EXISTENCE OF GOD
How do we know God really exists?
I guess the only way to know God really exists is by testing the theory that He does not. You would need to have a defensible explanation of the existence of the universe, the presence of life, the instinct for purpose, the universality of morality, the notion of eternity, the capacity for philosophy, the virtue in sacrifice, and the accuracy of the prophetic and historic and wise counsel of the Holy Bible. These things are inexplicable without some creative force and designer behind them.
How do you prove God is real without using the Bible?
To be clear, I don't think such proofs should be any part of evangelism at all. That's not really our job. We're called to bring people to faith by displaying righteous living. We are not called to prove/disprove God, since the knowledge of Him is instinctive and natural, and people have to intentionally make effort to deny that truth (Romans 1:18-20).
Calling people to repentance away from doubt is a ministry to the heart, not the mind. No amount of knowledge will evoke a change in the will if the heart is not challenged directly. Show a person the result of holy living and the satisfaction it brings, the community it provides, the purpose it gives, and the reward it promises, and THEN you'll see their hearts challenged. Their minds will then become thirsty for knowledge of what it is you have, and you're to be ready at that point to answer them (1 Peter 3:15).
So proving God without the Bible, I believe, is really more profitable for the Christian to know--only to encourage him and reinforce his understanding--it is not a weapon that we should think would disarm an unbeliever's doubts. Doubt is more a choice than a thought, almost always. It is a reluctance to surrender the will, not a suspicion that God is incorrect. Anyway, here's a proof (off the top of my head) that encouraged me. I learned it a few years ago from Dr. Douglas Geivett at Talbot School of Theology.
If evil exists in the world, there must be a god.
1) Evil is any act or intention that is incongruent with the way things ought to be.
2) If that is true, then there is a way things ought to be.
3) If that is true, things have been designed to the way they ought to be.
4) If that is true, there is a designer.
5) If that is true, the designer is (by definition) a god.
6) We call that god, "God," who calls Himself YHWH ("Yahweh").
DOUBTS & DISCOURAGEMENTS
Why does God allow evil?
Allowing evil is part of allowing good. Imagine these three scenarios:
1) God creates man so that he CANNOT sin. That means we don't actually have freewill. We're robots. In that sense, the good that we do is now questionable: is it really good? Would you rather marry someone who has no other choice but to marry you, or someone who chooses to? Which relationship would you call good?
2) Or let's say: every time we're about to sin, He takes away the opportunity. If you're going to get drunk, He turns the wine into water. Every time you're about to punch someone, you pass out. Every time you're going to skip studying, the test gets postponed. At this point, God is not teaching us righteousness: he's enabling us to completely ignore it. He's compensating to give us no motivation to do right. If we knew that He would just fix every wrong we do, we'd exploit that.
Not all suffering comes from sin either. What if you're a car mechanic and missed finding a potential hazard in a car engine? Then God would have to fix the car Himself so that the driver doesn't suffer on your behalf. Now if God's going to fix the car Himself, why would you as a car mechanic try to work hard at all? God would only have enabled you to be lazy. He would have encouraged sin.
3) What if God just removed people who would sin or the people who won't believe? Well, then no one would be left. No one is righteous and no one seeks God (Romans 3:10).
Even if God only removed those who won't be saved, we still have to deal with everyone else who sins, causes suffering, and lives in evil all the way up until the point when they are saved. Then we'd have to start asking, why doesn't God convert people before they're old enough to commit such evil? And that takes us back to being robots.
God gifted us with the power to choose to love. He doesn't mind control you, and He doesn't coerce you. He lets you know that loving Him leads to eternal fulfillment and joy, and rejecting Him leaves you to yourself without His provision, protection, and power. God is not under obligation to lavish anyone with His riches, especially for people who actively reject Him, but He continues to offer Himself everyday to people who deserve far less.
Why didn't God just save everyone who was suffering (ex. Holocaust) if he loved everybody? Why didn't he stop Hitler?"
The fact that God loves everybody doesn't obligate Him to somehow secure
their comfort in earthly living. His love for everyone is given in simple
blessings, like the rising of the sun and the falling of the rain (Matthew
5:45). Salvation, however, is not generally dispensed to everyone, because God
also upholds His righteous judgment against sin. Our human compassion for
victims in the holocaust is good and righteous, but it should never blind us to
the spiritual reality that is still taking place: everyone everywhere is
antagonistic toward God, sinful by nature, and deserving of punishment. We have
no right to salvation, nor any means to obtain it with good works.
Despite our guilt, though, God provides a free gift of reconciliation through the offer of His Son, Jesus Christ. Our guilt and sin are placed on Him in His death on the cross such that our penalty is fully paid by the only One who didn't deserve it. If we repent and believe in Him, giving our lives in full surrender to His will and calling, then He grants us a life that is secure not for our earthly time, but for all eternity. That offer is made to everyone, including the Jews during the Holocaust, and is the full expression of God's love for us which is purely by His grace and not by our works.
What if God doesn't exist, and religion was merely created because people can't bear the idea of nothing happening after they die?
Then nothing would happen. (This is kind of a "duh" answer because the
question is kind of a "What if unicorns existed on Pluto?" question).
When considering hypothetical situations, don't frame them in impossible circumstances. Questions like "Can God make a circle that is a square?" or "Can God's omnipotence make something so heavy He can't lift it?" are grounded on non-sense, not logic. For your particular question, the only way God could not exist is if it were not Yahweh God of the Bible. If that God did not exist, then you're forced to consider a reality that comes from other cosmic explanations. I think we've ruled out mythologies (Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc.), and we are forced to rule out worldviews that posit an eternal past (some branches of Buddhism and Hinduism), and we really just come down to are established world religions.
Now test these ideas with science, history, philosophy, wisdom, and conviction. The Christian Church is the only one that stands the test. That's why people try so hard to aim their guns in that direction. You don't hear of many people who devote their careers to disproving Hinduism. Even scientifically, the instinct of religion would only exist if it were beneficial for survival. It is not. Religion makes people do stupid things: some do human sacrifice, others go to holy wars, some voluntarily choose poverty over prosperity, etc. No other creature on the earth possesses religious tendency simply because it is unfit for survival. It's existence in man today is a huge testimony in the argument of Intelligent Design.
This could become a very large explanation for a very simple idea: religion came around because there's a universal instinct in man to know the existence of his Creator, his design, and his destiny. The fact that EVERY religion lays those out, and often share universal moral pillars (like "don't steal from your neighbor"), is a philosophical monument to say there is something hardwired in man for faith, and it's not a survival instinct.
The fact that children, teenagers, and young adults are the most active in religion should entirely destroy the proposition that religion is borne from the fear of death or inexistence after death. That demographic is the LEAST aware or concerned about death. It's children and teenagers and young adults who think themselves indestructible and immortal--they are the most daring, risky, active, and alert without a sense of inevitable doom waiting for them after they expire.
But let's entertain your question anyway: if God didn't exist, you'd die and nothing would happen. Nothing. If God DOES exist and you die, you and everyone else is held accountable for every thought, word, and deed you produce in your life, whether they be according to the design you were built for, or in opposition to instinct you know is inside you. One path has no consequences. The other has on it the choice and responsibility of your own eternal destiny. While I've already stated my side, I'll be sure to respect yours even if it's different, as long as you choose very carefully. It matters to me whether you choose rightly or not.
Is it bad that I still question things about Christianity?
In my experience, questions are the only real thing that led me to
sincere faith. That's because my questions didn't stay put in my brain, but I
had the curiosity to try and find real and biblical answers.
If you do the same with your questions, it'll only set you on a path to
discover truth. If you do nothing about your questions, somehow they'll start to
feel like "reasons" why you don't believe, but questions aren't reasons at all.
If you're not sure about something in the faith, ask someone who really knows
his stuff. Don't just ask anyone who goes to church. Just like if you had a
serious/difficult question about biology, you'd ask a biology teacher or
professor, not just anyone in your class. The subject matter of faith, life,
eternity, and salvation are way too important to take lightly. If you need
answers to questions about that kind of stuff, make sure you go to a person
who's very qualified and equipped to give you a thorough answer.
You'll find that in the Bible, people need to know answers to make sure what they believe isn't fiction. Take the Bereans of Acts 17:11 and look how they handled their questions. Or see how Jesus treated Thomas when confronting the disciple's famous doubt (John 20:25-29). No one gets rebuked for wanting to be sure. They do get rejected if they use questions as an excuse to deny the truth or not pursue it.
Does the thought of "Why am I a Christian? Why am I even serving God?" ever come up?
I think those kinds of doubts are normal and healthy as you develop in
your faith. You shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to be certain about what's
real and what's true. In fact, it's my doubt and my skepticism that led me to
Christ, since it made me search for truth and test the wisdom of the Scriptures.
My advice is simply to keep sharing about these thoughts with those who will pray for you, and make every effort to try out living the gospel and seeing if it really is real in what it promises.
How do I help someone
who calls himself Christian but constantly doubts and asks questions?
The help you give is not in answering all his questions all the time. It's okay for him to doubt as long as that doubt is driving him to seek answers, instead of excusing him from believing. Your best approach is simply to continue to show and tell how Christ is making a difference in your life, and to constantly let him know that he's welcome to come and check out your faith and your church community at any time.
It's probably not that he doesn't understand things, but that he refuses to surrender. That decision isn't one that can be resolved by giving him information alone. It has to be done by demonstrating a transformed life, as with anyone else you're reaching out to.
Why do some unbelievers live happier lives than strong Christians? It seems unfair.
Almost half the psalms actually talk about this. Jesus even told us that this would happen in John 15:18-25, where he tells us that the world is going to hate us if we follow him. If you're called to give up this life in order to gain the eternal one, it would only make sense that this life would be filled with hardship and difficulty. But the secret value to it is that as you endure through them, a maturity and fulfillment will come up on you, where you begin to understand what's more important and more fulfilling than temporary earthly pleasures (James 1:2-5).
Life as a Christian is definitely hard and unfair. It's hard because we make sacrifices to live with a clean conscience and right relationships. And it's unfair because God has a plan to reward us with far more than we ever gave up (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Hang in there. If you stay in good company of committed followers of Christ, and if you keep the habit of confession of sins and intercessory prayer for one another, and if you keep your head in the Word and your heart in prayer, you'll find strength that you didn't know you had, and it'll enable you to get through anything, just as it did for the apostle Paul (Philippians 4:12-13).
Is it a sin to constantly question your belief? I know God exists, but sometimes, out of curiosity, I just question things.
Personally, I think questioning is good for you as long as it moves you to investigate the truth and find answers. It was questioning and doubt that actually brought me to faith. I think I empathize with the Bereans in this way (Acts 17:11).
Do you think it is silly for us to worship a higher being? Sometimes I cannot help but compare religious people and believers to an alien community worshiping something just because it is bigger than them and they think it's more powerful than them.
Worship simply means "to give worth" or literally "worth-ship." Everybody
worships. It's not a religious term. It's a human term. When we become huge fans
of sports teams or television programs, we give worth to these things and value
them highly. That's worship. It doesn't mean you necessarily pray to it or
sacrifice animals to it.
To worship a higher being "just because it is bigger than [us] and...more powerful than [us]" is entirely legitimate. I don't think that's silly. On the contrary, I think it'd be silly to worship something smaller and less powerful than ourselves. If people religiously worshiped earthworms for no particular reason, it would come off to me as a little comedic.
If a higher, more powerful being is not worthy to be given worth, what is? A sports team? A television show? Really? Money? Sex? Power? Do any of these things have influence over one's eternal destiny and fulfillment? Did any of these things design, create, or give purpose to any of us? When you look at anything here in this universe, you find that none of it is worthy of worship. The only thing that is would have to be something outside our cosmos, who gave it cause and meaning--namely, God.
Putting your faith aside for just one sec, is there a question you are most afraid to ask because the answer might go counter to your faith? For example, young believers may be afraid to ask why homosexuality is wrong because they see it as morally okay.
"Putting my faith aside" is, at this point, a nonsensical request. It's
like saying, "putting your belief in gravity aside, do you think things might
actually be repelling each other?"
If I were to intentionally dismiss what I know to be true, then I suppose any question could logically terrify me, since the answer only has the guarantee NOT to carry with it the reality of the truth of the gospel. Because I've put my faith aside, any question I ask is now predicated on the expectation that the answer will NOT be biblical, so the consequent feeling would of course be fear. By the very nature of the faithless approach, I cannot have faith in the answer (no matter what it is) that I receive.
If a man makes a robot with perfect artificial intelligence and commands it to worship him forever or face eternal punishment, is he conceited and arrogant? What if instead of robots, a man uses clones for the same thing?
Of course not. If the man had the ability to create PERFECT INTELLIGENCE (which, by nature, is no longer artificial intelligence!) in a machine, it would be because he possesses such a quality of his own and it is communicable to a lesser being. It means he also has the resources and ability to assemble the concepts of his mind into reality that functions.
Anything a man builds is meant to serve him to some degree. If you build a chair, are you conceited for expecting the chair to hold you while you sit? Are you arrogant for getting rid of the chair if it no longer is able to have you sit on it? The existence of intelligence in a creation does not change the validity of its purpose or its denial of purpose. If I build myself a computer, it has some artificial intelligence. That doesn't lessen my authority over it by any degree. If that computer decides to write its own virus to confound the work I want to do through it, then I am not conceited or arrogant for destroying the computer or deleting its files or formatting its entire hard drive. What I create, I own, and I am lord over. That would be true only if I created every part of the creation. If I only created the physical parts, but the intelligence spawned of its own being, I would have no authority over that intelligence. But if I imparted to it a soul and a mind, then I am also the one who designates the purpose of those faculties. For the creation to rebel against me makes the creation conceited and arrogant, not the creator.
Clones are of identical substance of the original creature. We can agree that they're then of equal value, else this question is rendered moot. If the man was not worthy of worship from the original creature, he has no business demanding it of its clone.
Can God make something He cannot destroy?
I'd venture to say Yes. His Promise.
Do people who grow up in unbelieving families or remote parts of the world with no exposure to the gospel have a chance to be saved? Isn't it unfair to condemn them if they have no chance?
Here's what we know for certain: every person is under sin (Romans 3:23)
and deserves death (Romans 6:23). Note here that we deserve condemnation, not
salvation. Fairness, by this basic understanding, is for all people to be
separated from God if they have chosen sin. You might argue that if they
knew the gravity of the choice, they would choose rightly, but I think that
argument collapses on itself since churchgoers and Christians alike are fully
informed of the wickedness of sin, and yet still freely choose it at times.
We are responsible for our choices, despite our efforts to blame God for them. I'm to blame for eating fast food when I know full-well that it's unhealthy for me. I can't go around blaming McDonald's for creating the Big Mac, and I can't go around blaming God for creating my stomach. If I choose to eat junk, it's my fault because I freely chose it without compulsion or reluctance.
So step 1 is understanding that we rightly and fairly all deserve condemnation, not salvation. Salvation is a privilege, not a right. God is not obligated by any moral principle to invite into His kingdom any person who has chosen to live apart from Him. It actually turns out that He simply gives them what they want: existence apart from Him. For anyone born into any family, whether exposed to the Christian faith or not, our choices are the criteria for our judgment. Sadly, people pursue their own lordship--not His. Every single one of us encounters a point in our lives where we can choose to do what's right, or choose to do what we know is wrong (like Adam and Eve with the fruit of knowledge of good and evil). The true testimony is, every single one of us freely chooses ourselves as our own god. Maybe we don't do that all the time, but we do it at least once, which is enough to say that God was not enough for our tastes. Because that's true, it is right and fair that every individual person who acts on his own accountability is, without a doubt, undeserving of any chance to be saved from his right and fair consequences. However, there might be a bit more to be said about this.
We know from 1 Timothy 2:3-4 that God desires for all men to saved. It would thrill Him to have everyone come to salvation. We also know in Acts 17:26-27 that God determined the exact times and places that each person would live, purposed so that they would reach out for Him. Then we know in John 6:37-39 that anyone that WOULD believe in Jesus (if given the opportunity) will not be lost, but WILL CERTAINLY come to faith in Him.* Finally, we know in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 that there will be in heaven people from every tribe, language, people, and nation--yes, even the ones that our missionaries weren't able to reach before they died out. How did those people get saved if they never heard the gospel? My personal theory (which should not be understood as inerrant) is that, because God saves babies who have died, these are the children of miscarriages or other persons of mental disabilities who were not capable of willfully acting in sinful rebellion.
Whatever the case, God is infinitely more loving and infinitely more just than you or me. Whatever His method is of reaching people for salvation, it will be infinitely more loving and infinitely more just than any plan or solution that you or I could fathom.
*To be theologically clear, people would only believe in Jesus if called or predestined by the Father. How predestination could work without somehow contradicting our free agency is beyond our understanding, since we are creatures who can't think achronologically (that is, not in linear time).
Does God save not only Christians, but Jewish people as well? Or does God condemn all other religions besides Christianity, even though God saved Jews in the Old Testament?
God saves those who place their faith in Jesus Christ by repenting of
their sin and trusting in Him as their Lord and Savior.
Whether you are American, Korean, Mexican, or any other ethnicity is
irrelevant to that single requisite.
Whether you were Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion previously is also irrelevant to that single requisite. By repenting and believing, your citizenship is now in heaven--it is no longer defined by your country. By repenting and believing, your religion is now Christian--it is not longer what you used to be. God only saves Christians because the term "Christian" refers to those who are saved. It is reflexive.
Even in the Old Testament, not every Jew was saved simply for being born Jewish. In fact, NO Jew was saved for being born into Judaism. Jews were saved by the same gospel that saves us: repentance of sin (which was expressed in their sacrificial system), trust in God (demonstrated in adherence to the Law internally as well as externally), and faith in the Messiah (which, to them, was someone who would come in the future, while to us, is someone who has already come in the past).
If my Buddhist grandma does not convert to Christianity before she passes away will she have a chance to go to Heaven still?
Her chance to go to heaven is precisely in repenting and believing, placing her faith in Christ as her only means of salvation before she passes away. If you presume against the sole manner of salvation (as the question posits), the only answer left is no.
My friend doesn't believe in hell because she heard that people who have never heard of God and have never been given a chance for faith end up going to hell. Why do those people have to go to hell?
Hell doesn't happen to people. Hell is a reality they choose: a life
without God's lordship. Those who live outside His instruction have chosen
against Him, and that's how they will spend eternity--except in Hell they are
also apart from His general blessing that He gives the whole world out of His
People don't start out righteous, and they don't deserve salvation as if God owed it to them and committed some crime by taking it away from them or preventing them from having it. People choose whether to obey Him or not, whether to embrace repentance and faith or to live according to their own personal moral and spiritual principles.
EVEN THOUGH all have chosen against God (Romans 3:23 and 6:23), God still made an effort to convince us otherwise (Romans 5:8). When the perspective is rightly aligned: we all should go to Hell...why do some of us even get to go to heaven? Simply because God was willing to forgive, though He was under no obligation to. And that's the news we need to tell the world.
Can people still go to heaven if they aren't baptized?
Yes. A good example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus (Luke
23:40-43). Baptism is a public confession of faith, meant to demonstrate the new
life in Christ (Colossians 2:11-12). It's commanded by Jesus for us to publicly
declare our faith like this, and it marks for us a very distinct and memorable
beginning to our new life.
People function by way of reminders. We celebrate birthdays, holidays, etc. Baptism is like a wedding: the start of a whole new relationship and way of life. It happens at the beginning, and it's done only once. After that, communion is like an anniversary--done in remembrance of the commitment and bond you share--though it doesn't have to happen only once a year.
Can we pray for a deceased person to "be in a better place" (ie. heaven) so that he would actually go to heaven?
Sadly, no. That neither places true faith in the cross of Christ, the righteousness of God, or the wickedness of sin. Our prayers, always, should be to see sinners come to repentance (which is never deserved), and to celebrate over each one that does. The justice of God should never discourage us--not if our heart is after the same thing His heart is after. Of course we grieve for our loved ones who don't repent. But not in such a way as to ask God to neglect His will in order to accomplish our own.
What happened to all the Gentiles before the New Testament?
Gentiles could becomes "proselyte" Jews, meaning they could convert to Judaism. That means they were saved. For those who did not turn to God with faith in the Messiah, they were unbelievers. They incurred the sentence of Hell that is due for every human being.
I don't think ANYONE on earth can know whether someone is saved before dying. That split second before dying, a person can very well choose to believe in Jesus and therefore be saved. So you cannot say that he wasn't saved. Am I right?
Sure, hypothetically you can lean on that kind of an assertion. The
problem is, it's not practical.
If you saw a man screaming, "I hate God!" with his last breath--dying as the last words are escaping from his lips, you could still point at him and say, "We don't know if, one-billionth of a second before he died, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, therefore, we don't know if he really was unsaved." You have the choice to say that (as your position allows) or you can say, "the pattern of this man's life leads me to conclude that he is not surrendered to the will of God."
One conclusion is defensible, the other is (though possible) entirely ridiculous. Even to defend vehemently its possibility is useless since the statement has no pragmatism. You've abandoned reason and discernment, and banked on what is clearly the least probably outcome. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm saying it's not practical to think that way.
The Bible doesn't actually take that position. Jesus doesn't ever take that position. He actually says, "You shall know them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:15-21). He never says we are to be unsure of that, based on the sliver of possibility that in the last second before death a man might change his mind. Jesus didn't say, "Only I shall know them by examining the last thing someone says," rather he says, "YOU shall know them BY THEIR FRUIT." He expects the church to exercise its God-given discernment. He expects that WE will know who is saved or not, and we would know by examining the pattern of their lives.
Are their exceptions? Sure. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 is a pretty good example. But exceptions are exactly that: exceptions. Don't make exceptions the rule.
You can point to the existence of a single exception and say, "See? That means we can NEVER be CERTAIN if someone was saved or not...we can only make informed guesses." But the presence of exceptions doesn't actually allow for that conclusion. It only means that not all cases are entirely certain. There are those cases that we can be confident of, and there are those cases that are harder to discern.
Some final examples to make the point that Jesus, the apostles, and other disciples had no problems stating, with certainty, if someone was saved or not:
Matthew 10:22. Jesus says the saved ones are those that "stand firm till the end."
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul comforts the Thessalonian church, telling them that they can be sure that they will soon see the members of their church who have died. Those who died in their church will be present at the resurrection of the dead. Notice that Paul does not present any degree of uncertainty, as though we can't really be sure if they were saved or not. In fact, he was speaking AGAINST that very doubt in the Thessalonian church.
Acts 16:31-34. Notice that the apostles baptize believers without any doubt about their faith. The apostles were not uncertain as to the salvation of the people that they baptized.
There are more, but I think the point is made.
Is being infinitely just and merciful a paradox?
A paradox, yes. A contradiction, not necessarily. It would be a
contradiction if the infinite mercy would supplant the infinite justice, at
which point one's justice would be finite.
Fortunately, God is infinitely just and infinitely merciful, and His mercy does not supplant His justice, since the penalty for sin is not simply dismissed, but its penalty is still carried out in full on His Son, who takes our place in receiving what we are due.
PREDESTINATION & FOREKNOWLEDGE
Does the Bible say that everything happens for a reason? Ephesians 2:8-10 says God prepared a path for us, but does that mean everything goes according to that plan or do we have freedom to do otherwise?
The question is incorrect in its understanding of Ephesians 2:10. That verse in the NIV says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." That translation certainly captures the heart of the message, but can be accidentally understood to mean that God planned every good action you're going to take from now on. That's not the point Paul is making. If you follow the course of Paul's letter from the beginning (1:1) all the way to that point (2:10), you find that he's taking a strong emphasis on soteriological clarity--that is, he's making sure the readers really understand that they are saved by God's action, and that will result in our action. We cannot do good works to save ourselves; rather, we do good works as a result of being saved.
God prepared good works for us to do, that is true. But that is not to say that every action is pre-written apart from your conscious choice. God has crafted you with particular giftings and affinities which are the mark of His ordainment or preparation that you would use them to do good on the earth.
If you correctly understand that intention of Ephesians 2:10, then the question really deflates down to "Are all our actions determined beforehand or are we free to operate by our own agency and choice?" The answer to that is actually both. God is aware of our actions before we have performed them, so in that sense one could argue that the future is already written as history in God's mind. But the Bible also emphatically holds men responsible for their own choices by which they are judged, and so one could also argue that free agency is essential in the make-up of the human soul.
All that boils down to the understanding that God is sovereign in His knowledge and action, and His fore-knowledge does not mean fore-action. Just because He knows you're going to do something before you do it doesn't mean He made you do it or chose or wanted you to do it. He knew Adam and Eve would disobey, but He didn't want that. He chose, instead, not to disrupt the freedom that we are given to decide between obeying Him and disobeying Him, because even at the greatest extent of man's and Satan's rebellion, God will prove supreme and victorious over sin and death.
Yes, you have freedom. Yes, your future is known to God. No, God did not choose every action you are going to take--you do. The path that is certain is God's glory. You have the freedom to choose which side of it you will be on: His kingdom or His wrath.
Is everything that is set to happen part of God's plan? Like, if you pick an apple from a tree, did God plan that and somehow use it to benefit His goal?
No. That's called "Determinism" where every event, no matter how minuscule or inconsequential, is fore-ordained by an initiator that's external to the agents acting out or operating within the event. There's nothing in the Bible that asserts determinism. On the contrary, there is a responsibility on human beings for their actions--a responsibility that would not rightly be theirs if their action was determined by an outside force, namely God.
What we do know is that all events, whether good or bad, are things that
God can use to continue to bring about His will.
All things are part of God's plan in the sense of permissive will. He
allows human beings to make their own decisions, plot their own course, choose
their own way away. His permissive
will is not the same as His plan. Allowing something to happen is not the same
thing as causing it to happen. For instance, I can allow my friend to get into a
fistfight, but that doesn't mean I caused it to happen.
God's plan, which He actively brings about, is to reward good and punish evil, calling people to repentance from error. Whatever happens, whether good or bad, can fall into that plan--it just depends on which side.
How do I know whether I did something by my own choice or God planned for it to happen? How much of my life do I control, and how much does God control?
"Control" is flexible term in this question. When we say that you are in control of your life, that means you make your own decisions and choose your own path from the given opportunities. When we say that God is in control, it does NOT mean the same thing. He is not making your decisions for you (via Mind Control), and He is not choosing your own path from the opportunities in front of you.
God is in control of our lives in that there is nothing insurmountable for Him in His desire to provide for you and call you to greater holiness. He also has the power to bless and curse--something we cannot do for ourselves. He can change circumstances, give opportunities, share understanding, reveal convictions, bring calamity, cause death, etc. He knows the choices you'll make. But He does NOT override your ability to choose. He provides you with the path to take, hence Proverbs 16:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Part of being made in God's image is seen in how we too exercise a certain degree of lordship in our lives. Jesus even told the twelve disciples in Matthew 19 that they would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel and judge them. God's control is reflected in our control. Much of His operation is carried out by the operation of His people. You are in control of your life in terms of deciding between the many different paths to take. God is in control of your life in that He always provides you with the proper path, and nothing you do can ever stop Him from accomplishing His plan for eternity.
If God has plans for us, then are the choices we make part of God's plan?
Let's clarify what we mean by "God has plans for us." God has a plan for His people--that plan is to glorify Himself, rewarding righteousness and punishing wickedness. When we obey God, we're making choices that are part of God's plan--we're walking in righteousness and will receive reward. When we disobey, we're making choices that also are part of God's plan--we're walking in rebellion and will receive due punishment. That plan addresses all who freely choose to follow or reject God and His instruction. We have the freedom to choose which side of that plan to be on. Our freedom is true, God's plan is true, and the two are not contradictory.
Since God is able to see what we do in the future, isn't our destiny predestined in a way?
Yes, you are definitely predestined to do exactly what you will freely choose to do. That is true. All that does is affirm what the Bible affirms: you have free will, and God is sovereign.
If God is a "good" God, why did he create humans- knowing they would fall into sin?
This is a tricky question since it's a "why" question about the Bible that the Bible doesn't try to directly answer. I think the simplest answer to why God created a world that He knew would rebel is this: He found it to be worth it.
Ultimately all things are created by Him, through Him, and for Him (John 1:1-3). He has purposed to share in relationship with His creation, having given to man the capacity to choose obedience and intimacy with Him or disobedience and separation from Him. Because His knowledge is infinite and exhaustive (Job 37:16; Psalm 139:2-4; 147:5; Proverbs 5:21; Isaiah 46:9-10; and 1 John 3:19-20), anything that occurs does so by His foreknowledge and foreordainment, including the rebellion of Satan and the sin of mankind. This is why even from the moment of sin's realization in Genesis 3, God gives the first glimpse and promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15), and proceeds to demonstrate His sovereign control of all things by way of prophecy and object lessons to culminate in the fulfillment of the Scriptures at the moment of the cross.
God created the world to share in relationship with His creation, amounting to His glory and our fulfillment. He saved the world for the same purpose. Every man and woman in this process still has a choice to make regarding their allegiance toward God. He has offered a way to restore the intimacy that's been lost because of sin, and for those that choose to heed that call (who fully are in control of their own decision and yet are still foreknown and foreordained by God), it was worth it to God to carry out His plan instead of cancelling His creation before it was ever realized.
If God knew humans would mess up from the beginning, could we call Him a cruel, pitiless God?
You certainly have the choice to call Him whatever you want. I can't stop you, and neither can anyone else. What you call Him will demonstrate how well you understand Him and respond to Him. In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 the apostle Paul says, Christ is going to either be the fragrance of death or the aroma of life, depending on which side you freely choose. To some, He's a cruel, pitiless God who created human beings even though He knew they would choose against Him. Such a person would think He is without concern or regard for them because He had intended to punish evil which they would, in His foreknowledge, embrace. To others--including myself--He's a God who's full of mercy and grace, having known from the beginning that man would choose against Him, and yet still providing a means of reconciliation and salvation at the cost of His own divine glory through the death of His Son. It was worth it to Him to endure our betrayal, deny His heavenly throne, suffer our just penalty, and die in our place. All this was for the restoration of the people who would then pursue righteousness, because He considered them worth the cost. To me, that's the fragrance of life. God's pity on man is extravagant. Man's cruelty toward God is only further highlighted when, instead of gratitude for His offer of eternal fulfillment, we sling insults and name-call at Him for making us in the first place.
Do you believe that we are predestined? Does this mean we have no choice or free will?
Certainly there is destiny that God knows about beforehand. Plenty of biblical verses point to this concept. Look at Ephesians 1:5, or Romans 8:28-29. His knowledge ahead of time doesn't somehow negate our responsibility of choice (which is a common argument, though logically riddled with holes). Knowledge is not volition. Knowing a fact doesn't actually change the reality of anything. Just because I know you're not going to a school dance doesn't in any way make your choice to stay home now my choice to not have you go. So when the Bible affirms God's foreknowledge of a person's destiny, that doesn't necessarily mean He made that choice for him or her.
That's one of those mysteries that we'll never fully understand, honestly, because we have no idea what it could be like to exist outside of space-time. The question itself is more philosophical than biblical, since the Bible actually teaches that predestination is true and also that man is responsible for his own free choices. So the answer has to come primarily from a logical perspective, rather than a biblical exposition.
Because we know predestination and freewill both exist, our error and difficulty comes from when we try to choose one over the other or build a bridge between the two. Moreover, our finite understanding of space-time and God's operation in the soul of man also limits our possible conception of an accurate answer as well as our possible comprehension of the true reality. For example: Can you imagine a place without space? Can you imagine a moment without time? Because we cannot, we should walk into this question (and answer) knowing that we won't be able to fully understand it ever, because our experience is restrained to operating within the constraints of space-time. So here's my attempt at a response. Be prepared to be unsatisfied and left confused:
Freewill operates under the assertion that we make our own choices without any influences actually manipulating the outcome by internal means. All influences to our decisions are external factors which we perceive, interpret, and judge by ourselves. No one is making the decision for us, even if they're trying to coerce us one way or another. Like interrogation: even if someone is being tortured to confess information, the torture is external coercion. If he confessed, it is by his choice to confess to avoid the torture. He has experienced torture and included it in his own decision on how to act. The decision, still, was his alone.
Predestination operates under the assertion that God has selected those who would be saved before they were even created. God's selection of those persons comes by the illumination of the Holy Spirit who sovereignly calls people to repentance which is evidenced through faith that endures and is seen in good works in the timeframe of the person's life. God's extra-temporal (outside of time) action is carried out temporally (in time). We understand what we see temporally, but it's the extra-temporal action that we'll never quite comprehend.
What's undeniably true is salvation isn't even possible without the initiative that God took to send His Son to die for us. So whether we freely choose or not, it was by His sovereign decision that we could ever find salvation at all. Credit goes not to any individual believer for believing, but to the Savior for saving.
Does God plan for some people to remain unbelievers?
God plans to reward good and punish evil. You choose which side to be on. In God's foreknowledge, He knows where each person ends up, but He does not override anyone's decisions. Unbelievers remain unbelievers because they themselves have planned (chosen) not to place their trust in God by repenting of sin and seeking first His righteousness.
Can God use unbelievers to help believers?
Yeah, no doubt. Our clearest example is how God used Pharaoh in Exodus to display His wonders in Egypt. This was not to sway Pharaoh's heart into faith (since he was staunch in his unrepentance), but to give undeniable and absolute proof to Israel that God was above all other gods and was indeed mighty to save. God also uses foreign invaders to conquer Israel in Habakkuk to punish the nation's wickedness and idolatry, but also to put them in a state where they would realize their peril and repent and return to obedience and proper worship.
If God predestines those who are saved, does that mean Jesus died only for those few instead of the whole world?
Imagine that a billionaire went to a movie theater and gave them his unlimited credit card and said, "I'll pay for everyone who says they're in my party to see Superman today." The credit card is sufficient to pay for everyone. The individual people now have to be told the good news that they no longer have to pay for their own ticket prices (evangelism), and are fully paid for (atonement) if they don't go to watch chick flicks (repentance) but instead go to watch Superman (faith) because he is the best (truth). The payment for movie tickets is available to all who hear the message, and is sufficient to pay for everyone who indeed turns from their wicked chick flicks and goes to watch Superman, but is only applied to those who actually make that decision. Jesus' death was sufficient for everyone on the earth. But it applied only to those who repented and placed their trust in Him.
Do Christians believe in fate?
It depends on what you mean by fate. If fate means that every choice in
your life is determined and free will is an illusion, then that's an unbiblical
understanding of human responsibility for sin. After all, God doesn't cause
anyone to sin (James 1:13-14). We freely choose it, as did Adam and Eve at the
very beginning. They did so not because it was scripted in some plan that was
outside their willful contribution, but they made their choice and were held
responsible for it.
God's sovereignty is the part that is harder to understand. He knows and made known all things from the beginning to the end (Isaiah 46:10). That means that His will can't be stopped, but it doesn't mean we aren't making choices as it happens. The simplest example is the fact that death is a certainty to everyone, but how you live until your final day is still within the boundaries of your decisions. There are certainties that God has ordained to take place in our time, but because certain things will happen doesn't mean we don't have choice and agency during its course.
We know God has a plan that is set and cannot be foiled--in that sense, there is something akin to the idea of fate. It includes those who have or are going to come to saving faith (Romans 8:39; Ephesians 1:5). But we also know that every choice is we make is ours to make, and we're held responsible to give account for those choices because no one else making them for us (Matthew 12:36). In that sense, there is no fate that excuses us from being responsible for our actions.
HUMAN NATURE & EXISTENTIALISM
Why are humans sinners by nature?
We're sinners by nature because Adam and Eve made their choice to bring knowledge of good and evil into the world. Up until that point, the human race was perfect by nature--not inclined toward evil. It took deception and temptation to convince the man and woman to disobey, because disobedience was not innate to them.
Today, we're sinners by choice because we choose to please ourselves instead of doing what we know is right. But everyone who repents and believes in Jesus is no longer called a sinner (the New Testament NEVER calls a Christian a "sinner"), but is a saint. The Holy Spirit now indwells the believer and empowers him to choose right. That influence begins at the moment of conversion and grows through the course of his life, bringing him to maturity and perfection.
Why didn't God create us with personalities that would love Him instead of disobey?
I don't know if you could just create someone who would have a personality that would automatically love someone. That doesn't sound like a distinct personality to me, since it sounds more like programming. If I created a robot who had no ability to love anything else but me, I don't think I'd feel any amount of gratitude when it said nice things to me, gave me gifts, or spent time enjoying the things I love. If I created beings that actually had the ability to choose, then there would be an inherent value when they chose me, because it makes the conclusive statement that they value me more than all the other plausible choices that were available.
Simply because God knows what you'll choose doesn't stop Him from letting you make that decision. In fact, now that I have a son, I'm realizing that if I removed all possible negative choices from his life, he would never know how to choose good. He would only be programmed. This is a statement of intentional exaggeration, but if God is guilty of anything, it's that He gives people what they want. Those who want to live under His rulership among His people get exactly that (heaven). Those who want to be their own gods to live by their own power get exactly that (hell). Sadly, those in hell don't actually have the power to create blessing for themselves--they cannot create light, life, or anything else. And to be clear, no one can choose a middle ground, where you get an eternity of God's general blessings (light, life, earth, friends, work, weather, recreation, etc.) without living under His lordship. Those blessings exist on earth as a gift, but are not deserved by anyone--certainly not by any who would deny the Creator His due credit and worship and gratitude for such gifts.
God wants everyone to love Him. He doesn't desire that anyone perish, but rather that all come to know the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). But He will not override the very central essence of what makes you a human being with a soul of moral responsibility: He does not rob you of your ability to choose your lord. This, I hope, you'll understand. If not, ask yourself whether or not you'd want your parents to arrange your marriage for you to prevent you from making any 'wrong' choices. Would you let your mom and dad pick your wife before you've met anyone and had the opportunity to choose? (This is actually have it worked in the old days and it worked really well, but I think people today see the value of choosing for themselves...and you can see the incredible good it does for some, and the incredible irresponsibility it breeds in others).
Why did God make humans?
To share in a love relationship. He didn't have to, but He chose to. I guess it's kind of like people who get involved with romantic relationships, or even really close friendships are also an appropriate metaphor. You don't have to, but you want to. Despite the rough times that you have to get through, and even at the prospect of failure (for some that you try to love may reject you and turn away from you), it is all worth it for the one(s) that stay true and stick by you no matter what. Those relationships are so worth it that it's better to lose some to gain those, rather than to never engage in relationship at all.
What is the meaning of life?
I think John Piper put it best when he made a small adjustment to the Westminster Catechism's confession of the purpose of man: "To glorify God by enjoying Him forever." That, I believe, is as accurate as it gets. By inspecting that statement, you can determine whether or not you're a believer. You can determine whether or not you are the man or woman God wants you to be.
Are you glorifying God by enjoying Him? If you delight in who He is, what He's done, and how He instructs you to live, then you're enjoying Him. If you love who He is and what He's done, but you don't love His instruction for your life, you are not enjoying or glorifying Him, since you do not love His values (which are an integral part of who He is and what He's done!). This also solves the question of the perfectly-moral unbeliever. He may be moral, but he is not enjoying or glorifying God. Morality is not the meaning of purpose of life. God is.
Why are humans "made to worship"? God didn't make us for the sole purpose of being praised, so how is this phrase true?
I don't think "made to worship" is the complete statement on the purpose
of mankind. God made man in a perfect state in Genesis 1 and gave this command:
multiply and be fruitful; fill the earth and rule over it.
We know that people are made in God's likeness or "image" which tells us that our lives are to reflect His character and qualities. We were made to act like Him. That includes worshiping Him, as well as being creative, responsible, moral, loving, gracious, holy, and just, among many other qualities. He made us with more than just the purpose of praising Him. He made us with the purpose of sharing in His glory and happiness.
I think John Piper restates the Westminster Catechism well when he sums up the purpose of man in this statement: "To glorify God by enjoying Him forever." Our job is not to be mindless drones who chant compliments to God, but to really discover how awesome it is to be part of the life He called us to, and to enjoy it because it's designed for our satisfaction and fulfillment, and to reflect our gratitude to Him and acknowledge and proclaim the grace and generosity we receive.
Like a romantic relationship, the purpose is not only to give love but to receive it as well. That dynamic is inside us because God put it there. That's the dynamic of every relationship, including our worship toward God and His blessing on us.
Do you think religion and a belief in a higher power is something we create for ourselves?
No. The universal instinct to believe in a creator is actually testimony
to the existence of God. It is neither naturally adaptive nor socially
advantageous to sponsor religious faith in society, and atheism is the youngest
of religious positions.
The only thing we have created for ourselves is a worldview without God and, thankfully, He is working to correct that.
Why are believers still living on this earth right now?
You are still here to save others. That's the mission. You were saved because someone brought the gospel to you. You're supposed to do that for others. We all are. If we lost sight of that, we're not living right at all. It's the reason why we remain (Philippians 1:21-26; Matthew 28:19-20). Moreover, the life we'll have in heaven is exactly how we should be living here on earth (Matthew 6:10). Why wait? If righteous and holy living is ultimately and eternally satisfying, it would only make sense to start doing it now.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is, rather than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Your thoughts?
I disagree with your statement of opinion since "better" is being used as a value statement, and "satisfying" and "reassuring" are unquantifiable, and you speak from your perspective of another hypothetical person's perspective.
If I am happy with the understanding of a flat world, and if I experience tremendous fear at the notion of our world floating in a vastness of empty space, suspended by nothing, and if there is no solution available to alleviate my fear and educate me on the spiritual reality that exists beyond the universe, then it is not better for me to grasp the universe as it really is. Persisting in my delusion is what would prevent trauma.
Take this case (which should remind you of the movie "I Am Legend"): Let's say the world was taken over by vampire zombies who experienced a tortured existence from which they could not die, and only one man was left alive--the original scientist that accidentally created the virus that turned everyone into vampire zombies. Let's say that this man was surviving only for the hope of finding other normal humans and getting back to normal life, and in the course of surviving would accidentally find a cure for the vampire zombies' condition and could free them from their tortured existence from which they could not die. If his full grasp of reality included the fact that he was the only surviving human on the planet, that would defeat his motive for survival which would lead to an eventual cure. It would be better for him to persist in his delusion.
Will our earthly knowledge hold any value in heaven? If not, why bother learning things like astrophysics?
There is no reason for us to assume that living in heaven will endow us with any sort of omniscience. We'll know what we know. Some things will certainly be made clearer. We'll have a much more sober perspective on God, righteousness, and sin and rebellion. Our understanding of those will be much more informed simply because we'll be there, with God, with Christ, and removed from the sinful nature of our humanity. 1 Corinthians 12:12 makes that implication, regarding how we'll understand love much better.
But simply because we'll know some stuff better doesn't mean we'll know everything. Looking at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (which is the best way for us to guess at how we'll operate in heaven), they needed to learn things and figure things out. They knew God better than we do because they had face-to-face relationships with Him, but that didn't somehow nullify their need to have earthly knowledge. Isaiah 65 is a really descriptive passage about heaven, and v22 talks about building houses. That, in my opinion, speaks of a certain element of technology and practical knowledge that will be exercised in the afterlife. Adam and Eve didn't know how to do that, but Israel did, and Isaiah depicts the use of that kind of skill in the future. That could be metaphorical, but the verse clearly indicates that God's people will "long enjoy the work of their hands." They're meant to continue working, applying what they learn and know, and derive joy and fulfillment in it.
So I'm convinced that our earthly knowledge matters in heaven.
BUT...let's pretend it doesn't. Let's pretend that when we get to heaven,
we're omniscient. That still shouldn't excuse us from being good stewards of
what God's given us today.
Consider the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. We're expected to take every gift that God has given us and to handle them responsibly grow them obediently. If you have academic and educational opportunities in your life, worship God with them by doing well and growing in it so that you can build up the body of Christ. "Knowledge" is actually listed as one of the examples of spiritual gifts that all believers need to develop as one of the many ways we worship our King (1 Corinthians 12:8).
Lots of stuff won't last in heaven, like our current body's health and our material possessions. But because we're here now on earth, our job is still to use it for the kingdom. Everything you do here and now does translate over to future reward, as the Parable of the Talents indicates, as also spoken in the Sermon on the Mount (specifically, in Matthew 6:19-21).