How could an all-powerful all-loving God allow evil and suffering? Doesn’t that disprove God? Like what’s happening in Japan right now… why do bad things happen to good people?
Won’t all good people go to Heaven, regardless of their faith? If God is so loving, how could He send anyone to Hell? Besides, aren’t all religions basically the same? How can you say your way is true and others are false? Shouldn’t everyone just choose a faith that’s right for him or her? What’s right for you may not be right for me. As long as you’re sincere, does it really matter what you believe?
Hasn’t religion been a source of great evil and injustice? Like the Crusades and the Inquisition. Doesn’t the Bible even endorse slavery? And how about all the violence in the Old Testament… with God telling the Israelites to completely wipe out entire civilizations—men, women and children?
How about the Bible—Isn’t the Bible just a book of mythology? How do I know the Bible isn’t just a made-up storybook? And even if it’s not, it’s irrelevant and it contradicts itself. And how do you know the copy you have today is reliable? After all, it was written thousands of years ago. How do you know it hasn’t been changed?
How do I know God even exists, anyway? The Big Bang and evolution are scientific facts that explain everything. Why do I need to invent a god to explain reality? Do we really need belief in a God anymore? Science and faith are incompatible.
Besides, didn’t Christianity come out of paganism? Didn’t it absorb and adapt beliefs about other gods like Mirthra, Osiris, and Horus?
Most Christians I know are no better than people I know who have never darkened the door of a church anyway, so what’s the point? Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic, anti-women, and anti-intellectual. I don’t need God in order for me to be a good person. I don’t need church to make me feel guilty.
Have you heard any of those before? Do you maybe even ask those same kinds of questions yourself? Well, then, I have good news. We’re going to spend the next several weeks trying to address those questions. Some of them we’ll talk about in detail; some of them we’ll just be able to touch on. But I’m going to do my very best to show you how these kinds of objections from good, honest people have real answers. Not abstract, dismissive kinds of answers, but reasonable answers.
As we’ve said here before, we don’t have to have a blind faith; we can have a reasonable faith. We don’t have to close our eyes and shut off our brains in order to believe in God or the legitimacy of the Christian faith. Nor do we have to shy away from discussions with those who might have honest questions.
And hey, let’s be honest about this. I don’t want to believe in a lie any more than you want to believe in a lie. And if the people who object to Christianity even to the point of questioning the existence of God are right, don’t you want to know about it?
I mean, I don’t want to believe in God and follow Jesus just because it makes me feel good. I want to believe in God and follow Jesus because it’s true… because it’s right. And that’s where I believe the evidence points.
And so we’re going to examine some of that evidence. We’re going to respond to some of the objections. We’re going to investigate what we believe and why we believe it.
We’re going to get into some of the specific objections starting next week. But we’re going to start today by just talking about why this series is important. I’m going to talk about why you should make it a point to be here every Sunday and to pay attention and even take notes.
Because even if you never entertain doubts or questions about your faith in God, I think it’s still a worthwhile discussion. I think there are still benefits in it for you. So let’s get started…
Why Is It Important to Discuss Objections?
A. Discovering answers advances my own spiritual growth.
In pretty much every area of life you are either growing or you’re dying. You’re improving or you’re degrading. You develop your skills or you lose your skills. I took French all the way through high school, and I was getting pretty good at it. But after not using it very much for a couple decades, I’m not so good anymore. Same with ice skating… I took Nate skating a few weeks ago, and I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as sure on my skates as I once was because I don’t use them as often.
So when it comes to being a Christ-follower, your desire and my desire must be to grow. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. As Jesus described in one of His parables, if you don’t take what you have and use it and invest it and let it grow, then even what you have will be taken away from you.
The early Christians understood this. And so they took steps to encourage their spiritual growth…
Acts 2:42 (NLT)
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
Notice specifically that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They didn’t just want to hear it; they wanted to understand it. They wanted to internalize it. They wanted to be able to explain it. So they got together often to talk about it, to look into Scripture, and even to debate it.
Take a look at the banner behind me. That’s a very popular verse from the Bible. It’s on the screen, too. Read it with me…
Mark 12:30 (NLT)
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”
I want you to notice one word in that verse. In fact, you can circle it in your notes. It’s the word “mind.” A lot of people think that being a Christian is just about loving God with your heart or maybe it’s about committing your soul to Him. Others think it’s about doing things and serving Him with all your strength. But when it comes to the mind, they think you have to close your mind. You have to just believe whatever you’re supposed to believe and that’s it.
But loving God fully involves all four… your heart, soul, mind and strength. What we’re talking about through this series is the “mind” part. Knowing what you believe and why you believe it. Having faith in God is not about shutting down your brain and becoming narrow-minded; it’s about opening your mind, exploring truth, and examining the evidence.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
How do I correctly handle truth?
• I study it
• I learn it
• I apply it
B. Knowing answers protects me from believing in lies.
One of the things we’re going to talk about during this series is that claim that Christianity emerged from paganism. There’s a popular movement right now that claims that everything we believe about Jesus was basically stolen from other religions.
For example, one of the most common arguments is that the idea of the virgin birth came from Mithraism—the worship of a Persian sun god. Mithra supposedly had a virgin birth, so the early Christians “borrowed” that idea for their own religion. But when you learn that the virgin birth of Mithra was actually that he emerged from a rock, the similarity kind of fades, doesn’t it? Plus, many of the beliefs of Mithraism developed after Jesus. So if anything, Mithra borrowed from Jesus, not the other way around.
But if you don’t know the facts, then you can be easily deceived or at least confused by this claim that our Jesus is just a revamped Mithra.
You know the art of deception, don’t you? The art of deception is mixing together just the right amount of truth and lies so that people will be deceived. An outright lie… while some people might believe it… isn’t usually very persuasive. But if you can mix a few lies in with what people already accept as true, then you can convince a lot of people of almost anything.
And I don’t what that to happen to you; I don’t want that to happen to me. I want each one of us to become so familiar with the truth that we can easily recognize lies. Take a look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in the city of Ephesus…
Ephesians 4:14 (NLT)
…We will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
And I’ve got to tell you, there’s a lot of that going on. There are a lot of lies that sound like the truth, and a lot of believers are being deceived by them. I want you to be able to know what the truth is, to be able to recognize those kinds of lies, and to understand that there are genuine answers to the them.
Here’s a verse we’ve looked at a few times recently…
1 Timothy 4:16 (NLT)
Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.
Underline, “stay true to what is right.” Why is it important that you know what is right and that you stay true to it? It’s important for your very salvation and the salvation of others you encounter along the way.
And then there’s what Luke wrote at the beginning of his Gospel…
Luke 1:3-4 (NLT)
Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you… so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
Luke examined the evidence about Jesus, and he wrote a careful account of it so that his reader then and readers today can be certain of the truth and will not be deceived by lies. And I think we need to follow his example. We need to carefully investigate what we accept as truth so we won’t be deceived by lies.
Okay, so it’s important for us to discuss the objections that people have about Christianity because discovering the answers helps me to grow spiritually and knowing the answers helps keep me from being deceived by lies. The third reason this series is important is that…
C. Having answers allows me to respond to skeptics.
Now, let me clarify something… do you know the difference between a skeptic and a cynic? A skeptic will ask honest questions; a cynic won’t accept honest answers. A skeptic will ask honest questions, and that’s okay. They have questions that need to be answered before they can place their trust and belief in something or someone. A cynic, on the other hand, isn’t looking for answers. They are only looking to complain and attack. And it doesn’t matter if you give the best answer ever to their questions… they won’t accept them.
So when you’re having conversations with people about these kinds of objections, it might be worthwhile for you to ask them, “If I can answer this question and all your other questions to your satisfaction, will you then believe?” If they are seekers or honest skeptics, then they should be open to that possibility. If they are cynics that are only looking to argue and are perhaps antagonistic toward God, the Church, and toward Christians, then don’t waste your time.
But the fact is, there are real answers. There are real answers to the honest questions that people have. Faith in Jesus is not blind or illogical… it is a reasonable faith. That’s the reason Peter told us to…
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
“Always be prepared to give an answer…”
• Why do bad things happen to good people?
• Aren’t all religions basically the same?
• How do you know the Bible isn’t just a made-up storybook?
• If God really is all-powerful and all-loving, then why does evil exist?
• Doesn’t science disprove God?
• How do I know God even exists?
Are you ready to give an answer to people who ask you those kinds of questions? Do you have answers? Do you know how to respond? And let me tell you, if you haven’t faced questions like that yet, you will.
Look at what else it says… “Do this with gentleness and respect.” Interesting, especially coming from Peter. At least for me, I don’t typically picture Peter as being the gentle and respectful type. Peter had obviously learned something along the way. He had grown. His faith had made a difference in his life.
So what we’re talking about this morning and throughout this series is not how to argue and fight and claw and attack others. We’re simply talking about respond to objections and providing real answers, but we need to do it with gentleness and respect. Even when the objector may not show you the same courtesy.
Over the past decade, I’ve seen an incredible escalation of hostile attacks against Christians and against Christianity. I’ve seen it on TV and in movies and in documentaries and in news broadcasts. I’ve seen celebrities aggressively attacking Christianity, I’ve read best-selling books written by today’s atheists, and I’ve had conversations with friends and with strangers who question if faith has any value whatsoever.
And I think one of the greatest weaknesses we have in the Church today is that we don’t know how to respond. We’re not really connected to our faith. We don’t understand that faith in God is not a blind faith; it’s a reasonable faith. And there are reasonable answers to the objections we’re going to be examining during this series.
I want you to understand that faith is not something you need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Nor is faith something for the weak-minded. Instead, you can have a faith in God that is rooted in logic, in history and personal experience. And even though it may sound like those who have objections have some devastating ammunition, they’re really just shooting blanks.
Let me show you something from Acts chapter 17. The book of Acts is a historical account of the formation of the early church and how it spread from Jerusalem throughout much of the Roman Empire, and chapter 17 starts with Paul’s arrival in the city of Thessalonica. Starting at verse 2…
Acts 17:2-3 (NLT)
As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.
Notice that Paul didn’t just shout it until people agreed with him, and he didn’t just repeat it over and over again until everyone was brainwashed. He proved it. Later Paul moved on to the city of Berea…
Acts 17:11-12 (NLT)
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.
The Bereans heard what Paul was saying and it sounded good. But they weren’t quite convinced, so the searched the Scriptures and they studied and they thought about it and they discovered that Paul was telling the truth. And then a few verses later, Paul is in Athens…
Acts 17:17-18 (NLT)
He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
So Paul actually debate the merits of the Christian faith, and if we were to read on you would see how Paul gave a well-thought out, reasonable argument to support what He was saying about Jesus. Paul’s faith—your faith and my faith—is defendable and you can find answers to the objections people may have.
As a follower of Jesus, when you come to understand what you believe, why you believe it and why it matters, you will find that your faith is strengthened and that you can have a wonderful relationship with God. You can discover true meaning and purpose in life. You can experience new levels of compassion and humility and generosity. You can experience a newfound confidence and courage. You can realize that faith in God can be defended, it does have reason, and it really does matter. It matters to you and to those around you, it matters for now and for right on into eternity. Isn’t that the kind of faith you want to have?
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson