Questions are so important in life! They are one of the primary ways that we as people learn. Questions are especially important when it comes to matters of God, Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, because the answers to these things can completely change a person's life. Below is a (growing) list of commonly asked questions, by churched and unchurched people alike. The responses to each of these questions are only meant to offer an initial reply, but where possible further resources will be recommended (such as video clips, video sermons, short articles, and even whole books) for those who want to pursue these topics further.
Before diving into these questions however, an introductory word is in order. Theologian Lesslie Newbigin reminds us that the Bible does not ever answer "our questions exactly in the form in which we put them. The Bible always requires of us a shift in standpoint, for which time and patience are needed." This insight entails a few things.
First, it means that sometimes the way we ask questions reveals a particular line of thinking – and sometimes that line of thinking goes in the wrong direction. So, often, it is not really possible to answer a question in the terms in which it was asked. Second, it is possible we are simply asking the wrong question! Third, time and patience are needed because askingquestions is far easier and quicker than attempting to answer them.
Asking a critical question, such as 'Why does God allow so much suffering in the world?' is akin to attempting to tear something down, in this case the Christian conviction that God is good. It is quick and easy to ask such a question. But attempting to answer such a question is like building something, and construction is much more time-consuming than deconstruction. A builder once said it took him three years to build a house, but with a digger he could tear a house down in under three days.
Questions are very important. But time and patience are required to satisfactorily address them. With this in mind, let's proceed!
Click the question for some answers
JESUS & GOD
WHAT IS THE TRINITY AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Some years ago I was a tourist in Luxor, Egypt, looking at the ancient temples there. Our guide was Abdullah, an accomplished Egyptologist. In describing ancient Egyptian mythology he mentioned that Osiris, Isis and Horus formed a Trinity of Egyptian gods. Having studied the doctrine of the Trinity I suggested to him that this was a misuse of the word Trinity, for he was referring to tri-theism – belief in three separate gods. Christians, however, worship and believe in one God.
The purpose of Christian belief in ‘the Trinity’ is to identify what Christians mean by ‘God’. This teaching on the Trinity is held in common by the Christian Church worldwide (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal) but which many outside the church ridicule. The doctrine of the Trinity has been called the height of metaphysical speculation, been labelled contradictory, and is often held to be irrelevant for practical living. And yet Christian faith insists this doctrine is not based on speculation, is not contradictory, and is highly relevant to practical living.
Why is this important? Author A. W. Tozer claimed: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” A person’s convictions about who ‘God’ is determines that person’s belief system, including beliefs regarding morality, values, identity, purpose, and destiny. Allow me to delve into the heart of Christian faith – the identity of God, and appreciate its relevance today.
A common criticism to Christian belief in the Trinity is that 1 cannot equal 3 and 3 cannot equal 1, but this is only an objection to a caricature of the doctrine of the Trinity. The engine that drives the doctrine of the Trinity is the conviction that God the Father definitively revealed Himself in the person of Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Christians believe God is three
Persons who share one being. God’s being is relational. It is a unique unity without perfect parallel or analogy – but is this not what we should expect when speaking of the eternal, uncontained God who has revealed Himself to finite, limited creatures?
The theologian Augustine once said, “If you can understand it, it’s not God.” Why? Because to completely understand a concept of ‘god’ would prove that that conception originated in human thinking, and therefore is fully understandable.
Nevertheless, this unique divine unity – three Persons sharing one being – is not completely beyond our comprehension. Take a human – you – one person whose being is at once physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual. Physical pain is different from emotional pain. There is a plurality, a diversity, within your oneness. Similarly, at a biological level, there is complexity
within unity – bone cells are different from muscle cells and neurons, and so on. Within creation most forms of oneness include complexity and plurality.
If this all seems a little complicated, that’s because it is. As C. S. Lewis provocatively says: “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it isn't. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We're dealing with fact! Of course, anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.” Since the infinite God has revealed Himself in Jesus to finite creatures, we can expect knowledge of God to be both complicated, yet understandable.
An important question to ask is ‘so what’? Why does this matter? The apostle John says God is love; not that God loves only some people, or loves some of the time, or that love is one of the things that God does. No! God is love. Within God’s eternal being, God is love. This affirmation is only possible because of the doctrine of the Trinity.
One cannot ‘be’ love in isolation, by himself or herself. Love only makes sense in the context of relationships. Love can only exist between persons. Love is relational. Now, before God created the universe, God was alone, yet Christians affirm that God is love pre-creation. How is this possible? Because within the being of God, love emanates between Father, Son, and Spirit, giving and receiving love to and from each other.
What does this mean? One author said, “The words ‘God is love’ means not that loving is only one of God’s many activities, but rather that all His activity is loving activity”. Since God’s being is three persons in eternal relationship, God is relational and personal. How does this description relate to your understanding of God?
Concretely, what does love look like? In the verse immediately after the declaration “God is love”, the apostle John writes, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him”. Sacrificial giving for the good of the other. Ascribing unsurpassable worth to the other. This is what love looks like. “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”, Tozer suggested. Christian faith confesses God is relational, God is love.
(This article, written by Adam Dodds, was published in the Otago Daily Times, Friday 5 June 2015)
A very short sermon on the Trinity by one of the world's leading Bible scholars can be found here.
Trinity by Roger Forster
The Tripersonal God by Gerald O'Collins
The Trinity by Roger Olson
IS JESUS DIVINE?
Christians believe that God came down to Earth in the person of Jesus. Jesus is called Emmanuel, which literally means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Philippians 2:6 says that Jesus is in very nature God, and Hebrews 1:3 says He is the exact representation of God's being. That's why Jesus said that whoever has seen Him has seen [God] the Father (John 14:9). It's also why the early Church worshipped Jesus, and why, when Jesus claimed to be God (John 8:58), the Jewish audience intended to stone Him to death for blasphemy (John 8:59). The Gospel is good news, because Jesus reveals exactly what God is like.
So yes, the Bible is clear in its teaching that Jesus is fully God (as well as fully human). This is clear both in Jesus' actions, and in what He said about Himself in the gospels. It's also clear in the other writings of the New Testament.
IS THIS IMPORTANT?
If Jesus isn't fully God, then He doesn't reveal what God is like; after all – God may be completely different to Him! If this were the case, then God would remain a mystery, and we would not be able to know Him personally.
Salvation is the gracious and un-anticipatable act of God, to save people by reconciling them to Himself through Jesus' life, death, and bodily resurrection. In doing this, God enables us to participate in divine nature and personally know God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Salvation is by grace, a free and unconditional gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something we receive simply by trusting God, and entrusting ourselves to Him.
The Christian belief about salvation depends entirely on Jesus being fully God. Salvation involves enjoying eternal life, and only God (the eternal one) can give us eternal life. If Jesus is not God, then He cannot save us, because He cannot give us eternal life!
So YES, it is indeed important to realise and affirm that Jesus is fully God!
Jesus: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bauckham
Life of Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters by John Dickson
Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright
"Jesus in Christian Doctrine" by Alan Torrance, in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus edited by M Bockmuehl