How do you know God is real? Various people in my life have asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.
Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.
The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”
A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.
A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.
The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.
For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!
During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?
I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.
At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.
Why do I write about the parallels between Jesus and Old Testament characters? I believe it is important to understand the strong links between the Old and New Testaments. Repeated themes of Jesus’s attitudes, life, death and resurrection are deeply embedded on every page of the Old Testament. By discovering these links, it will increase your faith and encourage you to believe the Bible is truly God’s Word. As you follow the series Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings, I encourage you to consider the age of these ancient texts, the span of years between the Old and New Testament writers, the number of repeated prophecies of the coming Messiah and the accurate foretelling of the life of Christ in the Old Testament.
As I researched this topic across the web, I began to realize there are many parallels between Jacob and Jesus, and it would be an extremely long blog entry if I attempted to cover all of them. Below are some of the most interesting parallels from the story of Jacob:
Parallel 1: The Highly Favored and Beloved Son:
Parallel 2: Stranger in a Strange Land
Symbolism: Jacob’s Ladder
Parallel 3: The Bride
Parallel 4: The Elder and The Younger Sisters
Parallel 5: Israel Prevails
Parallel 6: The Patriarchs
Parallel 7: The House of Levi and Priesthood
Resources and Other Interesting Sites
Below is a list of sites I came across during my research. If you are interested in discovering more parallels to Jesus (there are many), here are great sites to help you start:
The story of Abraham’s (almost) sacrifice of his son Isaac is one of those awe inspiring faith builders that initially inspired me to write the blog series “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings.” If you’ve questioned whether or not the Bible is truly the Word of God or wondered about the relevance of the Old Testament to your own life, I hope this story will show some links between the two testaments.
The comparison above was first mentioned to me by a good friend of mine who is an amazing teacher of Biblical truths. She taught me how to look for parallels between the Old and New Testament. As a result, this type of research has greatly strengthened and reinforced my faith and ignited a passion for studying the Word. Thank goodness for wonderful friends who help us grow!
I hope this comparison and the “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings” series will ignite the same passion for you!
As a Christ follower in the Western World, I am regularly reminded Christianity is not the only faith around me. I know people who are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and some who are nothing at all. I also have friends who are Universalists. In case you are wondering what a Universalist believes, in some religious Universalist circles “religion is a universal human quality, emphasizing the universal principles of most religions and accepting other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine.” (Wikipedia)
Society frequently demands for me to accept all other faiths and religions as equal to mine. I’m told I’m not loving people if I don’t share the belief of the equality of other faiths, but this is not something I can do. I base this stance on Jesus’s own words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In many ways, I feel if I accept all faiths as equal, I’m stating Christ died for some people but not for all. But I believe He died for everyone. For me to deny the importance of His death and resurrection would be a betrayal of confidence in His promise. If I trust Him, I must believe Him.
“If I trust Him, I must believe Him.”
Now, I’m not suggesting at all that my disagreements with the idea of religious equality gives me the free license to bash others or their beliefs. In fact, such behavior is abhorrent because it is not the heart of Christ to behave this way. I base this belief on the teachings of Paul in his writings to the church in Corinth which states: “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14) and in Galatians 5:22 which states: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” How else do I share the love of Christ with others who do not know Him if I never wear His nature as my mantel?
How do we walk the fine line of sharing the love of Christ with others and offending them? This is a hard and careful line to walk on some occasions. It is important to be a respecter of all people even when we disagree when it comes to beliefs. I believe sharing the love of Christ with others is so much more than witnessing. Love people. Do good and be patient with others. Show compassion and mercy. Exhibit the qualities of Christ. Be a reason for others to see Christ in you so much that people feel the words that Christ spoke about Himself when they look at you: “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:7)
The body of Christ is going through a “division crisis.” I call it the “Sneetches on the Beaches Affect” after the Dr. Suess story about creatures called Sneetches who divide themselves into groups based on who has stars on their bellies and who does not. As a friend likes to remind me, if we continue to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups over things that make us different from our neighbors, eventually we will find ourselves alone. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement because we will likely never completely agree all the time on every issue.
Why do I bring this issue up?
In our culture, it is easy to define ourselves by all sorts of things. We like our niches — customizable digital radio stations, anyone? We like being comfortable around others who talk like us, look like us and sound like us. This seems especially true within the body of Christ. Did you know there are approximately 30,000 Christian denominations? That number is staggering, especially since Jesus and Paul were extremely concerned about unity within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4).
Why are we so divided?
It seems we divide ourselves over just about anything within the body of Christ (Church): traditional vs. contemporary, style of music, formality of clothing, instruments used, preaching style, church adornment, rituals and sacraments and all sorts of other things (In case you’re interested, I’ve also written about this topic from a different perspective in a previous article: “Unity“). However, one topic seems to divide more sharply and cut more deeply than most issues within the Church — social issues and politics.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think social and political issues are important; but no matter how important these problems/differences are, they distract from the message of Christ. Before we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we consider the impact of such a divide on our non-beliving family, friends and neighbors? Perhaps, our judgmental, unforgiving reputation is well deserved when we allow ourselves to become a disorganized bunch of hypocrites who backbite each other and point out each other’s flaws in a merciless manner. I recognize not everyone fits into this generalization, and there are lot of truly wonderful Christian people around the world. However, based on some fairly common sterotypes I see in the media and society in general about Christianity, I’m standing firm on my view about how we are perceived by many non-Christians. Let’s change that view.
And before it is suggested, I’m not insinuating we should ignore sin. I’m simply suggesting we change our primary focus to be more Christ-centered above all else. If we, the body of Christ, modeled ourselves after Jesus, would society see us differently? Would they see us as less judgmental and feel like they wanted to be part of the Church if we were more unified, less divisive and more welcoming to non-Christians than we are currently?
Christ is Our Model
Jesus’s primary mission on earth was to demonstrate the depth of the love of the Father and to provide the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins by dying on the cross. He also healed the sick, set free the oppressed and cast out demons. Everything He said and did was rooted in love. He showed mercy instead of judgment. He released grace upon people who didn’t deserve it. Shouldn’t we strive to do the same even if we disagree with our neighbors?
The challenge to those of us who claim to follow Christ is simple: love without conditions. Welcome others with open arms. Stop being shocked by the actions of people who don’t know Christ — of course they won’t align with all of your values — love them anyway. Throw aside pride and disagreements within the Church. Be the difference. Be a person of substance and character. Watch the world change around you one person at a time as they see the truth of Christ in your life.
When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?
As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.
If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.
In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.
In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.
Life and Our Freedom to Choose
Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.