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Does anyone have all the right answers?
Now here’s a tricky question. Maybe we have to begin by asking a question of the question – right answers to what exactly? I recall asking myself that same question when faced with maths tests at school – when the answers frequently evaded me, but I knew they existed not least because my best friend seemed to know them all the time!
This question is not about answers to maths tests though. It is concerned with what we sometimes call the ultimate questions about life.
In other words, is it possible to come to at a sure and certain conclusion as to why life exists in our universe, and specifically on this planet, and whether human life in particular has significance beyond itself, by which I mean in relation to God?
Of course, people have very different opinions – perhaps more so today than a century ago when maybe the majority of people accepted the Biblical explanation – which we will come back to later.
Today, some people believe that while life as we know it has the appearance of design, this can all be adequately explained by the processes of evolution. As such, there is no need for God who creates life or sustains it. This view attributes our origins to the result of a cosmic accident and no other explanation is necessary. Usually, those who take this view do so because they believe that science has uncovered the answers to the ‘big’ questions that used to be given a ‘religious’ answer. Not all scientists take that view it should be said, but some do. This put simply, is the atheistic worldview - that believes that the origins of the cosmos and the evolution of life on earth have no divine cause. They occurred as a result of chance.
By comparison it is probably correct to say that the majority of people (in our country) today are broadly agnostic. They are not altogether sure whether God exists or not. They are not prepared to exclude that possibility, neither are they certain that it is true.
Then there are ‘deists’ people who think that because the universe is so vast and complex, as is life itself, that no mere ‘uncaused cause’ is a sufficient explanation. Maybe God did create life or at least designed and fine-tuned the universe so that life would develop. The former atheistic professor of philosophy, Anthony Flew came in recent years to this view, but felt nonetheless that this God could not be known. This God is distant and uninvolved in human affairs. This kind of thinking about a distant and remote God has a long history.
Others see God in everything – a god of nature. This is a pantheistic view. This god is to be found in the hills, the rivers and trees. This view sees god as more of a ‘force’ than a personal god.
There are also different perspectives offered by the world religions. These are not all the same. But the three that are monotheistic – namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believe in a God who creates and sustains all life and also reveals himself to humankind.
Christianity is distinct from the other two in what it believes about God because of Jesus. Christianity believes that Jesus Christ is unique among all men because he is human and divine (the Son of God) at one and the same time. In addition to this, Christians believe that through his teaching and his character, Jesus shows us exactly what God is like and how he wants us to live. And Christians also believe that by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ rescues us from a life of separation from God by bringing us forgiveness for our wrongdoing. In other words, Jesus provides us with the only way of knowing God and of being accepted by God. It is a bit more complex than that. But this is the essence of it and Christians draw these beliefs from the Bible and from the lived-experience of the Christian life.
Of course we know that such ‘exclusive’ claims are not popular today. Christians attract some criticism because of it and we understand the reasons for that. On the one hand, it challenges the godless ‘world view’ of those who would prefer God not to figure in either creation or human affairs. It does so by claiming that the universe is no cosmic accident, but the act of creation by God who also loves and cares for his creation and reveals himself to humankind in order that we may know him and enter into a relationship with him.
On the other, it implies that those of other faiths have not got it quite right. To say that invites objections from other faiths because Christianity is making exclusive claims. But it is probably justified to say that most faiths make exclusive claims. Christianity is not alone in this regard. But is this wrong when we are concerned about what is true rather than on finding some formula which everyone could sign up to? Also we know that this line of reasoning would not apply to scientific inquiry for example. Would we say that no one scientific theory can claim exclusive rights to be true? That would not make sense. Our search for truth – such as we may know it – means that we seek the very best explanations that are possible. We expect that from science and we should expect that from religious thought as well.
And here it is worth making another point. Science and religion both contribute to our understanding of life by asking big questions and seeking big answers. Their respective insights are needed because science by itself cannot answer everything and neither can religious faith. Both therefore complement each other as we strive to learn more about the created order and our place in it.
But Christians want to go a step further on the basis of what the Bible teaches. Christians believe that in Jesus Christ, we find answers that are found nowhere else and in no-one else. For in Jesus we believe that God has entered into our world in human form (the incarnation), in order to bring us back to God by dealing with that which separates us from him (salvation). Not only that, we believe that God gives us a new life now (by his Spirit coming to live in us) and a great hope for the future – resurrection life like that of Jesus, to be lived ultimately in a new heavens and earth. This is the teaching of Jesus and his apostles which makes up the New Testament part of the Bible. Some people may parody such beliefs as ‘pie in the sky when you die.’ But that is to do the Bible’s teaching a great injustice.
If God exists, as we believe him to, and if he is the God whom Jesus Christ reveals to us, then it makes sense to say that only God has the authority and the power to make and deliver on promises such as these. Yes, such claims may stretch human comprehension to the limit, but these claims are not without reason. After all, what greater gift could God give to humankind, than a hope for the future that includes the promise of an eternal life, lived finally in his presence, in a renewed universe that will never end and be freed from decay that results in death. Could it be better than that? And would not a loving God finally want to put right all wrongs, all injustice, all suffering and everything that destroys human life? Would he not finally want to erase all pain and heartache, all sorrow? The Bible makes clear that this is exactly what God intends.
To believe it requires faith. And faith is based on what we believe to be true, even though it is a form of truth that cannot be proven by the scientific method. In fact, Christians believe that the ultimate truth about God dwells in a person, neither in a theory nor a formula nor even in a text. Ultimately, therefore, to believe, to possess this hope, requires that step of faith, that the one in whom that faith is placed, is truly the Son of God and the Saviour of all those who turn to him. He alone has all the right answers to questions about life’s meaning and ultimate purpose because he is the embodiment of all that is true. And in that truth, we find our greatest hope.
Does the Christian view of things (worldview) constitute proof? No! There is no absolute proof – for atheist and believer alike for that matter. But there are different kinds of evidence and the Christian faith rests on a very strong conviction that the evidence we have from science, from the Bible, from Jesus himself, and from the lived experience of God’s work in individual lives, is compelling. In Jesus Christ, we find the ultimate right answers to our deepest questions.
But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Let us know if we can help you in your search. Here are just a few places you might start.
The Bible – I suggest you read the whole of John’s gospel in the New Testament as a starting point.
Available through your local Christian bookshop or through Eden Books on the internet.