The problem of pain and suffering is probably the greatest cause for people losing faith. That makes sense. It does seem like a good God who is also an all-powerful God should snuff out suffering and prevent it from ever happening. Terrible things happen to some really wonderful people, and it doesn’t always make sense. So how can we continue to live by faith and trust in God?
The existence of suffering comes down to these three realities:
- We are not robots. God created us with freewill. Every Christian believes this (not only Arminians). It is incredibly ironic to criticize God for allowing suffering while also shaking your fist at him and telling him to stay out of your life. You can’t have it both ways… God gave us responsibility, and we need to own that.
- We make a train wreck of our lives and of the world. Pointing all the way back to the first humans, Adam and Eve, we have a way of choosing sin over righteousness. We aren’t as sinful as we could be, but we are all sinners and that has effected everything in our world: our relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, and with nature. We know things aren’t “the way they’re supposed to be,” but our efforts often make things worse, not better. God must intervene somehow.
- God has a greater dream for our lives than we could imagine for ourselves. While we try to define a successful life by our bank account, or family, or power, or influence, or whatever… God has a greater dream for us. The truth is, our dream is not too big for God, but too small! Because of sin, there will be a day of judgment to make things right, and suffering is often God’s warning light calling us to repentance now before it’s too late.
I was in college when I read a book that captivated me. It was an apologetics book where a theology professor was writing letters back-and-forth with his atheist father, and he carefully and winsomely explained his Christian views. The problem was, some of those views were radical reinterpretations of what the Bible teaches. Because of this book there were a number of significant doctrines that I misunderstood for years. Since then, I have grown more discerning and careful about evaluating what I read and listen.
We are all called to be careful readers and listeners, to be on guard against false teachers. Sometimes it might come off as spiritual superiority (“I know better than they do, I’m not falling for it!”) or spiritual arrogance (“I can’t believe you’d read that book”). We need to remain humble even as we grow in our spiritual discernment, but one of my great concerns for Christians today is a lack of spiritual discernment.
There are authors and musicians (yes, our Christian music can easily spread false teaching) who are on the Christian best seller’s list, but they’re false teachers who should be avoided. Sure, maybe their books are really fun to read, their personalities are engaging, and some of their stuff is helpful. But the Bible calls Christians to be spiritually discerning, because there are false teachers who can lead well-intentioned believers astray.
Do false teachers concern you? Do you ask theological questions about the books you read, music you listen to, shows you watch, or teachers you learn from? Sadly, we cannot simply trust anyone who talks about Jesus and quotes the Bible.
A young grade-schooler came home recently with a packet of “Holidays Around the World.” In it, religious holidays were described only according to the ways they’re celebrated. Hanukkah was described as eight days when people light candles. Christmas is a day when Santa Claus comes to deliver presents to children and people decorate with Christmas trees and lights on their houses.
Describing Christmas by pointing to Christmas trees and Santa Claus is like describing Independence Day by talking about fireworks and Uncle Sam.
The gospel is at the heart of Christmas: the gift of salvation through the life and work of Jesus Christ. But why did Jesus need to be fully man and fully God? As St. Anselm asked, “Why the God-Man?” Continue reading
When you think about “heaven,” what comes to mind?
Many people think about about clouds, white light, pearly gates, and eternal happiness. My mind was completely blown when I discovered that Scripture teaches about eternity as a physical life. I had always imagined that heaven would be some disembodied life, floating around as spirits who are worshipping before God’s throne.
But the Bible consistently teaches about an eternal, earthly kingdom where God’s people will live. The New Testament calls this the “New Heavens and New Earth.” Here just a few places in Scripture that point to our future eternal-bodily life.
Every Christian continues to endure temptation and sinful desires… sometimes victoriously, and sometimes we indulge our sinful nature. How should we make sense of this?
Sometimes we can get the impression that once we become Christians our lives are immediately characterized by holiness and purity. But that’s just not the case. Sometimes, yes, the Lord graciously frees us from crushing temptations or addictions; but most Christians experience a more gradual and subtle growth in holiness.
I know some people who have seriously struggled with the question, “Am I really a Christian?” because of their lingering struggles with specific temptations (usually sexual ones). With this in mind, I believe Martin Luther’s theology of Christian identity as “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” is extremely helpful. Continue reading
Hope is more than a wish. It’s a confident expectation that the future is bright and that good things await. A wish, however, is a shot-in-the-dark… like heading into a test that you didn’t study for, and just wishing to do well. Hope is built on a foundation; wishes float “out there” without any real substance.
The Christian life is built on a foundation of hope, not upon a wish.
The Foundation of Christian Hope
One of my favorite people in the Bible is the Apostle Thomas. After Jesus’ death, all the disciples were in the Upper Room when Jesus suddenly appeared (even though the doors were all locked, because they were afraid of being arrested). The disciples saw Jesus, talked with him, and were astounded that he was alive again. They had heard the rumors, but now they saw him with their own eyes. But Thomas wasn’t there. In days that followed, Thomas would insist that he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands. That week must have been excruciating for Thomas… feeling hopeless while everyone else is full of hope.
How do we move on after great tragedies? Especially when they seem to happen every week? 27 dead in a church shooting. 8 dead in New York by a man who drive his truck into a bicycle path. 58 dead in Las Vegas at a concert. And that’s all within the last month of this article’s publication.
In a way, asking “How do we move on” is the wrong question. We don’t “move on.” We shouldn’t. But… where do you go from here? How do you continue living without the burden of fear and anxiety at every turn?
People either call for political reform to ensure future safety, or they turn to prayer without seeking worldly solutions. As Christians, how do we think about and process these tragedies?
The Bible is full of references to grace and mercy, and yet many Christians can attend church for years without being able to give a clear and simple explanation of the difference.
To put it simply, the difference is this: Mercy is “not receiving something you deserve” while Grace is “receiving something you don’t deserve.” We see mercy in action when we get pulled over for driving too fast but receive a verbal warning instead of a hefty fine. Similarly, grace is at work and on display when a victim’s family forgives the man who murdered their son or daughter.
Mercy is an expression of grace, but they are not the same thing. Here are a few examples from Scripture and what they have to do with the gospel.
Evangelism has always been difficult. Gone are the days when even nonChristians generally understood what Christianity taught. Nowadays, even many professing-Christians struggle to articulate the essentials of Christian theology. Because we can no longer assume a general awareness of Christian thinking, evangelism will continue to require us to teach basic theological truths before we can be assured that people know enough to truly become Christians.
Here are three truths every Christian should know and be able to clearly explain to others.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
The paycheck of sin is death. That is what we’ve earned. And yet, many of us struggle with the teaching that momentary sins would receive eternal death – it seems awfully extreme. It is a common question: “If God is love, why can’t God overlook sin?”
- Johnny has disobeyed his parents all day long but expects to get rewarded with ice cream at the end of the day.
- Suzie is hoping for a pay raise or promotion at her next review, even though she routinely ignores her boss’ instructions and does things her own way instead.
- Bill doesn’t understand why he failed his math exam. After all, he recently discovered a whole new way of doing math that’s better than the “old way” of the past.
These simple examples reflect the justice and love of God. It would not be right or “good” for Johnny, Suzie, or for Bill to be rewarded. They have all disregarded human authority who has been rightly placed over them. And if it is good for us to receive appropriate discipline by human authority, why would God overlook our sin?