What questions do you have about God? The church? Jesus? The Bible?
We recently asked our student ministry, Illuminate, to think about these kinds of questions. We all know that our kids are our future, and we as a church want our kids to be ready and prepared for whatever future they face. Illuminate students are between 7th and 12th grade, and if you're not aware: the world they'll be entering as young adults is a lot different than the way it was when we were kids.
That's why it's important to answer any questions they may have, and to even get them started with asking hard questions. A good faith recognizes that doubts are normal; a strong faith knows that doubts need to be answered, and answered well.
It's biblical, too. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."
We had our first panel Q&A night with Illuminate co-leaders Claire Bachis and Joseph Lasslett, and our very own resident pastor Tyler Whitcomb, answering questions. We want Illuminate to be a safe place - a place where the youth feel able to ask hard questions and get solid, practical answers.
The following are the notes that each leader put together to answer the questions asked. We hope that this starts up a continual dialogue between all members of the church; that we continue to build one another up, and that we be merciful and compassionate with doubts or fears when others feel comfortable expressing them.
(The formatting is slightly different based on each leader's preferred way of making notes, with minimal editing. Consider it a little sneak peak inside their minds!)
Why don’t miracles happen as frequently today as they did in the bible?
Questions to consider
Historical Context of Miracles
It is a mistake to think that there were a series of running miracles throughout the old testament.
They sprung up around strategic times in Exodus, around Elijah/Elisha, and during Jesus time/early church in Acts.
Even these miracles were likely performed in different ways than the miracles of Jesus.
Most of the time, the saints of the old testament were living by faith in the future promises of God (Like we are today).
Miracles of Jesus were meant to point to his divinity, and those types of miracles should not be expected to occur to other people in the same way (since we are not God).
Jesus Life, and death, and resurrection are unique and the climax of all of humanity. Very special times.
What proof do we have that countless miracles aren’t happening today?
There are countless stories from around the world from missionaries and churches where miracles are occurring.
Are we defining what miracles are?
Are statically improbable events miracles?
Does a miracle have to be healing? Splitting of the red sea?
Isn’t it a miracle for anyone who gets saved?
Literally bringing dead people to life
Miracles are needed to help with revelation
Our issue in America (and the developed world) isn’t knowledge, it is obedience.
We have a bible in every hotel and free access to church
Why would God give us supernatural signs and the unrevealed will, when we aren’t listening and following his revealed will and instructions in the bible?
The point of the Christian faith is to point people to the past and what Jesus did on the cross. If supernatural miracles don’t achieve that purpose, then what use are they? Miracles cluster around that appearance in history in Jesus and in the life of the apostles to vindicate his claim and their writings.
What happens to people who have never heard the gospel? Isn’t it unfair for them to go to hell since they never got the opportunity to believe?
Only thing we deserve is eternity in hell because of sin and rejection of God.
Anything above and beyond immediate punishment for that is more that we “Deserve”
Romans 1:18-23 (Notice several things) – Disprove the “never had the opportunity to believe” notion
This verse if clear that “all” people know God, even if they have never heard the bible.
What can be know about God is plain to them”
Although they knew him (verse 21)
The way they know God is by the way God has made the world and their own consciences
We assume the baseline argument is that we “don’t know God”, when in reality is that we “suppress the trust”. People resist the trust deep in their hearts in exchange for other things.
Everyone is without excuse. So therefore everyone who chooses to not accept Jesus is guilty and deserving of punishment.
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
God’s Love and Mercy
Discuss Peter’s Denial and Prodigal son, and how the gift of salvation is free to anyone who accepts it.
Discuss trying to take a gift
God desires all to be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4
Demonstrated by Jesus on the cross, his patience towards Israel in the old testament, and the fact that we aren’t in the Revelation end times yet.
His wrath is justified -> God’s wrath, then, is in proportion to human sinfulness. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil
His wrath is his LOVE taking action against sin.
God is love, and God does all things for his glory (1 John 4:8; Romans 11:36). He loves his glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin.
Admittedly, God’s love for his own glory is a most sobering reality for many and not good news for sinners. It is after all, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
God is Just
We need to understand our call as the Church.
The great commission is the only reason we aren’t immediately taken to heaven upon being saved.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
Why would God create the Tree of Good and Evil in the first place?
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[d] of it you shall surely die.”
31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The Purpose of the Tree
The tree was placed in the Garden of Eden, most likely on the sixth day.
What purpose do you think the tree provided?
It’s purpose was twofold:
To provide mankind with a choice: to love and serve God willingly (emphasis), or to rebel against Him and reject the one prohibition God had given them.
Second purpose is less clear, but look at the first sentence of Gen. 2:9. What would you assume the second purpose of this tree was?
Remember, there are other living things at this time, besides Adam and Eve.
There is no indication that animals could not eat it.
This is a small but significant detail. It means that the tree is still good, because it had a good purpose (beyond the first one).
The Source of Sin
So, was the tree good?
The tree was not evil by its nature. There was nothing wicked about the tree. To claim this is to imply that God created something evil, which contradicts Gen. 1:31.
It provided two purposes. The second purpose being that it could be eaten by animals and provide nourishment (since they weren’t under the commandment), shows that the tree wasn’t inherently evil.
God commanded in Gen. 2:17 that man not eat of that one particular tree. The consequence was very clear: if man ate, he would die.
The fruit wasn’t poisonous, evidenced by the fact that Adam and Eve did not physically die after they ate it. The tree wasn’t the problem; man was the problem.
The tree did not contribute to man’s sinfulness beyond providing him with an opportunity to obey or disobey.
So, does that mean God is to blame for sin and evil?
Listen up, this is important. Read Genesis 1:27.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In what ways are we created in God’s image?
What separates us from animals is the Image of God. Man, unlike animals, has the ability to choose between right and wrong. This is the greatest gift that Man received from God at the moment of his creation.
By giving Man this gift, God was taking a great risk by creating an autonomous being and giving that being freedom. If we didn’t have freedom to choose, we would be puppets, or zombies, or robots. We would be “programmed” to follow God.
In a world without choices, we would have no choice but to be happy all the time. We could never be sad, or experience red-hot anger, or feel bittersweet. This is what separates us from mindless slaves.
God didn’t have slaves in mind when He created Man. What need of slaves does an omnipotent Being have?
What is the reason why God created us?
Love. He created us to pour out His Love on, and who, at great risk, would choose to love Him out of their own free will - not because they were programmed to!
Okay, so we established that we are made in God’s image, and we have the ability to choose. But what good is the ability to choose if we don’t have choices? Yes, we could have the ability to eat whatever food we want, but what if we only have one meal in our fridge?
If the choice to do something wrong didn’t exist, then the ability to choose would be meaningless.
By placing the tree in the Garden AND giving Man the commandment, God was providing Man with the choices of Good and Evil.
Man could choose to obey and so do good, OR he could choose to disobey and do evil.
When you were little, and your parents were cooking on the stove, were you warned not to touch it?
Was the stove evil for burning you?
Were your parents evil for warning you, and showing you the choice you had?
Were you committing evil by touching the stove, even though you were warned?
So, who’s fault was it?
By this logic, does it sound like God is to blame?
No. The blame falls solely on Man for rejecting or rebelling against God.
So, in conclusion, why did God put the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden?
God gives us opportunities to make choices, because He wants the glory and love to come from us - not forced out of us.
We have free will to make these decisions. Obviously, God knows all things, and we don’t have ultimate, God-like free will, but human-like free will. That means we have the 1. Ability, and 2. Options to make decisions between good and evil.
Will God ever force us to choose evil?
No. Read 1 Cor. 10:13.
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
There will always be an escape. It may be hard, it may be costly, but it is always worth it to choose good.
What other choice does every person make that deals with their eternity?
The choice to repent of our sins and accept that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, or the rejection of Jesus and his sacrifice.
After someone dies and goes to Hell, can they then choose to be with Jesus?
Another way to say this: After death, is there a final chance to be saved?
Read Luke 16:19-31.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
There is no indication of a middle ground. There is only a place of comfort and a place of torment, with an impassable chasm between.
When we die, we go immediately to Heaven or Hell, based on the decision we made in this life. This can be seen in the instance in Luke 23, where Jesus tells the thief hanging next to him, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”
We don’t to be purified, or purged of our sins that we made, if we are saved. Jesus covers all of our sins. It’s as if, when we accept Jesus, and when we are standing before God (like in a trial in a courtroom), instead of God seeing us and all of our sins, He sees Jesus, His Son. That’s what it means to be covered by Jesus.
If we needed to be further purified after we died, then it means that Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross wasn’t enough. And if Jesus isn’t enough, then why does Christianity matter?
Does that person regret it?
I don’t think “regret” is the right word. First, to clarify some things:
Do the dead remember their life?
Yes. Those who have died remember their lives, and who they are. The rich man remembers his brothers, who are still alive, and he remembers Lazarus.
Does he want the suffering to end?
Yes. He begs for even a drop of water to cool his tongue.
But does he “regret” it?
I don’t think so. Notice verse 24 - the rich man doesn’t ask to go over to Abraham and Lazarus. He only wants relief, but he doesn’t want to make the decision to go over to them.
Why doesn’t he want to make that decision?
Like I said with the tree of good and evil question, God gives us one ultimate choice: Him, or Hell. People who have spent their whole lives refusing Jesus are choosing Hell. Nobody wants to suffer, but that is what they are choosing if they don’t choose Jesus.
The rich man, even in Hell, did not want God. And he got what he chose.
But what about babies, or mentally handicapped people? Where do they go?
So, answer a question with a question: Is God cruel?
Does God know the heart of each person?
Does God love those who are innocent?
If God isn’t cruel, and He understands the mental capacity for a person, and He loves the innocent, then He makes exceptions for them.
God loves and cherishes all of His children.
My struggle was, how is Heaven big enough?
I talked to Pastor Tyler about this, and he mentioned something I never thought of before. In Revelation 7, which is a book that talks about the end of the world (as we know it), it says that there are people from every nation, every tribe, every language that ever existed worshipping God in Heaven. We know that there are people groups who died off before the Gospel reached them. So wouldn’t it make sense that all those children, all those unborn babies, and all those who were mentally handicapped go to Heaven to represent their people and culture?
This brings a whole new meaning to the verse, "The meek shall inherit the earth."
Heaven is so big. It’s big enough for everyone.
So, what can we do?
I think it’s important to end on a note of hope, because this can be a very depressing and sad thing to think about.
The choice exists for every person capable of making the choice. And it only exists now.
Those who have passed, especially those alive now, had the opportunity to make their choice. For a lot of them, we don’t know when or if they made that choice to love Jesus. For the thief on the cross, it happened right before he died!
Should we pray for them? No. But we can mourn over them.
Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, and the suffering that Lazarus’ family was experiencing. We can totally be sad and upset. Jesus understands. But Jesus never prayed over Lazarus - he knew that the Lazarus had made his choice before he died.
If we tell people that someone can be saved after death, then it’s a false hope. And we as Christians are meant to display and tell the truth. That’s why so many people don’t like Christianity - it’s too real and honest. Some would rather live with a comfortable life than a painful truth, but that’s not a good way to live.
But there is hope. You’re still here, right now. There are still people you know who need Jesus, right now. Their decision is not set in stone, not yet.
The world now is broken because of sin and evil and bad decisions. I don’t want any of you coming to youth group because it’s all fluffy and fun and Kevin buys you pizza. I want you to come because we’re real here, and Jesus is real, and some things are hard to hear, but they are important. The decision to love Jesus and hate your sin, or to love your sin, is the most important decision you will ever make. No one can make it for you. You cannot change your mind once you’re gone. But you can influence others to change theirs.
We will always miss and love those who passed on. They will forever be in our memories. And the best thing we can do is to honor them now, and to help be a light to others to make the right choice.
How can we show love to people who identify as LGBTQ?
I’m so glad this question was asked. I think this is going to be one of the biggest questions the church will have to deal with in the coming years. A few weeks ago I was texting with Joseph and a few others at the church about some research that I came across, it was a study done by Gallup and what the research showed was that 1 in 6 Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. This is a staggering number that’s just above 16%, the nation-wide average is up from 2-3% to 5-6% in a decade. And so, in just 10 years we have seen the numbers in our country double, so I began to think of why that is. I remember when we were growing up, when we were kids playing with kids in our neighborhood the word “gay” was used as a slang term. You would say hey you’re gay, or hey you’re being gay and it was a way of calling someone stupid or say that they were acting stupid. I’m not saying it was right for us to do that, but then there were these commercials that began coming out with notable influential people who would say this and ask this question “do you know what you say, when you say that’s so gay? Cut it out”. Which is very interesting because when you want to normalize something in the culture, normalize it within a language, because if you can get people to say it over and over enough that something is normal you will eventually begin believing it.
And so, with all that being said: this is something that has been totally normalized in our culture today, in fact, if you don’t see homosexual behavior as normal then you’re seen as a bigot, you’re outdated, not in touch with reality. March madness is the most recent example of that, oral Roberts university a Christian college, who holds to a traditional/orthodox view of marriage (one man, one woman) is now being cancelled or at least USA today is attempting to cancel them.
And so, you will no doubt in your lifetime if you haven’t already yet experience a friend or family member or co worker come out as LGBTQ. It is too normalized for you to not encounter someone as LGBTQ. I have a cousin who identifies as gay, and he's a freshman at Grand Valley State university. And I remember his dad asking a group of us privately, how should I respond to my son being gay?
To which my one uncle said “the only thing you can do is pray for him”. Which prayer is one of the answers to how we can love, but it is not the only answer and we’ll get back to that.
I said, you need to ask questions, because when people ask questions, it communicates care.
There is a lot of people in the LGBTQ community that looks at the church as a group of people that are just ready to preach at them without having a conversation. No one wants to be preached at, and so for starters I would say be open to having a healthy dialogue and communication, having real honest conversations and asking questions like:
How long have you felt this way? Has the attraction you’ve experienced only ever been for the same sex? Have you told many other people? Coming out is a difficult thing, what’s been the most difficult part.
Seeking to understand is not the same as seeking to approve. Because the difficult thing is when we don’t ask questions and we assume a narrative, we may assume the wrong narrative. Maybe we assume “oh, they don’t get dates with the opposite sex, so now they are trying same sex” “oh, they are doing this because it’s cool” “oh, they were sexually abused so now they act this way”…and we can create a narrative in our head of “real” reasons people identify as LGBTQ but that narrative and reason might not be this persons, and now the person feels misunderstood and not loved. I think asking questions goes a long way, and the ability to have dialogue is important. I think far too often people take the sin of homosexuality and go one of two directions with it: they either try to heighten or lighten it. People either want to make this the premier unforgivable sin, or they don’t want to believe it’s a sin.
And so, because its such a widely argued conversation it can be difficult to not treat someone who’s gay like they are someone from another planet. You don’t have to be uncomfortable to have a conversation with someone who is LGBTQ. It’s not contagious, you aren’t going to get it from being around them. And have an agenda, but hold loosely to the agenda….one pastor who Joseph and I both appreciate once said “you should only hang around people you want to spend eternity with”. And so when you first hear that you think, wow am I only supposed to spend time with people who are Christians? No…but you should have the desire for your unbelieving friends to have a relationship with Jesus. It’s ok to be around someone and hope that your life and witness would have an impact on others.
Which leads me to my second piece of advice…you can be friends with someone who’s gay. Jesus was referred to as the friend of sinners, in Luke 5 it was the religious leaders who grumbled “why does He (Jesus) eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners”…there was relationship, in Luke 7 it goes as far to say that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Being a friend doesn’t equal agreement with all of life's choices…if that was the case no one would ever have friends.
The bible tells us in John 2 that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man, Jesus knew all of the sin in every persons heart, and yet we still see Him loving sinners but never condoning sin.
As Christians, we also must realize that telling the truth is loving…like it would be unloving to not tell someone the truth. Like the Bible’s position is clear that the practice of homosexuality is sin. And so I read this book called the war of loves and it was a life story about a guy named David who was a gay activist who gave his life to Christ while he was in a gay bar in Sidney, Australia and he said his words not mine, one of the most harmful and difficult things for him was when there was other professing “believers” who told him there wasn’t a problem with his desires and that he should just act on it. He said it provided him with a lot of confusion because what they were saying wasn’t lining up with the Bible. Now the truth can also in and of itself be offensive, the gospel is offensive it says that you’re a sinner and Christ is the savior, but we don’t need to add to the offense. I like what Peter said in I Peter 3:15 where he says “always be ready to give an answer about the hope that you have with gentleness and respect”. We can be gentle in our communication of truth; gentleness doesn’t mean you water down the truth, it just means you’re not trying to hurt someone with the truth.
So far: my answer is ask questions, tell the truth in love and be their friend.
There is a book called the gospel comes with a house key, where the author Rosario Butterfield who was a former lesbian said that this Pastor and his wife began inviting her into their home for dinner and just cared for her and loved her. She said their friendship was the bridge that allowed fruitful conversations to happen. The old saying is true “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
And Pray. Pray that whoever the person is, that they would have a real encounter with Jesus and that they would see a relationship with Jesus as the goal for their life…marriage isn’t the goal of life, you can live a full life and never be married and your life will not have been wasted….the goal of life is to know God, to have a relationship with Jesus, if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus that is the wasted life. That is a life you won’t regret. Try and help the person over time to see the big picture for their life, that the problem facing their life isn’t marriage, but that it’s sin and sin manifests itself in all these different ways, and so the emptiness someone is experiencing isn’t due to lack of intimacy with a person but lack of intimacy with God. The gospel is the cure to our brokenness.
Does the Bible lose credibility when people argue over what books should be placed in it? (For example, the Gospel of Thomas)
The early church councils (Nicaea and Rome) followed something similar to the following principles to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit: 1) Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle? 2) Was the book being accepted by the Body of Christ at large? 3) Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching? 4) Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?
The Gospel of Thomas fails all of these tests. The Gospel of Thomas was not written by Jesus’ disciple Thomas. The early Christian leaders universally recognized the Gospel of Thomas as a forgery. The Gospel of Thomas was rejected by the vast majority of early Christians. The Gospel of Thomas contains many teachings that are in contradiction to the biblical Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The Gospel of Thomas does not bear the marks of a work of inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
And so, I want you to know some things about the Bible so that you can have confidence:
The scriptures were written over the course of 1500 years by 40 authors on multiple continents and multiple languages and amongst ancient documents it’s the most historically accurate. There are thousands of ancient copies. In the ancient world you would only copy something if it was really important and so with other important ancient documents you might have 3 or 4 copies if you’re lucky but the Bible there is thousands, and all saying the same message. And so, you can trust the message was recorded properly.
But the message that is within scripture (I Corinthians 15) that Paul says was “of first importance” was the Christ was crucified and buried and that this was in accordance with the scriptures. But notice what Paul hinges his faith on…the resurrection…he says if Christ has not been raised from the Dead then our preaching and faith are in vein, he’ll go on to say that we then should be amongst the most pitied.
Paul banked his life on the fact that he experienced the risen Christ. If you lack confidence, if you lack faith in the scriptures…be reminded of Jesus’ resurrection, the God who was raised from the dead. The God who spoke the earth into existence out of darkness and holds it safely, was able to speak scripture into existence and hold its integrity.