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

Questions from seekers - short answers to common questions (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post. The same caveats mentioned there apply.

Q: What happens to Christians when they don't pray for forgiveness of their sins? (whether they know it's wrong or not) does God forgive? Forget?

A: To answer this question, it is useful to remember that God is a friend. In any friendship, one person may wrong his friend (sin against the friend), then not ask for forgiveness, because he wasn't aware that he had wronged his friend, or because he thought it was too trivial, or whatever. The consequence of this would probably be an understanding, implicit forgiveness from the wronged friend. So the two people would stay as friends, but it would have been better if no wrong was committed in the first place, or if there was an explicit request for forgiveness. So it is with God. He will forgive us for sins that we don't confess, but it would be better for us to confess them.

The situation changes drastically if we know that we must ask for forgiveness, yet don't do it. This is like saying to God, "I know that I've done wrong, but I'm not going to ask for forgiveness" If this were to happen in a friendship, normal interaction between the two people would become impossible. The friendship would be strained until it broke. So if a person flatly refuses to repent for a sin that God has clearly convicted him of, then he would not be able to carry out his relationship with God normally. His spiritual life would suffer more and more, until it becomes clear that he is not a Christian.

Q: Where/when did sin first originate? Was it first in the serpent in the Garden of Eden? Because I thought it started when God kicked Satan out of Heaven, but that isn't covered in the beginning of the Bible. The Bible starts with God creating heaven and earth, the story of Adam and Eve.

A: Sin entered the human race at the Garden of Eden, right after creation, but it had existed in Satan before then. You're completely right. It's just that the Bible starts with the story of this world, as oppose to the story of the spiritual world, where Satan first sinned. We know of Satan's fall, because the Bible mentions it in passing in some other places, notably Isaiah and Revelations.

Q: What do you see/ feel/ think when you pray or think about God? Do you see the cross, a person, or what?

A: First, praying to God and thinking about God are two different things. One of the things that I have trouble with is merely thinking about God when I should really be praying to him.

When I think about God, what I see or feel depends on what exactly I'm thinking about. Sometimes I see geometric shapes, if I'm trying to draw an analogy. Sometimes I feel very relaxed, when I consider how God is in control. Sometimes I feel terrified, when I consider the magnitude of the universe that he has built.

When I pray to God, I don't think I see anything. I don't know if this makes any sense, but it is spirit communicating with spirit, and there are no images to associate with such things. Of course, if I'm praying about a specific physical event or thing, I'll have that image in my mind. And my feelings during prayer change, depending on the topic.

I should put in a word of warning about having images of God in your mind, though. Generally, it is not a good idea to give an image to God. Too often the object itself will become God, instead of representing God. And even if we recognize the image to be just a representation of God, there is no way that such an image can do justice to God. For these reasons, the second of the Ten Commandments is that we should not make any images (idols) of God. Some people take this as far as to say that we should not have pictures of Jesus. Furthermore, there is the danger that such an image will only be a projection of ourselves, with the common complaint being that we often see Jesus as white, anglo-saxon protestant republican/democratic male.

Q: If a woodchuck could chuck wood, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

A: I've heard that a woodchuck cannot chuck wood. I think I've also heard 700. Your guess is as good as mine.

Q: Are things in the Old Testament changed by the New?

A: In some sense, yes. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law (the law being a very important part of the Old Testament), not to abolish it. So the spirit of the laws remained unchanging (since they were not abolished), but the letter of the law, or the carrying out of the rituals, changed. (since certain rituals no longer had any meaning, because the fulfillment of those rituals was in Jesus). So we no longer offer animal sacrifices, because Jesus is our sacrifice. But "love the Lord your God..." command still stands, since the spirit of that command was unaffected by Jesus's coming. This should really be looked at case by case.

Q: Why do bad people or people who commit big sins or crimes get rewarded, or get away with it?

A: I think this answer is from Augustine: If God rewarded every good deed and punished every evil deed in this world, then people would not believe in the next world. On the other hand, if God did not reward or punish anyone, then people would not believe that God is a just God. Thus, God sometimes rewards and punishes people in this world, with the consequence being that some people who sin get away with it (but wait 'till they get to the next world!).

Q: Is a person who believes in a higher power ( you can call him God if you want) considered a Christian? Like they know that there's a higher being that's controlling life... so is that a Christian? Or do they have to have that relationship with God by trying to get to know him and fellowship with him?

A: A person who simply acknowledges a higher power is not a Christian. Jesus himself said that nobody comes to God but through him. So for everyone who has enough knowledge about God and Jesus to be held accountable, they must explicitly believe in the God manifested by Jesus Christ to be a Christian. (For those who do not have enough knowledge to be held accountable, see the question in the next post)

Q: Since people are pre-chosen, do they still have free will, though they are under God?

A: Yes. One of the common misconceptions about predestination is that it is incompatible with free will. It is not. One of the better explanations that I have heard on this subject goes something like this: Say that I see a person doing push-ups. Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm forcing that person to do push-ups. Now, we extend to God, who is not limited by time. If God sees someone doing push-ups in the future, then that person is predestined to do so. However, that doesn't mean that God is forcing that person to do push-ups, since to watch someone do something is obviously not the same as forcing that person to do it.

This is really just scratching the surface of the free will / predestination problem. If this answer is not adequate (right now, I don't want to explore the topic in its entirety, which might be more answers than you had questions for), then there is probably more about this issue out there than I care to read in a lifetime. So go look!

Q: If God is all-powerful, why doesn't he make everyone Christian, allowing them all to go to heaven?

A: First, it would be beneficial to examine what we mean by "heaven". Heaven is a physical place (it is a different kind of physicality than that of this world, but it is still a physical place). So God can bring someone into heaven by forcing that person to be a Christian, bringing him to a location in heaven, and that person would be "in heaven".

However, and much more importantly, heaven is a state of being in relationship with God. To roughly paraphrase Jesus, 'now this is eternal life, that we may know God'. As such, all Christians, even while living in this world, are in heaven. (It is important to note that Jesus speaks of the "Kingdom of God" in the present tense in the Bible). Now, what would happen if God tried to force someone to become a Christian to put them in this kind of heaven?

The idea of a relationship would immediately be destroyed. If God forced someone to be a Christian, that is no longer a relationship. It would be like a small child playing with a doll, and pretending to be friends with that doll. Since the child is "all powerful" in being able to make the doll do anything he wants, he can certainly make the doll be his "friend". But he cannot have a relationship with this doll. Even God cannot have a relationship with a being without free will.

So a person, if forced to become a Christian by God, cannot be in this heaven of knowing God. God can even bring such a person into the physical heaven, but what would be the point? He would be about as happy there as the child's doll would be in Disneyland.

It may be disturbing to hear that God cannot do something (i.e. that God cannot have a relationship with a being without free will). But this is because the act in question is itself nonsense, and even self-contradictory. God cannot make a round square, nor create a being more powerful than himself, nor sin, nor make a statement true and false at the same time. A piece of nonsense doesn't suddenly make good sense because we put the words "God can..." in front of it. The question of whether or not God can force people to become Christians to go to heaven falls into this category.

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 3) (Next post of this series)
Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?
Basic Bayesian reasoning: a better way to think (Part 1)
Another post, from the table of contents

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