Written: 25 July, 2000

[This post was written in response to a person who said that non-Christians asked him certain questions and he wanted to know what to say in reply. His questions appear below in italics. My response is in regular print.]

First, I just want to say that I think that talking with non-Christians about Christianity is a great thing. That's something that I feel I need to do much more of in my everyday life. Since I only became a Christian a year ago, and spent most of my life (I'm 29) as an agnostic, I feel that I might be able to relate to non-Christians and then offer them the answers or counter-arguments that would point toward Christ. Unfortunately, we don't always know what to say to convince non-Christians when they bring up an objection -- or else we think up a good reply later after the conversation is long gone. So, it's a good idea to have some answers ready for questions that people might ask, or objections that they might raise.

>>They ask questions like "Where did God come from?" All these little piddly questions that seem like mere nonsense for us to understand, but nonetheless, they are hard to explain to nonbelievers.

True. I'm reading the book "The Case for Christ" and I was very impressed at one point where one of the authorities interviewed said that the New Testament has some "hard sayings" of Jesus that would have been left out if the Gospels were simply a made-up story or if the idea that Jesus was the Son of God was a later addition. The expert noted that there are theological reasons to explain what appear to be sections showing Jesus as not divine in the Gospels (e.g. Jesus being portrayed as not being all-knowing), and that it would have been "simpler" if the people copying the Gospels had omitted those passages. But they didn't. I recall how last year a non-Christian (former Christian actually) friend of mine said that nobody can ever know what Jesus really said during his lifetime, since the Gospels were written decades later. To assist his belief that Jesus was not God, my friend pointed out the statement of Jesus on the cross "My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) It didn't occur to me until yesterday, reading "The Case for Christ," that my friend was willing to believe Jesus said something only if it confirmed his particular belief that Jesus was not God, which is biased on its face and reflects a very subjective reading of the text, picking and choosing "What is truth" based on one's own personal prejudices. Whereas the Christian accepts the accuracy of the verses according to whether they existed in the oldest surviving versions and whether they conform to the rest of what we know about Jesus.

To me, the answer of "Where did God came from" is very simple and can be explained in a straight-forwardly logical way. "God" is another way of saying the Supreme Being, the Creator. If we accept the defintion of God as the Supreme Being, it may make things clearer. To say "Where did God come from" is like saying "What's longer than infinity." God either created Himself (since He's the Creator) or else He always was.

If anybody else created God, then we'd worship that somebody else. And then that somebody else would be "God." Either way, we're worshipping God, the Supreme Being. Whoever is the Supreme Being is God, and that's who we worship.

This idea of God being the Supreme Being can also help people understand two other objections that they might raise:

1.) Isn't Christianity just about conformity, about becoming a conformist?

2.) Sometimes I hear Christians saying that God is the greatest love of their life, even more than their family and kids. Isn't that kinda sick and anti-family? I mean, they know that their family is real, since they see them every day, but God is invisible, so they don't even know for sure He really exists. So how can a Christian say he loves God more than he loves his own family?

So, recognizing what God really is (the Supreme Being) may help answer these two possible objections. Christianity is not about conformity to other people -- at least I don't think it should be that. It's about following God, not other people. (Yes, Jesus was a person, but He was ALSO the image of the invisible God, so that we humans could know God.) Conformity in and of itself is value neutral -- it depends on who or what you are trying to conform to. So, if you are hanging around decent, moral people and you conform to them, that's not a bad thing. But while the opinions of other people are useful, they are just opinions ultimately. If other people are judgemental toward you, you can take comfort in the mercy of the judge who matters most of all, God.

Trying to conform to your understanding of God is not the same as being a conformist to a segment of society or another person. Another thing to remember is that it's easier to conform to human standards, but harder to conform to God's will. We humans are constantly doing our own thing -- conforming to our selfish or sinful natures -- rather than fighting them and trying to do what we know is right and God-pleasing.

Other people don't fully know what's in my heart, but God knows since the Supreme Being knows everything. God wants us to be our true self, the one who has broken free from the chains of sin. God's view is not just another human opinion which we can take or leave; God's view is the only view that matters. Without the Creator, nothing would be. So, to sum up, conformity to other people is not the point. If people in church look like they are conforming to each other, or making you conform to them, what they are really trying to conform to is God. Not each other, but God. It can certainly help keep us on the right track to feel like we want to conform to an awesome Christian we know, or conform to what our parents want us to be like, but really what we are trying to conform to is God.

Nothing else is worth conforming to. If it's not conforming to God, then don't conform to it.

Objection #2 that I raised above concerns how we Christians can love God more than we love people we know. I even raised this objection myself, before becoming a Christian.

Many Christians will say that God comes first in their lives, but that's more of a goal rather than reality. One of our problems is that often God doesn't come first in our lives. In fact, at my church we have a thing we read in unison during Sunday morning worship where we ask God's forgiveness, and the paragraph is always different each week, and written in plain ordinary language that everyone can relate to, and one of the constants is asking God forgiveness for often not putting Him first in our lives.

It is easier to love something that you can see than something you can't. On the other hand, God is our constant companion who journies with us through our whole life, and knows all those things which nobody else knows. We may keep secrets from other people, even those closest to us, but we can't conceal our darkest thoughts from God. If God knows us inside-out, then we have no secrets from Him, and He is the only one we can truly trust.

Also, if God is the Supreme Being, then His love is the greatest love, greater than any fallen human's. And of course God proved His incredible love for us through the gift of Jesus Christ. Would you willingly die a painful death for a friend?

Also, God recognizes that the love we show each other here on earth is a reflection of our love for Him. If we show a homeless person some kindness, we are showing our love for the Lord as well. The two greatest commandments, Jesus said, were to "love God" and "love thy neighbor." So, loving God is not love at the expense of loving others, but helps us love others. If we try to see each other as God sees us all, then maybe we will have more empathy for one another. God sees the imperfections of ALL of us, and yet He still loves us. Let's try to follow God's example by loving each other despite the imperfections we may see in others (far less than God sees).

>>Why can't I just worship in my own way instead of having to do the church thing and all that stuff?

I'm very much in favor of the idea that we can all worship God in our own way. If some people are turned off Christianity because their parents made them go to some church they hated when they were a kid, I'd tell those people to try a different church. If people complain that church is too formal for their taste, then let them know about informal worship services. We all have different tastes and styles, so we are going to be attracted to different ways of worshipping.

But I think it's important to go to church, to find one for you. Why? Because otherwise there is less accountability. If I say I'm a Christian, but I never go to church or get involved in some kind of Christian activities, then perhaps I will have a harder time staying true to my faith, or growing in my faith.

One verse that people often use to say that going to church is unimportant is in Matthew 6:5-6 where Jesus warns his followers not to pray out in the open for the praise of men, but to go behind a door and pray without anybody but God knowing about it. After reading that, some people conclude, "Well, Jesus is saying that I don't need to go to church, I should just pray at home if I want to pray. In fact, he's saying those people who go to church are hypocrites."

I think that is a false conclusion. My interpretation is that Jesus is focusing on the intent behind the person's actions. If you are going to church to say "Look at me, I'm so holy!" then you are not going for the right reason. Jesus is saying that the person who goes to church to lift up public opinion of themselves, rather than God, would be more effective if they prayed in a closet because at least then they wouldn't be praying for the praise of their fellow man, they'd be doing it because they sincerely want to know God.

But a lot of people go to church not for themselves because they want to know God. I could put in some stuff here about how going to church makes my life inconvenient, but then I'd sound like the person wanting the approval of man. Suffice to say, going to church regularly does involve sacrifice of time, effort, and money. God already knows what's in my heart, so I don't have to go to church to prove anything to Him. But I think it's what God wants me to do, so I do it.

The verse in Matthew about praying behind a closed door also has Jesus telling the apostles how they should pray, and he tells them the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). If the Lord's Prayer is supposed to take place in a closet, why is it in plural form ("Our Father who art in heaven...")?

Also, earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples "A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)

Critics might say, "Well, that doesn't sound like the guy who said you should pray in a closet instead of where people can see you!" But that's because they apparently don't see that Jesus was criticizing the INTENT or REASON that someone was worshipping the way they were. Jesus wasn't criticizing going to church in Matthew 6:5-6, he was criticizing the reason some people went to church, to please other people and not God. But we can see from Matthew 5:14-16, where the intent of the worshipper is not the topic, that Jesus says they should show their faith for all to see and not "light a lamp and put it under a bowl."

So, in other words, if you are going to church to worship God, then Jesus approves. But if you are going to church to win the approval of men, then Jesus says you'd be better off praying in a closet. It couldn't be more clear to me, but for some reason some people keep misunderstanding Matthew 6:5-6 and think that it means Jesus disappoved of going to church!

Anyway, another reason to go to church is that it may keep reminding you about God even when you feel your faith is becoming shaky. Everybody suffers burn-out no matter what it is. We've all had something in our lives that we felt was really, really important to us (a hobby, etc.) and then gradually it just became less important and we moved on to something else. Or we still like it, but we feel less passionately about it. Christians may feel that way about their faith sometimes. Having a "family" of fellow believers with whom you worship each week is a way of keeping you rooted in the faith when you might otherwise fall away.

It's great to have a strong secure faith as I feel like I have right now, but who knows what I might feel like tomorrow or next year or 30 years from now. The routine of going to church keeps bringing God in some way back into my consciousness if I've begun to shut God out of my life. A few hours ago, I was telling a cyberpal that one of the things I like about having a job is that I have to do things that I might otherwise wouldn't: shave regularly, shower, etc. Today is my day off and I'm as scummed out as can be, because I don't have to be anywhere or look nice for anyone. Similarly, if I don't go to church, I might become a bit of a slob when it comes to my faith as well!

Another reason to go to church is because Jesus commanded his followers to take communion in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19). Regardless of one's denominational opinions about communion, I think that we can all agree that it is a powerful physical reminder of the reality of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for all of us.

Another reason to go to church is to become involved in one's community of fellow believers. I started attending my pastor's Bible Study class almost a year ago. In that short amount of time, three of the elderly people who were in that small class have died. I'm not used to death, because I'd known very few people who have died over the years. Nobody that I was really close to has died yet. And so I'm glad that I hadn't waited to start attending the class, because if I'd waited several months, I'd never have been able to know those people before they died. I talked briefly with two of them each Sunday when they attended, and they knew that they might die very soon. I think most of us would think if we had only a few months to live, we'd try to live it up before our time came. Maybe we'd skip church because we'd feel we had better ways of spending our remaining time on earth. If we have so much more time to spare, surely we too have time for church in our lives.

Another thing that I need when I go to church is to confess my sins to God and receive assurance of forgiveness. I probably wouldn't really confess my sins much on my own, outside of the church ritual. But we need to repent of our sin to receive forgiveness. I know that I often don't pray (or "say grace") before my meals at home. Frankly I'd feel a little silly saying it before eating a TV dinner or some potato chips. Going to church forces me to overcome my slacker nature and focus on God.

>>I know I shouldn't lust... but what's wrong with just LOOKING at the picture without lusting?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

There's a lot in those two verses. For one thing, Jesus is saying that just because we haven't broken one of the Ten Commandments, doesn't mean we should feel that we are perfectly good, and thus not needing a savior. (That was an important point to me when I was a non-Christian because I didn't see myself as a sinner, I saw myself as a good person. But Jesus is showing us here that no matter how good we think we are, or how good we may appear, God knows our darkest and most selfish thoughts.)

Jesus is telling us here to overcome our sinful nature. The "natural" thing for us to do is to think lustful thoughts about an attractive woman. Jesus calls us to be better than that. Some people may argue, "Well, they're just thoughts, so what?" But thoughts may influence a person's behavior. If I'm thinking lustful thoughts about a woman, I may be more likely to commit adultery than if I rejected such thoughts. Even if I don't commit adultery, my mind may be more focused on the object of my lust than on other things that I should be thinking about.

Also, this gets back to the idea of God knowing what's in our heart. We may be able to fool people on the outside, but God is not fooled.

Some people may lack boldness or self-esteem, and so be unable to commit adultery if they wanted to. God recognizes that we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Again, this has to do with INTENT. If I'm a very cowardly or timid person by nature, I'm not likely to try and commit adultery. But that doesn't mean I'm better than the bold person who did commit adultery, since both of us committed adultery in our hearts. In that instance the timid person may see their timidity as a blessing in disguise because it prevented them from acting on what was in their heart.

All this stuff about INTENT goes back to the idea of God being the Supreme Being who is all-knowing. People are often fooled by appearances, but God isn't. If your intent is pure and unselfish, whether it's going to church or looking at a pretty girl, then it's not condemned.

>>Other Christians act like hypocrits. Why would I want to become one of them?

Here's a shocker: Christians are not better than anybody else. Christians are flawed humans who need a savior to wipe away their sin, just like everybody else.

I don't want to be like a hypocrite, whether they are Christian or not. This goes back to the "conformity" thing I brought up before. The idea is to conform to God, who is perfect, not to other people, who are not perfect.

It's a good idea to try and follow the example of moral people. But as shown above, even the most moral people have sinned in their hearts. So, the best idea is to try and follow the example of Jesus, who was without sin. Granted, nobody human is able to perfectly follow Jesus' example, so we are all open to the charge of being imperfect beings, or hypocrites.

The person who calls himself a Christian is saying that he tries to hold himself to a certain high standard. So high, in fact, that he probably won't succeed. But at least he is taking a stand and trying to follow a high standard. What kind of standard is the non-Christian publicly holding himself up to?

This also connects to the idea I stated earlier that we should try to see one another as God must see us. God sees all our flaws, no matter how well hidden, and yet He loves us just the same. So, too, we should love our fellow men despite their "hypocrisy." If we feel that Christians are hypocrites because they are flawed and keep on sinning, we should try to see things from God's perspective. We all keep on sinning, despite our promises to Him not to, and yet He doesn't call us hypocrites. Instead He forgives our mistakes and loves us.

>>He won it, it's his money. He doesn't have to tithe on it.

Everything we have comes from God. The only reason I'm here writing this post is due to the mercy and grace of God. God can provide you with money and God can take it all away. It comes down to whether you recognize that "God is in control" (to quote the Twila Paris song) or whether you don't trust God with your money.

Admittedly, I'm a real cheap skate and so my tithing is not what it should be.

>>Well, I HAVE to work every Sunday. Nobody else will. (devalidating the justification of working on the sabbath)

I admit that I skipped church last Sunday because of work. But my boss knows that I go to church on Sunday mornings and I've told her that I'd prefer not to work Sunday mornings. But I'm usually scheduled to work Sunday afternoons. The way I look at it is I'm helping my boss by working, and I'm helping customers by serving them. If I said that I absolutely couldn't work on Sundays no matter what, my boss would be in a bind and customers would have a harder time finding someone able to help them. I think God wants me to be a good employee. Doesn't Paul say something like wage-slaves are really serving God when they serve customers? :-)

>>Haven't YOU ever done that before? (referring to any kind of past sin)

I don't really know what the point of that comment is. Just because "everybody" does something doesn't make it right.

>>It's my money, what does God care wether or not I spend it on the lottery? I win sometimes!

Again, I think this comes down to INTENT. I don't have an opinion about lotteries really. I don't participate in them but that's because I feel they are common ways for a fool and his money to part. If the INTENT of buying a lottery ticket is greed and selfishness, then it's bad, pure and simple.

>>What's wrong with beer, just as long as I don't get drunk?

I don't drink, never have, not even wine, and have no intention to start. (My church uses grape juice instead of wine for communion. I really felt at home at my church when I learned that because I didn't want to drink wine, which I'd spent decades avoiding.)

I think drinking beer sets a bad example. A person also runs the risk of becoming addicted to it, becoming an alcoholic. The same is true of over-eating, which is more the area that I have to struggle with.

Personally, I wouldn't try to tell somebody that they have to stop drinking to be a good Christian. For one thing, a lot of good Christians disagree. For another thing, the Bible doesn't say anything like that. And thirdly, if you do think that drinking is bad (as do I), then I'd trust that after the person became a Christian then they might re-evaluate things which they engaged in before, and might stop then. So, I'd recommend first pointing them to Christ, and then letting Christ take over from there. As one of my cyberpals said, "Love the sinner, let God take care of the sin."

>>And the ultimate preacher boy shoot down: >>Who gave you the right to tell me what I'm doing wrong?

Well, if they don't want to hear your opinion, then they shouldn't talk with you. But if you are being judgemental about their activities, perhaps you should ease off and try to explain what you believe in a more loving way, so that they don't feel like you are condemning them.

I have to admit that I'm not very vocal about my religious beliefs in real life, so that unfortunately I don't get into discussions like that with non-Christians. I ought to start, because obviously I have a lot to say on the subject!