Theology, philosophy, math, science, and random other things

Questions from seekers - short answers to common questions (Part 1)

I once ran a college small group for new Christians and non-Christians. Here are some questions I got from this group, and my answers to these questions. They've been edited slightly for clarity and minor changes in my views, but they're otherwise presented as they were presented to the students. Enjoy!

Two things to keep in mind:

1. These are relatively short answers to big questions, addressed to college students in a small group setting. There is certainly much more that can be said on each question. On some of these questions I've already written a whole series of posts, or I plan on doing so in the future.

2. Don't let the little things keep you from the central message of Christianity: that although God created us to be like him, we chose to violate his laws and walk down the path to destruction. But God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue us, so that whosoever would trust in Christ will not perish, but instead receive pardon from his or her sins, and the blessing of becoming the child of God.

Q: How is evolution/biology explained? Is it just a theory, or does it actually relate to things in the Bible? Was evil created along with other traits that people have?

(Edit: this is one of the questions that I devoted many posts to answering more thoroughly elsewhere. If you want to see what I actually think, apart from having to be diplomatically representative of Christianity to a group of new Christians and non-Christians, give that link a read)

A: This is a very general question, so it is not likely that my answer is satisfactory. Although I have some general ideas about the interpretation of Genesis, I am still working out some of the details for myself. You are encouraged to look into other sources if my answer leaves you wanting more.

Evolution is a theory. However, it is not "just a theory". It is a theory that many intelligent people happen to think is the correct one. Furthermore, it does have some relation to parts of the Bible, namely Genesis 1 and 2. According to evolution, one species gradually changed into another through natural selection. Genesis 1 and 2 says things like 'Then God said "Let there be birds", and there was birds. And it was the fifth day.' This is then repeated for the various types of animals. To explain evolution from the Bible, these opening chapters of Genesis has to be interpreted.

For simplicity's sake, I'll classify the many different ways of interpreting Genesis into three categories. The first school of thought is that what the Bible says is literally true. The subscribers to this school of thought believe that the world (and its lifeforms) were created in six days, and by "days", they believe mean a 24-hour period. The earth is about 6000 years old, according to them. They would claim that evolution is flat out wrong, that each species were created by God as they were, simply by God's command.

I personally admire this school for valuing the integrity of the Bible. This is by far the simplest and the most straightforward way of interpreting Genesis. They do have numerous methods at their disposal for dealing with scientific objections to their view, some of which can be convincing. Some of them would say that even though Genesis is completely contrary to evolution, the Bible must be believed simply by faith.

The most obvious weakness of this position is that it contradicts much of modern science. Also, many pointed questions detrimental to this view can be asked, such as: "if the sun was made in the fourth 'day', then how long was a 'day' before the sun was made?" So, this view has its strength in the simple, clear interpretation, but it is weakened by the necessity of having to reject evolution completely, and its narrow-minded view of the Bible, in claiming that the Bible must be interpreted literally.

The second school of thought claims that the first few chapters of the Bible are not a completely literal record, but a rough outline that compresses the billions of years into just a few pages. They would claim that life came about more or less the way science describes it, but that it was divinely guided. The "days" would represent eons, and the description of each "day" is a simplified version of the cosmological or evolutionary events taking place, written in such a way that someone in ancient times could understand it, without modern science being a prerequisite. They are quick to point out that the order of creation closely follows the order of evolution (plant life, aquatic animals, land animals, then humans). They have a very strong position in being able to point out providence in the workings of the accepted history of the universe and the earth (e.g. life starting from chance has a very low, practically impossible scientific probability, so God had to be there.). But they tend to be plagued by some minor discrepancies in their attempted synthesis of Bible and science.

The third camp would interpret the first few chapters of Genesis purely figuratively, claiming that it has no bearing on physical events whatsoever. Thus, they would not have to explain evolution at all, since this interpretation of Genesis doesn't speak about evolution. Their position can be held while still taking the Bible at its face value, but it does require some interpretational gymnastics. It is obviously good that science doesn't have to bend to accommodate the supremacy of the Bible, but this view has its share of troubles. It is somewhat tainted, because non-Christians who have no regard for the Bible can also believe that the creation is purely figurative. So by association, a person might appear to be challenging the Bible, even if he has a perfectly biblical explanation as to why the creation should be interpreted figuratively. Another possible pitfall for this school of thought is to say, "Oh, the creation account is symbolic, so I don't have to worry about it", then go on to never study anything in the first chapters of Genesis.

So, there you have it, the three different ways that a Christian can "explain" evolution. But it should be noted here, that perhaps this is not all that important. The purpose of the creation account is not to say whether evolution is right or not. It is to show that God created the heavens and the earth, that man was made in the image of God and made masters over creation, and that man fell away from God by sinning. These points are far more important than what the Bible has to say about evolution.

About the "creation" of evil, it should be said that evil was not "created". Not by God, at least. Furthermore, evil was not created along with other traits of man (I presume the question is asking whether evil developed by evolution). It is a result of man's willful disobedience to God, and therefore has it's origin in the heart (or soul) of man, and not in his physical body.

Q: Do we know that we are sinning when we sin? What happens after we sin? (We suffer the consequences?) But then God forgives us? Or has he already forgiven us? Since we know Jesus died for our sins, do people think that they would be okay if they sin?

A: We do not always know that we sin. Someone who is completely sinful would think that nothing that he does is a sin, since one of the effects of sin is to make you more numb towards sin, to deaden your conscience. Conversely, as we grow closer to God, we become better at identifying sin.

As for the consequences of sin, we (and by "we", I mean Christians) certainly do not pay the full penalties of the sins, which would be eternal damnation. In fact, God forgives us completely of all sin, to such an extent that he says that he does not remember our sins anymore. Because we have forgiveness in Jesus, God does not keep track of our sins to use against us, or hold any grudge for our sins. Our forgiveness is complete. However, when a Christian sins, he may still suffer. But this suffering is completely under God's control, and it is different from the full consequences of sin running its course, unchecked by God. We have God's assurance that all things, including suffering for sin, work together for the good of those who love God. You can think of a Christian's suffering for sin as a disciplinary action, whereas the suffering that is the natural consequences of sin, suffered by a non-Christian, is more like a punitive measure. As to exactly when we are forgiven (After we sin? Before we sin?), this gets tricky, because of the strange relationship between God and time. We know that God forgave us because of Jesus before the world began, but we still must ask for his forgiveness for any particular sin, so that we can actually reap the benefits of that forgiveness.

Yes, people do think that it's okay to sin because Jesus died for their sins. Unfortunately, they have a very bad understanding of what "Jesus died for your sins" means. As a Christian, we died to sin. How could we go on living in it? Jesus died to free us FROM sin, not to free us TO sin. We must remember that this is the purpose of God's salvation for us. Therefore if anyone rather likes their sins, then such person might want to reconsider whether they want to be saved or not. To say that it's okay to sin because Jesus died for our sins, is like an alcoholic saying that it's okay to get drunk every day since he goes to AA meetings.

Q: Does the Bible talk about the end of the world? And what does it say?

A: And thus opened the proverbial can of worms. Yes, the Bible does talk about the end of the world, notably in Revelations, and also in Daniel and parts of the Gospels. Unfortunately, these are parts of the Bible that are very difficult to interpret. As for the things we are sure of, there is the second coming of Christ, and the Judgement. The details are very complicated. I suggest that you read Revelations for yourself if you want to know more, since there's so much that I couldn't possibly write it all, and I am not sure how to interpret much of those passages myself.

The questions and answers are continued in my next post.

You may next want to read:
Questions from seekers - short answers to common questions (Part 2) (Next post of this series)
Interpreting the Genesis creation story: an introduction
How is God related to all other fields of study?
Another post, from the table of contents

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