Google is great. You can look up recipes, weather, and the latest sports scores.
But what do you do when your question about how God can be three persons yet be one God returns 2.8 million answers, 2000 years of church history, and literally thousands of books on the subject, all from a huge variety of theological backgrounds? Which ones to you trust?
And what do you do when you don't know exactly what to ask?
Because of these very issues, we want to give everyone a way of asking the questions they have and know they're talking to a trusted source. As your pastors, our means of discipleship is God's Word, the Holy Bible. We're familiar with the theological issues of our own day and throughout church history. And we want to help you get the answers you need.
If you want, you can ask your questions anonymously. You only have to fill in the Name box if you want to.
Regardless, we'll respond to your question usually within only a few hours, depending on if we need to do a little reading ourselves. We're not going to give you a cheap answer.
Also, most of the questions that get asked here will be logged on the Ask page on our website, anonymously, no matter if you gave us your name or not. We think that this is important so that people see that every question is a good question. Most people will have the same question you do, even if they don't know it yet. What a great place to collect the questions and answers of Mt. Pisgah!
There is no virtue in ignorance. Ask anything.
First, persecution of any people group for any reason is unchristian and evil. No follower of Christ should ever be involved in the explicit or implicit persecution of God's people.
Second, let me say that I'm not equating the persecution of Jews and Christians, but assuming that you're a Christian who asked this question, let me help frame the question for you.
In the earliest decades of the church, the first 100 or so years after Christ, the church was persecuted. However, this persecution often took the form of maligning character. For example, Christians were accused of cannibilism. Why? Because the of the language of the Lord's Supper (the body and the blood). Not only that, but they were accused of sacrificing and eating infants. Why? Because they rescued infants who were left by parents who didn't want to kill their unwanted child but would allow it to die on its own in the wild. Christians were accused of necromancy. Why? Because they often meet in cemeteries to remember the "great cloud of witnesses."
All this to say that persecution takes many forms. Religions of all stripes are persecuted in some ways if for no other reason than that is the human condition—fallen.
The Jews have undoubtedly received more than their fair share of mistreatment and persecution, to include mass slaughter such as the Holocaust. Again, just to help reframe the question, research in the last five years has shown that the death toll of the Holocaust was between 15-20 million, and 6 million of those where Jews of various nationalities. So with all the compassion I can muster, I must say that the Jews were unimaginably persecuted and slaughtered, and so were millions and millions more.
Part of this is to say that we cannot think of the Jews as the only persecuted people in the world. God is not done with the Jewish people. The church is simply "grafted into the vine" as the apostle Paul says. They are still here and living in vibrant communities because God wants them to do so. God will continue to use them for his glory, both now and at the end of time.
Practically, some of the reasons the Jews are persecuted is because of what follows. There have always been sects of Christians who, outside of orthodoxy, have hated the Jews for rejecting Jesus and blaming them for his murder. One well-known figure of this kind of persecution is Martin Luther, the reformer of the 16th century. While the level of his anti-semitism is often overblown, it is unmistakably there.
But like you said in your question, you have found numerous answers, many of which are contradictory and make no rational sense. You're not a conspiracy theorist, and neither am I.
The truth is that all religions receive persecution, often based on the number of its adherents and its message. The Jewish people have been on the earth for thousands of years, even going back to Abraham. The Judeo-Christian worldview calls the world cursed and fallen. People are not inherently good, even though we are capable of good. The message of both Old and New Testaments are that people are sinners and destined to be apart from God for eternity unless God intervenes. Even the message of creation calls into question the entire post-modern worldview, that all there is is the material world.
The Jews have a message from God for the world—all is not well: it's my fault, your fault and no amount of good will or technology can fix our condition. This is not a message the incredibly secular world wants to hear. Without getting into a religious liberty debate, suffice it to say that we should be praying for our Jewish brothers and sisters to both practice their religion without fear of persecution (just like we want for ourselves) and, more importantly, that by seeing us practice our religion with or without persecution, they would come to know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah their Holy Scriptures promised.
Like most questions, this is a multi-layered one. Is God more love than anything else? Who sends us to hell, us or God?
First, we need to address the conception of God's love. Clearly, the Bible teaches us that "God is love. (1 John 4:7)" But love is not God's only characteristic. That'd be as silly as thinking that you, your children, or your spouse only has one characteristic. God is also just, merciful, kind, gracious, etc.
The important thing is that God is all of these things in perfection. You and I do not love perfectly, and neither do we practice perfect justice, mercy, or grace. But God does. So we should be weary of those who try to convince to just think of God as love, because he describes himself as much, much more than just one thing.
The other part of your question involves hell, especially the one responsible for sending someone there. The only way to avoid hell is to be born again, or rather, being given the gift of the Holy Spirit so that you're able to have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You are not your own judge; only God is judge. Therefore, it is nonsense to think that you send yourself to hell. It's often believed that our failure to decide to follow Christ is what sends us to hell. However, that falls short of what the Bible teaches. While we are responsible for whether or not we follow Christ, God must enable us to do so. Otherwise we are all destined for eternal separation from God and all his goodness, IE, hell. You are not your own judge, so you do not send yourself to hell. Only God has that authority.
So, your question is if God still loves you if he sends you to hell. Romans 5:10 teaches us that we are God's enemies if we are not his children. This is why we brought up God's characteristic of justice. Would it be just for God to allow the evil in our hearts and the hearts of other enemies of his to go unpunished? Would it be just for God to do nothing more than closing his eyes to sin? Would you stand for a prison warden who freed every prisoner?
God loves his children, and for a time is showing mercy so that none would perish (2 Peter 3:9). He will one day distance those who are not his children from those he loves to protect the ones he loves. This is love, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. But one day, that patience will have run its sovereign course.
You raise a valid point that political correctness should not necessarily guide our decisions about the words we use. That's not because we don't want to be careful with our words and compassionate with how we say things, but PC culture has proven to sterilize ideas time and time again. If people can't be offended, they can't be critical thinkers. Critical thinking helps make us fully human.
So let's turn to the real authority for the Christian, which is Scripture.
If we rephrased your question and asked, what is true religion? then we would be guided to James 1:26-27. This passage says, "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James is addressing a common problem in his world and today's. People are confused on what real religion is. Is it just externals, such as going to church and saying "amen" at the right times? Or is it internals, and it's all about "me and Jesus?"
This passage tells us that true religion is both internal and external; personal piety ("unstained by the world") and acts of love ("in their distress").
The Christian life is lived in and built up by both community and privacy.
If we ignore either part of true religion, then James would tell us that our religion is not even worthy of being called religion. So what many people are fighting against by saying that we shouldn't think of our faith as a religion is that biblical religion, the kind that is pleasing to God, demands a lot of us. It demands training our hearts and minds as well as making time to help those who need it.
True religion demands a mind saturated with the words of God. True religion demands that we care for those who can't care for themselves.
Don't be afraid the word "religion." Jesus was deeply religious.
Gotta love questions about heaven!
The backdrop for your question is most likely 2 Corinthians 12:2, where the apostle Paul says, "I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, but God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven." With no context, it'd be easy and probably correct to assume that this explicitly teaches that there are three levels to heaven. And if heaven is where we go when we die, then it just makes sense that different levels of heaven implies people will live in different places. Or, it might imply that people get different rewards based on how good or bad they are.
Now, even if the Bible only says something once, it's still authoritative and should be taken as true. However, the idea that there are various levels to heaven is foreign to the Bible. A little context is always helpful.
Like we do today, the authors of the Bible used the word "heaven" for different things. We say that the atmosphere is a kind of heaven, or the sky. We also use the word "heaven" for general outer space. And then of course, we use the word "heaven" for God's abode. This is precisely what we also read in Scripture. Even if the ancients didn't have as wide an understanding of what outer space is and the science behind what the sky is, they were definitely not ignorant that those things were there. There have always been scientists of some sort learning about God's creation.
So when Paul says that he knows a man who says he wen to the "third heaven," he's clarifying the kind of "heaven" he was in. In this case, he means the heaven of God's abode.
Now it is necessary to say that in other passages, Scripture does teach different kinds of rewards that believers will receive once they're in heaven for eternity. Take a couple of places as examples.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 — "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
Revelation 22:12 — “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done."
But the content of the reward is founded on Christ's work of redemption. All those that God has called to himself will receive heaven, and then once there, various rewards will be given out based on what we've done for the kingdom of God. We should be weary to speculate just what those rewards are, because we're prone to get very materialistic very quickly. We have all we need in Christ based on his work of redemption.
Ephesians 1:3-4 — "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him."
So much of the health of your spiritual life rises or falls on this question right here, so I'm thrilled you asked it. I'm not going to re-invent the wheel, because so many brilliant Christian minds have dealt with this exact question over the centuries. So I'm going to highlight probably the most profound work on this issue in the history of the church. It's a centuries-old book called "Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers" by John Owen. Here are the highlights. It changed my life.
Romans 8:13 says, "For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
First, we must be about killing sin or sin will be killing us. You've felt this truth in your own heart and mind; otherwise, you wouldn't be so plagued with the guilt and shame of repeated sins. Call sin what it is. It has a will. It has power. It is a real enemy. And it must be dealt with.
Second, killing sin in total is not the same as conquering every single lust and deed. Only the Spirit can do this, and he is at work in you at this very moment. Killing sin is not just turning your attention somewhere else, because you already know that your temptations will find another way to vent. And when we try to tame the power of any certain sin, it's only then that we find out how truly powerful that temptation is.
You must remember this—morality is not the gospel. Just because someone slowly makes progress over one particular sin, there are a thousand more yet to be conquered. Our sin nature remains, and the Spirit is forming us in to more and more Christ-likeness. If you want to kill a particular seen, seek obedience in all of your life. It's so tempting to think that if we just won the battle in this particular area, then we'd have arrived. We'd be set. But that's just one more lie from the enemy. Don't be discouraged, though. What God has started in you, namely, forming you into Christ-likeness, he has promised to finish.
Some sins are more particular to you than other people. There are of course those sins that we're all prone to. But there are some that I'll struggle with that you won't, and vice versa. Or at least, we don't all struggle with the same things to the same degree. So ask yourself, what scares you about sinning? Is it the fear of being caught? Of being judged at the end of time? Or is it the fear of offending your heavenly Father and grieving the Holy Spirit? What's your motivation to stop sinning? "What gospel principles do not, legal motives cannot do" (Owen, "Mortification," p. 94).
Your sin is simply trying to harden your heart. Keep yourself in prayer and vigilant reading of God's Word. Put yourself in godly company. Confess your sins to a trusted brother or sister in Christ who will remind you that you're forgiven in Christ.
There is so much more to say on this hugely important issue, and I would send you to John Owen's work to help you have a deeper understanding of it. I'm praying for you, because I know what you're feeling. Spend time in preaching the good news to yourself.
This question is incredibly helpful in understanding what living together and marriage means. I'm assuming that the idea here is that two senior citizens of different genders are co-habitating without being legally married.
Let me first say that I understand why so many widowed or never-married seniors have chosen to begin new romantic relationships without the legal step of marriage. Our tax codes are often not so friendly to you. It's possible to lose so much of what you've worked a lifetime accumulating for your own security. So I'm compassionate to that concern.
Let me bring you a couple of passages from Scripture to help shed some light on the issue. The first one is Ephesians 5:3. "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints." The clear implication here is that regardless of any extenuating circumstances, including age, regardless of how inconvenient they may be, the Christian is to never allow sin to any immorality (which in the Scripture almost always insinuates sexual immorality) any room in their life. Another passage (sometimes contested) is 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is "Abstain from every form of evil." This is often translated as "Abstain from even the appearance of evil." Don't let anyone even have the chance to claim you're doing something you wouldn't want anyone else doing.
All this is to say that the Bible is not silent on the issue of co-habitating, even if it's senior citizens. But here's a practical point. If you're living with someone in a romantic capacity and there is real love between you, at least be married in the eyes of God. Perhaps at this stage of life, you're not having children and raising a family, so you don't need the legal component to your relationship to protect your children and spouse. Have a ceremony with your family with your pastor officiating. If you don't want to make it legal and lose everything, that might be a conversation with you two and a pastor so that all the details are much more clear.
But don't fall in to the trap of not thinking that sin is sin just because you're an empty-nester and retired.
Divorce is always painful, regardless of the circumstances. And even if we have to work through all the implications of getting divorced, we should know what Scripture teaches about it so we can confront our own sin and the sins of others.
Marriage has always been intended to be an image of God's relationship to man; this took on its fullest expression in the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is the groom, and the church is the bride. Christ sacrifices himself for the church. Marriage also serves the social function of protecting children and rearing them up for involvement in other healthy institutions. Marriage is designed from creation, not culture, to be a man and a woman in a covenant between them and God for a lifetime.
Here's where Scripture is clear on divorce. Divorce is permitted, though not required, for two explicit reasons: unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:8-9) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). Both of those are instances of breaking the covenant. If neither of those reasons is the foundation for divorce, then yes, the act of divorce is a sin. Under the two categories of unfaithfulness and abandonment, there could be a number of possibilities. Some Bible scholars even see room for divorce because of physical or verbal abuse in the Greek word for "abandonment." But Scripture is also clear from Malachi 2:13-16 that God hates divorce.
In your specific case, even if there has been no abuse or unfaithfulness, you may still not be able to stop your spouse from doing what they've set their heart on doing. This is where the biblical teaching on forgiveness comes in to play. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Does this happen overnight? Never. But just as Christ forgave you, as a believer and part of the bride of Christ, you are called to exhibit forgiveness to all those who offend you. And if you have children, you also need to show how forgiveness works.
The apostle Peter tells us, "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers over a multitude of sins." This is a process. It takes time. But stay fervent in your prayers, no matter how few or short, because that's one way that God aligns your will with his.
Between you and the Holy Spirit, you can work out all of the implications of this painful experience. Take counsel in the community of the church. Pray for your spouse, that even she might repent of her sins and you two might reconcile. During these difficult times that totally upsets your life, it's a good time to repent of your own wrongdoings and confess your sins to God. He is quick to forgive and promises to set your feet on the right path.
Great question. There are two things going on in your question, so let's walk through it.
First, sometimes we get confused on the order of how things work. So let's be 100% clear on how we're saved. In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has an interaction with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus wants to know how to be saved. Jesus' answer is not what he expected. You have to be "born again," Jesus said. Without that, there is no entering God's kingdom. Being "born again" is entirely a work of God, and it's shorthand for God giving us a new heart so that we are even able to love him. You see, unless God acts first, our hearts are so evil that we will never truly seek after God, nevertheless be able to even if we wanted. So God acts first, he regenerates our heart, and he makes us able to call on Jesus to save us. In the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 3, the apostle Paul tells us that no one—absolutely no one, no matter how good of a person you or how much you think it's what you're doing—is able to call on Jesus without being given the Holy Spirit FIRST! If you have called on the Lord to pay the debt for your sins, here's the amazing truth that changes everything—you already have the Holy Spirit! He is why you were able to in the first place!
Second, the Spirit is who guides and directs us, you're right. But the question is, how? The Holy Spirit guides and directs our path by guiding us to God's revealed word, the Scripture. In the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 27, Jesus himself tells us this. He says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." Jesus is telling us that the Spirit guides us back to his words. And since Jesus is God, that means all of his inspired word, all of Scripture. Now practically, that means a combination of things—sitting under the preaching of the word, daily reading and meditation, and deeper Bible study with competent teachers. That's the goal for most Christians who are able to do that. The word is the means of grace, the means of how the Spirit leads and prompts, by bringing to our mind his word of truth. Memorizing Scripture is probably the greatest thing you'll ever start doing, because what better way does the Spirit bring to remembrance Christ's words!
This question has been a central issue for believers for all generations. Before we can have a final understanding of the answer, we need to understand a couple of other things, as well.
The first thing is that God is holy and we are not. This means that we have offended him and his perfection. Sin is so much worse than a few mistakes here and there. Offenses grow worse as they offend someone in higher and higher authority. Sin is more than an offense to your parents, the police, or even the president. Sin is an offense to the Creator of the universe and the Sustainer of life. All are guilty of sin; and we know that the wages of sin is death. When the first people sinned, they caused us to inherit that sinful nature, one that places our will above God’s. The entrance of sin into the human realm brought with it all kinds of suffering for every person, regardless of age.
The second thing we need to understand is that God does not disregard the suffering of the most vulnerable, both the youngest and the oldest. We read passages in the gospels like Matthew 19:14 where Jesus tells the crowd to send the children up to him so that he can bless them. Jesus never blesses someone that is not his own. Jesus also raised a young daughter of a distraught father from the dead because of his compassion on both him and the daughter.
So while we may not see the immediate value in the suffering of someone we love and is so unable to care for themselves (which I believe is the real issue we have such a hard time with it), we can find trust that they are squarely within the Savior’s arms at all times.
Lastly, “Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” — Genesis 18:25.
This is a tough question, because it sounds like people have already been hurt. I'll start with a passage of Scripture that is true regardless of what has happened.
Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
If we dissect this verse, we immediately learn that it's not always possible to be at peace with absolutely everyone! The apostle Paul makes no bones about the fact that some people simply do not want to be reconciled with you, their Savior, or themselves. We are only accountable for the peace that depends on us. In every situation, we are accountable for if we sow peace or sow discord. But remember, it's not always possible to expect peace from the other person or people.
We're also to be at peace "with all men." The meaning here is pretty clear and not really up for debate. Family and friends, believers and unbelievers. We should not make it so some people deserve our wrath and others do not. Since God has made peace with those who have rebelled against him, those he has forgiven should make peace with those who have offended them.
Another passage will be helpful. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."
Look at all the things that bitterness is associated with—wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. Bitterness will inevitably give way to those things. Is that what you want your life to be about? Is that how you want to be remembered? If you harbor bitterness and don't forgive those who have offended you, you will without doubt become someone who wants to inflict your own wrath against other people, you'll be perpetually angry, and you'll try to destroy the other person's credibility.
The hard truth is that God has forgiven all of your sins if you've confessed them and repented through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a child of God, you're called to live at peace whenever it's possible! If it's not possible, you're free to do what is necessary to do so.
Pride is often the root of bitterness. It's so difficult to forgive someone if they're not graveling at your feet, isn't it? That's not sarcastic—that's absolutely how most people feel. Some people like feeling as though they have all the power by not forgiving the other person. So forgiveness is a huge deal. You need to get your heart right with God so that he can break it and you can forgive those who have hurt you.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is asked a similar question, though with a somewhat different motive. There was a blind man, and some religious leaders are trying to see if Jesus can give some insight into a difficult situation. Why is this man blind? Did he sin? Or did his parents sins? Because surely, innocent people never suffer. Surely someone did something to make him deserve this.
But Jesus completely rejects that premise. There is something else going on entirely. The point is not if God is pouring out wrath because of someone's sin, and therefore this man is blind. What Jesus says makes the people renew their thinking. It's not because his parents sinned. It's not because he sinned. So what is it?
"It was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:3.
On the one hand, Scripture teaches that no one is truly innocent, even the most vulnerable, IE, children. "Whoever perished, being innocent?" Job 4:7.
Sin is infinitely more disastrous, wide-spread, and infectious than we think. It's not random mistakes. It's the human condition, even among the most vulnerable among us.
But suffering in general is not just a punishment for wrongdoing, because we know that when children suffer because of divorce, abuse, or neglect, it's not because of their own sin. That's what Jesus is saying. When vulnerable people suffer, look for how God might be at work. Maybe you won't understand it immediately, but those who look, find. Those who knock are answered. Those who ask are answered.
If someone is not a believer in God, explaining suffering is not always effective. If that is the sticking point, they usually have an emotional reason, IE, their own suffering or someone they have loved, for rejection of God. Unless God breaks their heart and regenerates it (which you should be praying that is exactly what he's doing through their suffering!), then no apologetic will save them.