Can you accurately talk about God prior to knowing Him? We pondered this question in our editorial office and decided to solicit responses from our Facebook and Instagram followers. In particular, to those who call themselves atheists, what specific questions do they have about faith?
Alexander Shevchenko, the well-known pastor from the church, House of Bread, gladly agreed to answer nine of some of the most complex and, in some ways, even provocative questions.
1. How can I be sure the Bible tells the truth? Does the world have any real evidence that the Bible was written by God, not by man, and wasn’t rewritten to suit various religious movements?
To begin with, the Bible is not just one book. It is comprised of 66 books written by different authors at different times. Moreover, these people lived on different continents of the globe and were of different social classes: doctors, ministers, fishermen. But, at the same time, there are no contradictions in what they wrote, and the general concept of the Bible is the same regardless of the time or personality of the author. Therefore, the first argument in favor of the Bible is the inspiration of the Holy Scripture.
The second fundamental argument is the biblical prophecy. There are lots of them. Hundreds of events were predicted many years before they happened. There are over 400 prophecies in the Bible about Jesus Christ, and such coincidences are mathematically impossible, given that all these predictions were fulfilled in the smallest detail by that same person. If someone really wants to see supernatural moments in the Bible, he or she will find them, in large numbers.
2. God wants everyone to worship Him and follow Him, and if people don’t obey Him, they will burn in hell forever. How does this behavior characterize the personality of God?
This is a very distorted view of God and an extremely pagan and cynical view of who God is. People live in hell already. Look at what the world has become today! People betray their dearest, commit suicide, destroy themselves using alcohol, drugs, and computer games. God sent his Son to Earth, who literally went through hell and voluntarily died to pay the price and save “His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). I know thousands of people who changed dramatically after they came to know God. God never created hell for people! “Eternal fire (is) prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Those people who consciously make a choice in favor of the devil predetermine their fate.
3. If the desire of believers is to bring atheists to God so that they become believers, do you think you are better than atheists?
The Bible clearly states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The essence of all people is the same. The insignificant difference may only lie in the set of certain traits. I am no better than atheists or anyone else on Earth! I am absolutely the same as everyone else. Jesus Christ makes all the difference when a person gives Him a place in his or her heart. These changes in the life of a believer are not the product of his own efforts. When dirty water flows from a hose, you don’t throw out the hose because of that. If you disconnect a hose from a dirty source and connect it to a clean one, then clean water will flow from that hose. Likewise, a person who knows God is connected to a completely different source and gets a completely different worldview.
4. Can I believe in God without attending church?
Yes, of course, you can believe in God and not attend church, but it is important to clarify what we mean by the word ‘church’. Martin Luther, who started the reform of the Catholic Church 500 years ago, proclaimed a “universal priesthood”. Thus, relying on the Bible, Luther argued that thanks to Jesus Christ who is the only mediator between God and people, everyone has open access to God.
What is a ‘church’? The church is people, not a building! Church is not a confession, it is not an address where people gather, and it is not clergy… As for me, I don’t go to church; I represent it! Certainly, the Church of the Middle
Ages speculated that everyone who wanted to be saved had to go to church, but it is important to understand an incredibly vital truth: the church doesn’t save; God saves! Jesus Christ said: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. That is why wherever I go, wherever I am, I maintain live communication with God who lives in the temple of my body, and this changes my perspective of life and behavior completely. And it doesn’t matter where I am: among a large group of people or just sitting at home in front of a TV screen. You can believe in God and not attend church, but true faith in God will give you a strong desire to meet and be with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
5. If God exists, is there only one way to get to know Him? Will everyone who doesn’t profess Christianity go to hell?
First, it is important to understand that Christianity and Christ are not the same things. Christianity was different in different historical times, and I have said more than once that Christianity, as a religion, is not much different from other world religions. Many religions teach to have respect for elders, behave decently, not steal, betray, or kill, etc. But with Jesus Christ and acceptance of Him as Savior, Christianity is set apart from all other religions.
Apostle Peter said: “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Peter is referring to Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. Christ Himself says that He is the of salvation, and whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever doesn’t believe stands condemned already. Do you really think God sent his Son to the cross if there were alternate routes to save the soul? No! Jesus is the only opportunity to be saved!
6. Is there any difference among sins? Will I get the same verdict if I gorge myself on ice cream at night (as gluttony is a mortal sin) or kill someone?
This question is difficult. I don’t like to be philosophical, but I’ll try to explain this situation. Indeed, there are different degrees of punishment for a crime because there are different degrees of a crime. I believe that God looks at a person’s entire life as a whole. He considers the motives of a person rather than just his actions. You won’t deny that a bad person can do a good thing, and a righteous person can falter. Both deeds and thoughts cannot be hidden from God, therefore, it is important to live every moment of your life consciously, with the understanding that your whole life will be evaluated, not just one piece.
7. Can a serial killer who became a Christian at the end of his life go to Heaven, while a good doctor who saved hundreds of lives but wasn’t baptized go to hell for it?
You may not like this answer, but the truth is that if this killer sincerely repented and confessed before the death penalty, just like the robber who was on the cross next to Jesus, he will enter the Kingdom of God. And if there is a good doctor, a person who is useful to society, but who consciously denies the Lord, then I don’t know what fate he condemns himself to. I don’t want to be a judge in this regard, but if a person had the opportunity to confess his sins and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior but refused this, he seriously risks spending eternity in hell.
8. Why does the Christian religion attract the poor, weak, vulnerable, sick, and depressed? Can religious promises be more attractive to these people as opposed to successful, self-sufficient, healthy, and happy people?
Certainly, the promises are the same for everyone, but if a person is full, healthy, and isn’t in danger, then he may not as readily see the need for God. I recently read Ernest Hemingway, and I really liked his quote: “Give the man needed and wanted amenities. Provide him comfort – he will strive to beat. Shower him with luxury, he starts to sigh at the exquisite. Let him get refined and it will get thirsty madness. If you give him all that he wants – he’ll complain that he cheated and that he was not what he wanted”.
It’s not that Christianity attracts the poor and the sick, but rather it may be more difficult for successful people to see their need for God. I believe that God should become your friend. We talk with friends, and we enjoy spending time with them. When more unhappy people come to church or God, this is not God’s fault. This once again proves that people are weak and selfish, and therefore, often turn to God when faced with difficult life circumstances.
9. Does God punish children for the sins of their parents, and if so, how can such a God be called a kind and loving Father?
Prophet Jeremiah has such an allegorical image: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge”. That means children won’t be punished for the deeds of their parents. But judging from my long experience working with people, I see that often things that happen in the lives of children are really the fault of their fathers. Unfortunately, many parents disclaim responsibility for the unsettled life of their children and even blame God for it. For example, a mother, being pregnant, knows perfectly well that it is strictly prohibited to smoke or drink alcohol. Now the question is: “If a sick child is born to such a woman, is God to blame?”
When Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed by a well-known TV channel after 9/11, she was asked the question: “How can you preach about a loving God after so many terrorist attacks, deaths at schools, and murders all over the country?” She answered: “You have to be asked this question, the people who are at the head of the country and create laws!
When you removed the Ten Commandments from the school curriculum, when you removed the prayers from schools, this has caused so much grief in our country. However, instead of repenting and admitting your guilt, you blame God for all our troubles”.