Questions from Christian Youth

Wed, 16/11/2022 - 09:43 -- James Oakley

Yesterday evening, I had the joy of being invited to our church midweek youth ministry. The teenagers had been given the chance to write down questions they'd like to ask one of their pastors, and I was invited along to tackle those questions and any others that came up during the course of the evening.

They asked some great questions. I was helpfully given advanced notice of the questions they'd submitted, to enable me to think about my answers in advance. (Tip: If you're setting up such a session, the youth may love the idea of their pastor having to think on their feet, but if your goal is that they get clear answers you serve pastors and youth better with advanced notice.)

Here are some jottings I made before going along, which formed the basis of my answers.

1) Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

  • Don’t know
  • Take it the reason for the question: If they were the first humans, didn’t have parents, weren’t born, they’d have no need for them.
  • Why don’t know? Bible’s clear that God made everything. I’m genuinely undecided whether it tells us he did so in 6 days (= 24 hour periods), or whether that’s not the question Genesis 1 is asking and large-scale evolution could be the way God did it.
  • I am convinced Adam and Eve were historical figures, parents of us all. Look later at second half Romans 5. Need Adam to be historical as much as you need Jesus to be historical.
  • So you have Adam and Eve, first humans, ancestors of us all, first to bear the image of God.
  • If they were descended from non-human apes, they’d still need belly buttons.
  • Even if they were created out of nothing, God could still have given them belly buttons, that had never done any work, to make them exactly like their offspring – us!

2) If you find yourself doubting God (because of something that happened or something) how would you convince yourself to have more faith and belief?

  • Faith is just trust in God. I don’t need more of it. I need to find a way to keep trusting him.
  • If you want more faith, or want to deal with doubts, you don’t look at your faith and ask how to make it stronger. You look at the one you trust in, and remind yourself how dependable he is. Fix your gaze on your own feelings of faith, you’ll fall over. Fix your gaze on him, your feelings of faith will follow.
  • So I look at the resurrection. Do I believe Jesus really did rise from the dead?
  • The answer is yes. I can rehearse to myself why I’m utterly convinced of that.
  • That changes everything. It makes Jesus’ claim to be God true, everything he ever said trustworthy, and I can go from there.

3) Where does freewill end and God’s plan begin?

  • It doesn’t. You don’t have either our free will in play, or God’s plan, but not both. They exist together.
  • For our free will – ask what you mean by “free”. People sometimes think that to be “free” you have to be totally unconstrained – nothing outside is nudging you, you could make either choice. That’s one kind of freedom. But not only kind. Think of a food you really don’t like. (Take ideas). If I offer you the chance to eat X, will you say yes or no? Was that a free decision? Yes it was – you refused it because you wanted to. Nobody made you refuse it. But was it ever going to be a different decision? No.
  • For God’s plan – he’s in control from beginning to end.
  • Best example. Crucifixion. Acts 4:27-28. Verse 27 – they conspired. Were they forced to kill Jesus? Really didn’t want to do it, but found words coming out of their mouths, fists doing things, that they couldn’t stop? No. But verse 28 – God’s power and will decided beforehand.

4) Do other types of Christians e.g. Catholics go to heaven since they are Christians but believe in a different way?

  • Not about types of Christians.
  • Not about the way you believe.
  • Go to heaven, because Jesus died to pay for your sins and rose again to give you new life. You take hold of that by trusting him. That trust is what the Bible calls “faith”.
  • So issue is not: Are you a Catholic? Issue is: Do you trust Jesus alone to rescue you? If you do, Jesus has saved you, and you go to heaven.
  • There are points where the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church is really wrong, which includes stuff about how you get saved. I would never belong to a RC church. But lots of people will go to Roman Catholic churches and not believe any of that stuff – they’ll just trust Jesus. Which is why the question is not whether someone is a Roman Catholic, but whether they’re trusting Jesus.

5) How can we convince our friends to serve God if their hearts are hardened like Pharaoh?

  • If their hearts are hardened like Pharaoh, it’s because they’ve hardened their own hearts. Back to what we said about nobody being made to do things they don’t want to do. Like food you don’t like. Tried if before. Decided you don’t like it. So you’ll refuse next time.
  • Is there any hope? Yes. Looking at Paul on Sundays in Acts. Acts 22:4-5. Paul hated Christians. Jesus met him. Acts 22:6-8. Transformed into someone who loved Jesus and suffered to help them become Christians.
  • How does God do this? How can you convince your friends? By telling them about Jesus. 2 Corinthians 4:2-6. Blind. Can’t see that the gospel is good news. But God who did a miracle turning the lights of creation on does that same miracle in the hearts of our friends. And he does it as we set forth the truth about Jesus plainly.

6) Difference between Jews and Christians?

  • First thing to say: Modern Judaism is a very varied religion. I can’t say “Jews today believe this”, without that only being true of a fraction of modern Jews.
  • Simple answer: Difference between Jews who lived before Jesus, and Jews who live after Jesus.
  • Before Jesus, God made promises to the Jews, and gave them some scale models of how he would one day save the world through Jesus. Animal sacrifices. A temple in Jerusalem. Kings descended from David. Because Jesus would come, if they put their trust in those things, they really were saved.
  • Jesus was what all those things were pointing to. Now that Jesus has come, we don’t need to kill sheep and goats, and we don’t need to go to Jerusalem. We just come to Jesus.
  • People today who trust in Jesus are the people of God. Jesus was and is a Jew. God doesn’t have a different plan. Know Jesus, you’re part of the ancient people of God because you’re attached to him.
  • Today, there are Jews who trust Jesus and have these blessings. There are others who are not Jews who trust Jesus and have these blessings. Together, we’re Christians.
  • There are also Jews who have rejected that Jesus is the one those things point to. They’re still putting their trust in the scale models. No longer works that you can trust the prequel if you reject the real thing. Descendants of Abraham? John 8:38-39
  • First 40 years after Jesus, which is the time of the book of Acts, is a bit different, because news about Jesus was still spreading, and the Old Testament system not yet dismantled. Temple still stood. So that’s an overlap when the Old and New Testaments were both running. Today, the old has gone, and Jesus is the way to be saved – whether you’re Jew or not.

7) What is the first thing you will ask God?

  • Don’t know, because I suspect that when I enter the presence of God all the questions I would have asked will cease to matter, and I’ll have a whole load of different things on my mind.
  • Job. Suffers more than anyone. Loads of questions for God. Finally, God speaks out of a storm. 38:2, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” When God’s finished talking, Job says 42:2. I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

8) Predestination. How is it fair? What is the point evangelising?

  • Do you really want what’s fair? What would be fair would be for none of us to be saved.
  • God is merciful, and gives some people better than what they deserve.
  • So you don’t actually want fairness. We don’t like the fact that God decides who gets to be saved, who has something better than we deserve.
  • What’s the alternative? The only other possibility is that the difference between someone who turns to Christ and someone who doesn’t is something in them. Then that’s saying that we make a contribution to our salvation. Like saying there’s a free holiday, but only for those who already pay £50 a month for something else. But God’s grace is completely free.
  • What is the point of evangelising? God knows who he’s chosen, but we don’t. Those who are going to be saved need someone to tell them the gospel. If nobody tells your friends about Jesus, ever, that proves they were not one of those God had chosen. If God has chosen them, somebody will tell them about Jesus. Wouldn’t you love the joy of being that person?
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