How do we know there is a God?
The truthful answer is that we cannot know for certain. We cannot prove the existence of God, but there are many reasons why belief in God is reasonable. The first is that nothing science has discovered explains the existence of the universe. Yet the universe has a beauty and an order that suggest a rational mind lies behind it all. Just as the existence of a computer demonstrates that there is someone who invented it, so the world in all its beautiful complexity points to the existence of a Creator, God.
A second reason is that within the heart of man there is a capacity to love and a desire to be loved. Christians point to that and say it indicates that there is a power of love in the world, which many people call God.
Another reason is that in every part of the world today and throughout history, men and women have always believed and worshipped God. Some people have said that in every person there is a “God-shaped hole” that only God can fill. The existence of that desire to pray and to believe and talk with God is one argument for God’s existence. There are lots more reasons why people believe in God. Have you ever asked yourself whether God is real to you?
How did the Universe really begin?
How you answer that question might depend on who you ask. An astro-physicist might reply that the universe began several thousand million years ago as a gigantic nuclear explosion. A theologian might reply that God created the world - but might be concerned to speak more about why God created the world, than how God created the world.
The ‘why’ question is perhaps more important as it asks us to think about the purpose and meaning of creation. As far as the origin of the world is concerned, the Bible simply says that God created it (Genesis 1:1, John 1:3, Hebrews 11:3). Not all Christians agree over the origin of life. Most however believe that it is best explained by some form of evolutionary theory and they believe that this evolutionary process has been sustained by God and used by him. The Book of Genesis declares creation to be good and says that God was satisfied and pleased with his handiwork. This surely means that the world should be something we revere and delight in.
What is meant by the Trinity?
The doctrine of the Trinity lies at the heart of Christianity. In essence it claims that God’s very being is ‘relational’ – that is, God is a loving relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christian theologians continue to wrestle with this idea, but it is more than just an abstract thought. It makes a crucial difference to the way Christians understand the world and human beings.
For, if the essence of God is relationship, it shows that we are also created for relationship – with God, with each other and with the whole universe. It is those relationships that give meaning to our lives, and if they break down, then our own lives become broken down too. That is why the saving work of Jesus is often called the ‘atonement’ - literally, the at-one-ment. Christians believe that God’s plan for the fullness of time is to unite all things in heaven and on earth in his Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).
Who was Jesus?
Christians have always believed that Jesus was not just a good man, but the Son of God. We believe that he came from God, and returned again to his Father’s presence. Indeed the whole of Christianity stands or falls on whether Jesus was who he said he was.
No serious academic today believes that Jesus didn’t exist. Historians agree that he was a remarkable teacher, who amazed people 2,000 years ago with miracles that they found it hard to explain. They also know that he was crucified in the most barbaric way imaginable, and that his followers were convinced that three days later he came back to life. Many of those disciples were themselves put to death, refusing to back down on those claims. Why would they do so unless they were convinced Jesus had been resurrected?
Jesus himself also claimed to be the Son of God - God in human form, sent to save us. The Christian writer CS Lewis summed up our response to Jesus as follows: “he was either mad, bad or God.” He was either living a delusion, living a lie, or he really was God. It is impossible to say that he was just a good teacher, because he claimed to be more than that. If we don’t believe his own claims about himself, why should we believe any of his teaching?
Why did Jesus have to die?
The simple answer might be that Jesus died because he was a preacher of radical ideas, who disturbed the religious and political leaders of his time, exposed their hypocrisy, aroused their jealousy - and so was condemned to death on a cross.
That’s not the whole story. It ignores the fact that Jesus willingly laid down his own life, that no-one took it from him. He died so that we might live. He became sin so that we might be freed from sin.
As the Bible says: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18, RSV). We all know that forgiveness can be costly and it was costly for God to forgive us. It cost God his own Son.
We all do things that we know are wrong. Those things stop us from having a proper relationship with God. It is only as we approach God and ask for forgiveness that we can start that new relationship. Jesus’s death in our place makes that relationship possible. As we begin to understand what that means, we also become aware of the love which God has for us and for all of his creation.
Why should I go to church?
The popular view of the Church is that it is outdated, irrelevant, perhaps even reactionary. The boring sermon, the endless fundraising and the untidy churchyard are common images.
Churches are actually places where God’s love can be found in the warmth of the fellowship and in the liveliness of the worship. Here people are concerned about the world we live in and sincere in wanting to discover what it means to be a follower of Jesus today. These are not perfect people, but a community of flawed individuals asking God each week for forgiveness.
Going to Church regularly allows us to learn more about the Christian faith and deepen our commitment to God. It is possible to be a Christian without going to church, but it would be like cutting off your oxygen supply when climbing Everest. Much better to have the support and encouragement of others.
Why does God allow suffering?
Don’t believe anyone who tells you they have the complete answer to this most difficult of questions. No one has the definitive answer to this and it has been perplexing people for thousands of years.
If Christians believe that God is perfectly loving, constant and unchanging, people ask, why does he allow so much suffering to happen in his world? Why would a child develop cancer? Why would natural disasters strike, seemingly at random? Why do atrocities such as the Holocaust or ethnic cleansing happen?
For some who ask this question it is a theoretical or theological question. But for others, and perhaps for you, suffering is not a problem to solve but an experience to endure and live with.
Suffering is part of this world, sometimes the result of our actions and desires, sometimes the result of apparently arbitrary actions or events. We can all point to shameful atrocities in the past where humans have been unbelievable brutal with each other. You might ask why God doesn't intervene in these situations.
In one sense, God does intervene. Even in the midst of horrific events, there are often stories of compassion, kindness or humanity that move us to tears - precisely because individuals have responded to their consciences and chosen a path of self-sacrifice in such desperate circumstances.
God also uses our experience of suffering to mould us into the people he wants us to be. Suffering, to some extent, is inevitable and it is foolish to expect to escape it. It can soften or harden us. It can bend, distort or even break life. It can develop the virtues such as courage, patience, obedience, determination, pity and compassion.
God is also right there with us in the middle of our suffering. As Jesus, he has been there. He was brutally slaughtered via the most agonising death known to man. He knew what separation from God felt like. He knew what it felt like to be utterly alone. He promises to be with you when you go through the hardest times.
How, therefore, should we meet suffering? Where possible we need to remember that God loves us, in through and because of suffering. On a cloudy day we may not be able to see or feel the warmth of the sun, but that doesn’t mean that the sun has disappeared. We must trust that God will be with us in our suffering, sustain us in it and bring us through it, not only undefeated by it, but having experienced the grace, love and peace which he offers us. As you continue to think about suffering you might like to look up these verses: Romans 8:38-39.