OTW Big Questions and Answers (November 2015)

OTW Big Questions and Answers
November 2015

We want to forgive others but what if the person keeps hurting you and what if they don’t want forgiveness?

DAVE: Jesus said that there should be no limits to the number of times we forgive a person (Matthew 18:21-22) but it certainly helps if they’re sorry!  Even then, it doesn’t mean it’s essential to continue a friendship if it’s doing more harm than good.  Sometimes the most loving thing to do for another person is to get some distance from them, especially if they’re not sorry for their sin or not learning from the ways they’ve hurt you in the past (Proverbs 12:26, 18:24, 22:24).

CLIVE: It’s not about what the other person wants – it is about God’s expectation of me because he has forgiven me (Matthew 18:21-23).

AMANDA: Forgive them anyway, it may be a hard thing to do. You may have to forgive them everyday as often as they hurt you, but this is what Jesus instructs us. It may be worth putting some distance between you and them if possible. Holding onto anger only hurts you. Matthew 6:5, 18:21.

JOHN: You still forgive. In that way you “heap coals of fire” on their head (Proverbs 25:22, Romans 12:20). We don't forgive others so that we will feel better about things – that would be selfish – but we grow massively in personal strength when we practice forgiving people who still don't respond.

What difference does being a Christian make to YOUR daily life?

DAVE: I keep experiencing greater levels of gratitude towards God for everything that’s mine through Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14) and for so many more good gifts every day that I simply don’t deserve (James 1:17).  I have peace about everything, starting with forgiveness for the ways I sin and affecting all our big decisions about how we serve and share Jesus as a family. God’s given us faith to make decisions many people would be afraid of (like adopting children or moving to a new city with no job confirmed).  I’m slowly learning to make the most of every opportunity in every conversation every day to help others know and love Jesus more (Colossians 4:5-6).

CLIVE: Seeking the good of others first, contentment and not striving (Philippians 4:13,19).

AMANDA: For me it means that I have someone who understands and sees what I go through everyday. Someone who cares and loves me just the way I am. I have a purpose and God will use me in any situation. I have hope and peace for the future. Romans 8:18, 8:28, Philippians 1:21.

JOHN: Three things: faith – trusting somebody I can't see instead of making decisions on my own; hope – looking forward to something much bigger than any ambition I might have in this life; and love – being part of a community of unconditional commitment and revolutionary love for its enemies. See 1 John 5:18-20.

How many laws did Newton discover and can you name them all?

DAVE: I don’t know and no.  I’d be Googling it or asking John Allan!  However, there’s a great podcast I listen to that has lots of fascinating true stories and science in it called Radiolab.  You should check it out!

CLIVE: Many!  If you mean laws of motion, there’s three:
1.     Law of inertia
2.     Law of acceleration (directly and directionally related to force applied)
3.     Action and reaction (opposite and equal force)
Bible verse… Psalm 19?

AMADA: You have his 3 main laws…
-       1st Law: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
-       2nd Law: The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.
-       3rd Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The rest of his work was built on these laws. He himself read his Bible daily and found studying the laws of our planet showed that there must be a God. He said this: “Atheism is so senseless. When I look at the solar system. I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance.”

Proverbs 18.  Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.

Job 11:8.  Such knowledge is higher than the heavens – and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld – what do you know?

JOHN: Four laws of motion. The first says that an object will remain at rest, or keep moving in a straight line, unless affected by an active force. The second says that the net force on the object is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration. The third says that all forces in the universe occur in equal, but oppositely directed, pairs. The fourth says that Force will be a whole wheat breakfast cereal discontinued in 2014. Newton believed this was predicted in the Book of Revelation. See Ecclesiastes 10:3 for a further comment on this question.

What about eternity?

DAVE: What about it?  God is eternal (John 1:1-3, Deuteronomy 33:27).  This means he has no beginning and no end (Revelation 22:13).  Everything and everyone else has had or will have a beginning and yet God has placed the awareness of and longing for eternity in the hearts of people (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Only Christians (by trusting and following Jesus) will live with God forever (John 3:16, Revelation 21:1-4).

CLIVE: It lasts a long time!  We know very little about it except it’ll be a new, perfect, physical reality (Revelation 21).

AMANDA: There will be no more suffering, no more pain or crying. This excites me. However, I want my friends and family to understand, as I don’t want them to be left behind. Revelation 21:1-4, Isaiah 51:6.

JOHN: Is this a question? Eternity is what happens when time doesn't. We've known since the rise of relativity and quantum physics that time and space are not fundamental properties of reality, and that space-time had a beginning. Which is exactly what the Bible had been saying all along. There are some good questions in Job 38:4-7.

If Christians didn’t exist, how would people know God?

DAVE: Obviously hypothetical!  But Christians aren’t the only way God has revealed himself to people.  There’s creation (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:19-21), conscience (Romans 2:15) and his care or providence (Acts 14:17, Matthew 5:45) to start with.  Ultimately and more specifically, there’s Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2) and the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). 

CLIVE: Creation and conscience (Romans 1-2).

AMANDA: God has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us, so they would be aware of his presence. They could also see his work all around them. God wouldn’t leave us alone without answers, he sent many prophets to show people the truth. He then sent Jesus. Psalm 104:24, Deuteronomy 18:18.

JOHN: Romans tells us that God has given every human two guides towards himself: their sense of right and wrong, and their inbuilt awe at God's creation. That's enough to give people a basic awareness of his existence; but it's only what theologians call “general revelation”. To understand God properly you need “special revelation”: the specific facts about Jesus which bring our vague sense of God into focus – and so that's why Christians aren't in heaven yet: we have a message to deliver to planet Earth. 2 Corinthians 5:20.

Is it wrong to say God-related jokes?

DAVE: Not necessarily, but before we speak, we should ask ourselves: Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Is it helpful?  And if it’s a God-related joke: Is God laughing or being laughed at?  Ephesians 4:29 raises the bar!

CLIVE: It’s “wrong” to belittle God and ignore his discipline (Hebrews 12:14-29).  Also, Exodus 20 ‘do not use the Lord’s name in vain’.

JOHN: You can be funny about any subject, but some subjects are more difficult than others because of the emotions and associations we connect with them in our minds (so jokes about the Holocaust, or the murder of babies, are unlikely to be successful). And some subjects are tricky because the way you tell the joke could reinforce in people the wrong idea about reality (e.g. lots of sexual jokes communicate the idea to boys that girls are always ready for sex; lots of jokes about St Peter and the Pearly Gates give people the idea that we get to heaven on the basis of our good works). So if you can make a joke about God without infringing the love, worship and respect he deserves – or without giving people the wrong idea about him – go for it; but not otherwise. Ephesians 5:4.

What helps YOU read your Bible every day?

DAVE: Knowing that it’s the only thing that’s always God-breathed and useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17), wanting to hear from God and know and love him more.  Good Bible teaching podcasts whilst I’m riding my bike help me a lot at the moment and have done for a while.  Having a wife and kids that look to me for guidance and help in trusting and following Jesus is also a big motivator!

CLIVE: Reality (Hebrews 4). Discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

AMANDA: I have an app on my phone, which notifies me of the daily Bible verse. I use the Word for Today notes, which are easy and quick to read. I also find leading Bible studies e.g. house group helps me to read it more. (2 Timothy 3:16).

JOHN: Having an idea of what each part of it is for. Knowing that God will speak to me through it even if I'm not conscious of him doing so at the time. Having it with me wherever I go. Psalm 119:34-36.

Is it wrong to get drunk?

DAVE: Yes.  The Bible says, “Do not get drunk” (Ephesians 5:18).  It’s not necessarily wrong to drink alcohol, depending on your age, the law and the situation.  But why would you allow a chemical, which doesn’t love you and has no sense of right and wrong, to start influencing your thoughts, words and behavior?

CLIVE: It’s good to be responsible and bring our appetites under the control of God (Ephesians 5).

AMANDA: I think it is wrong. We are told in Galatians 5:22-23 that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. When we get drunk we lose our self-awareness and control and we will no longer act as if we have the fruits of the Spirit. We need to be aware of our limits and stick to them, this is often a good witness. Proverbs 25:28, Titus 2:2.

JOHN: Yes. Drunkenness is immoderate behaviour and Christians are supposed to be under control; drunkenness is one sign that we aren't (Eph 5:18, Romans 13:13, 1 Cor 6:10, 1 Pet 4:3). Paul says that people “given to drunkenness” weren't fit to be deacons, and drunkenness prevents us from seeing what's really important in life (Luke 21:34).

Is it wrong to divorce?

DAVE: Usually, yes (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9).  We’re meant to keep our promises (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12, 1 Corinthians 7:10-13), even if they’re made rashly (Judges 11:29-35).  But where there is unrepentant sin (like in the case of ongoing unfaithfulness where the husband or wife refuses to be sorry or learn to change) or dangerous sin (like in an abusive situation), divorce becomes necessary and perhaps urgent too.

CLIVE: It’s sad when divorce happens, it’s often the result of weakness, pride and that’s the bit that is wrong.  See Galatians 5 about freedom and licence.  Sometimes divorce happens because of violence.  That’s more complicated.  And we need to think about the difference between separation and divorce.

AMANDA: Yes, generally. In our marriage vows we promise to love each other until death do us part, in sickness and in health. It is wrong to break those promises. In Matthew 19, it does say divorce is wrong, unless there has been sexual immorality. This is because the person who has committed adultery has already broken their vows. Matthew 19:8.

JOHN: Yes and no. Divorce will happen, sadly, because humans are imperfect and get things inextricably twisted up; sometimes there's no further hope for a marriage and that has to be admitted, since it would be cruel to force two people to continue through a lifetime of hurting and resenting one another. But divorce is always failure, and God isn't keen on it (Malachi 2:16).

Is it right to kill someone in a war?

DAVE: Yes if you’re following orders you’ve willingly signed up to obey (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 2:13-14), if you’re defending the weak against the strong (Isaiah 1:17) and if you’re not making it personal in your own mind (Matthew 5:21-22).  The 6th commandment says “Do not murder” – not “Do not kill” (Exodus 20:13) and the Bible says there is a time to kill (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3).

CLIVE: Yes and No.

AMANDA: No.  We are called to be peacemakers. Any human life is precious to God. However, if we had not had people who were willing to fight in the World Wars, we would not have the life we have today. Matthew 5:9, James 3:18, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

JOHN: Christians have always differed about this and the Bible makes no clear unambiguous statement. The early Christians wouldn't join the Roman army (although perhaps this was also because of the sacramentum, an oath to the gods which a new soldier had to swear); but when Christianity became Rome's state religion, and Roman soldiers fought with the cross painted on their shields, things changed. Four centuries after Jesus, St Augustine wrote an important book called City of God which argued that there could be a “just war” which it was OK to fight. And yet God's ultimate vision for the earth must never be forgotten (Micah 4:3-4).

What is your personal conviction that God exists?

DAVE: Creation, conscience, providence, the image of God in people, logic, longing, reason, the Bible, change in my own life and in the lives of others, but mainly Jesus!  The evidence that Jesus is God and came back from the dead is overwhelmingly strong and convinces me beyond all other proofs (Luke 1:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:14).

CLIVE: Creation and conscience (Romans 1-2).  See also evidence for resurrection (gospels) and also 1 Corinthians 15.

AMANDA: When I was a child I just believed, it made a lot of sense to me. As I’ve grown older I’ve seen God working in my life. I’ve had complete peace in the midst of terrible things. He’s healed me from depression. The world is too complex not to have been created. Deuteronomy 3:24, Philippians 4:7, Luke 9:11.

JOHN: I believe he does. Next question?

(I'd say I have three main reasons: the experience of the friendship of Jesus, the sense of his purpose shaping my life with answered prayers and “coincidences” making my way clear, and the fact that so many other people have shared the same experiences that I have. In other words: what happens inside me, what happens outside me, and what happens in other people.) Hebrews 11:6 is important.

Do you have any doubts about the existence of God, e.g. it was all just luck (the creation of the Universe)? 

DAVE: No.  Sometimes I feel like God’s not close or not helping but these days I never doubt that he exists.  Luck (or anything else other than an eternal, powerful God) doesn’t explain how you get something from absolutely nothing in the beginning (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Romans 1:18-23).  Out of nothing, nothing comes.  Not even Science!

CLIVE: Oh yes, he’s so incredibly “other”, how is that possible?!  See Job 38–40.  But he’s made himself known in Jesus so I can recognise him (Hebrews 1:1-3).

AMANDA: Occasionally. It’s normal to doubt something that we can’t see. I do often hear compelling arguments from scientists, however it is just too much of a coincidence. I have seen God working in my life too often to doubt him. It is easy to lose trust in him when going through difficult times. 2 Corinthians 4:18, Matthew 26:41.

JOHN: In any relationship there's a degree of faith and trust – and so there can always be doubts from time to time (does my girlfriend really love me? Does my lecturer know what he's talking about or is he bluffing? Is my wife faithful or does our latest baby look a bit like the milkman?). Sometimes faith and doubt can coexist (Mark 9:24). So it's healthy and natural for us occasionally to review the evidence in our minds, and work out whether we're really sure; but there's no need permanently to have nagging doubts poisoning our minds, because the evidence for God is strong enough to make faith more than reasonable. Incidentally, the creation of the universe is one of the strongest arguments for God: the discoveries of cosmologists in the last 40 years have shown just how incredible it would be if the whole thing happened purely by chance.

Why does God intervene in certain events but not others (he didn’t stop Hitler)?

DAVE: I actually believe that God is involved in ALL events that aren’t sin (Isaiah 45:7, Hebrews 1:3, Matthew 6:26).  I don’t know why God stops or limits certain situations of sin and evil but not others but I trust him to ultimately do what is right because of who he is (Genesis 18:25, Exodus 34:6-7) and no-one can complain that God owes them better (Psalm 96:13, Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23-24, 9:20, Job 40:1-9, James 4:12, Psalm 130:3).

CLIVE: Does he select or does he actually intervene in them all, or does he not intervene at all?  The Calvinist thinks he ordains all events.  The Open Theist thinks he is able to control but chooses to respond, playing to an end game via a variety of routes.  God’s love for us and our created dignity allows us the choice of how to live (John 8:11).

AMANDA: We don’t know why he intervenes with some things and not others. We do know that God said we would suffer, because of events in the Garden of Eden. Humans had a choice to trust in God or trust in themselves and gain knowledge for themselves (by eating the fruit). This means that we now live in a broken world, which isn’t what God wanted for us. He doesn’t promise to protect Christians either. However, he does promise that he will be with us, knowing we’re not suffering alone is a huge help. He also promises that one day our suffering will be finished for eternity. This gives us hope. When we look back it will be seem very short in comparison with eternity. Genesis 2:17, Revelation 21:1-4, 2 Corinthians 4:18.

JOHN: Not being God, I don't know. We know two things: one, that his ultimate purpose is to bring peace, reconciliation and happiness to his universe; two, that we won't always understand why he makes the choices he does. I can think of several reasons why God might not have stopped Hitler, but I can't say whether any of those reasons were part of his thinking or not; his plans are much bigger than I can conceive (Isaiah 55:8).

What created God? (Do not just say that he was there for eternity.)

DAVE: I have to disappoint you because the true answer to this question is that no-one created God and that he was actually there for eternity (Psalm 90:2).  If you don’t like it, try figuring out where the Universe came from without something uncreated and eternal to bring it out of absolutely nothing!  And what sense does it make for an atheist to insist on the essential existence of a creator anyway?

CLIVE: But that is the answer.  God was not created.  ‘Created’ implies time (beginning) and God does not exist in time (Hebrews 13:8).

AMANDA: We have no idea, there are some things we don’t know and for whatever reason God doesn’t share with us yet. Genesis 1:1.

JOHN: But he was. If God had to be made by something, then that something had to be made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something made by something. And then what made that something? Think, man, think.

There has to be somebody, or something, which is ultimate, outside time, at the end of the line. If it wasn't God, then what? A self-creating spark? Pull the other one.

Alternatively, read John 1:1-3.

Why aren’t more things obvious?

DAVE: Unless God revealed himself to us, he would remain unknown and unknowable.  As it is, he has revealed LOTS about himself to us through some of the things I’ve mentioned in previous questions (Hebrews 1:1-2) and yet there is much that remains a complete mystery to us (Daniel 2:47, Romans 16:25-27, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:8-9, 3:8-11, Colossians 1:27, 2:2).  I think it’s because God is by definition beyond our comprehension and for those who trust and follow Jesus, we’ll have eternity to know and love him more (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, 13:12)!

CLIVE: That’d be great!  In some ways they are.  When we look it makes sense  (see Romans 1 again!).

AMANDA: I think things are fairly obvious, just looking around at the world around us. God doesn’t want to make it easy and obvious, if everyone had certainty that he existed and we could go to heaven, then everyone would believe in him. This would take away our free will that he has given us, he doesn’t want to force us to worship him, he wants us to choose. If we’re looking for proof of his existence then we see his work all around us. Psalm 104:24, Deuteronomy 18:18.

JOHN: Because reality is difficult. Because we live in a complicated and broken world. Because we've lost contact with our Creator and don't grasp things as we were meant to understand them (Romans 1:21). And so simple answers are almost always wrong.

How do we know which sect of Christianity is right (Catholic, Protestant, CofE, Baptist, etc?)

DAVE:  There’s no denominations in the Bible – only Jesus (Acts 4:12, 1 Corinthians 1:11-17).  He is the one who makes us family (John 1:12-13).  So whenever Christians disagree over anything else, they’re still family and besides, I don’t think it’s possible that any single group or denomination of Christians is right about absolutely everything.  Christian denominations need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21).

CLIVE: None of them are ‘right’.  They each have different emphases in practices but all agree on the core creeds (1 Corinthians 15:1-3) and the need for unity (Ephesians 4:3).

AMANDA: They all are, there isn’t a superior type of Christianity. There are some traditions or beliefs that some people hold to that aren’t necessary biblical or correct. However, most denominations are just down to personal taste, some have more liturgy, some have more symbolic traditions and practices. Some Christians feel that liturgy and traditions take their focus off God, but I can see the value in both. We are all still part of the same body.  1 Corinthians 12:27.

JOHN: Nobody's “right” all the time; every church is made of sinful people whose prejudices, pride and vanity, and lack of understanding, lead them to conclusions about Christianity, which are sometimes distorted and inadequate. But first, about the basics of the Christian message there is no disagreement between Bible-believing Christians, whatever their church; and second, God can use those disagreements over secondary things to teach us grace, humility and respect for one another (Philippians 2:3).