Thursday, January 9, 2014

Five Tough Questions That Cause People to Struggle in Their Faith

What about people who have never heard of Jesus?

The picture this problem paints is, for example, a family in the middle of the wilderness somewhere, who has never heard of God, let alone understands the concept of sin. In other words, there are people out there who do not know they need Jesus, and who do not know that they are sinning against God. So then the question becomes, does God send these people to hell for their ignorance? Does our compassionate and loving God burn those who have never heard of Jesus nor understand that they are sinners who need Him?
I get a picture in my mind from a movie I once saw. It is a comedy called, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and it is about a traditional African pigmy tribesman who is out hunting one day and a man who is flying a plane litters his empty coke bottle out the window of a small prop plane and the tribesman who believes the airplane is a bird, finds the unbroken glass coke bottle in the sandy ground in front of him. He taps on the glass bottle and eventually takes it back to his tribe and they discover many uses for the “evil thing” which it is eventually understood to be, because everyone wants the bottle now because they have found so many uses for it and for the first time, there is fighting within the tribe. The leader of the tribe, the one who found the glass coke bottle, believes that the gods sent him something evil and he doesn’t want it so he tries to throw it back to them but ends up falling back to the earth... and landing on the head of one of his relatives. This soon pushes the tribesman to journey “to the end of the world” to rid the earth of this evil thing.
This is what I picture when people ask me about people who have never heard of Jesus. As funny as that movie is, it still paints a picture of the reality that there are people who do not know Jesus. Some find it hard to justify the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven because of such realities.
In the Old Testament, what did people do to have their sins cleansed? They would place their hands on an animal and by faith, they believed that the sins would pass through their hands and into the animal, and then that sin-filled animal would be sacrificed as a burnt offering to the Lord. The point is, people in the Old Testament have never heard of “Jesus,” but yet they still put their hope in Him. They looked forward to His ultimate sacrifice (See Hebrews 10:11-14). The book of John records Jesus as being the channel, so to speak, through which grace and truth came, in contrast with the Law, which came through Moses (Jn 3:17).
Even in Romans 3:20, Paul, who was an expert on Mosaic Law, confessed that the purpose of the Law was to make one conscious of his or her sin, not to save on from sin: “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” So we see that observation of the Law does not save, but it is through faith, not works, even in the Old Testament, that people are saved.
This still doesn’t seem like a fully satisfying argument for people who have never heard of Jesus, like possibly those who live in remote areas in the world. There is still an issue that needs to be addressed before we get to that. It is not correct for us to believe that we deserve heaven, because we do not. Romans 3:23 explains that we are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory. Because this is the case, God condemns us to hell. We should be rejoicing in the first place that He has created a way in which we can be saved. He solved the problem of our sin by sending His Son to die for us. It is not the act of not knowing Jesus that sends us to hell, for we are already bound for hell. Jesus, however, died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).
So now that we have a better understanding of where we stand, it seems that we can look to the scripture for a solid answer for the question of how people who do not know Jesus. In the first chapter of Romans, the reader will find that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (NIV). We can see design in ecosystems, and because we can see trees, for example, which do exist, they are witnesses to the existence of a powerful creator. Something exists, rather than nothing at all.
So, because there is evidence for God in the design of nature, then God must exist. This is something that the African pigmy would come to realize as well. God exists; and people are without excuse when it comes to believing in Him, but it cannot stop there. Now that the African pigmy knows that there is a powerful designer, how is he to come to know Jesus?
In the book of Matthew, Jesus says with His own lips, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (NIV Mt 7:7-8). With the ‘person who has never heard of Jesus’ in mind, it is now brought to our attention that all he or she must do is ask about the creator, and they will receive; seek answers about Him and they will find Him; knock on the door, and He will open it. In summary, those who have never heard of Jesus will possibly find Him through observing the creation, and in so doing, search for the creator. This is the point at which Jesus might lay it on someone’s heart to go to that area for missions work. In other words, a missionary could be called to that area to evangelize.
One more thing, for those who are concerned about relatives who do not know Jesus or people who really do live in remote places, you can trust that God is just and gracious and loving in His righteous actions. He is just, gracious and loving for you and me, “for while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Put your trust in Him.

Why does pain and suffering exist if God loves us?

Some people believe that God’s biggest desire for us should be that we are well taken care of in the sense that there should not be diseases or sickness, or more aggressively, that He should not even allow pain or suffering. After all, if He is such a loving God, who is all powerful, the sole creator, and who is all good, if He existed, then He would take away pain and suffering. But why stop there? It seems that He would just take all evil out of the world if He were all of those things.
On the Sixth Day at the end of Genesis chapter one, God saw that all He had created was good. It wasn’t until Genesis chapter three that evil was introduced into the world. Adam was charged with sin because in chapter two of Genesis, God commanded Adam not to eat from a certain tree that would cause mankind to have the knowledge of good and evil. What is the point of all of this? In the beginning, God created a perfect world for us... Mankind brought sin and curse into the world.
There are several ways to look at this question. For one, as alluded to above, since God is the sole creator and He is all powerful, as well as good, yet, evil exists. If you take any one of these four points out of the equation, then the three that are left can peacefully exist. All four points existing seems to create a problem. One way to answer this “philosophical riddle” is by explaining that if evil did not exist, then there would be no compassion in the world. So then, because evil exists, compassion exists as well. If there were not hungry people in the world, there would be no compassion in that regard. If people never got cancer, then why would we be compelled to help our loved ones? I think you get the point. In any event, I think you should keep reading.
Another way to “answer” this riddle, is to explain that God allows things to happen to us because what we sometimes recognize as evil, might not be evil to God. For instance, in the book of Job, we find a man who has lost everything, his kids, his servants, his wealth, his health, and even support from his wife and friends. Yet, he never knew there was a conversation going on between Satan and God.
Satan was in the presence of God and so God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him.” Satan said in reply, “It is because you have placed a hedge of protection around him. Strike him and he will surely curse you to your face.” God then said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your hands...” (Job 1-2).
With this, the reader will see from reading the first few chapters of the book of Job that God allowed Satan to do something to Job. The question comes to mind, “What is the difference between allowing something to happen and God simply doing something Himself?” Isn’t God all powerful and the only creator? When a king sends a messenger with some important information, who is credited with this information? It is not the messenger is it?
We can see that God allowed these things to happen to Job. Obviously God was not punishing Job for anything because God Himself calls Job righteous and claims that there is no one like him. Nor is God like a kid with a magnifying glass over an ant hill, as the reader of the book of Job can see near the end of the book. In any event, God allowed suffering to happen to Job. Because of such, suffering cannot be understood as evil in and of itself.
So why would God allow, or cause, such things to happen to Job? I use the word “cause” because even Satan’s speech toward God implies that it is God who has to carry these things out. For starters, God reminds Job at the end of the book who He is. He is God! He is the all powerful, sovereign being that laid the foundations of the earth! He asks Job in chapter 38 who it is that obscures His plans and then demands an answer from him. In other words, God had a plan, and Job, with his words without knowledge, is darkening His plan! Not that it would stop God’s plan, by any means. If Satan cannot stop God’s plans, who is clearly a supernatural being, how would Job, the mere human (as righteous as he may be), obscure or conceal God’s plan? This is clearly a rhetorical question. The truth is, he can’t. The point of all of this is to reveal that God allows what we might understand as bad or evil to happen, but just like Paul says in Romans, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” In any event, then, all suffering is temporary. Even suffering that takes us to our deathbed. This life on earth is a short period of time when considering eternity.
Knowing that God causes these things, such as causes people to be blind, mute or deaf (Exodus 4:11), helps us to understand that everything comes from Him. Of course all good things come from Him (James 1:17). My proposition is that everything comes from Him. Then if everything comes from Him, if He is the one who allows all that has happened to us to happen, then we cannot get bitter at someone else because they have done something to us. If someone steals the money out of our wallet, God does not cause them to sin, but He does allow this thing to happen to us. Therefore we shouldn’t feel bitterness toward the thief because ultimately, the all-powerful Lord God has the final say (By no means does this condone stealing).
God does not cause someone to sin (James 1:13-15), but He allows things to happen to people. In one facet, things happen to a person, which is what God allows, and in another facet, as far as the thief is concerned in our analogy above, the thief (sinner) makes a choice. One direction is incoming and the other direction is outgoing. The proposition, to elaborate further, is that God causes all things incoming, whether it is diseases from birth, good fortune, the allowance of other people to influence our lives with pain, suffering, or blessing and because of such, suffering cannot be deemed as evil. As alluded to above, because God has the final say, we have no reason to be bitter or hold grudges against our enemies, friends, or even spouses. How people react to conflict in relationships is one of the most common things that divide. Understand that God is the one who brought things to you, whether it is to teach a lesson, or He is testing your faith, pushing you in a certain direction, or simply because He is sovereign, in any event, He works for the good of those who love Him.

“The LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’” NASB Exodus 4:11.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “ NIV 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Why isn’t there more evidence for the existence of God?

It seems that God could, since He is God, just reveal Himself personally to everyone and fix the problem all together. However, the method that God chose seems to work well. He chose to spread His message through people. There is constantly archaeological evidence for things that happened all the way from Old Testament times that prove people have a deep interest in God and what He communicates. For instance, after having examined several fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls myself, seeing the strokes of the pen on the ancient parchment and observing the heavy-duty clay jars that were made solely to protect the scrolls, I came to the obvious conclusion that people then, as today, hold the word of God extremely sacred and they want to share what, how and when He has revealed Himself to His creation.
This is what we are supposed to do. What makes mankind the highest in the animal kingdom is the fact that we have language. This is what sets human beings apart from other members of the animal kingdom. Of course there are smaller forms of communication between animals like chirps, snorts, stomps, grunts, and gestures for mating seasons, but animals, aside from humans do not have the capacity to tell other members of their species that “there is a pit with spikes in it on the other side of the field, so don’t fall into it.” Language gives us the ability to testify and communicate our testimonies. This is what some psychologist’s credit to the human race as what keeps us at the top.
God’s method of revealing Himself to His creation is to have us share with each other the accounts of when, how, and where God supernaturally intervened. Take for instance some of the New Testament miracles: In the book of John, the author records seven miracles of Jesus: changing the water into wine; healing the royal officials son; healing the invalid of 38 years; feeding the 5000; walking on water; healing the man who was born blind; and raising Lazarus from the dead. These are seven instances where there is definitely divine intervention. John records Jesus in chapter 14 explaining that if people believe in the things he was doing, that would be enough for them to know that God is in Him. In other words, that would be enough for them to know that Jesus is divine.
If He wanted to prove His existence, He easily could. The point is that He wants us to have faith. If He were so blatant about His existence, then there would be no need for faith. John 13:20 suggests that people do not need proof of God but will accept the message of God (if it is really the truth), from anyone. In other words, once a person hears the truth, it will either be accepted or dismissed, no matter who tells him or her. Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). So with this in mind, Jesus will either be accepted or not accepted by the person who hears about Him. There is no further need for some absolute proof because Jesus gave people absolute proof and yet He was still dismissed.
 In John chapter six, verses thirty and thirty-one, some Jews asked Jesus when He would show them a miracle so that they could have reason to believe that He was the Christ. They pointed to the fact that Moses gave their forefathers manna. The sad thing is, this demand from the Jews happened after Jesus fed the 5000! This is why John records the seven miracles. John believed that when Jesus performed the miracles He did, it, by right, validated, demonstrated, and verified that Jesus is God (see John 20:31). In any event, there is not more evidence for the existence of God because He desires for us to have faith. If the massive amounts of evidence that He provided is still not enough for a person to believe in Jesus, then it is probable that he or she will never be persuaded.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” NIV Jn 5:46-47.
“He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” NIV Jn 8:47.
“But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." NIV Jn 10:38.
“I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” NIV Jn 13:20.
            "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." NIV Lk 16:31.

Are all sins the same?

The idea is that all sins are the same through the eyes of God. The problem with this is that it goes much deeper than that. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (NIV). It seems as though the phrase “all sins are the same” came from this verse. The question of whether all sins are the same or not lies in the usage of the word, “sin.” James explains that if you are a Law breaker (meaning, if you break one of the 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses), then you have sinned against God, therefore placing yourself in need of salvation. Jesus even takes these commands further and says that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart, then you are guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:28). Again, in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus explains that murder gets the same results as being angry with someone and calls him or her a fool or holds them in contempt will be in danger of Hell fire (5:21-22). So then, it is a heart thing, and not just something requiring action in order to obtain a sin nature.
With this in mind, consider a child stealing a piece of penny candy from the local candy store in contrast with a vile, sadistic murderer. God looks at both of them as sinners (Exodus 20:13, 15), but do their sins carry the same weight? Even in the eyes of God?
The thing is, there is a difference between the word “sin” and “sinner” All sinners are breakers of God’s Law, but sins definitely have a different value, even to the Lord.
Let me explain something here before we go any further. Once you sin, you are a sinner in the eyes of God. Once you are a sinner, you need to be saved from your sin. So logically, the moment you sin, you need to be saved. The difference between sin and sinner is that a sinner is someone who has broken a Law of God and a sin is a Law of God that was broken by someone.
So where does all of this mumbo jumbo take us? Though definitely not equally, the different value of sin is regarded by humans as well as the Lord. As the comparison in the example above, there is no question of whether or not they carry the same weight. Of course murder is much worse of a sin than stealing candy. For instance, Matthew 11:24 explicitly reveals that there will be more harsh judgment for those who do not repent with enough evidence to do so; James 3:1 explains that teachers will be judged more strictly; John records Jesus telling Pilate that those who handed Him over to him are guilty of a greater sin John 19:11. These examples do not take the fact away that once someone sins, they are a sinner in need of God’s grace.
The unpardonable sin (found in Mark 3:28) is not accepting Jesus as one’s savior before one dies. This blasphemy against the Holy Spirit causes someone to be guilty of an eternal sin. Romans chapter one explains that men are without excuse because of the creation that lies before them. In other words, Some Designer had to start it all, and because we see the design, we have evidence of the Creator. Secondly, men today are without excuse because they have the biblical account (the gospels) that reveals Jesus to us, who is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Therefore we have more than enough evidence to understand the need for repentance. A thorough reading of the gospel of John will further explain these “evidences” and show its readers the light of the world.
In conclusion, all sin is equally condemning, but not all sin is equally devastating. As with the serial murderer or the small child stealing penny candy, they both are acts of breaking God’s law. Once you sin, you become a sinner who is in need of God’s grace. This is what James is talking about (James 2:10). You might as well have broken all of God’s laws once you have broken one. This does not give you the excuse to go on sinning because we are held accountable, but it is simply making a point of needing grace. In any event, all sins are the same in that they carry us to the place of needing grace through Jesus, but not all sins have the same level of affliction.

If God put the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, isn’t that just setting mankind up to fail?

It could be likened to a kid left alone with a candy or cookie jar, or two teenagers who are in-love and left alone. Perhaps in either case, things that shouldn’t be done frequently are. It seems that if there is room for failure, it will happen. The thing is, if we, as mere humans can understand this, why couldn’t God? This question really breaks down to temptation.
It seems that if the forbidden fruit were the only source of food in the Garden of Eden, then that would definitely be setting up mankind to fail. In Genesis chapter two, God put the man He had formed in the garden with “all kinds of trees growing out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (NIV). Clearly, there were more trees producing provision than the one tree. 1 Corinthians 10:13 explains that God will provide a way out of temptation in any circumstance. He did the same thing in the Garden of Eden by placing other trees that were pleasing to the eyes and good for food.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil was placed in the Garden as a test. This is the point, that God tests, but He does not tempt. As mentioned above, if that were the only tree, then it would be a temptation. But it wasn’t. It was a test of Adam’s obedience.
God tested the obedience and faith of Abraham later on in Genesis as well. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering on the top of a mountain. When Abraham was on the top and his son was in the position for sacrifice, Abraham was about to pull the trigger and BAM... the angel of the Lord stopped him from doing so.
Now God does allow us to experience trials. Trials can be used by the Lord as a test as well. For instance, if people are struggling with addictions, it can be a test of faithfulness to God, or a test of faith and trust in God. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (NIV). So this brings us to an understanding that trials can prove our genuineness of our faith. Not only will trials prove how genuine we are to God but also to ourselves, which accumulates to and encourages spiritual growth.
The author of the book of James warns us that when we are tempted that we shouldn’t blame God for being tempted (James 1:13) because He does not tempt people, as we have seen. James goes further and explains that we are tempted because of our own evil desire and when desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin (James 1:14-15). It seems that the point is driven home that there is no place in the Bible where God tempts people. Testing is a different story, however. I’m sure you can look back to a time when your faith and trust in God was tested. If you prevailed, then you know that you have grown because of it. Therefore, let’s embrace trials as James advises, which waters the seed to further spiritual growth and maturity.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV James 1:2-5). 

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Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus