Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reality Check - What Does God Do?

What is God Like?
For each statement, circle True or False. If you’re not sure, leave it blank.

1. God causes natural disasters.
True / False

2. God decides who lives and who dies.
True / False

3. If someone dies, it’s because God took them.
True / False

4. When something bad happens to me, it’s because God is punishing me.
True / False

5. When God lets bad things happen to me, that shows He’s not powerful enough to stop them.
True / False

6. When God lets bad things happen to me, that shows God doesn’t care enough about me to stop them.
True / False

7. God planned who He wanted (or wants) me to marry.
True / False

8. God has the perfect job in mind for me.
True / False

9. I talk to God when I pray, and He actually talks back.
True / False

10. God gives me what I pray for.
True / False

11. God works miracles for us if we have enough faith.
True / False

12. God wants to communicate with me.
True / False

What’d you think of that quiz? Were the questions easy to answer or not so easy? 
The thing is that we all take this quiz every day, because these questions focus on some of the big things that we believe about God. Does God have a plan for how He wants your life to go? Does He have a spouse and a job and all of that lined up for you? When something bad happens to you, where is God in that? Did He make that bad thing happen? If not, why didn’t He do anything about it?
Those are some big questions, and I want to see if we can start to work through some of them. 

1. God causes natural disasters. Is that true or false? I’m going to say it’s mostly false. We have stories in the Bible where God certainly did cause natural disasters. But does that mean that God causes all natural disasters? No.
The truth is that we live in a broken world. God created the world to operate perfectly. Genesis 1:31 – “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Now, when God says something is good, that doesn’t mean it was okay, or pretty good. That means it was good. It was perfect. There was nothing wrong with the world. There were no natural disasters.
And the Bible tells us that in the beginning, there was a layer of water surrounding the Earth, creating a kind of greenhouse effect for us. Genesis 1:6-8 – “And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky.’”
There was water on the earth, and there was water above the earth. And we’re not talking about the water that is always up in the clouds because there was no rain yet. Genesis 2:6-7 – “the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” So, in the beginning, instead of having water falling from the sky, water came up from the ground somehow. Maybe it was more like just having a lot of dew on the ground.
There were no earthquakes or volcanoes or anything like that. There were no tornadoes or hurricanes or tsunamis. The world was perfect and at peace.
Then, Adam and Eve sinned and their children sinned and their children sinned and their children sinned until God decided that He had had enough. And He broke the world. Genesis 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” That layer of water that was above the earth came down and the water that was under the earth that came up little by little to water the ground broke through the earth’s crust all at once and broke the earth’s crust into smaller pieces called plates, and all of that water from up above and from down below drowned every living thing on the planet except for Noah and his family and the animals he had with him on the ark.
The breaking down of that water layer ended the greenhouse effect the Earth was enjoying. Heat escaped the immediate atmosphere. All of that water started evaporating up into colder air and came down again as snow and ice. Those plates in the earth’s crust began sliding around and rubbing against each other, causing earthquakes and volcanoes.
God caused every natural disaster when He broke the world with the Flood. The Flood was what set off our weather patterns and plate tectonics. So, yes, God made the biggest natural disaster there ever was, and in doing so, He also caused natural disasters in general. But He doesn’t cause each individual storm or tsunami or earthquake or volcanic eruption. He set everything in motion with the Flood and is now allowing everything to take their natural course.
The Bible tells us that one day, Jesus is going to come back to this world and that this world is going to burn up, and that God is going to create a new world for us to live in. 2 Peter 3:6-7, 10 – “By water the world of that time was flooded and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

The earth was flooded. Everything died. And then, God started over with Noah and his family and those animals who had survived on the ark. When Christ returns, God is going to judge the world again. He’s going to burn everything on earth – clear the slate – and then, start again with only those who have been faithful to Him.
Does God cause each individual natural disaster? No. It’s kind of like we’re living in a condemned house right now. The landlord knows it’s broken. But rather than repair it, He knows He’s just going to tear it down and build a new one in its place.
So, no, God is not causing each individual disaster. But neither is He doing anything to stop them. He’s just letting things run down and take their natural course.

2-3. God decides who lives and who dies. True or false? Again, in the Bible, God does sometimes kill people. He’s God. He owns us. He’s allowed to kill us if He sees fit. He can do what He wants with His own creation. And God does sometimes save people from dying. But does that mean that God is always deciding who lives and who dies? Does He have a calendar up in Heaven where He writes each person’s name on the date He wants them to die? Does each person have a “time” to die like that?
No. In the beginning, God created human beings to live forever. Adam and Eve never would have died. They would have continued living in the Garden of Eden and enjoying that perfect world that God created and enjoying God’s Presence and having children and everything would have been perfect.
But then, they sinned. And the punishment for sin was death. Genesis 2:17 – “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will begin to die.” Some translations say, “you will certainly die.” The Hebrew there is actually, “dying, you will die.” We know that Adam and Eve didn’t die right away, but that they began to die. They started the process of dying when they sinned.
So, death is kind of like natural disasters. God set it in motion. He decided that everyone was going to die as a punishment for sin. Anyone who sins has to die. And because we all sin, we all die.  But God does not decide when you’re going to die or how you’re going to die. He kicked it off and now, He’s letting things take their natural course.
One day, Jesus is going to come back to this world, and He’s going to bring everyone who believes in Him back to life, and He’s going to perfect our bodies and make it so that we never get sick or get hurt or get old again. We will live forever in that new world God is going to create, just like He always intended us to do.
But that time is not yet, and so, we die.

4. That brings us to our next one. When something bad happens to me, it’s because God is punishing me. No. Just like everything else, God is not actively doing things to you. There are a lot of reasons why something bad might happen to you. Either it’s because of things that were set in motion long before you or I got here, like death or the weather or natural disasters, or because you did something or someone else did something to cause that bad thing to happen naturally, without God having to do anything about it. If, for example, you get drunk and get a hangover, that’s not God punishing you; that’s you suffering the natural consequence of throwing off your body’s chemistry. If someone else gets drunk and hits your car, that’s you suffering the consequence of them throwing off their body’s chemistry. God has nothing to do with either one. Or sometimes, things happen to us just out of simple coincidence. We’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Bible tells us that God will punish us when Christ comes back to judge the world. But, again, that time has not yet come, and so no, God does not punish us now, other than allowing us to suffer the consequences of our decisions and punishing us with death at some point, which He does not determine.

5-6. When God lets bad things happen to me, that shows He’s not powerful enough to stop them. Or, When God lets bad things happen to me, that shows God doesn’t care enough about me to stop them. Both are false. God does care about you, and God will stop bad things from happening to you. Just not yet. He knows everything that is going to happen in this world, and He has set a time that only He knows about for when He’s going to end this world and make a new one, where nothing bad will ever happen to us again. But that time is not now. And so, even though God does care about you, He knows that it’s not time to stop the bad things from happening.
God knows that our time in this world is brief. Our lifetime is like a blink of an eye compared to eternity. Romans 8:18 – “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The pain, the hardships, the heartache that we experience here will one day seem like nothing. And so, God would much rather have us learn from our hardships and develop our character by going through those hardships than take away our problems altogether. He wants us to learn by going through those hard experiences.

7-8. God planned who He wanted (or wants) me to marry. God has the perfect job in mind for me. Again, those are both false. Christians sometimes think that God has their life all planned out. But He doesn’t. God is our Father, our Parent. You know what kind of parent plans out their children’s lives for them? Controlling ones. “You will be a doctor because I was a doctor.” Or “You will do this because I never had the opportunity to do it.”
God isn’t like that. God loves us, and He wants what’s best for us. But He’s not going to make every decision for us. He’s given us some guidelines. He’s said that He wants us to marry another Christian so that they can support us in our faith and help us run our family according to God’s principles. But He doesn’t pick the exact person He wants you to marry. 
Likewise, God has said that He wants you to be fair and honest and hardworking in your job or career, and He wants you to do things with excellence, but He doesn’t tell you what specific job you need to get or even what field of work you should be in. He lets you figure that out.
You see, just like a good parent, God is much more interested in what kind of person you are than what you do for a living. He’s much more interested in who you are than what your job is or how much money you make or how successful you are compared to your colleagues. With God, you can just be. You don’t have to do anything other than just to be the kind of person God created you to be.

9-11. I talk to God when I pray, and He actually talks back. God gives me what I pray for. God works miracles for us if we have enough faith.
I have had God talk to me, and God did talk to people in the Bible. God does and did answer prayer. God did and does work miracles. The question is, How often does God do those things?
We read about all the miracles that God did in the Bible and all the people He talked to, and we think that that must be normal. We think that’s how life is supposed to be. But it’s not.
The Bible is like the news. We watch the news, and we see stories about people being shot and houses burning down and all kinds of other strange happenings. And if we looked at the news the way we look at the Bible, we’d think, Wow! Everyone’s being shot, and everyone’s house is burning down.
But we know that’s not true. We know that the news shows us the things that are not normal, that are not happening to everyone. That’s why it’s news. If those things were normal, we wouldn’t need anyone to tell us about it because we’d already know.
It’s the same way with the Bible. The Bible shows the big things, the highlights, the things that were not normal because there’s no reason to tell you about the normal things because you already know what normal life is like. And it shows us those big things over the course of about 4,000 years. If you take all the miracles that God did in the Bible and all the times that He talked to people and all the times that He answered someone’s prayer and stretch them out over 4,000 years, I think you’ll find that on most days, God didn’t do anything. There was no news to report.
Now, of course, I’m exaggerating, because the Bible probably doesn’t tell us every little thing that God did. But you get my point. God talking to people, and God doing miracles, and God answering prayer is not an everyday occurrence. You may never experience those things. And it’s not because there’s anything wrong with your faith. It’s simply because they don’t happen very often. God is, for the most part, letting things take their natural course.
If God doesn’t talk to you, it’s not because He doesn’t like you or because He doesn’t have anything to say you.

12. Oh, but that’s getting into our last question. God wants to communicate with me.
That one is true. God has a lot to say to you, and He will talk your ear off all day long, every day, until you die if you’ll let Him. He just doesn’t talk to you the way I’m talking to you now.
You see, God has already said pretty much all He needs to say to you. He even had some people write it down and give it to you in the form of a book. I’m talking about the Bible, obviously. It is God’s Words, and when we read it, God is speaking to us, telling us everything that we need to know about Him and about ourselves and about what He wants for us and about what He’s eventually going to do for us when Jesus comes back.
God wants to communicate with you, through the Bible. And He wants you to communicate with Him through prayer. Prayer is not for us to tell God what we want and expect Him to do it. Prayer is simply for us to talk to God. I’ve said before that the thing God wants most out of us is a relationship. Talking to God, praying to Him, telling Him about your day or what you want to see happen is part of that relationship, and there doesn’t have to be any expectations involved.
You know, my wife will sometimes come home from work and tell me about a problem she’s having with a co-worker or about a task she needs to get done. She doesn’t expect me to do anything about those things. She simply wants to talk to me. And that’s the same thing we can do with God. We don’t need to expect Him to fix everything, because He’s probably not going to. But we can still talk to Him and be in that relationship with Him.
We can tell God what we want to see happen, and we can ask Him to do things. Just know that He’s not obligated to do them and that He does still care about you if He doesn’t. Prayer is about the relationship, not miracles.

Follow-up Discussion:

Q1. Have you ever heard other Christians or other churches saying that some natural disaster was God’s punishment or judgment on the world?
What do you think is wrong with that type of thinking? Or is that type of thinking wrong?
A1. When we say that God causes natural disasters as a punishment of some sort, it makes God seem unfair. Because you know that when a hurricane happens, there are Christians who are killed or whose property is destroyed too. So, is God punishing everyone in that area? Or just the unbelievers?
When you say that God is not punishing us but that He’s just allowing things to take their natural course and that He will punish us individually in the end, then you get a fair picture of God. He deals with us individually at the judgment instead of letting Christians suffer along in a natural disaster along with everyone else.

Q2. Has you ever been to a funeral and heard someone say, “Well, God wanted to take them”?
How would you feel if someone said that to you?
A2. I would feel like God was picking on me, like God deliberately chose to take my loved one away from me. And I would think, God is the bad guy here. He made this person die.
That’s not a very fair picture of God, is it? It’s much more accurate to say that God is letting things take their natural course. Sometimes, it happens to me; sometimes, it happens to you. It’s just random chance. God isn’t deciding who lives and who dies. He isn’t picking on anyone.

Q3. If God doesn’t punish us in this world, how do we know when we’ve done something wrong? Does God have any way of correcting us before we get to the judgment?
A3. That’s the role of our conscience and the Holy Spirit. God has given us all a conscience to know the basics of right and wrong, and He gives every Christian the Holy Spirit to live inside of them and remind them of what God has said.
John 14:26 – “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
God also lets us suffer the natural consequences of our decisions. If I go out and get drunk and then, get a hangover, maybe that hangover will help me understand that I shouldn’t drink so much next time.
So, God doesn’t punish us, but He does tell us when we’ve made a mistake through our conscience, through the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and through the consequences of what we do.

Q4. Have you ever heard God talking to you?
If you ever did hear God talking to you, how would you know it was Him?
A4. When you have an idea that you know you didn’t come up with, that’s God talking to you. But you also have to test it and make sure that it really is God talking to you. An easy rule to keep in mind is that God will never contradict Himself. He will never tell you something that goes against something He’s already said in the Bible. So, if that voice you hear tells you to do something that doesn’t agree with the Bible, then you know it’s not God talking to you.

Q5. Have you ever had God answer your prayer, or have you ever seen God do a miracle?

A5. I don’t want to say that God can’t talk to us or answer our prayers or do miracles, because He can and does. I simply want us to understand that throughout the course of our lives, it’s pretty rare for those things to happen and that we shouldn't expect them on a regular basis.

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