodness.

 

How then are we to solve the problem of evil?  Here are some ways by which we may address the problem of evil:


1. Consider the origin of evil. How did evil come to live within our world?  Sin’s beginning helps us recognize evil is an abnormal intruder in the world.  God, who is all good, created a good world.  Sin resulted when humans willfully abandoned the pursuit of good to chase a perceived good.  Evil is not at home in our present world, but exists because of humans’ sinful acts.

 

Sin is a perversion of good.  Evil did not exist in the original design of creation, but resulted from immoral choices by human beings.  Again this explains how evil came into existence, but does not explain why sin is present among us.

 

2. Sin is mysterious.  Freedom to sin leaves us curious.  We wonder why sin is an option among us.  We have to say, “While we don’t know, God must have had some reason for allowing sin.”

 

Many events in life leave us wondering.  They defy explanation.  When we go to the doctor he explains some things about which we have little knowledge.  Our inability to explain why sin exists among us says more about who we are than about how God works.

 

Suppose God does have a good reason for permitting evil. Why do we imagine God should let us know?  What if His reason is too complex for us? We simply admit the limitation of our thinking about God.  But we refuse to be convinced that our inability to understand should diminish our faith.

 

Another expression of the mystery of sin might be explained by what is called “free will defense.”  This line of thinking believes God made us morally free agents who are capable of making wrong choices.  If we are not capable of wrong choices, logically we must conclude we are not truly free.

 

3. Understanding God’s great objectives.  God’s purposes included allowing evil in order to accomplish great good in an evil world. We believe God has some grander goals than simply human pleasure or fulfillment.

 

What is the evidence that God does have purposes higher than human happiness?  Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, concluded, “What you meant for evil against me, God has brought about good” (Gen. 50:20).

 

Job gives us a picture of a world where human anguish and evil are attributed to sin.  Job maintains his innocence despite the tragedies that bombard him.  Job later testifies that God’s power was at work in his life and the life of his friends and family.

 

Isaiah 43:2-3, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God.”

 

In Christ’s death we have the greatest human tragedy ever.  But through His death God saved people from their sins.  Through Christ’s suffering God becomes victorious over sin, death and hell.

 

4. Understanding God’s present purposes.  Augustine, the theologian, said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.” We are able to see how suffering and evil can serve as a maturing motivation in people’s lives.  Since we were fashioned in the image of God, His Spirit working from within can make us more and more like Him.

 

As Christians suffer we are urged to depend upon God and His constant love.  We also trust that through suffering God is perfecting us.  We believe His purposes are being accomplished despite our pain. In our suffering we choose to love good and to hate evil. 

 

So evil can be seen as a teaching device to coach us to spiritual maturity.  Hardship is viewed as a disciplining and a character-producing factor in our lives.

 

Let’s imagine tragedy is absent in the world.  We could not hurt each other.  A child could not run out in front of a car. Lying would be accepted as helpful.  Wouldn’t we conclude we did not need each other?  Wouldn’t we be inclined to do whatever we wished?  Right and wrong would have no clear definition.

 

5. Understanding God’s ultimate purposes.  The problem of evil needs to be understood in light of our inability to see clearly.  For example, the Bible paints the picture of heaven as a place where God removes tears.  Heaven is also filled with godly people wearing white robes illustrating the finished work of God.  What we presently experience is incomplete. Biblical descriptions of the earth’s final days announce both the destruction of evil and the reign of justice.

 

God’s ultimate purpose is summarized in the death of Jesus.  Christ’s death, a result of injustice and sin, brings the believer into a full, complete and eternal relationship with God.

 

In conclusion, the problem of evil cannot be approached theoretically only.  We must deal with the issue practically and therapeutically.  Our theoretical answers do very little for people who are suffering.  We are each called to endure our sufferings in the name of Jesus with the power of God accompanying us.  Our hope is in Christ who endured suffering and triumphed through the resurrection.

 

 

 

“I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH TO BE A CHRISTIAN”

Answering Searchers’ Questions—Series

 

 

How would you respond to someone who said this?

 

How is that true?

A person can become a Christian without being in church services. 

Generally the Church, meaning the people of God, has been instrumental in bringing people to salvation somehow along the way

 

How is that untrue?

The Sinner’s Prayer ritual may mislead us to think we are okay with God without much more attention to His ongoing transformation.

The Bible teaches: we were saved; we are being saved; and we shall be saved.

God makes us Christian so we will become the Church.

God made us to live linked to Him by love and commitment.

God formed the Church to help us.

We are not apt to be the Church without the Church.

            1. The Church brought us to Christ.

            2. The Church coaches us toward holiness.

            3. The Church encourages us to live faithfully and lovingly.

Who can name the great Christians who lived apart from the Church?

 

How do we respond to people when they say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”?

 

Ask: What other ways will you learn about God?

         What inspires us to live like Jesus?

         How do we make corrections in unloving and selfish behavior?

            # “I don’t need someone telling me what to believe or to do.”  This person most needs the Church.

The Scripture (Luke 4:16) says, “. . . on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”  If Jesus, being God, felt it necessary to worship, how much more do we as mere human beings need to join others to honor God.

 

What do I say to someone who believes in individualistic religion?

            1. We all live in interdependency upon each other. 

            # We count on farmers to supply food and planes, trains and trucks to get it to the store. 

            # We depend on the FDA to assure what we get is consumable and relatively healthy.

            2. Spiritually we are to be interdependent on one another. God gave the power of influence to some people in the Church.  Some are teachers.  We need to be taught. Some are pastors.  We need someone to care for us.  All the gifts God gives are for the purpose of building us up.

            3. If we do not participate in the life of the church, it is like the hand saying, “I don’t need the body.”  How then will the hand be nourished and directed?

            4. The Church needs you. God has given you talents to be shared with the church.  The body dare not say we do not need the hand.  We rely on each other.  Individualism is overrated.

            5. Early in the life of the NT church people began to skip worshiping together.  The writer of Hebrews warned absentees, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb.10:25). Then he explained the reason to meet, “Let us encourage one another.”

            We need you for encouragement.

            6. When we follow Jesus we give up our individualistic identity in favor of a “one another” community .

                        a. One of the earliest recorded conversations between God an Adam was, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

                        b. Jesus invited The Twelve to follow Him in discipleship.

                        c. The call of God is into community, “Come, follow me.”

                        d. Jesus prayed for His followers to become one, even as He and the Father are one.

             

 

 “WHAT ABOUT HYPOCRITES IN THE CHURCH?”

Answering Searchers’ Questions--Series

 

 

# I listened to a man in his 40’s tell of how church people lied in a business deal, a deacon was having an affair and how a pastor stole money from a local congregation.

I knew his story about the thieving pastor, while partially inaccurate, was true.

 

   1. We recruit hypocrites to my congregation; they are called sinners.

      # John Wesley used to define hypocrites as those who refused to attend worship.

   2. Most congregations will have some who do not live lovingly.

            a. Some charges of ungodliness are unfounded.

            b. They are perfectionistic demands by hurt or judgmental people.                                     

            c. Unfortunately some churches are made up of people who not live up to God’s expectations.

    3. Churches, however, exist to encourage and instruct people to respond to God’s offer of love and forgiveness.

   4. Some people will take God’s offer and some won’t.

 

I. Why the Church? Whose idea was it? 

            A. Jesus started the Church. 

                        1. He knew we needed fellowship to assist us in living rightly. 

                        2, He coached His disciples in how to live. 

                                    # Peter, the first church leader, was a hypocrite.

            B. God’s purpose for His Church was to make God’s wisdom known, namely the salvation of all through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:10-11). 

                        1. The Church was to continue the ministry of Jesus by seeking people who need God’s love and forgiveness.

                        2. God gifts leaders to build up the church (Eph. 4:11-13).

                        3. If people are being built up, the assumption is they are incomplete.

 

II. Distinguish between those who attend church services and those who are the people of God--changed and transformed by His love.

            A. The Church is Christ’s Body and Jesus is the Head of the Church.   

            B. Not all members of a local congregation live under Jesus’ leadership.

            C. Those who live in faith and obedience can be accurately called the Church.

 

III. Let’s think together about some additional biblical ideas of the church. 

      A. The called out community—those who have left continued, deliberate sin to fellowship with God and His people and to serve human need.

      B. The congregation of the Lord as an audience before God—this concept pictures worshipers gathering to honor God and to listen to His teaching.  

      C. Elected to a covenant relationship—God lovingly chooses us for close companionship with Him.

 

Conclusion:

            1. The Church, rightly defined, precludes hypocrisy. 

         2. God’s picture of the Church calls us to act in ways consistent with His love and                                     forgiveness—a challenge for us all to pursue

“I believe there are lots of ways to God.”

(Answering Searchers’ Questions--series)

 

Pluralism frequently shapes conversations and ways of thinking among our peers.  Two forms of pluralism are:

1.      Descriptive pluralism—A recognition and appreciation of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­diversity; a position Christians embrace.

            2.  Dogmatic pluralism—Diversity is valued so highly that suggesting someone  change is deplored.  “How dare you tell someone they are wrong!”

 

Dogmatic pluralism is a result of . . .

1.      Hyper-individualism—People guard their freedom of thought to the point where they resist input from others.  They themselves become the source of truth.

2.      A new definition of tolerance—The expectation is we will accept their point view and thereby validate their personal worth.

3.      Questioning authority—“No one can tell you what to believe.”  Personal preference is considered a valid source of truth.

4.      Inadequate ways of determining truth—“If it feels good;” “If it seems right;” “If no body is hurt;” “If it is legal.”

           

Problems for Christian witnesses

1.      We are perceived as narrow, bigoted or intolerant.

            Response: “We would fight for your right to believe as you wish.  We would not be a Bible-thumping fanatic who pressures you to think as I do.  But we do believe Jesus died for our sins and His resurrection to new life provides evidence to His uniqueness as The Way to God.”

2.      We are thought to be judgmental.

            Response: “We refuse to condemn those who believe differently.  We do think we are to tell others how God proved His love for us, despite our sins, by giving Jesus as our Savior.  Because of His love we can be forgiven and free.”

 

Common expressions of “There are lots of ways to God.”

1.      “God uses many denominations.”

            Response: “Yes, God uses churches who believe Jesus is the way to God.”

2.      “All religions are alike.”

            Response: “Other religions do teach morality and ethical living, but some religions believe in multiple gods.  Christians believe in one God.”

3.      “All roads lead to God.”

            Response: “Is there one God?  If so, there are only three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  Jesus teaches He is the way to God.”


Conclusion:            

          1. The main question in this debate is: How is truth determined?                              

          2. Christians determine truth by God’s self-disclosure (the Bible), reason, tradition and experience.