Questions on God

I'm suffering from terrible illness. No help from doctors and my family left me. Why should I believe in God?

I am saddened to hear of your situation, and I trust you are in contact with your pastor. He is in a position to serve you with God’s gospel in word and sacrament.

When troubles in life come along, Satan would like nothing more than for Christians to conclude that God is powerless and/or unloving. Job in the Old Testament could have wrongly reached that conclusion when he faced disasters in his life. In the midst of calamities—and at all other times of Job’s life—God remained all-powerful and all-loving. God did not love Job any less when his life became problem-filled. Job was simply unaware of God’s workings in his life and God’s purposes for his life when troubles came along. In your life and mine, God remains powerful and loving even when, and especially when, we face troubles and disappointments.

I would encourage you to remember your Baptism. Regardless of the message life’s circumstances might convey to you, Baptism tells you and me that we are God’s children (Galatians 3:26-27).

I encourage you to turn to Scripture to read about God’s faithful love for you (Isaiah 54:10; Hebrews 13:5). The God who speaks of his love for you cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). He always speaks the truth.

I encourage you to be a frequent guest at the Lord’s Supper to receive rest for your soul (Matthew 11:28) through the forgiveness of sins.

It is important to use God’s gospel in word and sacrament because that is what the Holy Spirit uses to bring the blessings of forgiveness and salvation into our lives. The gospel is also what the Holy Spirit uses to strengthen us for Christian living and to ward off the attacks of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-17). It is important to nourish and maintain Christian faith because the absence of it means eternal woes (Mark 16:16).

Again, do speak to your pastor and stay in regular contact with him. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). God bless you.

The Solid Declaration, Article viii, paragraph. 72 reads..."For upon Him [Christ] the Father poured without measure the Spirit of wisdom and power, so that, as man, He has received through this personal union all knowledge and all power in deed and truth." and " that He [Christ, according to His human nature] not only knows some things and is ignorant of others, can do some things and is unable to do others, but [according to the assumed human nature] knows and can do all things" How do we reconcile this with the teaching that Christ doesn't know the hour of His return, and that we say Christ 'veiled" Himself according to His humanity? Doesn't that go against our own confessions that say He "knows and can do all things"?

Some of the words you cited describe Jesus’ state of humiliation—that time in Jesus’ earthly life when he did not always or fully use his divine powers and attributes.

We get an idea of what that state was like from Jesus’ words of not knowing the day or hour of his visible return to this earth on the Last Day (Matthew 24:36). As God, Jesus knows all things. During his state of humiliation, when he spoke those words, Jesus chose not to tap into that knowledge about the Last Day.

Our minds struggle to comprehend the mystery in which God and man are one in Jesus Christ. Scripture puts it this way: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

While we may not be able to understand completely the nature of our Savior, we praise him for who he is and what he has done for us: living and dying as our perfect substitute.

In the Nicene Creed we confess that we believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son. What does this mean?

That phrase from the Creed speaks of God the Father and God the Son sending God the Holy Spirit to bless people through his powerful work in human hearts through the gospel. The basis for that phrase comes from Bible passages like these: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26). “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Those passages demonstrate the perfect relationship of the three persons of the Trinity.

Your question is timely as we approach Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday on the church year calendar.

We often say when we go to heaven we will see God. Would I be correct in saying that the only form we will see of God is the risen Son, Jesus? Are the Father and Holy Spirit only spiritual? If this is the case, is there any mention of how the angels worship God? Were they able to see him in heaven before he appeared in his risen body? Hope this makes some sense. Thank you!

It is correct to say that we will see God when we stand in his presence in heaven. The Bible teaches that (Job 19:25-37; Psalm 17:15; Matthew 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2).

Yes, the Father and the Holy Spirit do not have physical bodies. That was the case for Jesus until he took on human flesh at his conception and birth (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14).

While angels are spirit beings with no physical bodies (Hebrews 1:14), the Bible tells us that, at times, they did appear to people in a way they could be seen (for example, Matthew 28:1-3). Angels even appeared in the likeness of human beings (Genesis 18).

For a description of the praise angels give God, read sections of the Bible like Isaiah 6:1-3; Luke 2:13; and, Revelation 5:11-12).

Considering who God is, what he is like and what he has done, there is little wonder why Scripture instructs angels – and people and all creation—to praise God (Psalm 148).

While Jesus was physically present on earth, was he at the same time omnipotently present outside of time?

I am understanding your question to address Jesus’ state of humiliation—that time in the Lord’s earthly life when he laid aside the full and constant use of his qualities as God (Philippians 2:6-8).

At all times, the Lord’s omnipresence is a reality. Sections of the Bible like Psalm 139:7-8 and Acts 17:27-28 provide that information.  This is certainly true regarding Jesus’ state of exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11).

Have you heard of a guy named Tovia Singer? He is a Jew that is totally against Jesus. He is well versed in the Bible and says worshiping Jesus is idolatry. He has really made me question Jesus as God's Son and his knowledge of the original Hebrew text and how the so-called prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament are not talking about Jesus at all, like the Isaiah prophecy was talking about Hezekiah. Is Jesus idol worship? Was he made up by the Greeks? This is destroying my Christian faith.

There are many voices out there calling for your attention. I encourage you to listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd (John 10:3, 4, 27). That Shepherd, Jesus Christ, speaks to you through the Bible, which is true in every way (John 17:17).

Scripture tells us to beware of people who deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Anyone who denies the deity of Jesus Christ does not speak the truth.

The Old Testament repeatedly pointed ahead to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah (John 5:39). Consider the following:

“According to David Jesus is both the Lord God (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44) and true man (Psalm 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:6-8), yet he was without sin according to Isaiah (53:9; 1 Peter 2:22). The ministry of Jesus would be in Galilee as Isaiah had said (9:1,2; Matthew 4:15-16). Yet the Savior would appear in Jerusalem according to Zechariah (13:7; Matthew 26:31). Jesus came to instruct humanity in the ways of God (Psalm 78:2; Matthew 13:35), to bear the infirmities and diseases of people (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17), and to heal their wounds as Isaiah predicted (53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). According to Zechariah his disciples would desert him (13:7; Matthew 26:31) and leave him to be pierced by his foes (12:10; John 19:37). He would hang, accursed, on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3 13). Even so, no bones of his body would be broken (Psalm 34:20; John 19:36), nor would his body rot in the grave (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31). Rather he would sit at God’s right hand in glory (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34).”

If you would like to read more about Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment in Jesus Christ, you can read a brief paper from which the paragraph above was taken.

I pray for God’s blessings on your study of his word.

What does the Bible say about disease? Did God create the coronavirus or does he allow it to happen for His own purposes?

At the end of the sixth day of creation, God pronounced everything he had made as being “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The entrance of sin into the world brought sickness and death and untold problems into life (Genesis 3). The Bible makes it clear that God is not responsible for the existence of sin and its effects (Psalm 5:4; James 1:13-15). God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).

When it comes to bad things in life, God can keep them out of Christians’ lives (Psalm 91:9-10) or he can allow them to enter our lives for good purposes (Romans 8:28). In the latter case, you and I sometimes might have difficulty understanding the good purposes that God has in mind. That is because God’s ways and thoughts are—thankfully—different from ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The confidence we can have at a time like this is that God is very much in control of his world (Psalm 46; 104; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). While we know that God will use every circumstance in life for our eventual and eternal good, we also look forward to a life that is free from sin and its effects (Revelation 7:15-17; 21:4). Little wonder that the Church thinks of Jesus’ visible return on the Last Day and prays, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

How does one receive the Holy Spirit? If Christian faith is God's gift to people, why do we have so many people without the gift? Thank you.

The Holy Spirit comes to people through the gospel in word alone or the word of God attached to earthly elements in the sacraments (Romans 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). So, we received the Holy Spirit when he worked in our hearts when we were baptized. The Holy Spirit continues to work in our hearts when we come into contact with the Bible and when we receive Holy Communion.

Christian faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). People do not produce Christian faith on their own. Christian faith is a gift from God the Holy Spirit.

God certainly desires the salvation of all people (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Through the efforts of Christians, God brings his gospel into the lives of people so that the Holy Spirit can change their hearts. What we have to recognize is that people are by nature spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), spiritually blind (Acts 26:17-18) and enemies of God (Romans 8:6-7). People naturally reject the good gifts God wants them to enjoy through Jesus his Son (Hosea 13:9; Matthew 23:37). When people believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is only because of the Holy Spirit’s working in their hearts (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5-6).

That means that we want to continue spreading God’s word to more and more people, so that the Holy Spirit can work through it to change hearts and fill them with Christian faith. You and I cannot control what happens after we share God’s word with someone; we can’t change anyone’s heart. We can simply share the word of God with others. The results are out of our hands.

A Sunday sermon on Acts 10:34-38: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." Question: before that time, was Jesus humanly aware of who He was and what His earthly mission was? Also, John the Baptist baptizing, was this the beginning of the ritual of baptism?

Jesus’ state of humiliation means that he did not make full or constant use of his power and majesty as God. Matthew 24:36 provides an example of that in the area of Jesus’ knowledge. The Bible does not tell us what other information—and when in his life—Jesus may have chosen not to know something.

Joseph and Mary certainly knew of Jesus’ identity before he was born (Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35). It would have been natural for them to share that information with Jesus. From the account of his childhood visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), we see Jesus recognizing his special relationship with his heavenly Father.

Baptism did begin with the ministry of John the Baptist.

Recently, I've heard people say the Holy Spirit put words in their mind. Usually, the words they are referring to are a Bible verse. How can a person know if the words are from the Holy Spirit or something that their human mind generated? Additionally, some people claim that God "lays" something on their heart. How can a person decipher these thoughts and feelings as being from God or generated in the human mind?

Considering what the Bible teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit, we may not have to wrestle too much over your first question. The Bible teaches that God’s word is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit works through the gospel—the word alone or the word connected to water in Baptism—to fill hearts with saving faith. Then, the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16). As Christians, our new self delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:2). When we use God’s word and impress its truths on our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6-9), it is no surprise that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and minds (Romans 8:16). That work can certainly include leading us to recall Bible verses and biblical truths.

With your second question, you would want to ask people what they mean by God “laying something on their heart.” It could be a matter of seeing an opportunity to help someone and then thinking of Galatians 6:10 – “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Or it could be a conscience that awakens (Romans 2:15). Again, you would want to ask people to explain what they mean by that expression.

Why would God allow Eve to be tempted when he knew what the outcome would be? Would you allow your own child be in a situation where you knew the outcome would be terrible? I would never have my child come to harm if I could have prevented it. Why would God do that?

Your questions are ones that people have asked frequently over the years.

Because sin entered God’s perfect world, some people have questioned God’s power, as if he had no ability to prevent sin from entering the world. God is all-powerful (Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Matthew 19:26). He could have prevented sin from entering this world.

Because sin entered God’s perfect world, other people have questioned God’s love: “Why would a loving God do that?” God is love (1 John 4:8). In his love and wisdom (Romans 16:27), God allowed sin to enter his perfect world.

In the Bible, God does not explain why he did not prevent sin from ruining his creation—nor is God obligated to provide an explanation.

Questions about God and why he did or did not do something about the origin of evil need to be addressed in light of passages like these: “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 them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God always acts wisely, and his wisdom far surpasses our understanding. God’s ways may be mysterious to us, but his ways are always right.

Your question and statement about earthly parents and children remind me what God, in love, did to solve the problems sin created: “For 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). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). When sin threatened our eternities, God stepped into action, sending his one and only Son, to be our perfect Savior in life and in death. God did what no earthly parent could have done. For that, we are eternally grateful.

Was Jesus one of God's angels?

Angels are created beings, created during the six days of creation. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus was involved in their creation (John 1:1-3). Rather than being an angel, Jesus created the angels.

What can confuse people, I imagine, is that the Bible sometimes calls Jesus “the angel of the Lord.” When he appeared to people before he took on human flesh at his birth at Bethlehem, the Bible calls Jesus “the angel of the Lord.” Genesis 16:7-16 is one of those sections in the Bible that describes such an appearance.

What can eliminate that confusion is keeping in mind that the basic definition of “angel” is “messenger.” When Jesus appeared to people prior to his incarnation, he brought messages concerning God’s plan of salvation—that centered in him.

A friend recently told me how, just before she would have gotten into an auto accident, she heard the voice of her mother, who had died some years before, telling her, "(Name), stop!!" I told her that this could have been a guardian angel sent by God to keep her safe, using the remembered voice of her mother. When an angel told Joseph that Mary would be the mother of our Lord, we can only speculate what form or voice the angel used. If a person near death reports having actual communication with a departed loved one, could we suggest another possibility, that this could have been a vision of an angel - if whatever "message" was given didn't in any way contradict any truth of God?

Having no firsthand knowledge of the close call your friend experienced, I cannot offer any comments of substance. You are correct in noting that we can merely speculate on the way the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25).

When it comes to your question of near-death communications, Christians readily acknowledge that God can do anything. So, if God used angels to communicate with people in biblical days, he certainly can do something similar today. The difficulty for you and me can be knowing the difference between what God can do and what actually took place in someone’s life. In so many circumstances and situations in life, we simply acknowledge, in faith and humility, the immense wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33-36). In addition, we praise God for communicating with us clearly in his word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

Does God remove people from our lives? I have a friend who has recently began using this as a means to comfort others or to rationalize when a relationship ends by saying that God was protecting them, or He is going to bring someone better into their lives, or they learned what He needed them to from that person and it time for them to move on. While God could certainly remove someone if he chose, the only place in the Bible I can think of God removing someone was with Phillip and the eunuch, but that is not the context in which she is using it. She is using it more in the context of divorce, rifts in families, the ending of friendships or romantic relationships. I'm at a loss of what to say to her since she fully believes that it is God's will and doing, yet it seems to contradict the Bible.

Do people come in and out of our lives in various ways and through different circumstances? Is God ultimately in control of all events in our lives? Does God promise to work all things in life for our good? The answer to all those questions is “yes.”

There is a problem when people try to assign a specific motive of God to a particular event in life. If God has not revealed in his word why he has or has not done something, we cannot pretend to speak for him.

When it comes to the “why?” questions of life, I find it best to maintain the attitude expressed in 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 them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

When Jesus came to earth, he had both a heavenly body and an earthly body. Now that he has returned to heaven, does he still have his earthly body?

I am not entirely sure what you mean by “a heavenly body.” As the eternal Son of God (John 1:1-2), Jesus did not have a physical body (John 4:24). That changed when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:25) and born of the virgin Mary (Luke 2:6-7). Jesus is the God-Man, true God and true man.

During Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, he had a physical body. The Bible speaks of Jesus’ glorified body after his resurrection from the dead (Colossians 3:20-21). With that same glorified body Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). With that same glorified body Jesus will return visibly to this world on the Last Day (Acts 1:11).

My grandson is starting to experience panic attacks, which also affects his father (my son) and me. My son stated yesterday that he is mad at God. He doesn't understand why God would create my grandson with this affliction as the boy has a very strong faith and unusual intelligence/compassion for his age. I always told my son that God intends great things for the boy to bless him like this. My son says that now the boy will never achieve any great things because God allowed the boy to be cursed with panic attacks and will be afraid all his life. What can I say to my son?

Created in the image of God, Adam and Eve initially enjoyed a perfect life on earth. After sin entered their world, life on earth changed for the worse. Troubles and difficulties became a part of daily life (Genesis 3:16-19). Physical death became a consequence of sin. That was true also of spiritual and eternal death. Thanks be to God that he promised a Savior (Genesis 3:15) and fulfilled that promise (Galatians 4:4-5).

Because of sin’s entrance into God’s perfect world, there are birth defects, illnesses, diseases and accidents (for example, John 9:1-3). God could prevent these things, just as he could have prevented sin from entering his perfect creation in the first place. God knows what he is doing. He remains wise and kind and powerful.

Your grandson is the object of God’s love. God sent Jesus into the world for him (John 3:16). God desires the salvation of your grandson (1 Timothy 2:4). Your grandson’s condition does not mean that God loves him less than others.

If you have not done so already, I would encourage you to speak to your son about seeking medical treatment for your grandson. Medical personnel can diagnose and suggest best treatment methods. God bless you all.

What do you do when God's promises don't come true?

I do not know what disappointment you have experienced, but I would encourage you to return to Scripture and read again what God says about keeping his promises. Here is a sampling of what the Bible says about God’s faithfulness in carrying out what he has promised.

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

“Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

“The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does” (Psalm 145:13).

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

“If we are faithless, he [God] remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Life’s circumstances might seem to suggest that God has failed to carry out his promises, but God’s track record is perfect: he always does what he says. With his age-old question of “Did God really say?” Satan continually seeks to attack God’s word and get us to doubt God’s faithfulness. What God really says in his word is that he is faithful to all his promises. I pray that God’s own words about his faithfulness encourages you in the faith.

I noticed a question on WELS Q&A with regard to the image of God being lost at the Fall of Man and restored in Christians. While I completely agree that the image of God referred to in Genesis 1:26 was lost in the fall and that man is now born dead in trespasses and sin with no righteousness of his own, I also see a different usage of the image of God used in Genesis 9:6, which I believe still sets humans apart from other with intellect/will etc., though because of sin these are born without righteousness. I agree with Paul E. Kretzmann when he comments on this verse: "For in the image of God made He man: murder is a violation of the image of God in man, which the Lord intends to restore in all those that are renewed in faith, and which He wants all men to put on. In a wider sense, therefore, man bears even now the image of God, since he is a rational creature and has an immortal soul." Would I be allowed to hold to this view and still remain in fellowship with a WELS congregation as long as I recognized that some hold a different interpretation here and did not attempt to force my opinion on those who disagree? Thank you for your input.

The quotation you supplied illustrates a portion of an answer to a previous question on this subject: “While there are some Lutheran theologians who speak of people still being made, in a limited sense, in the image of God insofar as they have intellect and will, it is more consistent with Scripture to say that the image of God was lost through the fall into sin and is restored in Christians.”

The attitude you described—holding to an interpretation like this, while not forcing it on others—would not be a barrier to membership in one of our congregations. Your concern to avoid divisiveness (Titus 3:10) is commendable.

Does God send signs to us in our daily lives (through coincidences, dreams, etc.) about specific decisions we should make, sins to avoid, etc.?

There are in narratives in the Bible that describe God communicating to people through dreams (for example, Matthew 1:20). Nowhere has God promised to communicate in the same manner today.

The means through which God communicates to you and me is through his word, the Bible. There he tells us which sins to avoid and how to use our lives for his glory and the good of our neighbor.

When it comes to “specific decisions” in life, God gives you and me great freedom in making decisions. We can think about the wise management of God’s resources, the ways we can care for our families and neighbors, and how we might glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The sermon at the recent Martin Luther College graduation service focused on our freedom in making daily decisions. This link will give you access to the sermon, which begins about 42 minutes into the video.

Am I correct in my belief that God decides how long we are to live, before our conception? That is, while we have a say in how we die, neither we, nor the medical profession, have any control over when. In other words, if a person commits suicide, while the choice and method are a sin, they would have otherwise died another way. For your information, I'm not trying to suggest that we shouldn't take proper care of ourselves, or refuse to go to the doctor, as I realize they are the method, as it were, of staying alive, even if not the cause.

Let me pass along a response to a question similar to yours. The response includes the thought of taking care of the bodies God has given us that you expressed.

“A clear passage that speaks of all our days as already known by God is Psalm 139:16. ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ Nothing happens in this life without God permitting, guiding, and directing it to serve his ultimate purpose.

“However, this is one of those places where we must realize that Scripture says ‘two’ things that will seem contradictory to human reason. Scripture also clearly indicates that we are responsible to God for actions we take and decisions we make that impact our life and health… Trust in God does not mean that we forego wise care for our health and life.

“So, here are the two things that we must say in order to keep our biblical balance. Are all our days known by God—exactly what they will be and how they will end—before I ever live them? Yes. Are we responsible for our actions and decisions that impact our health and life? Yes.

“And how can we with our human reason reconcile how both of these things can be true? That is where we leave it up to God whose ways and thoughts and reason are far, far beyond ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).”

My friend and I are both WELS, but he strongly believes that God hates us, which I disagree with. His argument is that God hates sin, and we are sin, so therefore God hates us to the core of our being. I pointed out John 3:16 to him but he said the context of the passage means it's talking about something else. I am somewhat unsure now because I don't have the complete biblical knowledge to disprove his point. Does God actually hate us? And how do I talk to my friend about this issue?

The message of the law is that God hates sinners (Psalm 5:5). The message of the gospel is that God loves sinners (Romans 5:8). These are not contradictory messages; they are different messages. We see the intersection of those messages at the cross of Calvary. There God punished Jesus in the place of all sinners, sparing them the punishment they deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 4:10).

As Christians, we stand in grace (Romans 5:2) and enjoy God’s forgiving love. The message of God’s law regarding sinners serves as a warning for Christians not to reject salvation by impenitence and unbelief.

Perhaps you and your friend could benefit from Law and Gospel: Bad News—Good News. The book explains very thoroughly the different messages of the law and gospel. It is available from Northwestern Publishing House.

Why do we celebrate Yeshua's birthday on Christmas? He was not born on December 25th. It seems like the "church" put it on that day which shares pagan worship of false gods. I don't believe in this. Has the "church" changed who the real Jesus was and is? Yeshua did not come to start His own religion but to teach and follow God's word. Sometimes I think we go against what He actually was and is. Seems like false teaching and adding to the Bible has been done by these so-called leaders. Jeremiah 10:2 "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. Sounds like a Christmas tree? I want to follow the real God. The real Yeshua. I'm confused and scared I'm believing in the wrong way.

We do not know the date of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The Bible does not list that date. There are no historical records for that momentous event. Numerous ideas have been proposed for the origin of December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth. Those ideas range from early Christians’ belief that Jesus was born on that day to the establishment of a Christian holiday that would counter a heathen festival. The date of Jesus’ birth is not known.

What we do know is the reason Jesus became man. Standing before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” The truth of the Bible is that all people are sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior. Galatians 4:4-5 states: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” We can praise God on December 25 and every day of the year for sending a Savior, his Son.

The verses from Jeremiah 10 that you cited are not descriptions of Christmas trees. In the verse immediately following the verses you listed, Jeremiah explains what that tree was all about: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak” (Jeremiah 10:5). Jeremiah was describing the manufacturing of an idol, not a Christmas tree. People were making those idols in Jeremiah’s day—600 years before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Christians today who use Christmas trees in their celebration of Christmas are worshiping Jesus not a tree.

By believing in the Triune God and Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are following the real God (John 5:24). You can rest assured that your faith is not misplaced (1 Peter 2:6). God’s blessings to you.

If I'm reading the Athanasian Creed correctly, it says a belief in the Trinity is necessary for salvation. Could you please elaborate on this a little bit? How could a person be lost if they don't believe in the Trinity, which is a difficult concept for people to comprehend. I believe in the Trinity, but I've always found the Athanasian Creed a bit troubling because I do not fully understand how a belief in the Trinity relates to the Gospel. Maybe it is simply because the Athanasian Creed was written to combat heresies that said Jesus was only a man?

You are reading and understanding the Athanasian Creed correctly. The Bible teaches that there is salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

As you suggested, the Athanasian Creed was written to combat heresies that Jesus is inferior to God the Father. If Jesus is not God, then God is not triune; a denial of Jesus is a denial of the Father (John 5:22-23).

The doctrine of the Trinity certainly “is a difficult concept for people to comprehend.” Thankfully, saving faith does not mean that people need to understand all the complexities of biblical doctrines. Saving faith is trust, acceptance and reliance on what God declares about himself and his works (Hebrews 11:1). Saving faith is trust in the God the Bible, who reveals himself in Scripture as a triune God.

The Athanasian Creed does not condemn Christians who struggle to understand a God who is far superior to them in every way. The Athanasian Creed does condemn those who deny the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

I recently heard of something called the Euthyphro Dilemma in Plato's Dialogue, which paraphrased, asks the question, "Are morally good acts good because God commands them or does God command them because they are good?" The dilemma is designed to somehow separate God and "religion" from morality, and basically suggests that morality is independent of religion. I know this is wrong, as I understand that everything God commands is perfect and holy. I am just wondering what a good counter argument to this dilemma is.

Any discussion of “good” starts and ends with God. Jesus explained, “There is only One who is good” (Matthew 19:17). “Good” does not exist because God says so. There is good in the world because God is good. The “counter argument” would focus not on the words of God but the essence of God.

Our Great Heritage addresses your question this way: “The question has been asked: Does God decree the good because it is good? Or is the good good because God decreed it? The answer must be: Neither. God is not subject to any standard or idea of good over and above himself; nor does he arbitrarily decree that anything should be good, while he might perhaps just as well declare the very opposite to be good. Rather, God, who is, is perfection in every respect.” (Volume 1, page 498)

I understand that the Eastern Orthodox church rejects the filioque in the Nicene's Creed on the basis that it is never explicitly said in Scripture. How come we Lutherans do accept the filioque?

For the benefit of other readers of this question, “filioque” is Latin for “and the Son.” The point of reference is the phrase in the Nicene Creed that speaks of the Holy Spirit proceeding “from the Father and the Son.” “Filioque” was an addition to the Nicene Creed some 250 years after that confession was first adopted.

We accept the “filioque” because that is a scriptural truth. The following passages shed light on the subject: John 14:16-17; John 15:26; John 16:7; John 20:22; and, Galatians 4:6.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, this brief paper will give you good information.

In a recent answer, you quote Martin Luther lamenting "the fact that Christ acts so weakly in His ministry towards His own...". Did Luther actually write this, or is it perhaps a bad translation? It doesn't sound like the author of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Thank you for your response.

It is an accurate translation. Perhaps the words that follow the previous quotation can provide greater meaning. In commenting on the fact that people can fall away from the faith, Luther continued: “At times thoughts such as these are bound to occur to a person: If you please, is this teaching really right? In view of this strange showing, is God doing well?

“This causes great offense. But we must absolutely close our eyes and say: Let fall who will not stand and stand who stands; let him who will persecute the Gospel persecute it, it is nonetheless the truth. This is not a surprise, for Christ Himself had the same experience. What can I do if the pope and the enthusiasts fall away from the Gospel and inflict great pain on us? My lot will be no better than that of my Lord. Since they fell away from Him, why should they stand by us?” (What Luther Says, Volume I, 38)

It is in the context of Jesus experiencing a falling away of his followers that Luther wrote of the Lord acting “weakly.” Luther’s point was that people have the ability to fall away from the Christian faith, and even the all-powerful Lord experienced that firsthand in his ministry.

Thank you for your careful reading of the question and answer.

Can you define “free will” from a Lutheran standpoint and everything that it entails? Do we have free will truly? And could you give some back up to the idea that it’s the Holy Spirit’s work in us and not our choice to follow God?

Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, people’s free will is limited to making decisions about their earthly lives. So, people decide what vocation they might undertake in life, where they will live—things like that.

After the fall into sin, people by nature can choose only evil in the spiritual realm; they cannot choose to establish a relationship with God. The Bible explains: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Because of natural sin and unbelief, people are God’s enemies; they want to do only that which displeases God.

Now as a child of God, my free will is much different than before my conversion. Now my new self wants to use the means of grace to strengthen my faith; now I want to follow God’s law as a tangible way of showing my thankfulness to him for my salvation in Jesus his Son. However, even when I, as a child of God, want to do those things in life that are good and godly, I recognize that it is God working in me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

The Bible makes it very clear that faith is the Holy Spirit’s work and not ours. What Jesus first said to his disciples applies to all Christians: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16) 1 Corinthians 12:3 states that it is only because of the Holy Spirit’s work that people are able to confess Jesus Christ as their Savior. Ephesians 2:8 speaks of faith as “the gift of God.” Philippians 1:29 describes how people are on the receiving end of God’s gift of faith: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him…” Colossians 2:12 describes faith as “the working of God.”

How thankful we are that the Holy Spirit did what we cannot do. Through the gospel (Romans 10:17), the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus Christ in saving faith so that we enjoy all the blessings he won by his holy life and sacrificial death.

I have been struggling recently with free will vs. God being in control of all things and nothing happens that he does not already know. How can I have free will if God already knows what I am going to do and how my life is going to turn out? Any additional resources, books, or sermons on this topic would be appreciated as well. Thanks!

Ever since the fall into sin in Eden, the free will that people have is limited to making decisions about their earthly lives. So, people choose to marry or remain single, enter into this or that vocation, live in a certain area, etc. Of course, when it comes to making decisions like those, people may not always get what they want.

After the fall into sin, people by nature can choose only evil in the spiritual realm. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Because of natural sin and unbelief, people are God’s enemies; they want to do only that which displeases God.

As a child of God, my free will is much different than before my conversion. Now my new self wants to use the means of grace to strengthen my faith; now I want to follow God’s law as a tangible way of showing my thankfulness to him for my salvation in Jesus his Son. However, even when I, as a child of God, want to do those things in life that are good and godly, I recognize that it is God working in me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

As Christians, you and I have much freedom when it comes to making everyday decisions in our lives. We can choose this, we can reject that. Does God know what we are going to do? Certainly. God knows all things, but “God’s foreknowledge is not causative,” Lutheran theologians say. The fact that God knows in advance what will happen does not mean that God forces people into that action.

There are a few pages in the following two books from the People’s Bible Teaching series that address your question: Man and God’s Providence. Chapter five of The Narrow Lutheran Middle provides more detail. Finally, the “Will of Man” section in Volume III of What Luther Says contains information on “free will” (Luther calls it “self-will”). Your pastor or church library may have that last book.

If God wants us to believe in Jesus, why did he not tell us in the Old Testament that Jesus was the Savior? Why did he not give us a name? Everything seems to be coded or of someone's interpretation. I have been told that Jesus is all over the Old Testament. Where? Why did the early Catholic church change and add verses? The Old Testament seems to have truly been preserved by God. Why don't we see this in the New Testament? I want to believe, but why does it seem Jesus is man's invention?

Jesus is the personal name for the Son of God. God did not reveal that name until he dispatched the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:31) and Joseph (Matthew 1:21).

While God did not reveal the personal name of the Savior until shortly before his birth, the Savior went by many different names and titles in the Old Testament. Here is a sampling: “Angel of the LORD” (Exodus 3:2), “The Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14), “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), “King” (Zechariah 9:9), “The LORD Our Righteous Savior” (Jeremiah 23:6), “Offspring” (Genesis 3:15), “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), “Prophet” (Deuteronomy 18:15), “Redeemer” (Job 19:25), “Righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5) and “Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Those names and titles—and many others—spoke volumes about the person and work of the promised Messiah. When people were led to put their trust in God’s promised Savior, they enjoyed salvation (Genesis 15:6).

God certainly preserved the books of the Old Testament. He did the same with the books of the New Testament. To learn more about this, you may be interested in this book from Northwestern Publishing House. Your church library may also have a copy.

By no means is Jesus man’s invention. He is the eternal Son of God (John 1:1-3) and the promised Messiah (John 4:25-26). May God convince you all the more of these truths as you read and study the Bible.

Define Epiphany.

“Epiphany” comes from a Greek word that means “revelation,” “manifestation,” or “appearance.” It is the season of the church year that clearly reveals Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only Savior of the world.

Here is a brief article that provides a little more information.

Hello, I know this is one of those difficult questions and I’m not the first to ask, but it burdens my heart and my faith more than anything does. So I know the Bible says these things: that anyone who knows love knows God because love only comes from him, he loves every person on this earth, and anyone who lives a godless life is solely to blame; that he doesn’t predestine anyone to hell, but all things are possible and within his power. So when I think of a love stronger than even the deepest love we experience on earth, I can’t imagine that possibility including sending an ignorant human being who was loved eventually to suffer for the rest of time. Some say “just be grateful that he’s chosen you,” but I care about everyone and not just myself. And I’m sure we all know someone who isn’t in our faith who still has an honest, behind closed doors, good heart. My therapist is the most self-sacrificial person I have ever met. His biggest reason for never wanting to, say, be in a car accident, is because he doesn’t want his patients to lose him. He stays hours late in the office if anyone needs him. He loves them all so much. So when I see the parts of the Bible where God destroy cities, including children, and shows wrath and hatred, when I later read a verse about his love, I feel that perception there. I don’t mean to sound offensive in any way. I believe my faith is still a genuine one. I was raised in a WELS school and church, baptized, and I believe the consistent voice across all books and chapters of the Bible is consistently that of God. I’ve been subject to anger-filled, hatred-filled people and seeing any true hatred in God contradicts the love I need to be able to run to. I’ve asked pastors in person and haven’t received much help so that’s why I wanted to ask here. Thanks so much for taking the time to read.

I do not see a question in what you submitted, but I sense an uncomfortableness in what the Bible teaches about God’s justice, his anger, and hell.

As you pointed out, the Bible teaches that God loves sinners (John 3:16). The Christmas season shows the love of God in sending his Son to rescue sinners (Galatians 4:4-5). God desires the salvation of all people (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). This is the heart of the gospel message in the Bible.

At the same time, the Bible teaches that God hates sin and sinners (Psalm 5:5). This is what the Bible’s message of the law is all about.

The messages of the law and the gospel are not contradictory ones; they are different messages.

In addition to the preceding information, the Bible teaches that faith in Jesus saves, while unbelief condemns (Mark 16:16). The nice things that unbelievers might do in life do not lead to their salvation (Romans 3:27-28; Galatians 2:15-16; Titus 3:5). Salvation comes through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Saving faith, in turn, comes through the gospel (Romans 10:17).

Conversations with pastors about these teachings of the Bible are definitely helpful. In addition to them, I would suggest that you read Law and Gospel: Bad News—Good News. The book explains very thoroughly the different messages of the law and gospel, and addresses your concerns. It is available from Northwestern Publishing House. Your church library may also have a copy. God’s blessings to you!

Is God a killjoy? I have been reading a lot of Baptist materials and they all seem to describe God as a killjoy. I am very puzzled because Ecclesiastes 8:15 seems to suggest otherwise.

God desires people’s happiness and God truly knows what can give people happiness and lasting joy.

People might think that God is a killjoy by giving his laws and commandments. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way in which God prefaced the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-2) demonstrated his grace and love for his covenant people of Israel. God’s laws are not restrictions on having a good time in life or barriers for personal freedom. Quite the opposite, sin is what enslaves people (John 8:34), and Christians find freedom in doing what God says (James 1:25).

Of course, the chief purpose of the law is to show us our sins and point out our need for a Savior. The gospel shows us the perfect Savior we have in Jesus Christ, through whom there is forgiveness of sins and eternal life. To Christians, the gospel message is a source of unending joy.

The passage you cited does describe Solomon’s observation that we can enjoy God’s gift of life by appreciating all his gifts to us.

I would encourage you to change your reading material. Beyond reading the Bible, of course, Forward in Christ offers good, solid reading material about the Christian faith and the Christian life.

What does it mean that Jesus was justified in the Spirit? Is that a forensic justification?

I am understanding that your question addresses 1 Timothy 3:16: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,[d]
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
d. Or vindicated in spirit”

Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15). Jesus then suffered the punishment people deserved for their sins (Isaiah 53:4-12). 1 Corinthians 15:17 explains that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, there would be no forgiveness of sins. Without his resurrection from the dead, Jesus’ mission would have ended in failure.

The message of the Bible is that Jesus’ resurrection delivered a “not guilty” declaration from God (Romans 4:25). 1 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Jesus’ resurrection vindicated him as the Holy One of God, the sinless Son of God. While the sins of the world were laid on Jesus, his resurrection was a clear signal to all the world that his sacrifice for sin was complete and accepted, and that he remains holy and pure.

Hello! I was wondering if Jesus did miracles by the Holy Spirit, by His divinity, or by both? Are there any verses that show the answer? I find verses that say it was by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:27-28; Acts 2:22), but was his divinity completely uninvolved?

Jesus is true man and true God, and we cannot separate those two natures. What he did—including miracles—he did as true man and true God.

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the work of Christ (Matthew 12:27-28) comes as no surprise. Recall what happened at Jesus’ Baptism: “ As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).

Because Jesus’ Baptism was his anointing into the offices of prophet, priest and king, Jesus could cite Isaiah 61:1-2 and state, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). Just as “Messiah” means “the anointed one,” so “Christ” means “the anointed one.”

Hi, My question is about something that I have heard said by lots of Roman Catholic laypeople and priests. When they talk about the Sacrament (and I think this is also part of their portion of their version of the Words of Institution), they say "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ." I understand that their whole understanding of Communion differs greatly from ours with their dogma of Transubstantiation. I'm just so confused, why they would say "soul and divinity"? I guess I could understand the divinity portion, because if we are receiving Christ's Body and Blood, his flesh is perfect, so it would be human and divine at the same time. Is that correct? But his "soul"? Did Jesus have during his time on earth/currently have a soul? I think of that as something all of us human creatures on earth and in Heaven have...I don't think of God as having a "soul." I understand Him as being the one who creates our souls when we are conceived. Do we believe or is it ever talked about in Scripture that Jesus had/has a soul?

A human being has a body and a soul. When Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became true man by way of his miraculous conception and birth, that meant he now had a body and a soul (Matthew 26:38).

At death, a person’s body and soul separate (Ecclesiastes 12:7). When Jesus was about to die, he committed his soul/spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father (Luke 23:46).

Resurrection is the reuniting of body and soul. Jesus’ body and soul were reunited in the tomb early Easter Sunday morning.

The Bible teaches that Jesus had/has a soul.

Does God ever on any occasion talk to his children through dreams?

A recent questioner asked a question very similar to yours. What follows is the response that was given.

God of course can do anything. He can communicate to us any way he chooses. 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.

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).

We have no promise of God that he will communicate to us beyond Scripture. So, we do well to focus on God’s communication to us through the Bible and our communication to him in prayer.

Why did Jesus have to be a man/male?

Without offering explanation, the Bible calls one person of the Trinity “Father” and another “Son,” and speaks of the Father “begetting” the Son (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 1:5). Along with the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son are eternal—having no beginning and no end.

In the Old Testament, God delivered many prophecies about the promised Messiah, his Son. Those prophecies included masculine pronouns. It comes as no surprise, then, that the angel Gabriel informed both Joseph (Matthew 1:21-23) and Mary (Luke 1:31) that the child born to Mary would be a son.

What a blessing it is to be able to call Jesus our Brother (Hebrews 2:11-12).

Can God still do miracles like in the Bible?

Certainly. Consider what the following Bible verses teach. “Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14). “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6). “Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:13) “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

These are some of the verses in the Bible that give Christians reason to confess, “I believe in God the Father almighty.”

I'm still having trouble understanding the means of grace concerning the forgiveness of sins. On the cross, Jesus won forgiveness for the world, and so their sins are forgiven them. And in the means of grace, this forgiveness is delivered/conveyed/conferred/ upon us, and we receive it by faith. My question is then, how do we receive forgiveness over and over again? I know that in our Baptism, in Holy Communion, and the Absolution, we receive the forgiveness of sins and that this is more than just mere assurance. Is there any further explanation for this? Or is some of this simple mystery to our human reasoning?

Your understanding of the forgiveness of sins, as you explain it in the sentences before your first question, is accurate. God’s declaration of righteousness to all people (John 1:29; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 2:2) became yours personally when the Holy Spirit created saving faith in Jesus in your heart (Romans 3:22, 28; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 2:8-9). God said you were forgiven, and then God gave you the faith to enjoy that forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness is complete and total. Through his gospel in word and sacraments, he offers and gives us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In multiple ways —through his word, the sacraments and the Absolution, as you mentioned—God is saying, “I forgive you.” All those pronouncements of forgiveness go back to God’s initial declaration of your righteousness because of Jesus’ holy life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

Think of a spouse who tells the other spouse often and in different ways, “I love you.” Think of a parent who tells a child often and in different ways, “I love you.” In a much greater way, God tells you and me—often and in different ways—“I love you and I forgive you.”

I hope this little explanation brings some clarity to and greater appreciation for God’s means of grace.

Is Article XVIII of the Augsburg Confession - about free will - specifically talking about libertarian free will? If so, how is that compatible with divine providence, if no event can occur outside God's control?

Article XVIII addresses the natural condition of people. Conceived and born into this world with a sinful nature, people cannot choose do anything good or godly in the sight of God. People cannot choose to believe in God (John 15:16). Faith is God’s work in the hearts of people (Ephesians 2:8). Only after the Holy Spirit has changed their hearts can Christians do anything to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

The free will that people have by nature is limited to the things of this world. Article XVIII provides some examples of the worldly choices people might have.

Certainly, God is in control of all things (Psalm 2; 47:8; Proverbs 19:21). No one and nothing can thwart God’s purposes. Christians also have God’s promise that he will work for their eventual and eternal good in every situation in life (Romans 8:28).

Today was Trinity Sunday and we talked about having three distinct persons in one God. I was wondering - because there is one God - could you say that the Father and Holy Spirit also descended into hell? We talk about the Father creating heaven and earth, but the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and Jesus was the Word who "all things were made by him" (John 1). They obviously were involved with creation too, so where's the line? Could you say that the Father and Holy Spirit took part in dying on the cross or descending into hell?

The general nature of your questions about the persons of the Trinity fills pages of dogmatics textbooks. Our minds struggle to make sense of what we believe: that there are three persons yet one God.

While our Catechism ascribes works to the persons of the Trinity (Father: creation; Son: redemption; Holy Spirit: sanctification), all three persons were involved in those works. You demonstrated how that was true regarding creation.

Concerning redemption, the Bible speaks of the Father’s involvement in sending his Son (John 3:16) and the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the conception of Christ (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35), but only the second person of the Trinity took on human flesh. With a body, only Jesus died on the cross and descended into hell. Before he died, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). You might be interested to know that Including the Father with Jesus’ death is an ancient heresy that dogmatics textbooks treat.

There are mysteries in the Christian faith, and the nature of God is one of them. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christian faith embraces those mysteries, while trying to understand them better.

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.

We know that Jesus is the Son of God. What did He mean when He called Himself the Son of Man?

“The Son of Man” is a title of the Lord Jesus that occurs over 80 times in the gospels. The context of each individual use might furnish a particular shading in meaning, but in general Jesus used the title to underscore his humanity as the God-Man and to identify himself as the promised Messiah (Daniel 7:13-14).

Can a person reject the quickening of the Holy Spirit?

Yes. During holy week Jesus lamented: “ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). As he stood on trial before the Sanhedrin, and before an angry mob began to stone him to death, Stephen addressed the members of that religious court: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51) When God works through the means of grace, people can resist his power.

When did the concept of a triune God come into being?

There never was a beginning to the triune God’s existence. God is eternal, without beginning and without end (Psalm 90:2).

People came to a knowledge of the unique nature of God when God revealed that in his word—as early as the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In the original Hebrew, “God” in that verse is plural in form. That is a tip-off right there to the plurality of persons in the Godhead.

Later in the chapter “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’” (Genesis 1:26). Note the plural pronouns in that verse.

As time went on, God revealed more information about himself as a triune God. That information became clearest in the New Testament, with these words from Jesus’ great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19).

The eternal God is triune. We know that because he has revealed that information to us in his word.

Someone told me that Jesus was born in September, but we celebrate Christmas on December 25 because that is when Jesus was conceived. Where did that idea come from?

Christian Worship:  Manual, the companion book to our hymnal, offers this explanation:  “The other suggestion for the selection of December 25th to celebrate Christ’s birth resulted from an early computation that his death on the cross occurred on March 25th.  There was a theological belief held by some that the death and birth dates of religiously significant persons is the same.  By this reckoning, March 25th was not only the date of Jesus’ death but also the day on which he was conceived in the womb of Mary, thereby establishing the birth date nine months later” (p. 374).

A feature article in the December 2015 Forward in Christ also addressed your question.  It stated:  “And what about the day and time Jesus was born? No one could go to the town clerk of Bethlehem to find a birth certificate. The records, if there were any, may have been part of the Roman census, but they were gone. Could anyone suggest the day he was born?

“Clearly, the answer to that question is no. But Christians in the third century felt that the coming of Jesus occurred on the day that God created the world. Really? Who knew that? Well, the cycle of seasons always began with the first day of spring and the coming of new life. So the first day of spring was also considered the day God created the world. For these people, spring began on March 25. Some adopted that date for the birth of Jesus, but others began to adopt that day as the day that Jesus was conceived. If you count nine months from March 25, you come to Dec. 25.”

The fact of the matter is that we do not know the date of Jesus’ birth.  That is not a problem.  This is what we do know:  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” (Matthew 1:18-25)  God bless your Christmas celebration.

What are God's essential attributes?

God’s essence and attributes are identical.  Yet, in the Bible God comes down to our level and describes himself with attributes so we can understand him.  And so, for example, God tells us in the Bible that he is:  spirit (John 4:24), eternal (Psalm 90:2), all-powerful (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37), present everywhere (1 Kings 8:27), immutable (Psalm 102:26-27), all-knowing (Psalm 139:1-4), holy (Leviticus 11:45), and loving (1 John 4:8).

Dogmatics books, of course, treat your question with much, much greater thoroughness, but this very brief response summarizes some of what the Bible tells us about God.  In the Bible God reveals himself so we can know him in faith as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

How can an all-loving, all-powerful God allow evil in the world?

Your question is one that people have asked for years and years.  When people see evil in the world that appears to be unchecked by God, they sometimes question his power and/or his love.  Their thinking goes something like this:  “If God is powerful like he says, then why doesn’t he do something about evil in the world?  And if God really cares about people, then why doesn’t he step in and prevent or at least control evil in the world?”

For starters, God is all-powerful (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37).  God is all-loving (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8-10).  The Bible teaches that God can prevent evil from entering our lives (Psalm 91:9-10).  He can allow evil—brought about by the devil, other people or own doing—to enter our lives.  In those instances God can deliver us from evil (Psalm 50:15; Matthew 6:13), and he promises that he will work for our good “in all things” (Romans 8:28), even the troubles we experience in life.

Questions about God and why he does or does not do something about evil need to be addressed in light of passages like these:  “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 them?’  For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)  “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’” declares the LORD.  ‘“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  God always acts wisely, and his wisdom far surpasses our understanding.  God’s ways may be mysterious to us, but his ways are always right.

The comfort and confidence that Christians have is that of the apostle Paul:  “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  (2 Timothy 4:18)  That eternal security is due to the saving work of Jesus Christ, who himself experienced sufferings at the hands of sinful people (Acts 2:23).

The day is coming when the evil one will be put out of commission entirely (Revelation 20:10).  On the last day Christians, with their bodies and souls, will be forever free from evil.  Little wonder that we pray, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

When sharing the good news of Jesus with loved ones, more than once I have been asked, Why doesn't God send back someone I know to prove that there is a God and Heaven does exist? How do I answer this question? Thank you for your help.

I would direct you to the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man in hell requested that someone be brought back from the dead to warn his brothers on earth about hell’s existence.  His request was denied.  Recall what response he received:  “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them…If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:29, 31).  That response holds true today.  Through his word God speaks about himself and the existence of heaven.  His word is all that is needed to change hearts and minds.

Or think of the different times during Jesus’ earthly ministry when unbelieving Jews demanded a sign from him.  (See, for example, Matthew 12:38; 16:1)  People demanded signs—spectacular deeds—from the Lord because in their opinion his word was not enough.  You notice that in those instances Jesus did not give in to people’s demands.  His word is all that is needed to change hearts and minds.

In conversations with your loved ones you can direct them to the Bible, which is God’s complete written revelation to the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).  God’s word is able to make people “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15) and equip them “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).  God bless your conversations.

In order for my salvation to be sure and complete, I know that God himself had to die. A man alone dying would not save me. I thought that I had been taught that since Christ's human nature shares with his divine, and his divine nature with his human, that both natures of Christ died on the cross. Recently I was corrected by another WELS member telling me that only the human nature actually died, because "God cannot die." Would you please help clarify. Which Bible verses speak to this? Thank you for your help.

You are correct in noting that, in order for our salvation to be “sure and complete,” Jesus had to be more than a man when he offered his life on the cross.  Scripture says “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Psalm 49:7-8).

Jesus is the God-Man.  The angel Gabriel informed Mary that the child she would give birth to would be called “The Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32)  and “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  God and man in one person is a “mystery” (1 Timothy 3:16) to us, but we cling to that mystery in Spirit-worked faith.

You also understand correctly that there is a union of the two natures in Christ, and so it is accurate to speak of God dying on the cross.  In fact, church history is replete with individuals who denied that and whose errors led the Christian church to formulate responses from Scripture.

In Acts 20:28 the apostle Paul instructed the elders of the church in Ephesus to “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”  It was not the shed blood of a mere man that ransomed people, it was God’s “own blood.”  Similarly, in 1 John 1:7 the inspired writer comforts us with the message that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  Again, it is not the blood of a mere man that cleanses us from all sin, but the blood of God’s Son.

Just an aside—it is Scripture alone that is the foundation of our faith, but it is interesting to see how our hymns reflect the truths of our faith.  In that regard, take a look at some of the hymns in the Lent and Good Friday section of Christian Worship.  Several hymns illustrate the truth of Scripture that God died in our behalf, to win our salvation.  The refrain of one such hymn points us to a God-pleasing response:  “Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus, unto thee.”  (Christian Worship 114)

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.

I heard someone say that bad things happen because each person has a choice between good or evil. Yet, it is my understanding that Luther argued cogently from Scripture that human will is in bondage to sin and therefore not free. It is only through God's grace that any are able to belong to Him. Yet, being human, we are troubled by this question of why. Must we, like Job, just accept that God's ways are so far above us that we should cease with our questions and accept that some things are a mystery?

By nature, my free will is limited to making decisions about my earthly life. By nature, my will in spiritual matters is only that of sinning and rejecting God. When God brings me to faith, he gives me a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). I now have a new self that desires to live in harmony with God’s will (Ephesians 4:24). I now want to love God and others as God instructs (Romans 7:22). However, I still have a sinful nature that opposes anything good and godly, and that creates struggles in Christian living (Romans 7:15-25).

As a child of God, my free will is much different than before my conversion. Now my new self wants to use the means of grace to strengthen my faith; now I want to follow God’s law as a tangible way of showing my thankfulness to him for my salvation in Jesus his Son. However, even when I, as a child of God, want to do those things in life that are good and godly, I recognize that it is God working in me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

Our lives as Christians will be more peaceful when we realize that, yes, there are mysteries of our faith and that it is not up to us to understand everything about God and his ways. The apostle Paul’s doxology in the book of Romans directs us to stand in humble awe of God when we are confronted by God’s mysteries: “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 them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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.

I can't understand why God chose to deliver His messages through man. Since man is so ignorant and limited, it is very easy to produce misunderstandings. Instead of delivering His messages through a human prophet, God could have delivered the same message, producing the same dream at the same time in the minds of every single person in Israel or sending an angel to speak to every single person instead of speaking to a prophet and then letting the prophet deliver the message to others. Since there are more efficient methods of delivering a message, why did God did not use them? Why would he complain if the people do not believe in Him, if he used such poor way to communicate?

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Those verses explain how God has given his message to people. When God delivered his word through prophets and his Son, he looked for people to relay and share that word with others (Isaiah 49:6; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 2:9).

Any thoughts of God taking a risk by getting his message out in this way are dismissed when we understand that God controlled his message. “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

If people claimed to have received a message from God, the Lord provided a way for determining whether or not the individual and his message were to be believed (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Your question underscores how God’s ways are different from ours (Isaiah 55:8-11). “Different” in this case does not mean wrong. “Different” means “wise.” I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians chapter one to see the great difference between 1) people’s ideas and 2) God’s thoughts and plans and actions. Our reaction to that difference, one that is prompted by the Holy Spirit, is this: “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:27)

I have been suffering from a deteriorating disease. I feel this illness is taking away my faith in God. I cannot live with the guilt this has caused. I desperately call out to him and love him so much. Please, how can I strengthen my faith in God during this time? I feel like he does not love me.

I am sorry to hear about your health situation. Be assured that our physical health can be quite different from our spiritual health. Struggles in life, including diseases, do not mean that God’s love has diminished. The Bible’s promise to Christians is that nothing can separate them from God’s love in Christ: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Sickness and disease are among those items that cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ.

Satan would love for us to conclude that problems in life are signs that God does not love us. Satan is a liar (John 8:44). As we tune out Satan’s voice, we want to listen to the voice of our God in Scripture. God always speaks the truth (Numbers 23:19).

Consider some of the things God says to you in his word: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10). Your God assures you: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). God promises you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

To strengthen your faith at this time and throughout life, continue to go to the means the Holy Spirit uses to deepen and nurture our faith: the gospel in word and sacraments. Remember your Baptism. Recognize that in Baptism God made you his own dear child. Read the Bible and other devotional materials you might have. Be a frequent guest at the Lord’s Supper. Through these means, God assures you of his forgiving, unending love.

Finally, speak to your pastor or other trusted Christian friend about your situation in life. God bless you!

Does God punish us?

No. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God has already punished Jesus his Son for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-8). Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, we are spared the punishment our sins deserved (Psalm 103:10).

As God interacts in the lives of Christians, the language of the Bible is “discipline” not “punishment” (Hebrews 12:1-13). The motive behind discipline is love not anger.

When you and I face difficulties or challenges or disappointments in life, they are not punishments from God. Romans 8:1 explains that God does not condemn Christians now, nor will he condemn them in the future. No condemnation, no punishment—that is God’s gracious treatment of his children.

Those whose earthly lives end in unbelief, rejecting God, will receive punishment from God (Matthew 22:13; Mark 16:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

Does God ask us all to be disciples?

I am not sure who you mean by “us.” By definition, a disciple is one who follows the Lord. All Christians, all people who look to Jesus Christ in faith as their Savior, are his disciples.

Another way of looking at your question is that God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). In that sense, he wants all people to be his disciples.

Matthew 18:20 states that God is with us where two or three gather in his name. I thought God was everywhere...especially when we are alone.

The Bible teaches that God has many different modes of presence. He is omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 139:7-10). He is present in the Lord’s Supper, as we receive the Lord’s body and blood, together with the bread and wine (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:27). He is present with his church—when two or three come together in his name, as you referenced. He is present with each believer, as our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). He is present with each believer because he lives in them (John 17:20-23). Jesus was visibly present among people when he came to this world as true man (1 John 1:1-2). Praise God for the comfort, peace and strength of his ongoing presence in our lives!

What is the difference between divine punishment (or divine wrath as it used to be called) and divine discipline? Several of my relatives claim that the disasters that have befallen our nation are divine judgment for rejecting his message and falling away from its Christian roots. I have been told that God no longer punishes for specific sins and that he instead disciplines his believers, but I'm have trouble understanding the difference. If there is a difference between the two, should I attempt to correct their misconception?

The Bible speaks of Jesus Christ receiving the punishment that a world of sinners deserved (Isaiah 53:4, 8). When people are united to Jesus Christ in faith, they are spared any punishment for their sins (Romans 8:1). What God may do in the lives of Christians is discipline them, not punish them (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:4-12).

When it comes to disasters that strike people, we need to be careful that we do not speak for God when he has not spoken. We do not know his ways, nor can we read his mind (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36). Jesus instructed us not to assign God’s motives to disasters that involve people (Luke 13:1-9).

When you and I consider life’s difficulties and troubles in view of our sinfulness, we are led to acknowledge with gratitude about God: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). Thanks be to God for his gracious treatment of us.

Why is God considered a male? Females carry the miracle of creating new life through their stem cells within the ovaries. Men only pass on a package of DNA. In ancient times, it was believed that man produced life and injected into the womb/vessel of the woman. Now we know better. By what characteristics does God qualify as a male rather than a life-giving female?

God is spirit (John 4:24), having no physical body. (Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, became man when he took on human flesh at his conception and birth.)

Throughout Scripture God reveals himself as “he” (Genesis 1:27, for example). The Bible calls the first two persons of the Trinity “Father” and “Son.” The Bible pictures God as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, his prayer addressed God as “Our Father.”

The language of Scripture is consistent. The psalm writer summarizes all this well: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

If God had the total power of the world, why could not he stop all evil of the world?

God does have “the total power of the world.” He is all-powerful (Genesis 1-2; 17:1; 1 Chronicles 29:12; Psalm 65:6). God could have created a world in which sin could never have existed. He chose not to do that, and he does not offer explanation in the Bible on his actions (nor does he need to). “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).

When I am confronted by mysteries like this, I think of 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 them?” For from him and through him and for 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 and his ways completely.

What we do know with certainty is that God met evil head-on in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus defeated Satan by overcoming all his temptations and by rising from the dead after offering his life as a sacrifice for sin. What we also know with certainty is that God will one day remove evil completely from the lives of his followers (Revelation 20-22).

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)

What is objective justification?

Let me pass along a few paragraphs from This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body, that answer your question.

“4. We believe that God reconciled “the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). We believe that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The mercy and grace of God are all-embracing; the reconciliation through Christ is universal; the forgiveness of sins has been gained as an accomplished fact for all people. Because of the substitutionary work of Christ, God has justified all people, that is, God has declared them to be not guilty. This forms the firm, objective basis for the sinner’s assurance of salvation.” [from III. Christ and Redemption]

“1. We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. It is a message relevant to people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, for “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified, for “the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18).

“2. We believe that individuals receive this free gift of forgiveness not on the basis of their own works, but only through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Justifying faith is trust in Christ and his redemptive work. This faith justifies not because of any power it has in itself, but only because of the salvation prepared by God in Christ, which it embraces (Romans 3:28; 4:5). On the other hand, although Jesus died for all, Scripture says that “whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Unbelievers forfeit the forgiveness won for them by Christ (John 8:24).” [from IV. Justification by Grace through Faith]

Why does God allow bad things to keep happening when you are asking for help?

I cannot pretend to speak for God as to why, in your life specifically, events are taking place. What I can in a general way is that God deals with his children out of love. He does not punish Christians for their sins; he has already punished Jesus in our place (Romans 4:25; 8:1).

When it comes to prayer, God promises to hear and answer our prayers (Psalm 34:15). Even when God’s answers to our prayers are not what we have in mind, we can be comforted that God’s answers are always for our best (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

God’s thoughts and ways are different and better than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). His wisdom far surpasses ours (Romans 11:33-36). He is the one in whom we want to place our trust in all of life (Psalm 46). That trust is never misplaced (Psalm 25:3).

A recent Light for our Path column addressed the subject matter of God allowing bad things to happen in life. This link will take you to that column. God bless you.

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!

A friend says he doesn't and can't believe in God. His reasoning is a paradox - "If God created everything in the world, and he is only good, where did 'evil' come from and the fallen angels, i.e. Satan? God must have created 'evil', or, God doesn't exist." I must say his argument is compelling for a weak believer or an unbeliever. In fact, I've seen others accept his argument and reject God's word.

The Bible tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11). At the end of the sixth day of creation, God pronounced everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31). All was perfect in God’s creation. Sin was absent.

At some point thereafter, angels rebelled against God and were cast into hell (2 Peter 2:4). Through Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned against God (Genesis 3). Sin clearly came into the world through people’s actions (Romans 5:12). God is removed from wrongdoing of any kind; he is holy (James 1:13; Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3).

God certainly knew that sin would infect and corrupt his creation. God certainly had the power to prevent sin from entering the perfect world he created, but the Bible does not tell us why God allowed sin to take place.

Questions about God and why he does or does not do something about evil need to be addressed in light of passages like these: “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 them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’” declares the LORD. ‘“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9) God always acts wisely, and his wisdom far surpasses our understanding. God’s ways may be mysterious to us, but his ways are always right. Christian faith recognizes and accepts that.

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.

Can you prove any of these things to your friend and change that person’s thinking? No. But you can continue to share God’s word with your friend, because God can change hearts and lives through his powerful gospel (Romans 1:16; 10:17). I encourage you to keep doing that.

Are there three parts to the one God? And each part is 100% God, yet they are all one God? Is that a correct statement?

Accurate and appropriate terminology is that there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). This God has revealed himself as three persons (Matthew 28:19). Using “parts” to refer to God can easily lead to the mistaken idea that the Godhead is divided.

In Article I of The Augsburg Confession, we say on the basis of Scripture that, “There is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term ‘person’ they [our churches] use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.”

While the Bible tells us that God acts with multiple purposes and motivations (love, display power, make Himself known), there are passages that support that man's ultimate purpose and God's chief purpose is the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31, Isaiah 43:7, etc). Even though this teaching is promoted in Reformed churches, it does seem to have biblical support. It does seem that the final result of other motivations and purposes is that God is glorified. I may have missed it, but I don't see this topic of purposes and ultimate purpose addressed in the Lutheran Confessions. Are there concerns from our WELS perspective with the teaching that God's ultimate purpose is His glory?

Your question underscores different emphases in Reformed theology and Lutheran theology. Reformed theology will stress the sovereignty of God and people’s response of obedience to it, while Lutheran theology emphasizes the grace of God in Christ and Christian faith, which enables people to enjoy God’s grace and forgiveness.

It is not that Lutheran theology glosses over the subject of Christians praising God. Here are a few examples where the Lutheran Confessions speak of praising God. In his explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism Martin Luther described what Jesus did to save us from our sins. Then, he explained the purpose of that redemption: “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.”

In his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Large Catechism, Luther wrote: “Now, since all that we possess, and, moreover, whatever, in addition, is in heaven and upon the earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God, it is readily inferred and concluded that it is our duty to love, praise, and thank Him for it without ceasing, and, in short, to serve Him with all these things, as He demands and has enjoined in the Ten Commandments.”

Finally, there is this statement at the close of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: “We hope that all God-fearing men will sufficiently see from this writing of ours that ours is the Christian doctrine and comforting and salutary to all godly men. Accordingly, we pray God to extend His grace to the end that His holy Gospel may be known and honored by all, for His glory, and for the peace, unity, and salvation of all of us. Regarding all these articles we offer to make further statements, if required.” Certainly, the defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Lutheran Confessions gives praise and glory to God.

So, while Reformed theology accentuates the creation of human beings for the glory of God, Lutheran theology puts the spotlight on God’s gracious love for sinners. That love certainly demands a response (Psalm 116:12), but the response does not overshadow the love that prompted it.

Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? I have heard this question several times before, and it seems self-contradictory, because since God is all-powerful he should be able to both make the rock and lift it.

You are correct in noting that this question is self-contradictory and illogical. Atheists have long asked this question to try to force Christians to concede that there is something incomplete about either God’s creative power or his providential power.

God’s power cannot be limited by self-contradictory and illogical questions. The Bible explains that God’s power is unlimited. When God appeared to Abram, he identified himself this way: “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1). The psalm writer explained: “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6).

God’s unlimited power is just one of many attributes that separates God from people. In the context of salvation, Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Thank God that he has unlimited power and boundless love (John 3:16).

Is there any scriptural evidence that says the Holy Spirit is a separate person from God the Father? What if the Holy Spirit is actually God the Father's soul, therefore the same person?

Contrary to what a religion like the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches, the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit being a separate person of the Trinity.

I would encourage you to look up Bible passages like these: Matthew 3:16-17; 12:31-32; 28:19; John 14:16; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14.

The Athanasian Creed states biblical truth when it says: “We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being. For each person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is distinct, but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty…So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord…The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

In the Old Testament they use Holy Ghost and in the New Testament they use Holy Spirit. Is there a difference, or do they refer to the same thing?

I am not entirely sure what “they” in your question is referencing.

English Bible translations have used “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” to refer to the third person of the Trinity. There is no difference. Both names are accurate translations of the biblical languages.

Why is Jesus depicted as white (Caucasian) in all the Christian artwork and movies? In "My Son My Savior," "Come Follow Me," picture Bibles, and even on the Facebook cover photo for WELS, Jesus is a white man.

As we do not have any images of Jesus from his life and ministry on earth, artists will use their skills and imaginations to depict a 1st century Jewish man who lived in Palestine.

While we presently do not have knowledge of Jesus’ physical features, it will be different when we see him face to face in heaven. Then we will know what the Savior of the nations looks like.

I know without the Holy Spirit we are blind, dead, enemies of God, so I'm just curious about the Holy Spirit's role in the Old Testament. I was listening to a pastor from another synod and it sounded like he thought the Holy Spirit wasn't responsible for creating faith during Old Testament times. Based on the conversation, I'm thinking he wasn't including the prophets, etc. I tried to do research on my own, but it seems like scholars are all over the place on the Holy Spirit's role before Pentecost. Can you tell me what our synod believes the Bible says regarding the Holy Spirit's work in Old Testament times?

In This We Believe, a statement of belief of WELS, we make this confession: “We believe that people cannot produce this justifying faith, or trust, in their own hearts, because ‘the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). In fact, ‘the sinful mind is hostile to God’ (Romans 8:7). It is the Holy Spirit who gives people faith to recognize that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Holy Spirit works this faith by means of the gospel (Romans 10:17). We believe, therefore, that a person’s conversion is entirely the work of God’s grace.”  [This link provides the context for that quotation.]

Conversion to saving faith has always been the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit changes hearts in New Testament times, so he did in the days of the Old Testament.

Is it dangerous to treat coincidences as omens from God? I believe that God has a hand in every aspect of our life. If this is true, wouldn't it be safe to say that some coincidences, be it positive or negative, are God's ways of talking to us? Is it feasible that he uses coincidences to point us down a personal path he has picked out for us? If you say that this is feasible, then what happens if it swings the other way? Maybe something works out in our favor that is truly just a coincidence, but we interpret it as an omen from God and follow a path that brings negativity into our life. Interpreting coincidences seems like something that is very subjective, yet I constantly hear people saying, "That was just God looking out for me," as they dodge something negative in their life. Or does WELS believe that God's only channel of communication to us is through the Bible? I understand that we should always use what God has given us in Scripture to align our lives with his will. How do we answer questions that aren't about moral complications though? Is this where we may allow God's "omens" to help guide our decisions?

The starting point in my response is the acknowledgement that God communicates to us through his word (1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21). Through his word God has revealed plainly his law and gospel.

I can probably best address the multiple questions you asked about coincidences by steering you to the topic of “God’s providence.” Beyond the great gift of life that God has given us, he protects and preserves us. He uses different means and events in life to carry out his good and gracious will. While we may not be able to understand or interpret life’s events, we do know that God has promised to work for our eventual and eternal good in all those events (Romans 8:28).

Was it a case of “God looking out for me” when people dodged a negative in life? Sure. Was it also a case of “God looking out for me” when people were not able to dodge a negative in life? Yes. The wisdom and love of God make it possible to answer that question in the affirmative (Genesis 50:20).

That general way of looking at life’s events can provide a quiet contentment and confidence in life. If you and I try to interpret every one of life’s events with an eye toward determining God’s will, we will find that to be a frustrating experience. God’s ways are beyond our ways (Isaiah 55:8). There is plenty of information about God that is hidden from us (Isaiah 45:15). In addition, when it comes to making decisions that concern our earthly lives, God has enabled us to work in the sphere of limited freedom.

With these things in mind, you and I go through life seeking, with God’s help and strength, to give him glory in all we do, including the decisions we make (1 Corinthians 10:31).