Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 19:1-4; John 1:1-5
Creator or Randomness: Is there a God?
Over these next two weeks, we’ll consider the “big questions” that most have pondered periodically. We start with the biggest question, the one on which all else hinges: Is there a God?
The two broad, opposing camps here are theists—those believing in a “god” of some sort—and atheists. Though not all humanists (human-centric preoccupation) and naturalists (focus upon nature and its laws) are atheists, these broad philosophies make up much of the various worldviews comprising atheism. Existentialism, the philosophy that human imagination and ingenuity “create purpose and meaning,” is an undercurrent within humanism that harmonizes with relativism (“no absolute truth; truth is relative”). Naturalism overlaps the “I believe in science” view of many, generally compatible with an evolutionary explanation for life on earth. Absent a belief in a creator god, these worldviews typically default to the belief that the universe itself is eternal, “evolving” to its current state.
The theist field is diverse, made up of pantheistic (“nature is god”), polytheistic (multiple “gods”) and monotheistic subsets. Native American and some tribal African religions are pantheistic. Wicca (witchcraft) blends pantheism and polytheism, worshiping nature along with a “moon goddess” and a “great horned god.” (Wikipedia) Major polytheistic systems include Hindu, Buddhism (which can also be monotheistic or atheistic), ancient Babylonian and Middle Eastern religions, along with Greco-Roman mythology, and even Mormonism (which deems Christ a created, “lesser god”). Faithful Mormons aspire to become “gods”—humanism’s aspiration— after death as “God” himself formerly did per the church of the Later Day Saints—LDS—doctrine).
Strict monotheistic faiths include Judaism, Islam (worshiping “Allah,” Arabic for “the God”) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. True Christianity is monotheistic (1 Corinthians 8:4) and Trinitarian, grasping that God is one (1 Timothy 2:5) while three co-equal Persons—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Judaism, Islam and the Jehovah’s Witnesses consider biblical Christianity polytheistic, also denying Christ’s deity and seeing God as both impersonal and distant.
Is there a God? The Bible is very clear about this. And He loves us so much that He personally entered into our plight as Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully Human, to satisfy God’s holiness and rescue us (John 3:16-17)!
What does Mormonism have in common with polytheism and humanism? How does Christian monotheism differ from that of Judaism, Islam, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are Allah and the God worshiped by Jews the same as the living God revealed in the Bible?
Pray for a greater appreciation for God’s goodness, beauty and salvation in Christ. Ask Him to enlarge your heart for those who don’t know Him.
Psalm 8:3-6; Isaiah 12:2-6; John 13:12-15
Meaningfulness: Why am I here?
Cynics sometimes ask, “What’s the meaning of life?” as if it’s unanswerable. But is it? Let’s consider how the various worldviews address this.
Viewpoints vary even among those denying God’s existence. Secular humanists might answer: “Be the best person you can,” or “Get ahead,” or “Make a lasting mark,” or, like Sinatra, “Do it your way.” Atheistic existentialists maintain that life is random and relativistic, pointless apart from human intervention. Existentialism holds that we create our own “meaning” and “truth,” tending toward any of several directions: self-righteous elitism, despair, hedonism, anarchism, and/or a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” orientation. A godless naturalist might also embrace evolution’s “might makes right” philosophy, or move toward a nature emphasis approaching pantheism, or toward a hyper-scientific “I only believe what I can see and measure” worldview. Common among these is the belief that earthly life is “it,” the best that anyone can hope for.
The various non-Christian theistic religions, conversely, generally see life’s purpose as “being moral” and “doing right” as a works-based means to pleasing their god(s) and thereby “earning salvation”—sharing much with humanism accordingly. Hindu and Buddhism, embracing reincarnation and karma (“good” or “bad” deeds or intent return to their originator), strive to reach a “higher plane” of consciousness through successive lives. Their ultimate state, Nirvana, is complete disconnection from this earthly cycle and concerns. Other major non-Christian religions generally aspire to “heaven” or “paradise” as rewards for a “good” life that includes adherence to their faith’s tenets.
In true Christianity, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism) How do we do this? By knowing God and making Him known and, accordingly and per the “law of Christ,” loving God and loving others (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus demonstrated these practically by washing His disciples’ feet—in coming as the Servant, He shows us the key to meaningful, abundant life. Our godly service and other good works don’t cause salvation, but they are fruits of a saving relationship with Christ.
How sad is the lot of atheists, seeing this life as “as good as it gets”! Or the religious, striving by works to “earn heaven.”
What is the meaning of life? How does Christianity’s answer here vary meaningfully from how atheism and the various religions might answer this?
Thank God for being the Source of meaningfulness in life. Ask His forgiveness for times when you don’t display the joy and hope that should proceed from knowing Him. Ask God for an extra measure of joy so that you might better attract others to Christ.
Origin: How did it all begin?
“There are three schools of thought regarding the origin of the world. The first … claims that this world came into existence by nature … that nature is not an intelligent force [and] nature works on its own accord and goes on changing. The second … says that the world was created by an almighty God [or ‘gods’] … responsible for everything. The third … says that the beginning of this world and of life is inconceivable since they have neither beginning nor end.” (Binh Anson)
Existential atheists are generally unconcerned with origins, considering the subject pointless given a “here and now” and “how I feel” worldview. Buddhism likewise dismisses creation, per the “third view” above. Science-oriented atheism defaults to naturalism: Creation is eternal; the “Big Bang” explains our universe’s origin; and life commenced when a “primordial goo”/“soup” was activated by something like lightening.
Among the problems within atheistic views are inabilities to address the necessity of some sort of “uncaused Cause” existing outside of the caused creation and our clearly fine-tuned, intricate universe—how can you have intelligent design absent an Intelligent Designer? Evolutionary theory tries to explain how the “hardware” (physical life) progressed, but it has no answer for the “software” (the soul and DNA), much less the “power” (Creator) needed to initiate and sustain.
Theistic creation stories vary by culture, but often “begin with earth, or with earth retrieved from water [and/or an abyss] … Gods and people and animals emerge from the earth … In others the process begins when a creature … dives into a primeval ocean and brings up a small piece of earth from which the universe is created.… [Many accounts are] … attached to rival [or sometimes collaborative] gods.” (History World) Satan, the counterfeiter and corrupter, promotes skeptics’ arguments that biblical creation’s similarities to others’ accounts indicate its derivation from heathen cultures. A counter-view: Such similarities support the Bible’s accounts of creation, the flood, etc.—ancient civilizations had the same record of actual common events handed down from earlier generations with near-firsthand knowledge.
The Bible teaches that, prior to humankind’s fall (Genesis 3), we were created in the living God’s image (Genesis 1:27), the pinnacle of physical creation (Genesis 1:26), an expression of God’s boundless love and ingenuity.
Why don’t atheists and Buddhists profess interest in creation, in how things began? What are a couple of the problems the atheist must consider in clinging to atheism? Do the similarities of the creation accounts of ancient civilizations with the biblical creation account discount the Bible’s authenticity?
Ask God to increase your hunger for His Word and for increased capacity to understand the Bible. Pray for the conviction to be a doer of the Word and not simply a hearer of it.
Hebrews 9:27-28; John 14:1-3; Luke 16:19-26
Destiny: What follows death?
“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait. Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t. I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun. You know that only the good die young.” (Billy Joel) Popular afterlife sentiments include: Hell will be fun because the “party people” will be there (see prior lyrics); upon death, we vanish into enduring nothingness; and “all dogs (and humans) go to heaven.” How do these yearnings sync with major religions’ teachings?
Judaism and Confucianism are murky regarding the afterlife, emphasizing “doing good” while earthbound. Atheism, Taoism, Satanism, and 7th Day Adventists teach post-death nothingness for the “bad”—but heaven awaits the “good” per Adventist doctrine. A number of faith systems—Hinduism, Buddhism, Hare Krishna, Jainism, Sikhism, Scientology, New Age, and Wicca—emphasize cyclicity of life and time via post-death reincarnation; the first five propose Nirvana (release from death and rebirth cycles, total liberation, and immortal realization of non-self and emptiness (Wikipedia) as the ultimate, enlightened state. Interestingly, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity rebukes reincarnation, demonstrating that time had a beginning and is not cyclical.
Several faiths maintain melding into “deity” or becoming “gods” post death: Shinto, Native American, and Mormonism. Heaven, hell or purgatory (an intermediate state wherein one can “work off sins” and move toward heaven) are taught in Roman Catholicism and Mormonism (Mormon “purgatory” being the re-joined “Spirit World”). Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Greco-Roman mythology, and Protestant Christianity all share similar views of an afterlife entailing either heaven/paradise or “hell.”
However, true Christianity departs from all other religions in two key areas: Eternity with God cannot be earned, but it is available only in Christ as Lord and Savior; and heaven will be supplanted by the New Jerusalem, God’s re-creative heaven-earth merging (Revelation 21). Hell, eternal separation from God and His provision (love, truth, goodness, fellowship, beauty, forgiveness, etc.), is real and terrifying. And the New Jerusalem? “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Why do so many faith systems seem eager to dismiss hell and related, ultimate accountability? In what area or two does true Christianity disagree starkly with other faiths? What will make hell so “hellish”?
Ask God to bring to mind those you know and care for who don’t know Him. Pray for the faithfulness and the opportunities to share faith lovingly with these, asking God to empower you accordingly.
John 18:37-38; Psalm 33:4-9; Romans 1:18-25
Morality: What’s right and wrong—are there absolutes?
When Pontius Pilate gazed upon the Truth Himself (John 14:6) and mused, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he spoke for today’s younger generations for whom “being real,” goodness or beauty generally trump truth. Relativism, maintaining that there are no absolute truths and moral standards—“rightness” is situational and defined by societal norms—prevails today.
Existentialism (“reality reflects how I feel”) and naturalism (“there is no God; humans are just highly evolved animals”) see truth as only that which can be observed with the five senses, random and situational. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Scientology, and New Age consider truth beyond rational description and, thus, relative; similarly, these worldviews embrace dualism (“validity in all religions” and “many paths to ‘god’ and salvation”). Judaism, Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Islam emphasize absolute truth, its author being God or Allah. However, even these faiths are subject to worldliness, political correctness and, accordingly, creeping relativism.
“Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand, for evolution teaches that life is accidental, without meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is OK, because it ultimately doesn’t matter. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot work. Creation implies a Creator.” (Moral-relativism.com) “The implications of relativism [are that] … persuasion is prohibited … trying to persuade or evangelize another implies you have truth to proclaim—and that you think your listeners may well be wrong … To be exclusivistic is to be arrogant … nothing more than bigotry and narrow-mindedness … [And] tolerance is the cardinal virtue. To imply that someone is wrong is terribly intolerant, especially when tolerance is … defined as being open to and accepting of all ideas.” (ApologeticsIndex)
I remember once hearing an exchange between Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and a relativist. Zacharias: “Do you believe there are absolutes in truth and morality?” Relativist: “No!” Zacharias: “Are you absolutely certain of this?” Relativist: “Absolutely!” The relativist then recognized the contradiction and hypocrisy in his view—he was absolute on the absence of absolutes. Zacharias: “We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right.”
How do you answer the “What is truth?” question? How and where do you lovingly share the Truth with others?
What are the problems with relativism and evolutionary theory from the Bible’s perspective? Why are so many quick to label Christians “intolerant” and “bigoted”?
Ask God for the ability to love Him and love others more than to love “being right.” Ask Him to forgive you for the times when you were harsh and to bring to mind times when you may have appeared “intolerant” or bigoted” to unbelievers. Pray for greater capacity to feel grace toward others.