Who is God?

Among the Chinese there are some interesting man-made deities called “kitchen gods.” They are just paper images placed on a kitchen shelf. The kitchen, it is believed, is the best place to observe life. At certain times the Chinese family must burn its paper god so he can go back to heaven and report on the sins of that household. To insure a favorable report, the family will smear a little honey on the mouth of the paper image before it is burned. This, they believe, will sweeten the report.

We may look on such a practice in disbelief, but understand that most people believe that a supreme being rules all, and that people are accountable to him. Those who deny the existence of God are usually giving in to a bad conscience. It is no surprise that Psalm 14:1 insists that only a fool would say: “There is no God.”

Look out your window and see that God exists! The Bible says in Hebrews 3:4: “For every house is built by someone, but God is the Builder of everything.” Nature does reveal God’s power, wisdom, and goodness, but it does not reveal the identity of the true God. God’s power is seen in his creation of mankind, the animals, plant life, the solar system, the balance in nature, and so on. God’s wisdom is apparent as we study the body structure of man and animals, the power of a seed to germinate, reason in mankind and instinct in animals. Witness God’s goodness as he created things for people’s enjoyment: flavorful food, fragrant flowers, the song of birds, and brilliant sunsets. While nature shows us many things about God, it is still incomplete information.

God gives us a clearer description of himself in the Bible. While nature and the voice of conscience tell us there is a God, the Bible tells us who God is. The Scriptures reveal and elaborate on God’s qualities. More than that, they show God’s love in Christ, his desire to save mankind from sin.

As we study the Bible, we see that God has revealed himself as three Persons in one God (Trinity). In his love for all people, the Father sent his Son into our world. Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead to pay for all people’s sins. After Jesus returned to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came to turn people’s hearts to trust in Jesus alone as the Savior.

This is what the Triune God has done for you! Open your Bible and read the wonderful message!

Does God always answer my prayers?

In grappling with this fair question, we first need to remember that prayer is a privilege. Because of our sin God has every right not to listen to a single word we speak to him. However, because his Son, Jesus Christ, died for us and rose again, God forgives our sins. He has made us his children by faith in Jesus, and has given us the privilege of speaking to him in prayer. Through Jesus we may come to God the Father “with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).

Our Father in heaven promises to hear and answer our prayers. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). God’s ears are always attentive to our prayers. He is listening, and answering.

So why does it seem like God does not answer (at least sometimes). Since he promises to answer all our prayers—and he keeps all his promises—the problem might be with us. We need to evaluate ourselves.

Are we praying in faith? We might be approaching God on the basis of our goodness or the deeds we think will lead him to listen. Prayers not offered by faith in Jesus Christ are not answered.

Are we praying with improper motives? If we pray so that we might get something to merely spend on our selfish pleasures, the Lord will not answer. The Bible teaches, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

Are we praying according to his will? If our requests are contrary to his will expressed in the Bible, then we will not receive an answer. So with every prayer, we have in mind the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done.”

If we are following what God tells us in the Bible, yet our prayers seem like they are not being answered, then what should we think? We humble ourselves before God with the confidence that he still is listening and will answer. When he does not seem to answer, he still is—probably in ways that we do not yet realize. He is our loving Father, who will bless us in the ways he knows are best. We have that guarantee because he already gave his Son to claim us as his very own. How greatly our heavenly Father loves us to call us his children and give us the privilege to speak to him in prayer!

How could God send someone to hell?

How could God consign anyone to hell?  The fair response to that question is to ask another.  Who are we to judge the perfect God’s dealing with our lack of perfection?  For us to decide how to punish our sins is simply too self serving.  It’s no different than asking prison inmates to determine their own sentences.

In addition, that question is defective. Some prisoners hold the judge of their case responsible for their incarceration.  That is not honest.  People are sent to prison because they were found guilty of crimes.  When the judge pronounces sentence, he is merely applying the law to a lawbreaker.  The person who sends the lawbreaker to prison is the lawbreaker himself.

The same principle applies to people in hell.  God does not send souls to hell.  Our imperfect lives demand that sentence.   People send themselves to hell.  But people also choose hell when they reject God’s plea bargain.

The judge of the universe does not want any human being in hell (1 Timothy 2:4).  That’s why, instead of holding humans responsible for the sins they commit, he held his only Son responsible. The Bible says, when Jesus died on the cross, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25).  Jesus’ sacrifice atoned for our sin –  the picture is Jesus’ blood covering over our sin so thoroughly that all record of the sin disappears.

Hell’s existence does not lead us to determine God is too strict in punishing sin.  It testifies to his determination to snatch us from hell, to justify us (that is, pronounce us not guilty) “freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

But humans have the ability to refuse God’s love for them.  God’s respect for us will not allow him to rob us of that right.  Humans have intrinsic value because God himself created us.  He valued us so highly he sacrificed his own Son to forgive us.  For God to force anyone of us to go to heaven would deprive us of our ability to reject him.  It would dehumanize us, and it would transform human love into slavery.  For whoever chooses not to share in the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus gives, God provides an everlasting existence outside of his presence, outside of his love, beyond his peace and joy.  He honors our choice to say no to him – even as he invites and empowers us to say yes.

On a variety of levels the question, “How could God send anyone to hell?” is the wrong question.  The much better framed query is, “Do I trust that God has redeemed me for heaven in Jesus?”

What does the Bible say about hell?

It is an eternal place of punishment for those who reject God’s grace in Jesus.

  • Daniel 12:2  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
  • Matthew 13:49,50  This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Matthew 25: 31,32,41  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, … 32 he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Humans escape hell’s punishment through faith in Jesus who suffered the punishment they deserve.

  • Isaiah 45:24  They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.'” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
  • Ephesians 2:1,3,4,5,8,9 You were dead in your transgressions and sins… 3 We were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
  • 1 Peter 1:3,4  In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.

Does God speak to me in my dreams?

“Wouldn’t it be great if God spoke directly to us.” Hold that thought! The Israelites were terrified to have God speak directly to them at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:18-19). They begged the LORD to stop or they would die. The LORD answered Moses, “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:16-19).

Jesus of Nazareth came to fulfill these words. God the Father spoke audibly again in history as Jesus stood in glory before Peter, James and John. “This is my Son… Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 9:35). Jesus defined the role of the Holy Spirit as, “He will testify about me… and remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 15:26; John 14:26). Both the Father and the Spirit direct us to Jesus’ words. How important those words must be! Jesus is inseparable from his spoken and written Word. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words…  the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

With the LORD all things are possible. We dare not limit him. And yet notice how he limits himself to his words. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1,2). God tells us the days are gone when he speaks to us through dreams, visions, acts of nature, Urim and Thummim, or even through the mouth of a donkey as he once did. Mercifully, the Lord has spoken to us in a way that casts all fear from our hearts and all doubt from our minds. Jesus fulfills the role of prophet.

In response to those who want something more dramatic and spectacular, the Lord answers from heaven: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29). God consistently points to his revealed Word, the Bible. Even prophetic dreamers in the Old Testament were directed to God’s revealed Scriptures. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). Otherwise how would they know if their dream came from Satan or God? Satan, who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), attempts to lead people with deceit to trust something other than the Bible’s words. However, the Bible is sufficient for its purpose, for “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). The Prophet Jesus still speaks to us today through those who faithfully proclaim his Word.

Thankfully our certainty of life with God now and forever does not rest on our feelings, our dreams, our efforts, or our love. It rests on his love which caused him to send “his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

PRAYERFUL THOUGHTS: O Lord You tell us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away ” (Matthew 24:35). Thank you, Lord, for the certainty of your Word. Forgive me for not treasuring it enough, for ignoring it, and for taking it for granted. “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Speak to me about my sin so that I may find my peace, rest and security in my Savior alone. In his name I pray, Amen.

Why does the God of the Old Testament seem so wrathful?

For many people it is difficult to achieve that perennial resolution of reading through this book called the Bible.  The reader starts at the beginning and gets through Genesis, perhaps into Exodus and part of Leviticus.  But wow!  And whoa!  Look what’s there!  Only eight survived while the flood surged and scourged all life from the face of the globe.  The first born of Egypt were executed, no matter if the family was royal and  rich or peasant and poor.  No blood on the doorpost meant no heir in the home.  With the exception of a prostitute and her family, Jericho was exterminated down to the last human and animal.  A man was stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath. Fire from the LORD consumed two sons of the High Priest who did not do worship as God had prescribed.

Reading through the Old Testament is not for the faint of heart.  The Lord God of the Scriptures says this about himself.  “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”  (Deuteronomy 4:24)  Who can warm up to such a God?  Who can love a God described by the psalmist with the words, “you hate all who do wrong”  (Ps. 5:5)?  Maybe I don’t want to wade through this whole book.

So sometimes people jump to the New Testament and start to read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They seem so different.  Jesus hugged the children and blessed the babies.  Jesus filled stomachs with food and filled boats with fish.  Jesus raised a dead man to his feet.  Jesus ate with the outcasts, forgiving the scandalous of society.  Jesus rescued an adulteress from stoning and befriended a despised tax collector.  Everyone knows that Jesus proclaimed, “Love your enemies.”

If the God of the Bible is one Lord God, why does there seem to be such a difference in the way the two testaments depict him?    Remember that in Old Testament times God intervened on behalf of one nation, a nation graciously chosen to be used by the Lord as a vehicle of his word and promises.  That nation was Israel, a nation set apart and guarded by God so that the Lord could keep his promise of sending his anointed one, the Christ.  So God did act zealously to defeat Israel’s enemies, because those enemies endangered God’s plan of salvation. We do see specific commands from God to use the swords of his Old Testament people as swords of judgment against unbelievers who stood in the way of the Lord’s plan.   But, with the birth of the Savior Jesus and the completion of God’s salvation plan, God no longer needed the nation of Israel to play its special role.

More importantly, careful Bible readers will notice no difference in the character of the Lord God.  Both testaments describe God as a God who condemns and a God who forgives. Both testaments describe a God of wrath and a God of love. For example, the God of the Old Testament is the God who lovingly provided water and manna and quail to a nation that did not deserve it.  God’s grace was constant in the face of human unfaithfulness.  Conversely, the God of the New Testament is also the same Lord who said, “whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

All of Scripture proclaims this Lord God who is constant and does not change.  God revealed himself as a holy and just God who punishes all sin.  He also reveals himself as a loving God who sent a Substitute to take that punishment in our place.  In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 53, we read:   “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. … The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”   And in a New Testament book we read:   “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.   God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:19,21)

The message throughout the Bible is a message of law and gospel.  The law shows us our sin.  The gospel is good news that shows us our Savior from sin, Jesus the Messiah.  So we rejoice in the unchanging message:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”  (Romans 6:23).

Does forgiveness mean there are no consequences?

First of all, I think we need to have a definition of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is when you give up your right to punish someone for what they have done to you.  You cancel the debt that they have with you. Forgiveness does not mean that what the person did to you is okay, nor does it mean you excuse them for their actions.  You are simply filing a quit claim on the law suit and turning them over to God.  Our motivation to forgive comes from a God who has forgiven us again and again for the wrongs we have done toward him.   His Son, Jesus, paid our debt on the cross.

However, just because you forgive somebody, or somebody forgives you, does not mean that there won’t be any consequences.  Back when the world was first created by God, and our first parents disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there were consequences for their actions. For all of us, one of those consequences was death.  We would no longer live forever on this earth.  In addition, the ground was cursed.  That meant that weeds, thorns, and thistles would infest the ground, and that there would be natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.  Even though God gave a promise that His Son would one day come and die on the cross and provide us with forgiveness of our sins, those hurtful consequences would remain.

So today, if you were abused as a child by your father, you will strive to forgive him for what he has done to you.  However, you probably will never be able to live with your father or care to live with him again.  Family members may spurn him.  Another example may take place in marriage where one partner is unfaithful to another.  The wronged spouse will strive to forgive the adulterer.  But there will be lingering consequences, such as a lack of trust and respect for the unfaithful spouse.  In addition, a divorce may be part of the equation.

For every sin we commit, there is a consequence.  Fortunately, we have a gracious God who does not set a number on the times he will forgive us. Instead he offers us free and full forgiveness for every wrong we commit.  May we have that same spirit toward those who hurt us again and again. St. Paul sums up this truth succinctly when he says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Does God care what we call him?

What do your friends call you?  If they’ve given you a nickname that’s kinda cool, you’re probably pretty proud of it.  If they’ve given you a name that isn’t so nice, you’re not happy about that. N

ow let’s go to a party.  Your friends introduce you to someone of influence, but they call you by the wrong name.  Do you just smile, or do you correct the mistake?

God has a name.  As a matter of fact, he has tons of names. The Bible calls him Almighty God, Lord, Savior, Jesus, Holy Spirit and Jehovah, to name a few. But that’s in English. Don’t worry—God understands English.  But what about the names of God in other languages?

I was a missionary in Japan, and we ran into this problem when talking about God.  The word for god (kami) in Japanese is a very old word, and the typical Japanese understood “god” to mean any “god.”  Even 8 million different gods.  How could we get across the names of God from the Bible?  By defining the word “God.”  The God of the Bible is the “God who created heaven and earth.” Or he is the “God who saved us from our sins.”  In time, Japanese Christians could use their old name for “god” and understand it to mean the true God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In languages all around the world there are various names for gods. Take Allah, for example.  For most people of the world the name “Allah” does not stand for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  For most it stands for the god of the Islam religion.  No doubt there are some Christians around the world who use “Allah” in their native tongue, but like the Japanese Christians, they have come to use this name to mean the True God.

This works both ways, you know.  If a Jehovah’s Witness uses the name Jesus, but doesn’t have any confession of Jesus as Savior from sin and death, just using Jesus’ name in prayer would not please God.  So, also, if I would use Allah or Kami and attach the common, accepted meaning, the true Lord God in heaven would not be pleased with me, either.

Are you beginning to get the picture?  No matter what language one uses to call upon God’s name, it is not the simple sounds of the word, but also the confession that comes with the name we use. God hears the words and sees the heart.  Let it be a heart that trusts in Jesus.

No wonder God said, “I am the LORD; that is my name!” (Isaiah 42:8). Let’s use the good name of the Lord God to pray, praise and give thanks.

How could God allow suffering and evil?

This is a classic question. When it’s a challenge to the Christian faith, trying to prove that God doesn’t exist, it’s usually phrased like this: “If God is truly omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and loving, how could he allow suffering and evil?”

Here is a classic answer.

God exists. Jesus said he does, and he rose from the dead to show that he could be trusted to tell the truth.

God is all-knowing. That trustworthy Jesus said so. And since God knows everything, he is smarter than we are. So he may do or say things that are perfectly right, but we don’t understand them, because we’re not as smart. We have that experience every day with people who are smarter than we are.

God is all-powerful. In philosophical terms, that doesn’t mean that he can do anything; that would lead to internal contradictions, as in, “Can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it?” In philosophical terms, all-powerful means that he can do whatever he wants. He can always put his will into action. See the difference?

God is loving. God showed his love for all people by sending a Savior (John 3:16).

Does God allow evil to occur? That depends on how you define evil. Sometimes what seems bad or evil to one person seems good to another person.

But let’s grant that God does allow evil to occur. It’s only temporary. Death intervenes. Since God is smarter, perhaps that temporary evil actually turns out to be for some good in the end. For example, the Bible tells the story of a man whose brothers sold him into slavery. That was evil. But it turned out for good. The man himself said so (Genesis 50:20).

Since God is smarter than I am, I trust that when he allows evil or suffering in my life, it will work out for my good (Romans 8:28). Since he’s loving, I trust that everything really will work out for the best in my life. And since he’s all-powerful, I can ask him to get rid of the evil, and trust that if that’s he wants at that time, he can and he will (Matthew 7:7).