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Ask a Monk

We rarely think of our lives as fragile, but statistics show ten out of ten people die.

 

Therefore, I hope these answers about life and spirituality benefit you.

Questions

Is temptation sin?

Temptation is not sin, but what we do with it can become sin. Say I have a younger brother who seems to love showing off his new bike. He obsessively cleans it, brings it indoors every night, changes his mannerism when he rides it, and dresses supercool in case of selfies—on his bike, of course.

            When I get home, I see his bike outside, a screwdriver next to it, and no one is watching! Puncture his tire.

            If I stopped right there, ignored it, and went inside as if the thought never crossed my mind, I avoided sinning. But if I punctured the tire, the temptation became sin. Or if this temptation got foothold in my mind and I meditated on it, harvesting resentment, envy, or hatred toward my little brother, the temptation birthed sin.

            Temptations assault us all the time—but to sin or not to sin, that is the question.

            James 1:12–15a: Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.

This question can carry heavy emotional subtext I’m not aware of. So I’ll answer the question as it is, and the problem of evil and suffering can be a separate question.

           Bad is vague, but let’s say bad means a car accident. Imagine a world where car accidents only happened to bad people. Picture a drunk driver full speed across a red light, heading towards a good person in a Van. God bends the physics and makes the drunk driver hit another bad person in a Mini instead. What would that tell you about God? I think God would be terrifying. Why? Because you would never know when God overruled our free will. Imagine your anxiety leaving for work. Hope I won’t offend somebody today.

            Let’s begin with stating that “God does not show favoritism” (Rom. 2:11 [NIV]). If God treated people differently, how could He be righteous? “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness….” (Acts 17:31 [NKJV]) So God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Therefore, bad things can happen to both bad and good people.

            But what is good? People say you are good if your bad things don’t exceed a certain limit, for example white lies or cheating on taxes. That subjective limit differs from person to person. Who defines goodness? Taken to the extreme, Adolf Hitler was probably convinced what he did was good for the future of his regime.

            The Bible defines goodness as moral perfection. If the standard of goodness is that high, then we have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), because “there is none who does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12). If none of us holds up to the biblical standard of goodness, then how good must God be when we consider all the good things we have experienced? God’s goodness stretches so far that He “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

            Last, in our world, “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Good things have wonderful outcomes and bad things can have dire consequences. When we show mercy toward those who wrong us, expect good outcomes. And if we enter the driver’s seat with our heads spinning, then… The tragedy of sin is that it’s “exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13). Bad things not only damage ourselves, but it hurts those around us as well. Also for this reason, bad things happen to good people.

Yes, God rewards those who believe in Him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6 [NKJV])

            We receive a reward in return for an effort on our behalf, but God—because of His love for His creation—doesn’t show His goodness to only those who diligently seek Him. God even gives blessings to those who don’t believe in Him. “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26) “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)

            God gives us gifts all the time, whether we’re aware or diligently seek God. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Ps. 23:6) The very heart of God is the heart of a Heavenly Father, and with gentle care, He watches over all creation, from the smallest to the greatest of His creatures. But since God placed His own image on the human being, having “crowned [us] with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), He shows an especial care for us.

            God is Light, and He created us to be small lights in this world, but we’re currently not fulfilling this role, which hinders us from caring for God’s creation. “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14a) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) God is the Father of lights—the lights being us—and He gives “every perfect gift from above.”

            Notice it says, “every perfect gift.” Because of our current fallen state, we don’t know what’s best for ourselves. God looks at our lives with a perspective that runs into eternity. We don’t have that eternal view. We usually only see what’s on the horizon or our current difficulty. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isa. 55:8)

            If God granted every prayer request, not only would we destroy ourselves, but we would destroy others and the world around us. This is because “we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor. 13:9). But we can fully trust that our Heavenly Father knows best, because “love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8).

            Let us return to speak about rewards resulting from a diligent search for God. Why does God have a special blessing reserved for those who diligently seek Him? It’s because God wants to encourage us to seek the greatest blessing, the greatest gift of all. What is this gift of gifts and the blessing of all blessings?

            “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13) “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

            The greatest gift, reward, and blessing God gives is Himself. God Himself is our supreme reward. This truth is something only firsthand experience can convince us of. Men and women throughout the centuries left everything behind to consecrate themselves to God, or to travel as missionaries, or become monks or nuns far into the wilderness. They tasted something that transcended everything this world offered. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:7–8)

            What are some examples of the rewards God gives when we seek Him diligently? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3–10)

Do good works determine my eternity in heaven or hell?

A brilliant question. But “let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15 NKJV). Let’s start with reading from John 5, only five verses above the one in question: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24) So, the forgiveness of our sins, our rebirth in the Holy Spirit, and the eternal adoption as children of God will forever be a gift we receive through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

            “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7) (I thought it was redundant to underline the entire reference.)

            So what does the “good works” in John 5:28–29 refer to? “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

            Believing in Jesus is not an intellectual opinion, it’s a conviction of what we know to be true. Our faith influence what we say, think, and do—resulting in good works. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

            To illustrate the difference between an opinion and faith, let’s jump off a plane at fourteen thousand feet, holding a parachute.

            We are plummeting toward the ground at one hundred twenty miles an hour, holding our dear lifesaver in front of us, saying: “I believe in you, parachute! I believe in you!” Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Faith must be more than an opinion, because opinions won’t save us.

            But if we truly believe—we have faith—in the parachute, we strap it on our back and pull the string. The parachute saved us because we had true faith and not an opinion. That is what faith does with us. Faith impacts our life and we act.

            Now that we see faith is more than an opinion, let’s move on to the good works.

            We often sever the natural relationship between saving grace and good works, but the latter is the natural outcome and expression of the former. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

            The natural outcome of faith is good works. Good works don’t proceed the saving grace, we’re saved by grace, then the good works manifest the substance, the evidence of our faith. Good works depend on the saving grace. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12–13)

            It doesn’t mean non-Christians can’t do good works—God made everyone in His image—but the love of Jesus doesn’t motivate and inspire their good works. God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, produces the good works Jesus refers to in John 5:28–29:

            “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good [outcome of the saving grace through the Holy Spirit], to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil [outcome of a life separated from God’s salvation], to the resurrection of condemnation.”

            Do good works determine my eternity in heaven or hell? No. What determines our eternity is how we trust in the sacrifice of God’s Son for our sins. Sinners go to Heaven and Hell, but the difference is that those who enter the resurrection of life are forgiven.

            Let us conclude with the thief on the cross next to Jesus. “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:42–43)

            Did this thief do any good works? Yes. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim. 6:12) The thief’s open confession was good works that proved the saving grace in his spirit.

            “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8–9)

            God does not save us because of our works, but He saves us for good works.

The Christian God is the Divinity revealed through the pages of the Holy Bible, which includes the Jewish Tanakh (The Old Testament). Therefore, the understanding of God in Jewish theology share much with Christian theology. Allah in the Quran also shares some similarities, since the Judeo-Christian tradition influenced Prophet Muhammad’s understanding of Allah because it predated him.

            The God of Judaism and Allah in Islam are monotheistic (one person and one being). Christian theology is clearly separated by the revelation of God as three persons in one being, the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam share some similarities, but are still clearly distinct. The nature, character, and will of God are so different in the theology of the three major world religions that all three cannot co-exist. Only one theological understanding of God can be the complete revelation about Him.

            Other gods of eastern religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and other newer spiritual movements that draw from these religions, share one characteristic that clearly contradicts the God of the three major religions above. That is also true with ancient Greek gods, Norse gods, and the gods of other ancient civilizations across the globe. What is this common distinction?

            In the first verse of the Bible, we read the first revelation about God: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 [NKJV]). It clearly states that God existed before matter, energy, space, and time. Before the Universe even existed, God was. “I AM WHO I AM” God said to Moses (Ex. 3:14). The God of the Bible is uncreated and self-existent. He doesn’t need a beginning, He has no end, and He is complete in Himself, needing nothing. Yet, because “God is love” (1 John 4:16), He created us out of His pleasure and wants to enjoy fellowship with His creation. God doesn’t need us, but He wants us, because He desires us as a loving father longs to be with his children.

            All other gods operate within the Universe, or they are the Universe. The God of the Bible transcends and existed before the Universe. This single revelation of God creating matter, energy, space, and time contradicts all the gods of eastern religions, ancient mythologies, and newer New Age teachings. Either God is within the Universe or is the Universe—or He is fully outside the Universe, yet filling it with His presence and energy.

            Put more directly, all the gods who operate within the Universe are, by definition, gods with an origin. They are created gods. Since science proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Universe has a beginning, so must all these gods within the Universe have a beginning. That is not the case with the Christian God, who is the Cause of this beginning.

            The last thing to mention about what makes the Christian revelation about God unique from every other religion is the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used for God in Genesis 1:1 quoted above is in plural. Already in the first verse of the Bible, we see the first hint of unity in diversity.

            No other religions reveal God as Three in One. There might be similar teachings, because they draw from Christianity, but nothing comes close when studying the unity of the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are distinct Persons, yet only complete in the fellowship of the three.

            Christian theologians describe the Holy Trinity as three transparent suns overlapping each other. The three suns individually shine with the same combined light of the three. No other religion shows such a majestic revelation of God as the Bible’s display of the Holy Trinity.

            Therefore, it is impossible for the Christian God, and all other gods, to reflect the same source. If you force together the teachings of the world’s deities, you sit with an impossible mess of contradictions. There’s no such thing as one spiritual source reflected through the world’s religions. Either one is true, or none of them—all cannot be true.

            “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

Am I truly living

If one is willing to sacrifice one’s life, obviously it must be for something more important than anything. This characterizes all great heroes of history and works of fiction. It takes immense courage and love to sacrifice one’s life—literally—for someone or a greater cause. The Bible even says: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.” (Rom. 5:7 [NKJV])

            In my understanding, love is the only motivation for sacrificing oneself for something good. If love isn’t the motivation, the person must either have a destructive conviction, an oppressive worldview, or suppressed survival instincts with drugs.

            So the question challenges us to think about what we will fight for? What is my core belief? Is there something more important than my very life?

            Another question that follows is how do I look at this current life? If I believe this life is all that there is, I might be more reluctant to sacrifice my life compared to if I knew what comes next. From a Christian point of view, I believe this life is the birth of the eternal existence with God after death. This gives me immense security, peace, and hope, knowing if I suddenly die in a car accident, I can entrust my spirit into the loving hands of the Heavenly Father. I know I won’t pass into some unknown or simply stop to exist. If that was my belief, my fear of dying might be much greater, and I would cling onto this life.

            This leads us to yet another question: Am I afraid of death? If I’m not afraid of death, it is much more comprehensible that love can motivate me to sacrifice myself for something good. How can I not be afraid of death? That’s a miracle the Holy Spirit does in a human soul through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks about Jesus: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb. 2:14–15)

            One of the main reasons God became Man as Jesus Christ was to die as a human. The difference was, since Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), after He willingly died on the cross, God raised him from the dead, because “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

            As a Christian, I still might fear the pain of dying, but I’m not afraid of death because I not only believe, but experience and know Jesus is alive today. And if Jesus is alive today, He can certainly raise me from the grave one day as well.

            But am I truly living if I’m not willing to die for something? Can I live life to the fullest without living for something greater than my life? Am I truly living if the power of love isn’t stronger than the fear of death? Am I truly alive if I don’t know what comes after this life, hence defining the purpose of this current life? These are questions we need to answer ourselves. But let’s end by looking at what Jesus would answer:

            “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:7–8) “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)

Why is there so much cruelty if God is good

Children lose their parents, refugees flee war zones, corrupt court cases destroy futures, human trafficking degrades human life, pursuit of wealth and the thirst for power exploit the powerless—all making the inside of us scream in pain and anger: “This is gruesome! This is evil! Where’s the justice?!”

            Man, in contrast to animals, has a unique inner sense of justice. When wrongs happen, we demand justice. But, as we know, human justice is everything from good to imperfect to biased to cruel injustice. How can there be so much pain in the world if the Creator is just? “For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness.” (Ps. 11:7a [NKJV])

            “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) writes the apostle John, the only of the twelve disciples who witnessed Jesus “taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts. 2:33). Jesus “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22), yet given the most shameful and agonizing death invented by man. John must have felt: “Where’s the justice?! He’s innocent!” If Christianity’s teaching about Jesus being God in the flesh is true, what is God doing naked on the cross in such agonizing pain?

            We can’t fathom the reasons God loved man so much He gave us free will. One reason I can think of is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and doesn’t know how to be any different. Love demands a free choice. An enemy can force you to do many things against your will, but he cannot force you to love him. Love requires freedom. God had to give man liberty to reach His goal of a relationship of love with us.

            We can’t grasp God’s plans for eternity, putting this era of men making evil choices into perspective. As we saw above, God is not the author of evil and sin. Saint Isaac the Syrian writes: “Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of the will; there was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.” (Homily 27)

            Also, God didn’t ordain this creation with human free will, only to watch from a distance mankind destroying themselves through evil choices and wars. God is right in the center of this pain. Jesus was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). God Himself, as Jesus, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4).

            Back to Apostle John at the cross. What is God doing up there, suffering injustice? Jesus came the first time to give “Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13), so our faith in Jesus can erase our personal unjust and sinful acts. God promised to lead us through the current dark age into a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

            God has assured us Jesus will return to Earth, “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31). All the powerless, the victims, the orphans of this world, will see justice. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6). The Day of Judgment is approaching, when enough will be enough. Let us then seek refuge under the cross, with Apostle John, knowing that Jesus suffered unjustly, to cover our own unrighteousness.

            This is the Christian perspective on evil and injustice, and it does something no religion, worldview—including atheism—or philosophy can, and that is “that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This anchor of hope secures us during the present storm of evil and unrighteousness until “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13).

Wrong is still wrong, even when no one finds out. Usually, something wrong will—at least eventually—hurt ourselves or someone emotionally, financially, physically, morally, materialistically, spiritually, etc.

            If we recall something similar in our own life, we might remember how our conscience troubled us. However, this feeling of our inner moral compass accusing us will numb as we muffle this inner voice with self-justification. Even if no one ever found out we left a screw up against the tire of our mathematics teacher’s car when we were kids—he gave us a one-point, so he deserved it—we remember this wrong and it bothers us. At least for some time.

            This proves wrong is still wrong, even if no one finds out. But why is that? Then wrong doesn’t seem to be relative or subject to self-justification. Right or wrong, morality seems to be deeply ingrained within us and transcends beyond us.

            If nobody discovers something wrong we did, why does it still have to be wrong? Don’t we simply live before the eyes of people and the government? Does anyone care if we’re a good-looking pretender on the inside, when we’re nicely dressed as any decent citizen on the outside? Could it be that Somebody was watching us putting that screw by the tire after all?

            “…the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” (Rom. 2:15 [NKJV])

            If God sees us when no one else sees us, faking doesn’t work. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Eccl. 12:14 [NKJV]) God created our conscience to pilot us towards goodness and leads us away from what’s wrong—even when no one sees us. God desires us to be thoroughly good toward each other.

            But God knows we fail, and the record of our wrongs gets longer, therefore He sent Jesus to wipe “out the handwriting of requirements that were against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14 [NKJV])

We practice faith in things we can’t see every day. I flip the light switch with my faith in electricity. Can’t see the electrons in the wire, but I see the lightbulb shines. If my car runs out of gas, I have faith in my relationships that one of my brothers will come. This relationship is not a visible ribbon of sorts, but I experience the mutual bond of belonging. I go to work and believe I will receive a paycheck in two weeks. There’s no guarantee I’ll get one, but my experience and physical work-contract prove this will happen.

            Even though these types of faith are in something I can’t see, it is not blind faith. Blind faith would be faith with no evidence. But when I flip the light switch, the evidence for the truth of the electrons in the wire is the consistency of the shining light bulb. I can wholly testify that Christianity is not a blind faith, but an evidence-based faith. We call blind faith a delusion. It’s a conviction of something with no evidence of its existence.

            “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1 [NKJV])

            I might have gotten myself in trouble now… What is the evidence for my faith in Jesus, since I’ve never seen him, even though many have?

            If I roll a die twice and it lands on a 6, my response is “yes, I’ll win this game.” And if I roll it five times and it lands on 6 five times in a row, I would be stunned. But if I keep on rolling the dice, and every time it lands on a 6, I know an intelligence has done something with the die.

            When I read the Word of God and apply its commandments to my life, I see the promised outcome fulfilled. And when I experience this repeatedly, and my obedience to the commandment and its blessed outcome is not a logical cause and effect, I know an Intelligence has acted beyond human capabilities.

            The longer we live as a Christian, the more experience of prayer we get. In the beginning, we don’t see the link between our prayers and the events of our days. Then we start to notice and experience a prayer answer. But eventually, we become so used to the power of prayer, because “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16), the supernatural coincidences become supernormal and a Christian way of life.

            But the strongest evidence for my faith in God is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. How can that be? Putting the historical evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus aside—which is overwhelming and convincing enough by itself—my most powerful evidence is my daily invisible experience of Jesus. I know Jesus rose from the grave because I experience Him fully alive.

            Prayer answers are just one part of my living relationship with Jesus. He’s my closest friend. He knows everything about me, and I’ve begun to know His personality as well. Shortly after becoming a Christian, my longing was to experience God. After over fourteen years of living with Jesus, I can’t count how many times I’ve experienced His presence. It’s impossible to mistake Jesus’ presence for anything else. Once our heart opens to Him through (real, not blind) faith, we won’t doubt a second Who it is when Jesus Christ draws near to be with us.

I can only answer such a fascinating and massive question from my limited point of view, but I think it’s a biblical one.

            I believe God made man to steward and lead all of creation (Gen.1:26; 2:15) toward God’s ultimate purpose with the Universe: A spiritual wedding that unites mankind with God (1 Cor. 6:17) and Earth to Heaven (Eph 1:10).

            This oneness existed in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, but the fall of man into sin tore this union. The chasm in between (Luke 16:26) we call death (Heb. 2:15). Humanity’s goal should be to lead history back into its original path, arriving at this picture of unity.

            When we reach this point, God recreates the entire universe. “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Pet. 3:13 [NKJV])

            What must happen to realigning history with God’s purpose for the world?

            We need to love our neighbor as ourselves to end all wars (Isa. 2:4). Changing the world begins with ourselves.

            Also, we need to steward the planet’s resources wisely and righteously, because God supplied our planet with sufficient natural resources to support our civilization (Matt. 6:25–34). We need to use our scientific knowledge to work with nature rather than exploiting it, and end selfish economic interests.

            Redirecting the history of the world also includes teaching all people about God’s Word and commandments, so we learn to live close to God in righteousness and holiness. His Spirit will fill and sustain us, enabling us to live as children of God, complete and whole. How can we perform God’s work without living in the Holy Spirit? (Phil. 4:19; John 15:5; Gal. 5:25)

            To summarize, I think this is how to reach mankind’s goal:

  1. Ending every war by viewing every human being as a priceless brother or sister.
  2. Steward natural resources wisely and righteously.
  3. Teach every person to become a student of God’s Word and commandments.
  4. How can we possibly achieve this? I think this is a good reason God became a fellow human being, and Jesus promised to return and complete our job.

            “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:4–5a [NKJV])

With the danger of upsetting different parts of the body of Christ, I will try to answer this question by focusing on the main issue by quoting Jesus: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:56 [NKJV]).

            Before the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed’” (John 6:53–55).

            Jesus will enable us to eat His body and drink His blood, and because of this radical statement, it’s not so strange that “many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’” (John 6:60). But, the words of Jesus “are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). When Jesus said: “I am the door” (John 10:9), He doesn’t mean He’s made of cedar, but He’s the entrance to the Kingdom of God and green pastures—provision. In the same way, when Jesus said we shall eat His body and drink His blood, He doesn’t refer to cannibalism, but to a spiritual reality.

            The evangelist Luke wrote about the Lord’s Supper: “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’” (Luke 22:17–20)

            Notice how Jesus gives thanks before offering the wine and breaking the bread. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, it says Jesus “blessed and broke” the bread. The bread and wine are no longer only wheat and grapes. In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit comes and makes the bread the spiritual body of Christ and the wine the spiritual blood of Christ.

            That means, if we had a pair of glasses to look into the spiritual realm, we would see the bread and wine being the spiritual body and spiritual blood of Christ, but when we removed these glasses, we would see bread and wine. The physical makeup is still wheat and grapes, but in the spiritual realm, it is now the very life of Jesus.

            We eat the spiritual body and drink the spiritual blood. In the spiritual realm, when we consume the holy gifts, the life of Jesus leaves the physical matter and enters our spirit.

            The mystery of the Eucharist is a spiritual reality. The holy gifts are a physical medium that impart the body and blood of Christ—His life—into our spirit. Hence, we’re the body of Christ, the Church, gradually growing spiritually each time we partake in the Eucharist—if we comprehend this truth.

            And as Apostle Paul reminds us after Jesus instituted the Last Supper: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). The spiritual body and blood of Jesus we receive during the Eucharist is life itself. It’s fully alive! During the Eucharist, we’re not only remembering and proclaiming Jesus’ death on the cross, but also His Resurrection and Second Coming. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) that we will celebrate with Jesus Christ after His return.

            “For I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes…” (Luke 22:18)

Why should someone start believing in God

Excellent question. To know God is our eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 [NKJV])

            It’s a strange thought—even fantastic—to comprehend, but there is so much more to you than meets the eye. You are not only a physical body, but a spiritual being. You are not just a conscious being, but created in the very image of God to reflect Him. You have not only physical parents, but a Heavenly Father who breathed your spirit into existence, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7 [NKJV]).

            There is no end to the honor and blessings God gives a human being. He “crowned [man] with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5 [NKJV]), always “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20 [NKJV]), and “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3 [NKJV]).

            There is more to your life than you think—and this is not a groundless statement, but Psalm 139:16 gives the supernatural evidence for this truth: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God wrote a book about your life—a good life how He desired it to be—proving a divine purpose for you. You are wanted—He has targeted you.

            But here is our problem. God targeted us because He loves us and wants us to experience Him and the eternal joys of the Heavenly Kingdom, but we don’t believe this. Our disbelief blinds us from the Heavenly realm and the eternal purposes with our lives. Our disbelief cuts our communion with God. Why should I even believe in God?

            “Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?” (Job 7:20 [NKJV]) At the beginning of human history, in the Garden of Eden, we didn’t trust God. Death entered our nature and we cooperated with sin, destroying ourselves, others, and even the creation God entrusted us. But He targeted us with His love—because “God is love” (1 John 4:16 [NKJV])—and made a way for us to be forgiven, sanctified, and recreated. It begins with a life of faith to reverse the effects of disbelief that began in the Garden of Eden.

            “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 [NKJV])

Every worldview teaches about death.

            From a strictly atheistic point of view, death happens when the body cannot keep working to survive—we breathe our last breath, the heart stops beating, the brain stops functioning, the kidney and liver stops, and all other systems depending on these vital organs, stop. And that’s it.

            Eastern religions teach we have a soul, a spiritual nature. When our physical body dies, our soul is reborn into another physical body on the Earth—not necessarily human. We must face the hardships of life on Earth again until we’re freed from the cycle of reincarnation and enter Nirvana, a state of oneness with the absolute being of the universe.

            But I can really only speak on behalf of the Christian worldview, which teaches that humans have a body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). We’re one being composed of these three unified elements. Interestingly, Christianity teaches God as three in one—the Holy Trinity. “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word [the Son], and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7 [NKJV])

            Before looking at how death affects the three parts of our being, why should we believe the Christian teaching to be true? Wouldn’t that be arrogant? But it’s all about the evidence. Where is the evidence apart from subjective experiences and opinions? There is no question about the authenticity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The historical evidence is overwhelming. Therefore, if we should listen to a teaching about death, it would be wise to listen to the only Person in history who rose from the dead on His own and is still alive—although in a glorified physical body with spiritual properties—and can be encountered today.

            The body functions as the physical tent (2 Pet. 1:13–14) for our soul and spirit, so we can interact with the physical creation. When the biological body dies, we put off our temporal tent, and the body decomposes into dust—from which God created our body (Gen. 3:19). That’s the end of our current physical body. However, Christianity teaches of a coming physical resurrection from the dead, but that is another topic (1 Cor. 15:42–49).

            Our soul comprises mind, will, and emotions, and the mind is the headmaster. The soul is eternal. The two spiritual forces that influence our soul are the stream of life and the stream of death. When influenced by life, either from our spirit or God’s Holy Spirit, we act according to God’s design for our being. When death influence our soul, either from fallen passions of the body or evil spirits, we sin and act contrary to God’s design. At the body’s death, our soul is released from its physical container and angels will come and lead the soul to its final destination. More on that at the end.

            Our spirit is the Breath of God (Gen 2:7) in the deepest part of our being. Our spirit is synonymous with our spiritual heart. The Bible also speaks about our spirit as our soul, because the spirit dwells in the deepest part of our soul—the spiritual heart. Our spirit is eternal, like the soul, but it’s the only part that can be in direct communion with God, because “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Animals have souls, but only humans have spirits. This makes humans distinct among all creation as carriers of God’s image. I would even say, from our spirits comes our divine nature (John 10:34–35).

            A major consequence of mankind’s fall into sin at the beginning of creation is the death of our spirits—the severing of the stream of divine life into our spirit. Ever since, we are physically born spiritually dead. We need to be “born again” (2 Cor. 5:17).

            After we die, angels bring us before Jesus. The Heavenly King—and no one else—unveils for us the righteous judgement of our lives. Our eternally conscious existence will be in one of two final destinations. If we die while not receiving the spiritual life of Jesus Christ—“In Him was life” (John 1:4a)—our souls are in a state of enmity against God because we wanted nothing to do with Him. The Bible ultimately describes the place void of God’s blessings as the lake of fire, and it is a real and conscious place.

             If we die with our spirits born again by faith and trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection—confirmed through baptism—our inner man (soul and spirit) will be embraced by the One who created us, wanted us, loved us, made everything ready for our restoration, and pursued us to the point of dying our death on the cross. That place is called Heaven.

            “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9 [NKJV])

An honest and good question.

            Our emotions might drift our initial response from an inspired reaction to an emotional one. Whenever we struggle with something related to our life in the local church, we should give the issue some time, pray about it until we know there’s no bitterness or unforgiveness from our side, then look at the situation through the Word of God. When our emotions cool and we are certain our conscience is clear toward God and men, then we will find the perfect response in the light of the Word of God.

            I understand the word “wrong” as a concern about the teaching not being what the congregation needs—another pastor created the sermon for a different audience. So, I assume the word “wrong” doesn’t imply the teaching is necessary non-biblical, but maybe not what the congregation needs to hear. May the questioner forgive me if I misunderstood.

            It depends on how the pastor is forwarding the other pastor’s message. If the pastor tells the congregation his talk is taken from or based upon Pastor [name’s] teaching but slightly changed, then I don’t consider it stealing. The pastor is clear that he has not labored in prayer and study to create his message, and honors the person who did. I think that’s fair. But if the pastor passes on another person’s message, close to word for word, as if it was his own, that creates a false impression.

            “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:7–8 [NKJV]) “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:25–26 [NKJV])

            Jesus honored His Father, showing the Words He spoke came from the Father: “Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.’” (John 7:16–18 [NKJV])

            Now, I’m not a pastor, and I truly honor those who are. That’s a high calling and a tough job, filled with sacrificial servanthood no one knows about. Some of the humblest people I know are pastors. But we are all human, and the root of pride and prestige war in us all—seeking a platform for itself.

            God says as the Good Shepherd for Israel: “‘I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezek. 34:15 [NKJV]) To provide spiritual food that builds the spiritual lives of the congregation is one massive challenge for the pastor to carry. It might be times that a pastor—with agreement with the leadership/congregation—runs series of teachings from other sources because the pastor sees his limitations. I think that is commendable. But again, it depends on how the pastor does this, including agreement from his congregation, and that the message serves the church-members’ lives.

            To conclude: After you’ve prayed about this issue, know your conscience is clear, and still feel the life of your church is not benefitting the pastor’s messages, I might volunteer for a “cleaning the church” event, and share my concerns with the pastor in person there, or invite the pastor for lunch and share my concerns.

It depends on which lenses we wear to view life and the world. If through a strictly materialistic worldview, we are whatever we define ourselves to be because there is no greater reference point outside ourselves, no ultimate purpose, and we are the product of mere chance at our core. Therefore, it’s impossible to answer this question satisfyingly to a self-conscious being if we’re simply the product of the Universe. Any identity and purpose for our existence becomes purely subjective because this question can only arise from a self-conscious being. From this point of view, this question has 8,057,538,955 answers—yours will add to this number.

            If we view life and the world from a Christian worldview, we have one answer that will continue to unfold as we enter into eternity. The single answer to this question is, “beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2 [NKJV]). Jesus Christ defines our core apart from all tags we wear through life. ‘I knew you would say that,” you might say, “for you Christians, Jesus is always the answer.’

            But no man in human history impacted the world as Jesus of Nazareth did. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) said: “Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.” The life and teaching of Jesus impacts all aspects of our lives.

            Jesus said to the Heavenly Father that “the glory which You gave Me I have given them” (John 17:22a [NKJV]), therefore Jesus is the prototype of who and what we are. Jesus makes us sons and daughters of God—the simple answer to this question. This answer satisfies us because it’s objective, transcends any human answer, and we can experience it through faith.

            Even Napoleon said: “From the first day to the last He is the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm and infinitely gentle. He proposes to our faith a series of mysteries and commands with authority that we should believe them, giving no other reason than those tremendous words, ‘I am God.” (The History of Napoleon Bonaparte by John S. C. Abbott)

This question and similar questions questioning the reality of reality seem to fascinate many filmmakers and novelists. But if we look at this question from a logical standpoint, we see it’s an oxymoron. The question dissolves because of its own assumption.

            If the physical world is only an illusion created by our brain, then our physical brain is an illusion as well. How then can we trust it? If our brain is an illusion, then everything the brain creates is also an illusion. Therefore, the very idea of the physical world being a virtual reality created by our brain is an illusion, and not true. The only logical conclusion is that our physical brain feeds us with real sensory information about a real world.

            We live in a physical realm with the imbedded cause and effect of revealing everything not true as a lie—eventually.

            There is a deep drive in the human nature to run away from reality or create a system that relieves our troubled conscience. Why are we unable to deal with reality? I think these are the three main reasons:

            The pain we experience pulls us into despair, and we feel no one can help. Also, we don’t want to die, so we create an escape from this reality where everything decays. Last, subconsciously, we can’t stand the reality that we often violate our conscience and that ultimate justice is coming our way. How can I give an account for every day of my life? These three realities of suffering, death, and our sense of moral imperfection, drives man to create concepts that can remove this burden from his shoulders.

            But there is a real escape from our troubled condition, and not an imaginary flight. The physical evidence for this exodus is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

            “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Romans 6:5–9 [NKJV])

I believe happiness is based in the fellowship with someone/Someone. Humans are relational beings, and a person with a strong relationship with a friend, a child, a parent, or a spouse, experience happiness.

            People may claim they find happiness in things, but that’s mostly temporal and because one may project a response from a person during or at the end of the thing that apparently fills one with joy. For example, one may say he finds his happiness in watching movies. That’s because he temporarily fills his relational needs with the story. Maybe one says she finds her happiness going shopping new clothes, but that’s because she awaits a response from those who see her in those clothes. Now, there isn’t necessarily something wrong with those activities, because that’s what they are: activities.

            Since I think we find happiness in the quality of relationships, we also struggle to keep it. We think happiness comes from material things, and therefore seek it, not realizing we’re actually seeking personal affirmation from someone or from society. Also, as broken humans, we so easily sin and hurt each other. Our frail ability to maintain relationships causes our happiness to fluctuate.

            As a Christian, I find my deepest happiness in the ultimate relationship. Believing in and experiencing a living fellowship with Jesus Christ, knowing His love for me, doing what He wants me to do, fills me with matchless happiness. Sometimes an emotional happiness, but a constant sense of fulfillment, belonging, security, knowing that one’s life follows—at least to a degree—a higher purpose given by God.

            Also, because God is a God of Covenants, the relationship remains unchanged from His point of view. I may sin and run away from God and quench my sense of happiness, but God never changes and always stands with open arms of love, wondering why I ran away.

            People in isolation over longer periods of time suffer from depression and their physical health deteriorates. But Christian hermits, who isolate themselves from all human contact to live undisturbed in prayer, shine with heavenly joy and run from people who want to ask them questions. Many accounts of Christian hermits throughout history show this.

            “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10b [NKJV]) “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:11–12 [NKJV]) “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13 [NKJV])

If freedom is doing what you want, aren’t animals freer than humans?

I don’t think so. Instinct and freedom are different. Animals respond to their environment according to their impulse to survive and multiply, but their existence carries out a purpose that benefits nature, the ecosystem, and ultimately humans. The myriads of creatures beneath our feet, around us, and in the air, all make the Earth habitable for humanity—that’s the animals’ greater cause of existence.

            Humans respond to their environment differently. We evaluate our actions from the standard of morality confirmed in our conscience, what would make progress, what increases knowledge, what’s beautiful, what is righteous, the wellbeing of others, basic physical needs, and so on. We’re exponentially more complex than animals. But the question of freedom is quite accurate. Are we truly able to do what we want when the condition for what is a morally good action? The answer is no, we’re not able to do the good we want. Yes, we have the freedom to do selfish things and create all the problems we can think of, but that isn’t freedom but lawlessness.

            Therefore, if we want to define freedom as doing what we want, we must be true to the high level of existence the humans live by and define the things we want as morally good. But we’re not free to do the good we want, so we’re actually enslaved to do self-centered bad things—that’s easy—but we’re not free to do good things.

            If the animal’s existence is for the greater cause of maintaining the Earth as a home for humanity by providing our needs, even please us, then Whom is humanity’s greater cause? Who do we live for?

            “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” (John 8:31­–32 [NKJV])

            Doing what we want won’t make us free—rather, we discover how enslaved we are to do selfish, bad things. But when we get to know the personified Truth, we become truly free. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6 [NKJV])

If you had the chance to teach the entire world just one thing, what would it be?

After spending more time in prayer than I did to answer this question, I might still choose: Love your enemies.

            This is a hard choice, because even if the entire world heard this teaching, would the average person find inner strength to live out the message when feeling angry at someone? If people did, we could rewrite world history with no wars, but if impossible, the teaching below might still help. It shows our problem is to be true to our creation, our divine Image, and that we literally need divine strength—grace—to love our enemies. Maybe a realization of our inability to love our enemies would lead us to kneel and ask God to enter our lives?

            My teaching to the world:     

            War is hell on Earth. A man said two thousand years ago: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45a [NKJV]). Humanity is one massive family, and every person is equally valuable, regardless of gender, age, social, and professional status. From God’s point of view, a homeless person is as priceless as a leader of a nation.

            Therefore, the same man said: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 [NKJV]). But when anger bubbles and you feel like a pressure cooker, ready to chain your neighbor to a NASA-rocket, the same man gave us the means to live out this high call: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5–7 [NKJV]).

            Jesus invites us to live out the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, but we must be born of the Spirit to find the strength to do so. If you desire to be born of the Spirit, Jesus is only one prayer away from granting your request.

How long will you be a memory after you die?

As long as those who love you still live.

            This excellent question reflects how we all subconsciously struggle with the fact that we will die one day, and our nature fights against that approaching darkness. Something inside needs to keep on existing. Therefore, we have an urgent yearning to be remembered and leave a legacy with our name.

            What inheritance do I pass on when I die? Will people remember me? Will they remember the good things I’ve done? What will people say about me? We see statues of historical figures, faces on dollar bills, street names, names of inventions, organizations—traces of people long gone, all motivated to leave a mark behind. To make a better world, and be remembered for it, I believe is a noble drive in the human nature. We want to make a positive impact on the world—as I believe this reflects the image of God in us.

            “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” (Eccles. 3:11 [NKJV]) Christians believe God made humans eternal beings, and that explains why we feel a need to be remembered.

            But the Bible also says how long you will be remembered by Someone greater than a human being. “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.’ (Isa. 49:14–15 [NKJV])

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