Archive for November, 2011

Some people see Christians as thinking they have all the answers.  With some Christians this reputation is well deserved. However, the truth of the matter is that as Christians we know very little. By this I don’t mean that we are all uneducated, half-brained, blind sheep following aimlessly but just that there is so much to know and so little that as humans we can comprehend.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t suddenly give you all the answers and you certainly don’t have to have all the answers before you become a Christian.  Let’s face it if we had all the answers there would be no need for faith.

When it comes to God who is infinite we will only ever know a minute part of what there is to know. So, when do I know if I have enough information to make a wise decision?  Becoming a Christian is not the end of your journey into faith but almost the beginning. Once you become a Christian you will continue to learn and grow in your faith. Just as in deciding to marry someone or even to start going out with someone you don’t have all the answers before you set out on the relationship together. Becoming a Christian is, simply put, entering into a relationship with God. We don’t need to know everything about him in order to start that relationship.

 

So what do I need to know or understand?  I would say that the only things you need to understand or trust in before becoming a Christian are these 5 points

 

  1. That God exists
  2. That we do wrong
  3. That our wrongdoing separates us from God
  4. That Jesus died to reconcile us back to God
  5. That we need to ask Jesus to be our personal saviour (i.e. saving us from the results of our wrongdoing)

Now, I’m not saying that this is a perfect list (and I’ll be interested to hear other people’s opinions of it) but I hope it shows that the things we need to understand in order to become a Christian are not that complicated. If we can understand these 5 thing we can then wisely start our Christian journey. There is so much more that we will learn and struggle to understand but let us not complicate the beginning of our journey more than we need to.

 

The Christian faith is a lot to do with relationship and as we all know human relationship can get very complicated. However, the premise for a relationship is very simple. Two people meet, they communicate and the relationship is formed – it’s a very simplistic view but the reality is, at its very basic level, that is what relationship is about.  God wants to meet with us and to communicate with us. He does this in various ways one of which is through the Bible. The Bible is a mysterious collection of stories about God communicating with man. It’s complicated stuff but if you had to sum it up in one sentence you would probable quote John 3: 16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

We don’t need to know all the answers before becoming a Christian, just as we don’t need to know how an engine works in order to drive a car. We need to know a little and be willing to continue to learn and discover and grow. You will never have all the answers but we were never meant to. God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that we will never know it all, even when we think that we do!!

If, however, you do have unanswered questions that you feel are a block to you understanding the Christian faith please do ask away in the comments box below and I am very happy to try, in my inadequate way, to answer them.

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It is very popular to talk about the Love of God, the Grace of God and the Mercy of God but we tend to sweep the Wrath of God under the proverbial carpet.  Is that because it doesn’t exist or we are ashamed of it or is it because it’s unpopular or just that we don’t understand it?  Well, it may well be for a mixture of reasons and although I don’t entirely understand it and will probably make a ham-fisted job of it I’m going to have a look at it now!

 

So, what is wrath?  If you look at a dictionary definition it will say something along the lines of…

strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

 

So we can see that God’s wrath is his strong, stern and fierce anger resulting in his vengeance and punishment!  Oh, if only it was as simple as that!!!  However, this is how many people see God!  They see him as this great God sitting in heaven just waiting for us to do something wrong so that he can smite us dead!! Now the problem with this view is that, and let’s be honest about it, none of us would have made it past nursery school!  So why isn’t this the case? Well, for start God cannot always be judged by our standards. It stands to reason that God’s wrath would be different to our wrath just as God’s love and mercy are different to ours.  God’s character is flawless, He does nothing out of selfishness, pride, envy etc. Much of our anger is fuelled by our faults – this is not the case with God. God’s wrath must be seen in relation to His love, mercy and grace.

 

Within the Christian faith, therefore, there is a great tension. We have a God of love, grace and mercy but we also have a God of Wrath. Now, many people are happy to accept the God of Love, Grace and Mercy and forget about the fact that he will also show His wrath. However, can you really have one without the other? Can you really have a God who loves you but doesn’t get angry when things happen that hurt you? Can you have a God of justice who just sweeps under the carpet all wrongdoing? We cry out for justice, we want the guilty punished. Do we really want to believe in a God who is going to let all wrong-doing go un-punished and the guilty set free?  Well, of course we do, when it comes to us at least – but when it comes to others that’s a different story!!

 

Let me explain here that there is a difference between anger and wrath. Anger in many ways is an emotional, human response to a situation. Wrath on the other hand is a well thought out, carefully planned response to the wrong doing that goes on. Love, grace and mercy are part of who God is, wrath is something that is not part of God but only a response to the wrong doings of man.

 

C. S. Lewis summed up this tension we find between a God of love and a God who shows wrath by saying…

God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies

Many people find this idea of God very uncomfortable, but for me it makes much sense. You can’t have a God of love and justice without Him displaying wrath. God’s wrath is not some out of control anger that lashes out. God’s wrath is very controlled, so controlled in fact that it is restrained by His grace and mercy. As we looked at before God is not sitting there with a big grin on his face just waiting to punish any wrongdoing. We read in Ezekiel…

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?… Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

God’s wrath had not been revealed yet as he is waiting for all to turn away and turn to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love, grace and mercy. Jesus came to take the wrath of God away from all who believe in Him. I guess this is why it is easier for us to focus on the love, grace and mercy of God – we have been shown those attributes in human form.  We have read the prophesies and seen them come true in the person of Jesus.  However, God’s wrath is something that is still to come!

So what might this wrath be like!! The Bible gives us quite a good idea, and it’s not good! Zephaniah tells us that…

The great day of the Lord is near–near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter… That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish

Revelations tells us…

 

Out of his mouth there comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations… He will tread the winepress of the furious wrath of God the Almighty

John explains that we will all undergo God’s judgement but only those not covered by Jesus’ saving power will experience God’s wrath…

 

Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

And Nahum adds…

 

The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord avenges and He is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.

In Romans we also read that…

 

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called…

And

 

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you…

Just to press home the point in Thessalonians we read …

 

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

So, God’s wrath is something to be feared. It is real and it is coming. However, for those who believe and accept Christ as Lord there is nothing to worry about. God protects those whose heart is set on Him. God keeps His great wrath in check in order to show His glory through His great mercy! To me that is quite amazing!

None of us like change that much, we are comfortable with the constant and familiar. Change can make us feel awkward, fearful, anxious and uncomfortable. We look at our lives and have a “better the devil you know” attitude. My life may not be perfect but why rock the boat. We may look at Christianity and think that although it claims to offer good things I’d have to change too much to become a Christian.

I won’t lie to you, if you become a Christian your life will change! It may very well change quite dramatically. However, if anyone can manage change well it is God. Many people see Christianity as a set of rules that we all must follow and so it looks like we would have to suddenly change our lives to fit in with these rules.  This is a bit of a warped view of how God works. Christianity is far more about relationship than rules. Relationships do cause us to change, some fairly quickly others more gradually and all the changes are made because we want to change.

Consider two situations one falling in love and the other having a baby.  People fall in love because they want to, you don’t find many people who fall in love against their will. However falling in love brings change. There are the changes in your emotions and then there are the changes you make to accommodate the other person in your life. You don’t look at a stunning young man or women and say well I don’t want to date them because it would bring about too much change, I’d have to give up my weekends and a few evenings and I’ll have to buy some smarter clothes and even start cleaning my teeth. No, you meet someone you like and you want to make changes. As you grow to know and love that person you may want to make major changes in your life. That person is not forcing you to make them but you may want to make them to please that person. These changes can be made at your own pace, nothing is forced but over time you will have change quite a bit.  You are see very much you but as the relationship grows you will both change to please each other.

 

Now consider having a baby.  Babies bring massive change to people’s lives.  This time the change is much quicker. One minute there are two people in the relationship and the next there are three. The baby requires round the clock supervision, lots of attention, feeding, money spent on it, and so on. The parents suffer from sleepless nights, lack of time, a complete change in routine, a change in their relationship, constant visitors etc. However, most people who want a baby don’t mind the change in the slightest because the baby more than makes up for it.

 

Becoming a Christian can be like these two situations. Becoming a Christian is simply entering into a relationship with God. He doesn’t suddenly demand that you change to fit in with Him. God is far more likely to gently bring you to a place where you can see that a change in what you do will be of great benefit to you, not to Him.  The changes we may make over time when becoming a Christian are far more beneficial to us than they are to God. We may change the things we do because we want to please a partner and the partner benefits but with God we may change the things we do to please God but in fact it is us that benefits not God. It may please Him but it is us who really benefits.

Some people who become Christians go through the baby situation. They suddenly see that the way they have been living is wrong and change overnight. Their world is turned upside down by understanding who God is and the love He has for all of us. It is however, purely their decision. They’ve decided that they want to change and that that change would be good for them. In both cases change is driven from them not God. In both cases change is entirely positive.

 

A friend describes his life before becoming a Christian as being great. He was a generally good person. He was happy. He had no major problems in his life. He saw no need to change. However, after exploring the Christian faith he did become a Christian. He says that before he was a Christian it was like watching a black and white television. It was great, he didn’t know any different. There was nothing wrong with watching the television in black and white; he was more than happy with it. However, being a Christian for him is like watching television in high definition full colour. There is no way he’d want to return to watching television in black and white, it would be sorely lacking. His life has changed, changed for the better.  There is no way he’d want to go back to his black and white viewing.  He has changed because he wanted to change, not because he had to or felt obliged to.

In summary:

With Christianity change is for our benefit, it is not forced and it is always at our own pace. If the God who created us cannot manage change well then who can? Our lives do not need to be in a mess or bad for change to be really great!

Many people don’t want to believe in the Christian faith until they understand everything about it.  This is very understandable – after all you don’t want to buy into something and later find things that shock you or you just can’t believe.  However, the problem with this is that, as humans, we will never be able to understand everything about the Christian faith. As finite beings we will never be able to understand an infinite God and His infinite ways.  It will never be possible.

 

In some respects that is the key.  When you understand that you will never be able to understand something, in some senses, you can stop trying. You can focus your energy on the things you can understand. If you speak to Christians you will find that Christianity hold no bad surprises.  You don’t suddenly discover that behind a front of goodness and love God is really an evil dictator – but because you’ve believed in Him for so long you just continue to believe in some sort of brain washed state.  God is who He says He is right from the start and the only surprising thing that you discover is that He never changes.  If you speak to Christians you will also discover that Christianity doesn’t give you all the answers to life’s questions. It does answer some of them and it puts even more into some sort of context but there will still be questions that we will never have answered. For centuries people, Christians and non-Christians alike, have grappled with the issues of suffering, evil, existence, conscience, love, death, the afterlife and so on. No satisfactory answers have been found and we will all continue to grapple with them. Christianity won’t give you neat, conclusive, simple answers to all of life’s big questions. However, it will give you context.  What I mean by this is that, for example, if you believe in a creator God who loves and wants the best for His creation it helps you to see things in a correct context.  In some respects it may appear to make things more difficult. If God loves His creation why does He allow it to suffer? Again there are no easy answers but we have a context within which to explore.  Is all suffering always bad? Is suffering caused by the freewill of others? Is God causing the suffering or just allowing it? If we see this world as the entirety of our existence does that change our view on suffering? What if we believe that this life is but a minute part of eternity?  If we see suffering as part of a much greater plan does that aid our understanding? If we truly believe that God is GOOD and He truly LOVES His creation how does that affect our view of suffering and God’s part in it? These are questions that Christians still have to work through but in the right context it brings far more meaning and understanding even if nice simple satisfying answers are never achieved. We constantly need to remember that the finite cannot understand the infinite.

It would be really nice to be able to put Christianity in a box, evaluate it, understand it and then decide whether to believe or not to believe. If only life were so simple. However, I do believe that the Christian faith is intellectually viable. To have faith in it is not blind faith. It is a faith worked out using our intellect and our experiences. We don’t have to understand everything about it to believe. Just as you don’t have to know how the engine of a car works in order to drive it. You need to know enough, you need to know what all (or at least most) of the buttons do, which pedal will make you go and which will make you stop.  You need to know what fuel to put in the tank and the fact that a service no and then with help prevent breakdown. However, you don’t need to know how the engine works or how the engine drives the wheels or how the fuel powers the engine in order to bring movement. Yes, the more you know the better it is, especially when things go wrong. If you can strip and engine down and rebuild it – great – but it is not essential to your everyday driving. The same is true with Christianity. You need to know enough but you certainly don’t need to know everything. You can learn more, if you choose to, along the way. That’s why we have churches and vicars and theologians to make up for what we don’t know.

 

However intelligent we are (or would like to believe we are) we will never understand the complexities of God – however hard we try. We can’t put God in a box and study Him. Trying to understand Him fully is a futile exercise which will only lead to frustration and ultimately dissatisfaction. We need to understand enough and ultimately understand that God is infinite and will never be fully understood. When we can understand that it is then that we can get into the car and drive away!

Some of the top minds over the centuries have argued for and against the existence of God. Neither side has won the argument and as no proof exists either way they probably never will. So how can I with slightly less a magnificent mind know what to believe?

 

However much I would like to be able to answer that question for you once and for all you and I know that that is not going to happen. There will never be any proof that God exists!  I also believe that there will never be any proof that He doesn’t exist.  So, just as Christianity will never be able to prove that God is who He says He is in the Bible, Science will never be able to prove that He doesn’t exist.  From a faith point of view I find that fairly comforting.  Some of the greatest minds in the world have tried to prove God exists with no success whatsoever. Now that doesn’t, of course, mean that because you can’t prove that He doesn’t exist that He does exist.  However, if you believe that the Bible was created by simple men of faith thousands of years ago you would have thought that the greatest scientific minds of the 21st century should be able to completely pick it apart and if not find proof at least find considerable fault with it. In reality this is not the case and in fact my scientists believe in God.

 

So if there is no proof how can I believe or indeed reject the claims of Christianity.  I believe one of the ways forward can be found in Matthew 7: 7. Here we are told that if we seek, we will find. This is expanded upon in the parable of the prodigal son. The parable tells of a son who leaves his father having asked for his inheritance early. The son goes off and spends all of his money on parties and fast living. He ends up poor and working on a pig farm. He is so hungry he considers eating the food of the pigs. It then occurs to him that even if he went back and worked as a servant for his father he would be much better off. He returns home to find that his father has been looking out for him every day and runs to meet him. The father throws a robe on him, puts a ring on his finger and throws as party to welcome him home, not as a servant but as his son. The parable shows that God is always on the lookout for us – if we seek Him he will run to us.  If we make the move towards him he will make a move towards us. Many people have seen this in their own lives.  As they have seriously sought God on their own or on courses like ALPHA or Christianity Explored God has moved towards them with open arms and revealed himself to them.

 

Many people have seriously looked for God just to rule his existence out and have ended up meeting Him in amazing ways. Many people, however, write God off before even examining the evidence or seeking him at all. I feel it a shame that something so potentially important can be written off so easily.  Science may offer different theories but Christianity, if true, offers so much more. Science offers little in the order of purpose, hope, freedom, reason, comfort or redemption.  Christianity offers all of those and lots more besides.  Surely those claims alone deserve to be looked into – even if just to write them off.

 

There is estimated to be up to 2.1 billion people in the world who would call themselves Christians. A friend who had no belief in God looked at this and concluded that they can’t all be mad and deluded!! He began to seek and discovered God for himself. I believe that the personal testimony of millions upon millions of people can’t just be discounted. It is the experience of millions of people around the world that God has moved in their life. It is not just the intellectual conclusion that they have come to that God exists, it is the consequent experience of Him in their lives. This may be in the form of healing, guidance, answered prayer, prophesy, miracles or a whole host of other things.

 

There may not be proof that God exists but there is, however, enough evidence to make His existence well worth looking in to!!