“If you could ask God any question, what would it be?” Hundreds of students were recently asked this question and they came up with these five:
- Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
- Will God really forgive all of my sins?
- What does the future hold for me?
- What does God want from me?
- Aren’t all religions the same?
1. Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
If God is this all-good, all-powerful being, doesn’t He have the resources to prevent evil and suffering? People who really study and understand the Bible tell us that without the freedom to do the wrong things, we would be like robots. While God does have the power to prevent suffering, He has created us with the freedom of choice. We can obey Him and live by faith doing good things, or we can disobey and do evil and thus suffer consequences of our evil actions. And others may suffer from our evil actions as well.
Maybe the question we should ask is, “Is there any purpose to our suffering?” The Bible shares at least three good results from suffering.
To develop characterPaul tells us in Romans 5 that suffering helps us to endure, and endurance builds character. Character is the ability to handle tough situations and to help others who are going through similar suffering.
To get our attentionSometimes when we are doing the wrong thing, our Heavenly Father uses suffering to get our attention. He wants to remove everything from our lives which keeps us from walking close to Him in a love-faith relationship. So the suffering, as a result of wrong behavior, brings us closer to Him or it can make us angry and push us away. When you think of it, it’s silly to get angry at God when we suffer as a direct result of our own behavior. But sometimes suffering is not our fault. What then?
To help us understand GodThere will be times when God allows us to suffer so we can understand how much He is in control and that He is able to work in peoples’ lives. Jesus seemed drawn like a magnet to human grief, sorrow and suffering. God feels hurt and compassion when we suffer. His Spirit works to comfort us and to heal us. Since Christ suffered on the cross for our sins, He understands and cares. Even if we cannot understand the exact why’s behind our suffering, we can still receive comfort and strength from a God who really understands and cares about us. (See 2 Corinthians 1.)
2. Will God really forgive all of my sins?
Experiencing guilt is like being a live rabbit in the mouth of an enthusiastic dog. It grabs us by the back of the neck and shakes us around. We feel helpless until released from its grip. We respond in different ways to this guilt. We beat ourselves up for being bad, or we try to justify our actions. None of this truly gets rid of the guilt. What we need is forgiveness, whether from the other person or from God.
To experience the forgiveness of God, we need to accept what God says about payment for sin. God has declared that people have turned away from Him and needed to be punished. Because of His great love and justice, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to become a human. He lived 33 years, trained 12 men, and at the height of His popularity was crucified in Jerusalem by Roman soldiers. All this was part of God’s plan and while Jesus hung on the cross, God the Father poured out His right and holy anger against sin, punishing Christ for all sins ever to be committed by anyone. Our response is to accept that forgiveness. The Bible says Christ paid the full penalty for our sins, and so when we trust Him for forgiveness, He forgives completely all our sins. Jesus was perfect and God was completely satisfied with Him and with His substitutionary death for us on the cross.
Confess your sin
Confess means to agree with God. We are agreeing with Him that our thoughts or actions were wrong and we agree that Jesus’ death on the cross covers us, and that He is still forgiving us. Admitting we have done wrong brings us back into a close walk with God. Once you first come to trust Christ, you are always forgiven, but your daily relationship is hurt by your continual sins. It’s like with your mother. If you do something to hurt her, she will still be your mother, but you won’t have a friendship with her. If you admit you’re wrong to her and she forgives you, then your friendship is restored. It’s similar with God. If we confess our sins to God, He can always be trusted to forgive us and take away our sins. (See 1 John 1:9.)
Agree you’ve been forgiven
We need to trust God that He has already forgiven us.
Turn away from sin (repent)
To repent means to turn away from sin, to change your mind. It expresses sorrow for sin. Repenting from a sin is expressing the desire to quit doing what you have just confessed. When we sin, we naturally want to run away from God, not towards Him. It takes faith to come back to God to confess your sins. Another part of repentance is paying back people if you have stolen or broken something. If you have hurt another person’s feelings you need to apologize. And you need to forgive those who have hurt you.
If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (See Matthew 6:14,15.) Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ. (See Ephesians 4:32.) This is the forgiveness God intends for you. The result is experiencing real happiness and freedom that comes from knowing God and having a clean conscience. He no longer views you as guilty. You are free to relate to your Creator not as an offended judge but as a gentle Father. (See Romans 8:15.) The guilt you carry can be removed. When you seek forgiveness through Christ, you move from being alienated from God to being the object of His delight!
3. What does the future hold for me?
It seems only natural to ask God about our future. Deep down we somehow know that God is big and awesome and all-knowing. So why doesn’t He let us in on some of what he knows, we ask. He does, if we know where to look. Questions about our futures should not be consumed with what boyfriend or girlfriend or job or rewards may come our way, but rather how our ultimate needs of love, security, recognition and significance will be met.
To understand our future, it helps to review the past, and here we have a choice of what to believe. Either we exist as a random impersonal result of chemical reactions over billions of years, or we were created personally and lovingly by an Almighty God who rules the universe which He created. If there really is an eternal God who created you, then two important questions follow:
Where will you spend eternity?
What is your purpose for existing here on earth?
God tells us in Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament that God has given us minds and a conscience to reason out truth and make right decisions. This ability is stronger when we trust Him to forgive us. As we place our faith and trust in Jesus, we become a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). From that point on, we can be sure of God’s promise to us that we will spend eternity in heaven with Him. This is a result of God making us spiritually alive as we place our faith in Jesus.
God changes our hearts and attitudes and causes us to want to love and serve Him and others in ways that we could not do before we knew Him. We experience a peace that literally goes beyond understanding, even in the midst of hard problems. God gives us the stable qualities of love, joy, peace and a tremendous security, based on His unchanging forgiveness and love, as we learn more about Him and what He wants to do in and through our lives. These are the real needs and desires for which we all long.
Look at all the things around you that were designed by humans to make your life a little easier. All were made for a specific purpose. They operate best when used according to the original designer’s plans. You are worth much more than these inanimate objects. Even though you may have a wonderful family that loves you and good friends, can that compare with the love of the Creator of the universe? God designed you for a specific purpose and knows exactly what you need.
What does the future hold for you? You really don’t want a list of 100 predictions; rather, you want to know that everything is going to be all right. And with God, it will be ultimately. Why? Because He made you. While you may not know what the future holds, you can know that God is the one who holds the future and that He is good and in control (Jeremiah 29.11,12). Through prayer, study of the Bible, participation in church, and fellowship with other Christians, God will actively guide the decisions you will make as you trust and rely on Him daily.
4. What does God want from me?
As we think about God, it seems inevitable that we’ll ask Him, “What in the world does God really want from me?” However, we run into a problem when we think about who God is compared to who we are. God is perfect; He does not and cannot do evil, and He is always totally fair. This means He is holy. The problem comes when we realize that this is also what God requires of us. He states quite clearly in the Bible, “Be holy as I am holy.” (See 1 Peter 1:16.)
We actually need God to be perfect. If not, then what would our lives be like if, whenever God spoke to His creation, all His decrees would now be open for revision and updates? Here’s our problem: If God really is good, then He has no option but to exercise His wrath and judgment of our sin. Remember, if God is holy and pure, then He cannot stand to be in the presence of evil.
So, God’s perfection does three things.
- First, it tells us what God is like and that we can actually trust God even more because we know His love and forgiveness toward us never changes.
- Second, God’s standard of perfection actually benefits all of us, for without rules and order in the world, we would probably self-destruct in a short amount of time.
- Third, God is the only one who can provide a solution for the problem of our falling short of God’s perfect standard. Our sin and its destructive consequences hurt and damage people. But we don’t really understand the impact of sin until we recognize that it hurts God most of all. In fact, the Bible describes God as grieving over His lost and sinful creation. Not just in general, but for each and every time one of us turns our back on Him.
Once we fully grasp what God has saved us from, an attitude of thankfulness and service to God will be a natural response. As you begin to more fully embrace what it is that God has already done for you, can you see that the original question, “What does God want from me?” becomes, “What do I get to do for God?” As you walk by faith, you will be thrilled that God has something far better in store than what you could have ever imagined. His love and forgiveness and the power He releases in our lives when we trust Him are the proof.
5. Aren’t all religions the same?
Let’s look at a few major world faith systems: Hinduism, New Age, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Each of these religions has sects with differing beliefs, but we will look at the central ideas of each.
Hindus worship some of 300,000 gods and goddesses. These various gods all converge into a universal spirit called the Ultimate Reality or Brahman. Brahman is not a god but more of a term for ultimate oneness. Hindus see their position in life based on their actions in a previous life. If their behavior was evil, they might experience tremendous hardships in this life. A Hindu’s goal is to become free from the law of karma … to be free from continuous reincarnations. There are three possible ways to end this cycle of karma:
- Be lovingly devoted to any of the Hindu gods or goddesses.
- Grow in knowledge through the meditation of Brahman (oneness) to realize that circumstances in life are not real, that self-hood is an illusion and only Brahman is real.
- Be dedicated to various religious ceremonies and rites.
New Age promotes the development of the person’s own power or divinity. When referring to a god, a follower of New Age is not talking about the almighty, personal God who created the universe. Rather, a New Age god refers to a higher consciousness within that person. A person in New Age would see his or her self as god, the cosmos, or the universe. In fact, everything that the person sees, hears, feels or imagines is to be considered divine.
New Age presents itself as a collection of ancient spiritual traditions. It acknowledges many gods and goddesses, as in Hinduism. The earth is viewed as the source of all spirituality and has its own intelligence, emotions and deity. Self is creator, controller and god of all. There is no reality outside of what the person determines. They teach techniques such as meditating, breathing exercises, chanting, and drumming – all to develop an altered consciousness and one’s own identity.
Buddhists do not worship any gods or God. People outside of Buddhism often think that Buddhists worship the Buddha. However Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) never claimed to be divine and Buddhists reject the notion of any supernatural power. The Buddhists see the universe as operating by natural laws. Life is seen as consisting of pain – pain in birth, sickness, death, and continuous sorrow and despair. Most Buddhists believe a person has hundreds or thousands of reincarnations, all bringing misery. And it is the desire for happiness that causes a person’s reincarnation. Therefore, the goal of a Buddhist is to purify one’s heart and to let go of all desires. A person must abandon all sensuous pleasures, all evil, all joy and all sorrow. To do so, Buddhists are to follow a list of religious principles and intense meditation. When a Buddhist meditates, it is not the same as praying to or focusing on a god but it is more of a self-discipline. Through dedicated meditation, a person may reach Nirvana, the blowing out of the flame of desire.
A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe there is the one almighty god, named Allah, who is infinitely superior and distant from humankind. Allah is viewed as the creator of the universe and the source of all good and all evil. Everything that happens is Allah’s will. He is a powerful and strict judge, too great to be approached by people. So it is impossible for individuals to have a relationship with Allah or know much about him.
Though a Muslim honors several prophets, Muhammad is considered the last or most recent prophet; therefore, Muhammad’s words and lifestyle are the Muslim’s authority. To be a Muslim, one must follow five religious duties, called the Five Pillars of Islam:
- Repeat a creed about Allah and Muhammad.
- Recite certain prayers in Arabic five times a day while facing Mecca.
- Give to the needy.
- Observe Ramadan: One month each year, from sunrise to sunset fast from food, drink, sex and smoking.
- Pilgrimage once in one’s lifetime to worship at a shrine in Mecca.
At death – based on one’s faithfulness to these duties – a Muslim hopes to enter Paradise, a place of sensual pleasure. If not, he will be eternally punished in hell.
Christians believe in a God of justice and love who has revealed Himself and can be personally known in this life. In Christianity, the believer’s focus is not on religious rituals or performing good works, but on enjoying a loving relationship with God and growing in knowledge of Him.
Faith in Jesus Christ Himself, not just in His teachings, is how the Christian experiences joy and a meaningful life. In His life on earth, Jesus did not identify himself as a prophet pointing to God or as a teacher of enlightenment. Rather, Jesus claimed to be God in human form. He performed miracles, forgave people of their sins, and said that anyone who believed in Him would have eternal life. He made claims like, “I am the light of the world! Follow Me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life” (John 8:12).
Christians regard the Bible as God’s written message to humankind. In addition to being an historical record of Jesus’ life and miracles, the Bible reveals God’s personality, His love and truth, and how one can have a relationship with him.
What is the difference?
In looking at these major belief systems and their views of God, we find tremendous diversity:
- Hindus believe in 300,000 gods.
- Buddhists say there is no deity.
- New Age followers believe they are god.
- Muslims believe in a powerful but detached god.
- Christians believe in a God who is loving and approachable.
Obviously, it is not logical to say that all of these claims are equally true, because different religions claim things which contradict or go against the truth of the other religions. Christianity speaks of a God who welcomes us into a relationship with Him and comes alongside us as a comforter, a counselor and an all -powerful God who loves us. You can begin a relationship with God right now. It is as simple as asking God for His forgiveness of your sins and inviting Him to enter your life. You can do this right now, simply by telling Him your heart’s desire, through a prayer:
“God, I ask you to forgive me and invite you to enter my heart right now. Thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins. Thank you for coming into my life as you said you would.”
In other religions, a person has a relationship with teachings, ideas, paths, or rituals. In Christianity, a person has a relationship with the loving and all-powerful God. He welcomes you to know Him, to experience His joy, and to have confidence in a loving God in the midst of life’s challenges. Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that He lets us be called His children, as we truly are. (See 1 John 3:1.)