Saturday, 2 October 2010

More questions from SU SU

Another rapid fire round of Q & A from Sullivan Upper Scripture Union...
"Why do so many bad things happen to good people, e.g. holocaust?" This is the problem of evil which we have tried to address in a couple of posts here.  When we ask why something happens we could mean a couple of things - we could be asking what was the cause or we could be asking what was the intention.  So bad things happen because of bad people - it's because of human wickedness, that's the cause, but what is the intention in God allowing it to take place?  There are many answers - the moral freedom of humanity, the longsuffering of God in giving people space to repent, and the fact that if and when God judges all sin will be punished, which is bad news for all of us, which is why we need Christ - the necessary and sufficient provision for our sin.

"Why aren't the bad people punished with poverty?"  The first question I have about this question is, who are the bad people?  It's pretty easy to speak in broad terms about good people and bad people, but when we get down to the nitty gritty and are deciding who should get this punishment, where is the line that separates the good from the bad?  How many sins does a person have to commit before they ring the bell and become bad?  What kind of a sin is it that a person has to commit before they lose their good status?  How many sins, or what types of sins can God put up with?  The Lord Jesus said, "There is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19 v 17).  This is taken up by other writers (Romans 3 v 12; Ecclesiastes 7 v 20).  In God's estimation we are all bad people, and God is going to punish the bad people - not with poverty, but with something worse - there is hell to pay for our sins (Romans 2 v 12).  That's why we need to own up to our badness and take the pardon that is offered through Christ, who died for sinners and rose again.  Look at the story the Lord told in Luke 18 v 9-14.  Which of the two men are you more like?
As regards the punishment of the wicked by poverty - it's a question that vexed the writer of Psalm 73 - why do those who refuse to bow the knee to the Lord seem to prosper?  He then took the eternal perspective and understood that accounts aren't settled on earth (see Romans 2 v 4-5).  It perhaps should be said, when you look at many of the rich and famous it seems that great wealth could possibly be a greater punishment!  Look at the following statements by the Lord on the whole issue of riches and poverty - they will show you that money can be the biggest impediment to ultimate treasure and eternal riches (Luke 12 v 15-21; 16 v 19-31; 18 v 24-27; Mark 8 v 36).  How often poverty can turn people's minds to the things of eternal value, while riches can turn people's minds off to those things.

"If there's a Christian who sins a lot, and an atheist who is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, who barely sins, why does God let the atheist go to suffer in hell and the Christian gets a place in heaven?" We'll have to deal with the atheist and the Christian separately here.  Consider the atheist first.  Our questioner stipulated that the atheist barely sins, but the only way the atheist can afford to reject Christ is if he never sins!  If someone stands before God without having claimed the Substitute then he will have to answer for his own sins.  Being a Christian isn't just some arbitrary hoop God tells people to jump through, but rather it's the necessary answer to the problem of sin.  Only Christianity provides a Substitute for the guilty - that's why the Bible says there's no salvation in any person other than Christ (Acts 4 v 12).  If we don't own up to our guilt and receive God's provision for it (i.e. Christ) then we'll have to bear the penalty ourselves.  So that's why an atheist, or any other person who refuses God's provision, ends up in hell - it's the punishment for the sins they committed.
But what about this Christian who sins a lot.  Well, perhaps he isn't truly a Christian - perhaps he's just pretending to be.  Christians are not perfect, nor are they necessarily better than everyone else, but they will inevitably be better than they were prior to becoming a Christian!  There are a couple of reasons for this: no one can become a Christian without repenting (Acts 20 v 21).  Repentance means that you change your attitude towards sin, recognising that sin is no light matter or laughing matter, but a capital crime, a damning offence against God.  So if someone consistently has a cavalier, doesn't-care attitude towards sin it would be evidence that they have never repented.  A second reason why a true Christian will be different is because, upon believing on the Lord Jesus, the Spirit of God comes to dwell within them, to enable and inspire them to live for the glory of God (Romans 8 v 9).   A true Christian may go through times of rebellion and coldness (I certainly have), but the grace of God and the blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Spirit won't be beaten by that (see post on eternal security), and the Spirit of God will make them truly miserable and bring them to repentance.   A true Christian will be different from what he was before, but his salvation doesn't depend upon his own goodness or performance.  The Christian is going to heaven because he has a Saviour who has actually paid for his sins, thus making it not only unnecessary but unjust and impossible for him to pay for them - the debt is cancelled the moment a sinner turns to Christ.  If someone is truly trusting Christ for salvation then his salvation depends on Christ entirely, not on the one trusting Christ.  This will lead to a life of grateful devotion.  If someone can consider the cross of Christ and the grace of God and then continually live a selfish life, it would indicate to me that they probably haven't really experienced the reality of those things in their life.  But the true Christian still sins, however, the true Christian has the answer to his sins - Christ - the One who paid for sin (Romans 8 v 34). 
Let me just ask you - as you consider your sins, whether many or few, do you have an adequate answer that will satisfy God in regard to those sins?  Have you got a Substitute?  There's one available, and only one.

More Q & A from Sullivan to come in later posts!