1. Science and God are opposed, right? Doesn’t evolution actually disprove the theory of creation?
I think with any question that's asked, you have to concede that there's something to it. Sometimes Christians have been a bit anti-science and I always think it’s important to respond with a bit of honesty. But in terms of the actual issues, I’m of the view that Christians can disagree over evolution. Sensible, godly, Bible-believing Christians have different views on that. but in terms of the science/God thing, I reckon it's a lot clearer. Science only strengthens our belief in God for the simple reason that the more science discovers, the more it is clear that our universe is not accidental. It is rationally ordered that the elegant mathematics work at the tiniest level right out to the massive universal level. And that is the principle argument for God's existence that philosophers have employed for years. It's precisely because we live in a rational, ordered universe that there must be a rational mind behind it. In other words, every time science discovers how something works, what they're actually discovering is how our universe is beautifully, elegantly, mathematically ordered. That just points to God. Every scientific discovery - every real discovery - Christians ought to be able to say, “Fantastic, more of God's wisdom is discovered.”
2. Isn't faith just irrational and emotive?
That's just one way people use the word “faith”. I think it's an unfortunate way. The Oxford English Dictionary defines faith as a belief based on evidence, testimony or authority. In other words, faith isn't the opposite of evidence and testimony. Faith is reasoned. It's based on good evidence. But obviously when you trust something or someone, not every aspect of your trust is proven. You might have good reasons to trust someone and that's enough to put your faith in them. We're exercising faith every time we walk into a doctor's surgery and trust them with our wellbeing. What we're doing is trusting that they are an authority, that they've got the documentation and so on. And I think Christianity has got a great deal of evidence to support it, biblical, philosophical. Not proof, but enough evidence for someone to express trust in this as a reasonable way of understanding the world.
3. If God is real, then why is there so much suffering and hardship and persecution that we see going on around us?
This is the age-old question and I don't think anyone should rush too quickly to defend God on this. Because if someone's actually experienced suffering it doesn't matter how philosophically tight our answer is. It's going to seem irrelevant.
But philosophers long ago came to the agreement that suffering doesn't disprove the existence of God, because in order to use suffering to disprove, God, you'd first have to show that God couldn't have good reasons for allowing suffering to continue. And until you can prove that he doesn't have good reasons, you can't use suffering as proof that he doesn't exist. Now, philosophers are pretty much in agreement on that one, but that doesn't help someone who's really going through suffering. And so this is where I think the Christian faith has a wonderful, unique approach because it says two things:
Even if we can't explain why you're suffering in this moment, God has promised a wonderful future where he's going to resolve the pain. So there's hope; there's a reason to get up out of bed. There's a reason to look forward to God's good future where he’s going to make everything right.
The Bible says that God hasn't just left it to the future. He's entered into history; he's suffered injustice and insult, the betrayal of friends and ultimately torture - agony - and a final breath on the cross. So the God we bring our questions to is the God who himself has wounds, and that's something that no other tradition, no philosophy, no religion can offer: a God who understands our pain because he's close; because he's experienced it.
4. If God is so good and following Christ is so fantastic then why are Christians such a bunch of self righteous hypocrites?
Because sometimes we are! It's just the reality. At the Center for Public Christianity, we made a documentary about the best and worst of the Christian faith. There's nothing like being a student of history to realise that there are a lot of bodies buried out there in Christian history. So I think we can, again, acknowledge that there is something to this. Christians have been self-righteous, they've been hypocrites. The thing that I keep coming back to that is that Jesus wrote a beautiful tune. His tune was love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. And he took it all the way to the cross where he loved his enemies and gave himself for us. And Christians have sometimes sung that tune beautifully, in tune. Sometimes they’ve just sung it very poorly. But we all know to distinguish between the beautiful composition and the pretty awful performance. You don't blame the composition just because the performance ruins it. We've got to understand that there's a musical score that Jesus brought into the world and Christians have sometimes sung up and sometimes not, but I guess the challenge for anyone who believes is to make sure you're singing the tune of Jesus.
5. How do you answer something like this: “What is good for you does not necessarily have to be good for me, because truth is relative. So Christianity is fantastic for you, but I don't need Jesus in my life. I can follow a different truth and a different path.”
Ah, yes. People say this like it's something we invented recently at a party over a glass of Chardonnay. But it's a really old idea. It goes right back to the fifth century BC with a philosopher called Protagoras. And he's the guy who said, “Things are for every man what they seem to him to be.” In other words, “What's true for you is true for you. It doesn't have to be true for me.”
But in the next century, Plato pointed out that the statement is kind of illogical because if it's true, that things are only relative, then that includes Protagoras’ idea that things are relative. In other words, if Protageros’ claim is true, it proves that it's false because he's claiming one proof that everything's relative. So you can actually tie yourself up in a completely self-contradictory idea. As soon as people say “There's no such thing as genuine truth”, you can ask, “Is that a genuine truth?”
The reality is that we don’t apply this way of thinking to anything other than religion and ethics because in normal life, either something is true or it isn’t. It’s like maths: some answers can be a little bit closer to the true answer, but answers are either true or they’re false. So either Jesus did die on the cross or he didn’t. There’s no way it can be true for me that he died on the cross, but not true for you. It’s either true or false. And therefore one of us is right and one of us is wrong.
6. The Bible seems to be composed over thousands of years by multiple different authors. Not only that, there seems to be a big gap between the prophet Malachi [in the Old Testament] and the New Testament. And what was in and out of the Bible as a book wasn’t settled until much later. How can we trust the Bible?
I think one of the clues as to why we can trust the Bible is contained in your question. It’s astonishing that over well over a millennium, multiple authors in diverse historical settings, in different languages, have in the end told a remarkably unified story.
Anyone who patiently tries to understand the Bible from Genesis to revelation will perhaps get the impression that this was beautifully composed so that the end corresponds with the beginning and the middle part is the pivot point. You'd think that it was micro-managed because it all hangs together so beautifully. But we know it wasn't! We know that this is a vast array of collected documents from different periods, from different authors, but it tells a remarkable unified story. That's one clue.
The other clue is historical evidence. There’s actually pretty good historical evidence - not for everything, but we don't have historical evidence for so many things from the ancient world - but we do have good historical evidence for stuff like King David.
People used to doubt that King David existed, that it was just invented in the Bible. And then they found an inscription that mentioned the house of David. And it was a bit of an “oops” moment in scholarship. You think of Jesus; there were people walking around thinking that Jesus is just a myth, just like Santa Claus or something out of middle earth. But we know beyond doubt that Jesus was a real person, reported not only in the Christian documents but in non-Christian documents.
So the history is pretty strong.
And, and the third reason I'd say the Bible is trustworthy is that it explains the world. The more you put on these glasses of the Bible - the Bible’s view of the world - the more it actually clarifies everything in our world.
C S Lewis said that he believes in Christianity, like he believes in the sun in the sky, not just because he can see the sun, but because the sun lights up everything else for him to see. And I think the Bible is a bit like that. It lights up the world. And so it confirms itself. And then of course, if you read the Bible and you put it into practice, it changes you. It’s like it's alive. It's not just a thing in your head. It's a thing in your life. And so, in the end I read my Bible and I really think there are good reasons to trust it. And when I do, I find it transforming me to be less of a jerk.
Check out Episode 7 'Gospel Truth' of the Undeceptions podcast for more about whether we can trust the Gospels in the Bible.
7. It seems given a modern cultural context that the Bible is particularly outdated, especially on the subject of relationships and marriage and Christians seem to fire up with all these old timey debates. And not only that within the Christian rank, we don't seem to agree on it. Some are for and some are against marriage equality. There's a broad spectrum. So why do you hate love?
The first thing is that scripture makes perfectly clear that we should be able to have a civil conversation around these difficult topics. That whatever view we come to, whatever view our world comes to, we can walk in this world and speak in this world with generosity of spirit. We can hold to our convictions but with compassion. Conviction and compassion seems to be the way Jesus did it. And Jesus was full of conviction. I mean, his views on marriage are the traditional views. Actually the same views that the Romans had and the Greeks had. His view was clearly that a marriage is a man and a woman. But he held that with such compassion so that when he met a woman who'd committed adultery, for example, who had broken that marriage bond, He, on the one hand, asked her to leave her life of sin and on the other He said, “I don't condemn you” and offered her forgiveness. And I think it's a pretty good model, not just for issues of marriage, but for every topic for a Christian to think about Jesus, having deep convictions about what is real and deep compassion for those who disagree.
If you move in the world with those two things, don't give up your biblical convictions, but hold them with compassion, I think we have a recipe for getting on in the world and being a blessing to the world instead of shouting the world down or seeming to be a negative influence in the world.
8. If God knows everything like he seems to suggest, and not only that he seems to have it all worked out, then what's the point in praying or talking to him at all?
Well, if you’ve come into a relationship with someone, it's pretty weird to not talk to them, right? It doesn't matter how powerful they are, if you've come to know them and they love you and you love them, it would be the weirdest thing in the world to say, “Oh, well, they've got everything in control. I'm not gonna bring my concerns to them.” So that's the first thing I'd say.
I love the insight of Blaise Pascal, that 17th century French mathematician and philosopher. He was asked this question: What's the point of prayer? And he said something to the effect of God invites us to pray because he wants his creatures - us - to have the dignity of causality. By which he meant allowing us to participate in the unfolding work of God.
So God doesn't just decree things and they happen. Part of his governance of the world is to allow his children to ask him to do things. And he, in prayer, gives us the dignity of being the reason he does things in the world in response to our prayers. Yes, God is ultimately in control, but that doesn't mean we don't have a real, effective role in the world, participating in the will of God by asking him to do stuff. And it is his delight to do things in the world in response to our prayers.
9. How would you answer a person who says the 10 commandments are a great way to live, but I don't need God.
Sure. The 10 commandments are great. They’re so wise. Every area of life is covered. It's partly about acknowledging your creator and partly about caring for other creatures. Okay? Brilliant. But you get to the end, and you go, “I can’t do this!”
Take 10th commandment: “Do not covet”. I've done that five times by the time I get to work in the morning. So the thing is, as beautiful as these commandments are, we don't follow them, certainly not perfectly. And so every culture through history has tried to work out, how does one atone for our mistakes? How does one bridge the gap between what we know is right and how we actually live? And lots of religions have developed all sorts of sacrificial systems or good work systems to outdo your bad deeds by doing more good deeds and so on.
But Christianity’s answer is clear, beautiful, and unique. It says you can't fulfill these commandments. You can't make up for your failure to fulfill these commandments. But Christ entered the world. He lived the perfect life none of us could live. He gave that life on the cross on our behalf so we could be forgiven for all of our failure. And his goodness is transferred to us because he's the one who gave his life and rose again, so that we could be right with God. The gospel at the heart of Christianity is the ultimate answer to this.
This article is based on an interview John did on Hope 103.2FM in 2017. To listen to the full interview, click here.
Want more answers to difficult questions? Listen to Episode 18 'Confronting Christianity' of the Undeceptions Podcast, where Dr Rebecca McLaughlin gives her best defence for some of the most troubling questions Christians have faced about their faith.