Genesis 3:1-19; Habakkuk 1:2-4
Evil, Pain and Suffering: Why?
The skeptic reasons, “If God is loving, all-powerful and all-knowing, how can He permit evil and its consequences? Since evil exists, God either is not as described or nonexistent.” Lee Strobel, in The Case for Christ, describes a cartoon featuring two turtles in conversation. Turtle #1: “How can a good God allow pain, suffering, cruelty and disease?” Turtle #2: “My great fear is that He would ask the same question of me.”
The very fact that people wrestle with the “Why evil?” question reinforces that there must be a Moral Authority, the reference for good and evil. Accordingly, “evil is a problem for atheists because, for them, it does not exist absolutely.” (William Briggs) Many of relativism-oriented faith systems are virtually silent here. In Hinduism, however, “karma [explains] evil in the world … Suffering … is the natural consequence of past lives’ ignorance.” (Ernest Valea) Buddhism maintains that “all of life is suffering and suffering is caused by attachments to worldly things.” (Beliefnet)
Judaism waffles on evil, given the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism despite being “God’s chosen people” (Deuteronomy 7:6). For Muslims, “the very word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ … [which, by definition, will] include suffering.” (Beliefnet) Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) and Mormons, like Muslims and Christians, believe that Satan is the original cause of evil, God’s subsequent allowance for evil explained partly by humankind’s free will. Christianity and the JWs uniquely view our evil-enabling sin nature as inherited by all since Adam and Eve.
“Evil is corrupted goodness” (CS Lewis)—it is parasitic. Similarly, a hole doesn’t exist unto itself, but is the absence of something. Satan cannot create, but only spoil, counterfeit and destroy. God, conversely, created us to be in loving relationship with Him. For that to be meaningful, we must have free will and, accordingly, choices between good and evil. Pain and suffering turn many to Christ while also enabling the soul-building, higher virtues: love, sacrifice, charity, and heroism.
I don’t enjoy disease, pain, suffering and death; no one I know does. But God allows these for a season, during which time He’s building His church. And God will end all of these issues following Jesus’ return (Revelation 21:4)!
Why do evil and its byproducts exist? What does “evil is corrupted goodness” mean? How will God resolve the issues with evil, death, disease and suffering?
Pray for joyful endurance while experiencing trials and suffering. Ask God how to use the trials you’ve faced as key elements of your personal ministry.
Genesis 1:26-28; Job 7:17-18; Romans 8:16-17
Identity: What makes us human?
The extremes in the “What makes us distinctly human?” question are the naturalist/evolutionist belief that we’re simply highly-evolved animals vs. the New Age or hyper-humanist view that we are “gods” ourselves and/or part of a greater pantheistic “deity.” If we are highly-evolved animals, it’s then permissible when we behave like animals, just “doing what comes naturally” without shame. If we are “gods,” we define “right” and “wrong” as we wish and are understandably self-righteous. Existentialism’s related theme is: “Human beings are radically free. We … create the meaning, truth, and value in our lives.” (Reason and Meaning)
“In Hinduism and Buddhism human nature is … given the task of becoming the non-self.” (Encyclopedia.com) “However, [Hindus] believe that there is Ātman [self, essence] in every being, a major point of difference with Buddhism, which does not believe that there is either soul or self.” (Wikipedia) “Jehovah’s Witnesses [maintain] that … ‘no man has a soul.’” (Bible.org) “In Islam, sin is … not as rooted in human nature … All humans are understood as to be born Muslim. It is the cultural environment that changes their essentially Muslim nature into something else … [Mormons] believe that the soul is the union of a pre-existing, God-made spirit and a temporal [human] body … Scientology [offers] that a person … is a soul [‘thetan’], immortal, and may be reincarnated if they wish.” (Wikipedia)
The Bible teaches, “We are made in the image of the God who is love (1 John 4:16) … [thereby explaining why] we can be compassionate, faithful, truthful, kind, patient, and just … [although] these attributes are distorted [in us] by sin.” (GotQuestions?org) “Man was created a trinity of spirit, soul and body … The trinity is an essential part of the image relationship between him and God … The spirit of man [is] the sphere of God-consciousness … The soul … [contains] his affections and desires.” (Bible.org)
“We [humans] are all different. We have different physiques, intellects, and temperaments. But in at least one way we are all the same—we are all created in the image of God. … Our complex brains … form new systems of thought, works of science, and objects of beauty.” (InterVarsity)
During my best days, I feel far from godly. However, on these same days I feel God’s closeness, love and majesty.
What are some of the problems with evolution’s view that we’re simply highly-evolved animals? What are some of the aspects of being “made in the image of God”?
Ask God for an extra measure of some of His attributes—compassion, faithfulness, truthfulness, kindness, patience, and justness. Thank Him for His adopting and saving you despite your limitations.
Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 2:3-7; Proverbs 16:1, 3-4, 9
Autonomy: Do we have free will?
Judas Iscariot is Christianity’s “poster child” in the debate over humankind’s free will relative to God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and predestination. God knew that Judas would betray Jesus, Judas thereby playing a key role in God’s redemptive plan. However, Judas acted freely throughout, fully accountable and judged accordingly. Is this fair? How “truly free” was Judas and are we?
Existentialism and humanism promote unfettered freedom. Mormons embrace free will, as do JWs, Wiccans, Taoists, and Scientologists. Naturalists believe that “we are fully determined by our environment and genetic endowment to become who we are … We don’t have free will that’s independent of causality.” (Sheldon Drobny) Buddhism maintains that “everything is conditioned and relative … Independent of cause and effect [karma], [free will] does not exist.” (Reddit) “Fatalism [a predetermined course of events beyond human control] is a major premise of Islam … Hinduism, too, … [holds a] fatalistic view of life.” (GotQuestions?org)
The Bible teaches that God endows humankind with free will, enabling love and meaningful choices. However, it also teaches predestination, “the biblical doctrine that God in His sovereignty chooses certain individuals to be saved … If God is choosing who is saved, doesn’t that undermine our free will? … The Bible says that we have the choice—all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:9) … God predestines who will be saved, and we must choose Christ in order to be saved. Both … are equally true.” (GotQuestions?org)
“Arminian” Christians emphasize free will and our necessary response to God’s salvation offer. Predestination, per Arminianism, says: “God knows about every person’s decision to believe or not believe ahead of time; and it is those who choose to believe whom He predestines … It is the [church] as a whole that God has elected by his grace, and individuals [are included] through their [personal] faith.” (Doug Moo) Calvinism [Glenkirk’s Reformed Theology roots] counters that free will is overrated—apart from Christ we are slaves to sin (Roman 6:20) and physical laws and bodily limitations constrain all—and that we’re utterly spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) apart from God’s quickening of our spirits (John 6:63).
We revisit this controversy regularly in our men’s Bible study. The resolution? Unlike Judas, abide in Christ!
Why did God grant free wills to humankind, given all of the problems that have resulted from this? What is the key area of disagreement between “Arminians” and “Calvinists”? Where do you fall in the Arminian-Calvinist argument?
Pray for the discernment and heart of a peacemaker. Ask God to reveal to you someone whom you may have offended or hurt somehow, asking His forgiveness for this offense.
Job 38:28-38; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; Ephesians 6:10-13
Reality: How do things really work?
In searching numerous sites to determine the leading “10 big questions” for this series, I was most surprised as today’s topic emerged. Consider people’s related questions from various sources: “Why is there something vs. nothing?” “How does the universe work?” “What is time?” “What is consciousness?” “Is life real?” “Is there another ‘meta-world’ where I actually ‘live’ but simply don’t perceive it—am I living in a Matrix?”
The expression, “Perception is reality,” aligns with the relativism—that we create or project our own reality—embraced by humanism, existentialism, New Age, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Scientology. Hinduism and Taoism see reality as absolute though fluxing, external while also a self-projection. Naturalism’s reality is external, though evolving and only that which can be sensed and measured. Judaism’s reality is absolute and external; Christianity, Mormonism, JW and Islam agree while adding that earthly reality is a subset of the ultimate Reality of “God.”
Given the “Am I living in a Matrix?” question from above, consider the following summary of The Matrix movies. “The story centers around a computer-generated world … created to hide the truth from humans. In this world people are kept in slavery without their knowledge … Oblivious to the fact that their world is digital rather than real … they continue living out their daily lives without questioning their reality.
“The main character, Neo, is a Matrix-bound human who knows that something is not right with the world he lives in, and he is eager to learn the truth. He is offered the truth from … Morpheus, who proclaims that Neo is ‘the One’ … who will eventually destroy the Matrix, thereby setting the humans ‘free.’ For this to happen, Neo must first overcome the Sentient Program agents [Gate Keepers holding the keys to the Matrix] who can jump into anyone’s digital body.” (123HelpMe) Viewing Neo as a Christ figure, Morpheus as John the Baptist and the Sentient agents as Satan and his demons, you have a reasonable characterization of fallen creation.
A relevant quote comes from then-agnostic and later-Christian psychiatrist and author, M. Scott Peck: “Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” How “mentally healthy” is our world?
Which of the questions from the first paragraph resonate most with you? Why? How does “The Matrix” overview harmonize with the world’s current state?
Pray for Glenkirk’s leadership, our leaders in local and US government, and key leaders around the world. Ask God to bring these leaders wisdom and complete surrender to His will.
John 18:37-38; Revelation 9:7-11
Alone or Not: Other life in the universe?
For decades our cultural obsession with the prospect of extraterrestrial life has spawned countless articles, books, shows, movies and songs. While we’ve become more isolated over time, despite technological “advances” and social media professing otherwise, our fascination with “someone else out there” hasn’t diminished. What room, if any, do the major religions make for alien life forms?
Among the major world religions, only the Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently officially exclude the possibility of extraterrestrial life. In the other major faith systems, with three exceptions characterized below, space alien life as popularly conceived is not explicitly confirmed nor denied.
Buddhism allows for a “thousand-fold world system, there are a thousand moons, a thousand suns, inhabited planets.” (Buddhism Stack Exchange) “Mormon cosmology teaches that the Earth is … one of many inhabited planets … created for the purpose of bringing about the ‘immortality and eternal life’ [i.e., the exaltation] of humanity … Because Mormonism holds that … God the Father once dwelt upon an earth as a mortal, it may be interpreted that Mormonism teaches the existence of a multiverse … [whose] inhabitants are similar or identical to humans, and [also] are subject to the atonement of Jesus.” (Wikipedia)
Scientology’s doctrine is built upon the believed need for “de-programming” (“auditing”) the effects of ancient extraterrestrial activity. “Xenu [was] … the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth [‘Teegeeack’] in DC-8-like spacecraft [to address Galactic overpopulation], stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs. … The now-disembodied victims’ souls … [called] thetans were taken to a type of cinema, where they were forced to watch [movies, which implanted misleading information] … into the memories of the hapless thetans … [pertaining to] God, the Devil … [and] all world religions … The thetans … of these aliens adhere to [present-day] humans, causing spiritual harm.” (Wikipedia) Wow!
The Creator God, our Lord and Savior, is transcendent, the uncaused Cause existing outside of space and time. However, unlike Allah, He’s not unknowable and capricious. The LORD is not disconnected like Eastern “deities.” The living God entered our plight, a rescue mission re-defining history. Though holy (perfect and other), our concerns and needs are not alien to Him. How has He impacted you? With whom can you share this?
Why do you believe that the Bible is silent regarding extraterrestrial life as popularly imagined? How does Mormon theology depart significantly from biblical Christianity’s? How does the story underlying Scientology sound to you?
Ask God for the ability to love Him and love others more like He does. Pray for those you know gripped in false religion and for the opportunity and courage to lovingly share the Gospel with them.
- Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, published by Zondervan, 1998, first edition.
- William Briggs’s quote is from http://wmbriggs.com/post/11184/
- Ernest Valea’s quote is from https://comparativereligion.com/evil.html
- Beliefnet’s quotes are from www.beliefnet.com/faiths/2005/01/why-bad-things-happen.aspx
- C.S. Lewis’ quote originates in his book Mere Christianity and was taken from www.goodreads.com
- Reason and Meaning’s quote is from https://reasonandmeaning.com/2017/12/11/the-basic-ideas-of-existentialism/
- Encyclopedia.com quote is from www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/human-nature-religious-and-philosophical-aspects
- Wikipedia quotes can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/
- Bible.org quotes are from https://bible.org/seriespage/2-man-trinity-spirit-soul-body
- GotQuestions?org quotes can be found at www.gotquestions.org
- InterVarsity quote is from https://intervarsity.org/blog/what-makes-us-human
- Sheldon Drobny’s quote can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com/sheldon-drobny/free-will-and-naturalism_b_47592.html
- Reddit quote is from https://www.reddit.com/r/Buddhism/comments/2j7tyl/what_does_buddhism_teach_about_free_will/
- Doug Moo’s quote is from https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/predestination/
- 123HelpMe’s movie summary is from www.123helpme.com/bible-vs-the-matrix-view.asp?id=163358
- M. Scott Peck’s quote is from The Road Less Traveled, published by Simon and Schuster, 1978.
- Buddhism Stack Exchange’s quote is from https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1502/what-did-the-buddha-teach-about-aliens