Common Questions Answered
It’s great to want to know more about God - we encourage sceptics and believers alike to ask lots of questions. Below are some answers to common questions about God, but we’d also really encourage you to pursue your questions in community. We run 6-week Explore Groups for those who are investigating Jesus as well as weekly Small Groups for those wanting to dig a bit deeper in the Bible. You can join either group or leave a question or comment here.
Is Jesus God?
The astounding claim at the heart of Christianity has to do with who Jesus is. Christians say that Jesus is both truly human and truly God.
Jesus is truly human, having experienced a normal birth, childhood and process of development. He lived with a family in a typical first century Jewish house. At times he felt weary, hungry and thirsty. He experienced pain and suffering when he was tortured and crucified.
He felt a full range of emotions – joy, sorrow, love, compassion and anger. The gospels describe Jesus being tempted to reject God’s ways, but he resisted.
Christians believe Jesus was truly God. The records of his life recount eyewitnesses who observed his power. He displayed power over disease, nature and even death. He was able to cast out demons, exerting authority over powers of evil.
Jesus claimed equality with God. This staggering claim got him into a lot of trouble with religious authorities, eventually leading to his execution. Jesus pronounced judgement on hypocrites and granted repentant sinners forgiveness for their sin. Jesus was a teacher who taught with authority and wisdom. During his life on earth, crowds flocked to hear him teach about God, right living and forgiveness.
The resurrection of Jesus is the most striking thing that singles him out from other religious leaders, and any other person. This is central to Christianity. (See Josh McDowell’s excellent sitefor more information about the evidence for the resurrection.) Jesus made some astounding claims about himself, which were validated when he came back to life, showing his power over death.
The promised one
In Jesus, all the promises of the Old Testament came to fulfilment. He fulfilled prophecy as the greatest King of God’s people who would bring in a kingdom of righteousness, mercy and justice. He also fulfilled the prophecy of a suffering servant who would deal with the sin of God’s people, by taking this punishment on himself.
Christians wait eagerly for Jesus to return to bring this kingdom to complete fulfilment. The Bible says that when Jesus returns all the wrongs of the world will be put right and creation will be renewed. Wrongdoing will be punished and there will be a rule of righteousness and justice. There will be no more sin or suffering. We are told, ‘he will wipe away every tear’ from his people.
Christians know Jesus as a brother and friend. They believe he understands their sorrows and struggles, because he also experienced these things. Christians also worship Jesus as Lord and ruler of God’s world who rightly deserves their obedience.
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Looking for evidence
We can’t prove God exists in a scientific sense. However, many things can’t be proved scientifically and they are still true.
There’s a sense in which humanity has simply accepted that there is a God, or gods. Historically humans have always had a belief in a greater Being as part of their culture.
The Bible doesn’t try to prove God’s existence. It takes that as a ‘given’. What the Bible is concerned to do is to reveal what God is like – how he acts towards the world and people, what sort of character he has, what sort of plans he is committed to.
Pointers to God
There are factors that point to the existence of God. Different people put more importance on some of these factors than on others. Some of the arguments used to show God’s existence are:
- There is a universal spiritual awareness in humanity, which indicates there is likely to be a Being on whom humans depend, and who they are accountable to
- The existence of the world demonstrates there is a supreme being who created it
- The wonder, beauty, diversity, intricacy and complexity of the world points to the existence of an intelligence who designed it all
- Human cultures all have a moral component, laws of right and wrong by which they seek to live and to which they hold individuals accountable. This indicates a greater moral Being who is the foundation of these underlying moral values
- Human intelligence, creativity, imagination and relational qualities indicate a higher being who is the author of these qualities
- Jesus himself cannot be explained apart from God’s presence and action
- Some people claim it is impossible to really live out the belief that there is no God
In the end, it is a personal God, revealed in the Bible and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who reveals himself to those who seek him. It is a matter of faith and personal relationship with God, gained for us by Jesus.
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Are they heading in the same direction?
On one level it is easy to say no, of course all religions are not the same. But a lot of the time many people have a sense in the back of their minds that it doesn’t really matter which religion a person believes. Each to their own; it’s all OK. They are all heading in the same direction, to a greater good or a greater force. As long as we accept and tolerate each other’s beliefs it will be OK. Everyone is right, in their own way.
The basic problem with this belief is that religions contradict each other. For example, Jews say there is only one God, Hindus teach there are millions of them. Buddhism says everyone is reincarnated, Islam says everyone lives and dies once. It simply cannot be true that all religions are somehow the same. In fact it is an insult to all religions to say they are the same as each other.
Jesus believed in one way to God.
The claims that Jesus made are a stand-out example. He said believing in him was the only way to be right with God. In John 14:6 Jesus says: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ There’s not much room for compromise in that statement!
All religions cannot be the same. The challenge for each of us is to investigate them, decide which has the best grounds for truth and makes the most sense of life. Then make a choice.
The great difference found in the Christian faith is that it is grounded on a real historical person and eyewitness records about him. The other outstanding aspect of Christianity is that it provides a way of forgiveness, being right with God, and hope for the future all based on a free gift. Most religions require us to work hard to get right with God. Christianity offers the gift of being right with God, because Jesus has done the hard work for us.
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God is the loving Creator of the universe. He made everything for us to enjoy, and he made humanity in his image as the pinnacle of his creation (Genesis 1:26-27). So from the beginning, there were two witnesses to what God is like 1) the good world that he made and, 2) humanity created in the image of God. Genesis also says that God’s Spirit is what gives humanity life and existence, ‘he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ (Gen 2:7). He planted them in a plentiful garden, with all good things to enjoy. So from the beginning, humanity was dependent on God for everything. In fact humanity, by definition, is less than human without God, since they are the image and likeness of God. But when humanity rejected God, they were ejected from the garden and cut off from the tree of life. This is metaphorical for being cut off from relationship with God, who is the source of all life. This also means that the image of God in us was wrecked by rejecting him.
So God is not just being mean when he tells humanity that without him they will die. Since he’s the source of life, without him there’s only death. However there is still a personal side to it. God made us for personal relationship with him. And he deserves this because he made us. When we make something we normally make it for a purpose, e.g. a paper aeroplane to fly. And we have the right to do with it what we want. If it fails its purpose, we either fix or get rid of it. Since we were made for relationship with God and we have failed that purpose, we aren’t living up to what we were created for. But since God and humanity are persons, God is personally offended when we reject relationship with him.
When God made humanity, he also gave them responsibility and authority to look after the world he had made. Since we rejected him, God not only ejected us from the garden of Eden, but cursed the earth so that it would produce ‘thorns and thistles’, and our work would now be toilsome and painful. The whole created order was stuffed because of our rebellion against God. In addition, human nature was distorted so that we hurt each other and work all other kinds of evil. As you can see, the two things that originally showed us what God is like are no longer reliable indicators of what God is like. We cannot look at humanity because the image of God in us is damaged, and we cannot look at the world because it has been stuffed up by our sin. When we look at humanity and the world, we get ambiguous signals. There is still some good in humanity and creation, so that we can call human birth a miracle and it causes so much joy. But we also see the dark side of humanity and it makes you wonder whether there is a God. You can also look at creation and sing, ‘what a wonderful world’, but on other days you see natural disasters, suffering etc and think ‘if God made this world, how can he be a good God?’. But this is not how God created the world. The world and humanity are no longer reliable indicators of what God is like.
Therefore God’s judgement is actually part of his love. Since he loves the world, he doesn’t like it when we hurt each other and mistreat the world. One day he will bring the whole world to account and bring an end to suffering. We all want to see really “bad” people get justice, but we fail to see that all of us are guilty before God, because we all naturally reject or ignore our relationship with God. We tend to judge whether a person is good or bad depending on how they treat other people. But the more important question is ‘how do we treat God?’ The most important thing is ‘to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul’. By this definition, all of us are bad people. The secondary, but important things is to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. And even though we do some nice things, we certainly don’t love others as much as ourselves. God’s judgement is part of his love for his creation, since he won’t let suffering and injustice continue forever.
Still, God did not destroy humanity completely at the beginning. He mercifully delayed his judgement in order to develop his plan to reconcile humanity back to himself. Even though we deserve death and judgement, God did not give up on us. From that time on, he has been working his plan to reconcile humanity and give them the eternal life with him, which they rejected in the garden.
He began rescuing people by saving Israel out of Egypt as a picture of what he was going to do in the future. After many other events revealing his character through the history of Israel, he finally sent his Son Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world. He is the full and final revelation of what God is like. By looking at Jesus, you can tell exactly what God is like. The Bible says that ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus is the completely trustworthy to know what God is like.
Jesus showed God’s character and purposes by healing the sick, raising the dead, having dominion over the created world (walking on water, stilling the storm etc.) and teaching people about God. By this he shows that he is putting the universe back together again – reversing the curse of Adam and reconciling people to God. As the culmination of his work he died for the sake of the whole world. Since humanity was under the punishment of death for rejecting God, the source of all life, Jesus exchanges his life for ours. Jesus dies in our place so that we will not have to pay the price for our rebellion against God. This is incredible! God loves us so much that he chose to become human and die in our place. Not only that, after three days he rose from the dead as the Lord of the universe. So he has defeated death and offers eternal life as a free gift to all who put their trust in his death and resurrection. We can do nothing to earn our way back to him, but Jesus has done everything to save us.
By looking at Jesus, we can see the very heart of God. In Jesus, God shows his complete, unconditional love for people, and his passionate commitment to reconcile them to relationship with him. We must always make our judgement of what God is like by looking at Jesus. But if we reject Jesus, we are rejecting our only hope of salvation and eternal life. We are rejecting God’s rescue plan. You could look at this and say, ‘God is mean for giving me death if I don’t accept him’, but this would be like saying, ‘the lifeguard is mean for saying that I will die if I reject his attempts to save me from drowning’. The Bible clearly says that God loves us and desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). But if we reject his rescue plan (Jesus), then it is not God who is being mean but us who have made our choice to remain estranged from him.
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Christians worship God exclusively because the Bible makes it clear it is God who ‘created the heavens and the earth’. [Gen 1:1]. As a consequence, if God created all things, then there can be no other god. Any other god that people choose to worship is, in reality, something they have created or dreamt up for themselves.
You’ll notice that the various gods of Greeks, Romans and Egyptians usually related to aspects of creation like the sun, moon, sea etc. These are all things that God himself created. So God rightly calls on all people to worship him, and not the things that he created. Unfortunately, people choose to ignore God’s decree on this matter, which will bring about his judgement upon them [c.f. Romans 1:21-25].
In the Old Testament, this idea of exclusive worship of God was made explicit to Israel in the 1st & 2nd commandments [Exodus 20:3-6]. Here God entered into a covenant with his chosen people [Israel], in which they were obligated to worship him exclusively. We do the same when we enter into a marriage covenant, in that we promise to be exclusively faithful to our wife/husband and not enter into relationship with anyone else. As such, God demanded that his people not worship any other god or idol. The notion of exclusive worship of God by his people is famously declared in Deuteronomy 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one”. Of course, the Old Testament revealed that Israel was constantly guilty of idolatry [Judges 2:11-15] and this eventually brought God’s judgement as they were exiled to Babylon and Assyria [2 Kings 17:13-23 & Jeremiah 25:1-9].
The New Testament continued to affirm that Christians worship one God. Jesus himself reaffirmsDeut 6:4 that”the Lord is one” in Mark 12:29. The Apostle Paul also taught this [1 Corinthians 8:6;Galatians 3:20]. However the nature of the oneness of God shifted radically with the coming of Jesus. As the Son of God, Jesus taught his disciples that he and his Father were one [John 10:30,17:11]. In addition, Jesus teaching about himself and the Holy Spirit [John 14:26; 15:26] demonstrated that God is one God, but three different persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit [c.f.Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14].
This concept of “one God in three persons” or Trinity was a great difficulty for the early church. It took them 400 years to finally work it out!! The problem is that it makes no logical sense. Yet the bible is explicit about it – There is one God yet he is three persons. Not three gods united in one purpose, not three manifestations of the one God but one God in three persons. Ultimately our language cannot fully describe it and we are left with what the early church concluded in the creed:
We believe in one God
the Father, the Almighty, …
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father; …
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
and the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshiped and glorified, …
As a result, Christians today are still called to worship one God, through the Son – Jesus, as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
The idea of someone being both God and human is mind-blowing – and it’s very tough to get your head around!
Jesus is fully God
At the start of his gospel, John explains what it means for Jesus to be God (John 1:1-5). Firstly, he explains that it means Jesus is eternal. In other words, He was not created, but has always existed. Secondly, it means that Jesus is the creator of all things that have been created. There is nothing that exists that doesn’t have the label ‘made by Jesus’. All life finds its source in the person of Jesus. Paul writes the same things in Colossians 1:16-17.
Jesus is God on earth
John goes on to explain the staggering fact of the ‘incarnation’ (John 1:14-18): This God – the creator and sustainer of all things – chose to enter his creation. He became truly human and lived among us. In the (human) person of Jesus we see God fully.
Jesus is fully human
The picture the gospel writers give us of Jesus is one of someone that is distinctly human. He became flesh (John 1:14). He got hungry and was tempted like we are (Luke 4:1-13). Even after his death and resurrection, Jesus goes to great lengths to show he is still fully human; he shows his hands and feet, and eats with them, all to show that he is not a ghost (Luke 24:36-43). And he was raised as a human and is still human now, the first of many humans in heaven.
Jesus can help because he is both God and human
The fact that Jesus is both God and man is very important for us. As a human who shares in our human weaknesses, he knows what it is like to be human and tempted and is therefore able to represent us in the presence of the Father where he pleads to Him for us (Hebrews 5 and 7). Because he is fully God, he is able to show us what God is like (John 14:8-11) bu more important because he is God, he is able to pay for our sins and bring us into a relationship with God again (Colossians 1:19-20). In other words, the problem that we find ourselves in, the alienation that our sin brings between us and God, Jesus can fix because he is both man and God, he is able to reconcile us.
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At the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of Acts describe clearly that after Jesus was resurrected, his physical body was taken up into the heavens. So it’s important to realise that Jesus is “flesh and blood”, even until this day.
In Acts 7:56, Stephen just before his martydom said, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This theme of Jesus being at the right hand of God is carried through to other parts of the new testament. For example, Heb 10:12 explains that Jesus, after having offered the one sacrifice for sins, “sat down at the right hand of God,” and “waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.”
This idea is explained especially clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:24. Christ is currently reigning at the right hand of God, and waiting for all his enemies to be placed under his feet. And after he has “destroyed all dominion, authority and power”, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. There is certainly no doubt that Jesus’ existence is physical. He did not cease being man after he was resurrected, but instead, in the incarnation he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) for eternity.
The exact nature of heaven is difficult to pin down. Heaven is first and foremost the presence of God and since God is Spirit (John 4:24) and exists outside both time and space then heaven can be seen as spiritual and being in heaven as a state of being. Yet the physical resurection of Jesus speaks of a physical reality as, indeed, does our own bodily resurection on the last day. The NT also speaks of “the heavens and the earth” is many places, suggesting a “locale-type” existence for heaven similar to earth. So its probably safe to say that heaven is both both a place and a state of being, both physical and spiritual but the emphasis lies in the spiritual state of being of those “in heaven”.
Our present difficulty is that we cannot perceive this now – it is hidden (Col 3:1-4) and we see it dimmly (1 Cor 13:12). Our physical reality is firmly rooted on earth and our perception of heaven is spiritual but we look forward to the time when it will be revealed.
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