There is in our world today a “Secret Quest for God!” It is secret because the inner longings and heart-felt questions asked by mankind are not clearly or easily understood as a personal “Quest For God.” Increasingly, our world has distanced itself from the institutional Christian Church. However, even as outward evidence would indicate that people have little or no religious interest, the questions they are asking would indicate otherwise.
What is as “religious question” anyway?
A religious question comes in many different forms. Luther’s religious question was: “How do I find a merciful God?” Today we certainly would not put the question that way. However, today we might hear people ask, “Where is God? Does God exist?” When children are killed or maimed in wars, or the latest news reports an air crash, or when someone very close becomes terminally ill with cancer, then “religious questions” are asked.
In our text, St. Paul reminds us of God’s great truth, and perhaps life’s most difficult mystery, namely, “That we walk by Faith and not sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Scripture reveals to us that fallen mankind is “blind” when it comes to spiritual matters. We don’t know where we came from and we don’t know where we are going. We can’t see the spiritual warfare that exists all around us. We can’t see the end from the beginning! Thus, all of God’s promises
come to us by believing what God has written on the pages of Scripture. This is faith; believing in what you cannot see. That’s why Jesus told Martha in John 11:26, “…and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Faith in what we cannot see is the Spirit-given conduit through which all of God’s mercy and grace pass to us.
Because people have these questions about life’s meaning and purpose pent up inside of them, its imperative that they receive an answer. That answer can’t come from lying and deceptive world which is herself blind to God’s truth. For that reason, we of Wheat Ridge Lutheran Church will be starting a new outreach program called, “PROJECT FAITH.” We will, with the Spirit’s guidance and power, seek to provide a spiritual “sounding-board” where religious questions which people have will find an answer.
As our title “Project Faith” indicates, we carrying out this godly goal with joy and expectation, not knowing what the future holds, but trusting completely in God’s word of promise to be with us and guide us in this “Faith Adventure.” May God’s Holy Spirit encourage every heart to be there.
Yours in Christ,
Question: Why do we refer to God as “Father?”
Christians have always referred to God as “Father.” This way of naming God is consistent with the way that God reveals himself in Holy Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments. It is a comfort to Christians, who are invited to address God as the One who provides for us and gives us everything we need. However, this language raises questions and concerns for some people about who God is. Frequently, these objections revolve around the use of gender-specific language for God. Sometimes, people who have had abusive relationships with their earthly fathers find it difficult to talk about God in this way. These are real concerns, and Christians need to be sensitive to them. This does not mean that we can abandon the use of the traditional language used to describe and address God, though. The title “Father” has been given to us by God as a way to describe our relationship to Him.
Theologians have pointed out that the name Father can be used to refer either to all of the persons of the Godhead equally, as in James 1:17, or specifically to the first person of the Trinity, who is associated with creating and sustaining the universe. For our purposes, we do not need to make this distinction, as it is enough simply to know that God is addressed as Father by Christians. It is not necessary to delve into the intricacies of Trinitarian theology to understand how this title is used. In the Old Testament, God is not called Father very often, but He is described in ways that evoke the relationship between a Father and child. In Deuteronomy 1:30-31, for example, Moses describes what God has done for Israel with father-son language. “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” The prophet Isaiah actually calls God Father: “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (Is. 63:15) In the New Testament, God is frequently referred to as Father, not only by the New Testament writers, but also by Jesus himself. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus addresses “Our Father,” and at Gethsemane, according to Matthew, He calls God “My Father.” There are many more examples God as Father in both the Old and New Testament, but these demonstrate that this way of addressing and describing God has been found among His people from the beginning, and that, not only is this language approved by the Scriptures, but it is used and encouraged by our Lord Jesus. This is not simply a title that has been invented by pious people. It has been given to us by God Himself
Addressing God as Father reminds us of the special relationship we have with Him. He is not a distant God who set the universe in motion and then left it alone. He cares for each one of us, as a father cares for His children. Indeed, we are His children through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, as John reminds us, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 RSV) In Luther’s Small Catechism, we are told why we address God as Father in the Lord’s Prayer. “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” (SC i.iii) We certainly may refer to “almighty God” or “Creator of the universe” when we are speaking about God, but we should always remember that God is truly our Father who gives us everything we need.
Objections to referring to God as Father because it is gender-specific have been responsible for changing the shape of Christian worship in recent years. One very recent Lutheran hymnal, for example, provides the option of calling God “The Blessed Trinity,” rather than “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in a number of places, including the invocation of the Divine Service. While this and a number of other names are perfectly acceptable ways for us to refer to God, avoiding the name Father because it offends our sensibilities can lead us into a problematic understanding of who God is. As noted above, God Himself gave us the name Father for us to use. If we reject this name, we are rejecting the very Word of God which tells us to use it. Jesus gave specific instructions to his disciples to “[g]o… baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The word Father not only names but also describes the first person of the Trinity, in whose name Christians are baptized. It is not sufficient to use an alternate name like Creator or Parent, especially when naming the Trinity in baptism, because these are not the names that God gives us, and they do not perfectly capture the meaning that Father has. When we use alternate names to the complete exclusion of the name Father, we fail to understand and describe God as He has revealed himself to us. He is not simply our Creator, and He is not merely a Parent, He is our Father. For those whose earthly fathers were abusive or absent, addressing God as Father may be a difficult thing to do. As Christians, we can be sensitive to this need, while also assuring people in this situation that God, unlike their earthly fathers, loves His children perfectly and never breaks His promises. Some earthly fathers may be poor examples of what fathers should be, but our Heavenly Father will never betray, abandon, or abuse His children.
Our Father has blessed us by making us His children. The title He has given us reflects the special relationship that we have with Him. It is a special privilege to call God Father. We should not stop addressing God this way because our contemporary sensibilities have trouble understanding God as Father. He invites us to call upon Him in every need, and He has promised to provide for us. He truly is our Father.
Question: What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel?
This question puzzles Christians, because it sets our understanding of salvation against our sense of what we think is fair. On the one hand, we confess that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved from our sins. A person who has not heard about Jesus would seem to be unable to have faith in him. On the other hand, it seems unfair that a person who has no opportunity to hear the saving Word of God would be consigned to eternal torment simply because he has the bad fortune to be born in a place where the Word of God is not taught. It is tempting to assert that there is some alternative means of salvation for these people, but the truth is that this is not something we can say based on what is revealed to us in Scripture. Salvation comes only in the name of Jesus Christ. We have no evidence from Scripture that people who have not had the Gospel preached to them have any way of receiving a saving knowledge of Christ, though of course God may choose to reveal this knowledge to them in some way we do not understand. In any case, it is the responsibility of the church to preach the Gospel everywhere, so that every person may hear and believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. We have no sure promise of salvation apart from this preaching.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, knew about God’s law, and they knowingly chose to transgress it. Since that time, each person has continued to break God’s Law. In Romans, Paul explains that no one has an excuse for unrighteousness, because God has revealed Himself to everyone in His creation. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20) All people have some knowledge of God and what His Law requires, even if we have not heard His Law preached to us. We can choose not to believe in God and His Law, but creation testifies to His nature. Paul’s point is that we have all sinned and rejected God, and not one of us can use the defense of ignorance.
The remedy for our rejection of God and His Law is, of course, Jesus. God, in His mercy, has sent His Son to atone for the sins of all people. After making his point about the sinful nature of all people, Paul continues: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25) God actually gives us faith through means that he has established to tell people about Jesus. God uses the written and spoken word to call people to repentance from their sin and faith in Jesus. God uses Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to establish and strengthen our faith. We have all rejected the Law of God, but as Christians, we have been called by the Gospel to new life, and our sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. This is true of all who trust in the promises of the one true God, including those who came before Jesus. These people were saved by faith in the promised One, who would come to set them free. Hebrews 11 notes a number of the Old Testament saints who were saved by faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Hebrews 11:1-2) The examples that Hebrews gives of such people include Rahab, who was not an Israelite, but most likely a Canaanite. She was saved by faith in the promises of God, even though she was not a member of God’s chosen people.
We might speculate, based on the fact that God has revealed something of His Law to us through creation, that we are able to understand the Gospel through creation as well. We might also speculate that the same promises that the Old Testament saints believed were passed down through the generations among people who were not Israelites, but were descended from Noah. Both of these speculations open the door for at least some people who have never been taught the Christian message to have saving faith in Christ. God may indeed work in this way if He so chooses. However, we have no firm promise from Him that He will do so, while we do have the firm promise that He works through His Word and Sacrament. Furthermore, we have the explicit instruction in Matthew 28 to “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) God intends for the Christian church to spread the Gospel in all nations, and He intends to work through the preaching of that Gospel to bring people in all nations to faith in Christ. We can not rely on speculation to assure ourselves that people who have not had the opportunity to hear the Gospel will be saved anyway. God, in his mercy, may save them, but we can not say this with any certainty.
God is merciful and good. He desires “all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) He has given his people the Gospel and told his disciples to preach that Gospel to every nation. We trust in God to deal with goodness and mercy to those who have not had the opportunity to hear the Gospel, but we also know that all people have sinned and rejected God’s Law. It is only by grace which we receive through faith in Jesus that are sins are forgiven and we are saved. Apart from God’s promise that He creates faith in Christ through His Word, we know of know other way whereby a person might come to faith.
Question: Why do we need such a complicated way of explaining the Word, which creates a lot of tension, hatred, mayhem, death, and complications with different churches, just to explain the same message?
This is an important question, which raises several good points. The history of the Christian church is filled with people and events which do not reflect well on Christianity. At different times, heresies have been punished with death, rulers have used violence to subjugate the people that God had given them to govern, clergy led wicked lives, and relations between different Christian groups were uncivil at best.
This is to say nothing of the relationship of Christians to non-Christians, which has often been very contentious. To put it plainly, the people of God, from the fall to the present day, are sinners, and sometimes our sins manifest as religious conflict and intolerance.
Even before the first books of the Bible were written down, God was working to save His people from this sin. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gn. 3:15, English Standard Version)
Right after the fall, God is already promising to defeat the serpent and the power of sin through the offspring of the woman. This promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The serpent injured Him on the cross, but did not defeat Him. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, however, He crushed the head of the serpent, defeating Satan for all time. This simple message, that God Himself saves us from sin, death, and the devil, is one which has been found in the promises of God from the very beginning.
Because the promise of salvation that God gives us is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith are understood in light of the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again to redeem creation. We interpret all of the Bible, from the Torah through the prophets, and even the New Testament epistles, with this idea in mind. We do not seek to distinguish between those parts of the Bible which are from God, and those which are from human authors. As St. Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” To be sure, the Bible has human authors, but we confess as a matter of faith that those writers were inspired by the Holy Ghost to write just what God intended them to write. The Holy Scriptures, which God inspired, point us to Jesus, and it is through Jesus that we can ultimately understand these Scriptures.
Since Christianity insists that the only way to understand the Scriptures is through Jesus Christ, it follows that we would claim that non-Christian religions misunderstand the promises of God. This is not to say that these religions know nothing of God only that they can not properly understand who God is and what He promises apart from a knowledge of Jesus Christ. When St. Paul preached to the Athenians at the Areopagus, he recognized that all people seek God. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.'” (Acts 17:26-28) Paul warns, however, that this seeking ends with Jesus, who will judge all of us. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Unfortunately, Christian claims to a full understanding of what God has revealed to his creation often manifest themselves as intolerance or even violence. This can happen not only against non-Christian religions, but even against Christian groups of varying confessions.
This is not the proper way to bear witness to the promises that God has fulfilled through His Son. We are called to faithfully proclaim the Good News of salvation to all nations, just as the apostles did, but this does not mean that we should coerce people to convert. The unique message of Christianity is important, and it would not be wise to gloss over our differences with other groups, because in doing so, the unique proclamation of the Christian message can be muted or obscured. Our sinful natures make this difficult, on the one hand, we may become intolerant or even hateful of those with whom we disagree, but on the other, we may fail to proclaim the Gospel at all.
Fortunately, in Jesus, God forgives us when we fall into either one of these traps.
The message of salvation that God has given to His people has not changed since the beginning. In Jesus Christ that promise has been fulfilled, and it is through His death and resurrection that we receive the gift of eternal life. This message is unique to Christianity, and it is important that we safeguard it.
Question: There are numerous passages in Scripture that refer to a person’s heart, soul, spirit, and/or mind. Are these four things the same?
There are two ideas of thought on this question: dichotomy and trichotomy. Dichotomists say that man consists of body and soul/spirit, while trichotomists say that man is made up of three separate entities: body, soul and spirit. It seems the difference lies in the definition of the immaterial part of a person, whether ther is any difference between the soul and spirit.
Man first appears in the Bible in Genesis 1:26 where God contemplates the creation of man, after which God forms man from the dust of the ground and breathes the “breath of life” into him. Only two aspects of man are described ther, the physical body and the breath, ther is no reference to a third part of man. Later in Ecclesiastes 12:7 Solomon says “the dust will return to the earth as it was and the spirit to God who gave it”. Here also only two parts of man are described, body and spirit.
Later in the New Testament Jesus says in John 10:28, talking to His disciples, “fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul, but ratherfear him who is unable to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus was talking about eternity and it seems if there was another part that might be eternally destroyed by God, Jesus would have mentioned it. Some people believe the body, soul and spirit are three parts because of the way in which they interpret Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where he prays that the sanctification of the Thessalonians be whole, which includes the material part (body) and the immaterial part (whether it is called body or soul). Complete sanctification is the central issue. This is similar to 1 Thessalonians 3:13 where Paul prays for the purity of their hearts. The heart controls the life of a person,the mind, the intellect and the emotions of a person; all these should be holy.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 when talking to the lawyer, to “love God with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your mind”. These verses seem to me to emphasize the wholeness of a person. If division was the focus, then we could derive five or even six parts in man: body, soul, spirit, min, strength, heart. I don’t believe Jesus was dissecting the man but rather teaching us that our love for God must flow out of every part of our being, all of our parts, what ever we call them.
Question: Did God use the “Big Bang” to create the universe?
Some Christians are very much against the “Big Bang” theory. They see it as a non-believers’ attempt to try to explain the origin of the universe. They take this view because they do not believe God is the Creator of the world and all that is in it. Some ascribe to the Big Bang Theory, saying that it was God Himself who caused the big bang to create His universe. As Christians, we look to the Bible for our answers. If we are to believe what the Bible tells us we cannot ascribe to either of those explanations.
In Genesis 1, we read where God created the earth before the sun and stars. The Big Bang theory requires it to be the other way around. In Genesis 1, God creates the earth, sun, moon, stars, plant life, animal life, and mankind in a span of six 24 hour days. The Big Bang theory requires billions of years. In Genesis 1, it tells us God created all matter by His spoken word. The Big Bang theory begins with matter already in existence and never explains the initial source or cause of that existence.
In Genesis 1, God breathed life into the body of a perfectly created Adam. The big bang theory requires billions of years, and billions of chance circumstances, to get around to the first human, and it never can explain how the first microscopic life form happened to “evolve” from a non-living atom.
In the Bible, God is eternal and the matter and universe are not. There are different versions of the Big Bang theory, but in most of them the universe and/or/matter is eternal. In Genesis 1, the existence of God is a given, “In the beginning God…” The true purpose of the Big Bang theory is to deny the existence of God. If we believe in God, and His Word in the Bible, we cannot believe in the big bang idea. In all of the scientific attempts to explain how the world began, nobody has come up with a true explanation of the creation of life, except GOD.
Question: Do we believe that the bible is the inspired Word of God.
Answer: The easiest response to this is “Yes, we believe that all Scripture is God-inspired” – To back this up, you can refer to 1 Peter 1:16-20. From this passage, you will be able to segue smoothly into talking about the gospel, and perhaps a discussion on the inerrant truth of Scripture.
Question: Does God punish people for their sins; past and present?
Wow, this is a tough question, one which has been asked in one form or another for centuries. My initial response is that I am totally inadequate to answer it with any degree of accuracy. All I can do is to search the Scriptures and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead.
There are a number of other words besides “punish” that come into play here. We might want to also consider discipline, suffering, chastening, testing, and temptation. All of these words appear in Scripture and perhaps we need to differentiate between them.
The Old Testament particularly has references to punishment. In Exodus 20, when God is giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” When the people worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32, God says (v. 34), “When the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” Jeremiah prophesied concerning the upcoming exile of the Israelites into Babylon. In Jeremiah 21: 14, God says, “I will punish you as your deeds deserve”.
Do these references speak of punishment or discipline? We think of God as our loving and patient Father. A father disciplines his children because he loves them and doesn’t want to see them hurt. In Hebrews 12 we read, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as a son. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Then, in the third chapter of Revelation, the Lord is telling John what to write to the church in Laodicea; He says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”
The word “punish” is a harsh word and is a Law-oriented word. The word appears a number of times in the Scriptures. However, Scripture also tells us the good news of the Gospel. For example, notice how the passage from Exodus 20 quoted above has an announcement of God’s grace right after the Law message. The entire Bible is a means by which God makes His plan of salvation known to Jews and Gentiles alike. Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith. His grace takes the place of the punishment we deserve. When Christ died on the cross, He took all the sins of the world – past, present, and future – upon Himself. He bore the punishment that we deserve. God is still our loving Father and He hates our sins, but the punishment has been taken care of. He sees only the righteousness of Christ when He looks at us.
That doesn’t mean that we are sinless – far from it. We are subject to God’s discipline so that we might be brought closer to Him. We need to remember that sin is a constant in our lives while we are yet on this earth (Romans 3:10, 23). So, we not only have to deal with God’s discipline for our disobedience, but we also have to deal with the earthly consequences resulting from sin. If a believer steals something, but then repents, God will forgive him and cleanse him from the sin of theft, restoring fellowship between Himself and the repentant thief. However, the societal consequences of theft can be severe, resulting in fines and jail time. These are natural consequences of sin and must be endured. But God works even through those to increase our faith and glorify Himself.
In this earthly life, we experience suffering. Some people suffer beyond our comprehension. Are they being punished? Does God cause events such as 9-11, or Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti, or the horrendous crimes that people commit against each other? Suffering is hard to understand because it affects
“good” people and “bad” people, Christians and unbelievers. In the Bible, Job suffered terribly, but did God bring on or cause the suffering? If we read the book of Job, we see that God did not cause Job’s suffering, but He allowed the devil to cause pain and suffering to Job. He also put limits on what the devil could do; thus God remained in control. He allowed Job to be tested, to be tempted, and to suffer. In New Testament times, Christians suffered terribly at the hands of the Romans. Christ took Job’s sins, the Christian martyr’s sins, and our sins upon Himself and bore our punishment. This is a core belief. Therefore it follows that our suffering and the suffering of others must have a purpose beyond punishment.
We cannot know or understand the mind of God, but we know from His Word that He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever. He disciplines us for our good. I think a passage that sums up this concept is Romans 5: 1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
So, although this falls short of being a complete and perfect answer to your question, my hope is that you may find comfort in two additional passages from God’s Word. First, when Moses was about to die and he was turning the leadership of the Israelites over to Joshua, he said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (the heathens who inhabited the Promised Land), for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31: 6). Then, in the New Testament, Paul says to the Christians in Corinth, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (I Corinthians 10: 13-14).