Questions on God

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In a conversation, God not being omnibenevolent came into question. I was asked how can he be omnibenevolent when he allows evil. I explained that in our limited knowledge, we cannot see the end of everything, and have to have faith that all evil will end with good. I cited Joseph being sold into slavery as an example. Am I correct that he is omnibenevolent, and is there any particular Scripture that says it directly without question?

Your question illustrates the challenge we humans have in understanding our immense God.  We are very grateful that, beyond revealing himself through creation and our conscience, God has made himself known in his holy word.  And yet that fuller revelation of himself in the Bible still leaves us with questions.

Is God all-powerful?  Yes.  Is God all-knowing?  Yes.  Did God know that Satan and other angels would rebel against him, and that Adam and Eve would disobey his command?  Yes.  Could God have prevented both those “falls”?  Yes.  Why did God allow sin and evil to enter his perfect creation?  That last question leads me to turn to Romans 11:33-36:  “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?’  ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen.”  You and I do not know what is in God’s mind unless he tells us.  What he does tell us is that, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).  We really aren’t to be surprised if we can’t understand God completely.

What we do know with certainty is that God met evil head-on at Calvary.  The cross of Christ shows us God’s power over sin and his compassionate love for a world lost in sin.  At the cross of Christ God’s justice and love intersect.

You ask if God desires good for every person.  Most certainly.  God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

As you indicated in your reference to Joseph, God can take evil and turn it into good.  Christians can say with the apostle Paul:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The online essay file of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary has many, many good papers written about the Bible and the Christian faith.  One that I could recommend with your question in mind is The Hidden God.  While it was written almost 100 years ago, it still has relevance.  That’s because it relays truths from a timeless Bible.  God’s blessings as you continue to speak to others about Scripture!

I recently talked to a co-worker of mine and we got into a discussion about God talking to us in other ways besides Scripture. She claims that she hears God talking to her in her thoughts. She says she hears his voice. I told her I have never had that experience and that I don't think God talks to us that way. We get our answers through Scripture. I know God works in mysterious ways, but it is hard for me to wrap my mind around God speaking to us personally about how are lives will turn out in our thoughts or dreams. My question is: Does God talk to us with a voice in our thoughts or our dreams?

God of course can do anything.  He can communicate to us any way he wants.  The Bible describes instances when God did speak directly to people, through others and in dreams.  The fact that God communicated in these ways in the past does not guarantee that God will do so in the future.  We have no promise of God communicating to us beyond Scripture.

What the Bible does say is that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).  We have God’s full communication to us in the pages of the Old and New Testament.  There is no need to look elsewhere for communication from God.  In addition, God tells us that dreams can actually be a tool of people who want to mislead and deceive us (Jeremiah 23:25-28).

If there is a “voice” from God inside us, it is the natural knowledge of his law and a conscience that is guided properly by Holy Scripture.  If there is a “voice” from God inside us, it is the new self—that part of us that is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24)—that desires to live life according to God’s will.

We do well to focus on God’s communication to us through the Bible—and our communication to him in prayer.

How could God allow suffering and evil?

This is a classic question. When it’s a challenge to the Christian faith, trying to prove that God doesn’t exist, it’s usually phrased like this: “If God is truly omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and loving, how could he allow suffering and evil?”

Here is a classic answer.

God exists. Jesus said he does, and he rose from the dead to show that he could be trusted to tell the truth.

God is all-knowing. That trustworthy Jesus said so. And since God knows everything, he is smarter than we are. So he may do or say things that are perfectly right, but we don’t understand them, because we’re not as smart. We have that experience every day with people who are smarter than we are.

God is all-powerful. In philosophical terms, all-powerful means that he can do whatever he wants. He can always put his will into action.

God is loving. God showed his love for all people by sending a Savior (John 3:16).

Does God allow evil to occur? That depends on how you define evil. Sometimes what seems bad or evil to one person seems good to another person.

But let’s grant that God does allow evil to occur. It’s only temporary. Death intervenes. Since God is smarter, perhaps that temporary evil actually turns out to be for some good in the end. For example, the Bible tells the story of a man whose brothers sold him into slavery. That was evil. But it turned out for good. The man himself said so (Genesis 50:20).

Since God is smarter than I am, I trust that when he allows evil or suffering in my life, it will work out for my good (Romans 8:28). Since he’s loving, I trust that everything really will work out for the best in my life. And since he’s all-powerful, I can ask him to get rid of the evil, and trust that if that’s what he wants at that time, he can and he will (Matthew 7:7).

Is there a distinction between what the WELS believes regarding the term "Sovereign Lord" and other faiths, i.e. Presbyterian?

“Sovereign Lord” in the NIV is a title of two words in Hebrew and one word in Greek that describes God’s absolute lordship, the one under whom we live, and the one who is free to do as he pleases.  We acknowledge these attributes of God and praise him for who he is.

God’s sovereignty though does not become the focal point of our theology as it does with Presbyterian churches (and there are numerous Presbyterian church bodies in the United States).  In most Presbyterian churches God’s sovereignty leads to the horrible doctrine of double predestination, whereby God predestined some people to heaven and others to hell.  The Bible, of course, does not teach anything like that.  The Bible teaches that God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

So while we recognize the sovereignty of God, the grace of God in Christ becomes the focal point of our theology.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Can you help me understand what the Bible means when it says we are to "fear" God? Some have said it is just to have an awe of him. I find this understanding inconsistent with Scripture as little as I know. Fear is fear, and isn't it caused by sin and our sinful desires to turn from God, not some sense of awe of him? Is it a fair comparison to say we fear the wrath of our parents when we have done wrong but this fear is alleviated with the knowledge that they love us and forgive us of our wrongs?

You ask an excellent question, and I especially appreciate your desire to analyze a word that the Bible uses quite a bit. One might say that the basic meaning of the word “to fear” is to “stand in awe of” or even revere. It is also accurate to add that invariably more needs to be said—and each time that the “fear of God” is mentioned, the Bible reader needs to take note of the relationship the person or people have with God. Only when that is done will we have the more precise meaning of “fearing God” in that particular passage. It might (and often does) involve being afraid of, but it might also be emphasizing happily revering or respecting God with awe.

Maybe a word picture or illustration will be helpful to you as it has been to others for many years:

Question: “Do you fear a locomotive?” Answer: “Yes, always—but first I must analyze my relationship to the locomotive to be more accurate or helpful in explaining myself. If I am trapped on the railroad tracks in front of the locomotive and it is coming toward me, I fear it in this sense that I am very much afraid and in dread of it. Its awesome power will crush me. But if I am comfortably seated in a passenger car being pulled by that powerful locomotive, and it is taking me to a destination I delight in, I still fear the locomotive by respecting and being in awe of its brute force, but I am happy about this power and delight in its awesome capability for my benefit. If I ever find myself in a bad relationship to that locomotive, my respect also becomes a dread, but if my relationship to it is a good and healthy one, I remain in awe but am happily respecting it.”

The point is that God does not change and is always worthy of “fear.” For those who despise his gracious promises in Christ, that fear is to include terror. For those brought to trust the gracious promises in Christ, that fear loses its terror but remains filled with awe (as expressed in Psalm 130:3-4) at such a forgiving God.

This is something that has always been on my mind and that my children ask me all the time. Where did God come from? It is hard to understand that because we know everything comes from something. So how did God come into existence?

Your children are asking a question that the strong majority of people ask sooner or later. Because, as you say, we assume that “everything comes from something,” it makes logical sense to assume that God came from something at some point in time.

Our only answer is to express what the Bible tells us about God. God didn’t come from anything. He always was and always will be. Passages like Psalm 90:2 and Psalm 93:2 touch on this subject. “Eternity” and “everlasting” are terms that we finite creatures use to express the concept of something that has no end and/or no beginning. God has no beginning or end. He is outside the realm of time. The problem in saying this, of course, is that we cannot comprehend the idea of being beyond time or being without beginning or end. What Solomon expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:11 is humbling but true. We are informed of the concept but cannot fathom it.

I suggest that in talking about this to your children you simply emphasize that (1) God is different from everyone and everything else. Everything else comes from something (ultimately from God himself), but God doesn’t. He is simply different; and (2) God is especially different in the kind of love he shows to us. He loves us so much that, even though we disobey him and often disrespect him, he sent Jesus to take away the guilt of our sin and adopt us into his family as dear children.

In this way, your answer can redirect the curiosity of your children to a subject they (and we) can better understand and appreciate. When we are more fully occupied with the gospel, we grow more content with what we do not know.

How do I know there is a God?

Have you ever thought about how many things you know and believe without having seen them? Take gravity for instance. No one has ever seen gravity, but I see evidence of it is all around. As a matter of fact, we depend on it for almost all of our everyday activities. Gravity holds our cars on the road. It keeps us from floating away into space. We would be in serious trouble without it.

Look at God in very much the same way that you look at gravity. You have never seen him, but you see evidence that he must exist in the world. Whether taking in a soft summer sunset or a late night display of the constellations, know that someone took some serious time and effort to get things just right. The Bible puts it this way, “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” (Hebrews 3:4)

Have you ever taken time to look closely at the world in which we live? Get up a little earlier than normal tomorrow and let the sunrise speak for itself. You decide which is more impressive, the beauty of the sunrise or the fact that is has risen every day in the history of the world. You will hear an inaudible voice in that sunrise. It is God’s voice. (Psalm 19:1-4)

Perhaps you are more impressed with detail. Take time to count the hairs on one of your arms from your wrist to your elbow. As you notice the delicacy with which each hair is connected, consider how hard plastic surgeons work to duplicate a “normal” hair pattern. They never do get it quite right, do they? All of this is part of God’s great attention to detail and more evidence that he does exist.

We have never seen God, but, like gravity, we know he is here. He has taken the time to leave evidence of his existence all around the world in which we live. Take time to notice it. You will see that he is very real. If you want more, definite information, take time to get to know him better in the Bible.

How can God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit be together as one? When Jesus was baptized, God spoke from above and a dove came and perched on his shoulder. How did he do that?

The Bible tells us that there is one God and that there are three persons.

How this can be we do not know and cannot explain. It is not a matter of mathematics or human logic, but a mystery. Remember that in the creeds we do not say, “We understand.” Instead we say, “We believe.”

By the same token, we do not know how God did what he did at Jesus’ baptism. We only know from Scripture that he did it. This is true of much that God has done and that he does now.

The most important thing for you and me to remember about the Trinity is that God sent his Son to save us, that the Son did that, and that the Holy Spirit uses Word and sacrament to create and preserve faith in us.

What's the best way to explain the Triune God? I understand it's three separate entities in one unity, but just by what I said, am I saying it wrong? I want to make sure I'm correct before explaining it.

The Bible doesn’t use the terms that we use when talking about the Trinity in exactly the same way that we do. We learn from Scripture, however, that there is a certain respect in which God is absolutely, indivisibly one (Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Corinthians 8:4, etc.), and that this one God is a self-aware ego who can speak and say “I.” We also find that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not the same, that each of them is also a self-aware ego that can refer to himself as “I,” and that they relate to one another in certain ways (Isaiah 61:1, Mark 1:9-11, etc.). In this respect, therefore, God is not one, but three.

Over the centuries the Church has settled on “essence” as the best term for the way in which God is one, and on “person” as the best term for the way in which God is three. That’s why we speak about three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but only one divine essence.

We should be clear, however, that in choosing one term for God’s one-ness and another for God’s three-ness, we really haven’t explained anything. Scripture’s teaching of the Trinity remains an unsolvable logical paradox.

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian?

As true God along with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ), the Holy Spirit participates in the divine works that the Father and Son also do. This would include giving and maintaining our physical lives (creation and providence work) and convicting us of our sin, guilt, and need for the Savior’s work so that we may grasp the redeeming work of Jesus through Spirit-given faith. And he in a miraculous way guided the human writers (prophets and apostles) of the Bible books to write precisely what God wanted them to provide for our faith-life.

You ask more specifically what the Holy Spirit does for believers. Luther’s famous Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed offers an excellent summary:

I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

You also ask if the Holy Spirit is really necessary for spiritual growth and positive changes in our spiritual lives — or whether sanctified common sense is enough. The Spirit is necessary if we are talking about true spiritual growth, changes in our heart and inner attitudes and motives — in short, more than external behavior changes. The power of God is needed for such transformations in faith and the resulting faith-life. We can only change external behavior patterns on our own — which may look good on the outside for a while, but will lack the inner changes in motives and attitude that will characterize the real deal.

For more detailed information, with Bible passages that speak of these things specifically, ask your pastor for a book that will provide that kind of information.

I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I'm worried that I don't actually have the Holy Spirit? How do I know? Can you suggest some Scripture passages that would give me comfort when I am unsure?

From the information you provided with your question, I take it that you not only “know” that Jesus died for your sins but that the Holy Spirit has led you to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior.  Knowledge of Jesus is one thing, but Spirit-worked faith is what brings into our lives all the blessings Jesus won by his holy life and sacrificial death.

When God brought you to saving faith, he did so through his Holy Spirit, “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:6).  The Holy Spirit now dwells in you.  Twice in his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul asked a question that reminds Christians that the Holy Spirit lives in them.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”  (1 Corinthians 3:16)  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”  (1 Corinthians 6:19)

The same apostle reminds us that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit signifies God’s ownership of us:  “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possessions—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Other passages that assure Christians like you that “you have the Holy Spirit” are:

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).

“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

“Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.  And this is how we know that he lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24).

You have the right idea with your question:  looking to Scripture to find reassurance of God’s love for you and his presence in your life.  God bless your remembrance of passages like these.

Hello! I believe that the Holy Spirit brings us to faith! It is not by our doing that we know God and have a relationship with him! But, I ask, why does coming to faith happen in different ways and at different ages? I know this sound like a minute question, but to me the answer would clear up a foggy understanding. For example, someone asked me if I was full of faith my whole life and did I always have a relationship with Christ. I thought about it and said my relationship with God grew immensely with Christ in college and that is when I remember really building a relationship with him. But, hasn't he been with me since birth? How come I did not always feel I had a relationship with him? Why don't others become aware of Christ until later in life? Doesn't God start a relationship with us since baptism? Please clarify! Thank you.

God does bring people to saving faith and employs them in his kingdom at different stages of life.  Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) illustrates that.  That parable especially highlights the truth that Christians, no matter when in life they may have been called to faith, enjoy equally the blessings of salvation.

Your questions seem to address the situation of a person who is baptized early in life and then grows “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  If you were baptized early in life, you “had a relationship” with God from that point on.  That relationship consisted of being part of the family of God (Galatians 3:26-29).  As you grew older, your knowledge of the Scriptures increased and your faith deepened.  Not surprisingly, different events in life can take place that lead us to appreciate all the more the relationship God established with us.  For example, one of the reasons God allows difficulties to enter our lives is to draw us closer to him (Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12: 7-11; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

God’s desire is that all people know him in faith and enjoy his salvation (Isaiah 45:22).  God’s will is that those who have been brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ “examine” and “test” themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Your questions helped us do just that.

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