Q&A 29th November 2011

The Exeter College Christian Union had lots of thoughtful and brave questions lately.  Here they are with some relevant Bible bits under each one to help you get started in considering what God says.  

And I have to say, I was reminded again just how amazing, relevant and clear the Bible is on everything asked about here.  God cares and he wants us to know his word.   

And keep asking questions, especially if you need support to face challenges or to live more fully for Jesus.  Let’s support one another as well as trying to find answers.

What is your advice for making decisions?
JEREMIAH 29:11… For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

PROVERBS 3:5-6… Trust in the LORD with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
   and he will make your paths straight.

MICAH 6:8… He has shown all you people what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.

My short answer: Follow and trust God, then aim to live obediently and confidently.  

How come God heals some people and not others?  For example I had a friend with cancer and loads of people prayed for him but he died.  What happened to 'anything is possible'?  I know God heals people and I don't doubt that but why only some?

ISAIAH 55:8-9… “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
   declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:8-10… Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

LUKE 18:1-8… Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

   “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

REVELATION 21:1-5… Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

My short answer: I don't know but he does heal sometimes and when we can't have God's healing, we still have God himself, so we can have peace.

Where do angels come from? 

JOHN 1:1-3… In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

GENESIS 1:27... So God created human beings in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 

My short answer: God made angels.  They're cool but not as important as human beings.  We're the only ones made in God's image according to the Bible.

Why did God choose one group of people in the Old Testament and the others were left out? 

GENESIS 12:1-3… The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 “I will make you into a great nation,
   and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
   and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
   and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
   will be blessed through you.”

My short answer: No-one deserves God so the real question is, 'Why did God choose anyone at all?'  God's gracious intention was for Israel to be a blessing to the whole world but they disobeyed.  It's all a pointer to what God had planned for later when he sent Jesus to 'be a blessing' and to die for the sins of the world

Is killing ever justified? 

EXODUS 20:13… “You shall not murder.”

MATTHEW 5:21-22… “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

MATTHEW 5:38-48… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

PROVERBS 31:8-9… Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
   for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
   defend the rights of the poor and needy.

My short answer: Yes when we're defending the weak from being killed by the strong and it's the only effective option left open to us

How do you forgive yourself for your ex-girlfriend having an abortion twice? 

ROMANS 8:1-2… Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

ROMANS 7:24-25… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

1 JOHN 1:9… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

My short answer: We need Jesus for this.  Jesus can forgive us for anything and he can give us a clear conscience and peace with God.  It's a promise.

Can our name ever be rubbed out from the ‘book of life’?  Or if we are a Christian once, and then decide not to be, do we still go to heaven? 

2 CORINTHIANS 5:17… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

JOHN 5:24… “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

REVELATION 3:5… Those who are victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels.

My short answer: Once Jesus saves a person, he doesn't ever lose them.  He doesn't take his forgiveness back, even if they are crazy enough to walk away from him in this life.  The 'book of life' bit in Revelation is about not blotting people out.  It doesn't mean that some people are. 

Should we put our lives at risk for our faith? 

MATTHEW 5:11-12… “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

DANIEL 3:16-18… Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

ROMANS 12:18… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

1 PETER 3:15-17… But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

PHILIPPIANS 1:21… For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

My short answer: Yes absolutely so long as it's really for Jesus and not because of our own fault (being annoying, arrogant, pushy, selfish, etc).

Is it right to drink alcohol and if so, how much? 

EPHESIANS 5:18… Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

PROVERBS 20:1… Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

PROVERBS 23:29-35… Who has woe?  Who has sorrow?  Who has strife?  Who has complaints?  Who has needless bruises?  Who has bloodshot eyes?  Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.  Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!  In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.  Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things.  You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.  “They hit me,” you will say, “but I am not hurt!  They beat me, but I don’t feel it!  When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”

JOHN 2:1-2, 7-10… On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding… Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”, so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.  He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.  Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

1 TIMOTHY 5:23… Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness.

My short answer: It's fine to drink alcohol but not to get drunk.  Why give control over to a substance with no moral sense?  It's not being more yourself - it's being less!

Why is there suffering in the world and how do you explain this to your non-Christian friends? 

ROMANS 1:18… The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

ROMANS 5:12… Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

ROMANS 8:20-22… For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

COLOSSIANS 4:6… Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

PSALM 34:18… The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

My short answer: Because of sin.  This world is broken and everyone who lives here is broken too.  We need forgiveness and we need real hope.  We need Jesus and Christians need to share him courageously but with humility too.  'Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.'

It seems like there are so many people and things you could pray for.  How do you deal with this? 

MATTHEW 6:5-13… “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

    “This, then, is how you should pray:
   “‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
   on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
   as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.

EPHESIANS 3:16-19… I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

EPHESIANS 6:18… And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

My short answer: Pray for what's on your heart but also grow your heart with what's on God's heart.  Remember it's a relationship and the conversation grows the more we know God.

Do you think it’s ok to play ‘violent’ games or ones over the recommended age? 

ROMANS 12:1-2… Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1 CORINTHIANS 6:12… “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

PHILIPPIANS 4:8… Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

LUKE 12:34… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

My short answer: Yes in moderation.  I think it's about balance and finding good in everything wherever possible.  Also about making sure we're in the habit of feeding our minds well!  

Why are some characters such as Abraham and Jacob allowed to commit adultery? 

EXODUS 20:14… You shall not commit adultery.

ROMANS 3:25… God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.

My short answer: They weren't.  Adultery was wrong.  God chose to let this one slide.  He does this a lotIt's called grace.

Do you think sex is only for reproduction? 

GENESIS 2:24-25… For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

1 CORINTHIANS 7:4-5… The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

SONG OF SONGS 7:6-12… How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
   my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
   and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
   I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
   the fragrance of your breath like apples,
 and your mouth like the best wine.
   May the wine go straight to my beloved,
   flowing gently over lips and teeth.
I belong to my beloved,
   and his desire is for me.
Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
   let us spend the night in the villages.
Let us go early to the vineyards
   to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
   and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
   there I will give you my love.

My short answer: No. Sex is for pleasure as well as reproduction.  Song of songs is a celebration of sex in its proper place and Paul advises married couples to not 'deprive each other'.

Is it ever justifiable or acceptable to lie in a situation where lives are at stake?  Or just everyday situations? 

EXODUS 20:16… You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

JOSHUA 2:1-7… Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

 The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

HEBREWS 11:31… By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

My short answer: Lying's always wrong.  Rahab lied before she knew God's laws and didn't know any better, so she's not blamed for that.  

If someone held a gun at your head and said, ‘Burn the Bible!’, would you? 

ISAIAH 40:8… The grass withers and the flowers fall,
   but the word of our God endures forever.”

HEBREWS 4:12… For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

My short answer: Yes, because it's just a book and God's word lives on. 

What is your favourite Bible verse and why? 

Dave Pegg – For me, it varies all the time but I like 2 Corinthians 5:21 because it talks about what Jesus was doing for us on the cross – offering us the best swap ever!

Dave Poulson - Like Dave, my ‘favourite’ varies, but I particularly like Luke, Acts and James, and if pressed, might go for James 2:14-18.

Do unborn children or people who die never knowing God or hearing about him go to heaven? 

PSALM 51:4-5… Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

ROMANS 1:20… For 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.

ROMANS 2:14-15… (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

PSALM 9:8… He rules the world in righteousness
   and judges the peoples with equity.

ROMANS 4:3… What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

My short answer: I'm not sure but my guess based on the above would be 'yes'.  God expects people to believe everything he's shown them (creation means there's a creator, conscience means we're guilty, etc). 

Why does the Bible seem so sexist, everything so male-orientated? 

GENESIS 3:16… To the woman he said,
   “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
   with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
   and he will rule over you.”

LUKE 7:44-48… Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

My short answer: It was written in largely sexist cultures and it often shows when the Bible is being descriptive.  Male dominance is part of the curse mentioned in Genesis.  There's a difference between 'descriptive' and 'prescriptive' though.  The Bible describes a lot of things that aren't right and the fact that they feature, doesn't make them any less wrong.

How do you speak to someone who isn’t a Christian and going through a tough time, especially when you’re not sure where they are spiritually and don’t know how they will respond to being given scripture etc?  Do you avoid the risk of upsetting them and pushing them further away from Jesus or do you do it anyway? 

JAMES 1:19… My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

JOB 16:1-5… Then Job replied:
 “I have heard many things like these;
   you are miserable comforters, all of you!
Will your long-winded speeches never end?
   What ails you that you keep on arguing?
I also could speak like you,
   if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
   and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you;
   comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

COLOSSIANS 4:5… Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

EPHESIANS 4:15... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

My short answer: Listen first and when you speak, use truth and love.  People need both.  Love without truth is less loving.  The truth without love is less truthful.

Do the Old Testament and New Testament contradict each other? 

MATTHEW 5:17… Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

HEBREWS 1:1-2… In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

JOHN 5:39… You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,

LUKE 24:25-27… Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
My short answer: No.  The new fulfills the old.