These simple questions are amongst the most profound that we can ask. Most thinking people feel that there should be SOME purpose in life, and that it is more than just the playing out of a vast drama which nevertheless has no real significance when it finally ends. The answer to questions as profound as this cannot be provided by science, which can only seek to find the laws which govern the world as we find it, neither can it be given by any set of ideals which merely instruct us how we should behave. We will try briefly to consider the reasons for man's existence, why evil exists and why Christ had to die on the Cross.
There are bound to be many aspects we cannot understand, however, because the limited, imperfect human mind cannot fully comprehend God's workings. Indeed, if it could understand them completely, it would in effect be "equal" to God's own wisdom!. To many readers, the concepts which are presented will be quite different from those they may normally have, and not easy either to understand or accept.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE
Much has been written showing that the Bible is accurate and is God's word to mankind. If we take some other book or the claims of a person as providing our ultimate authority, it will be found that in the final analysis, they will be flawed and nothing more than the concepts of an ordinary man.
Only the Bible has consistently down the years had such an enormous effect upon countless numbers of ordinary people. Many have begun to read it with a cynical and critical view, but have come to realise that it speaks to the very depths of their heart. Indeed, many have witnessed to the fact that the Bible carries its own self-authentication.
Those who reject this acceptance of the Bible are free to do so, but have thereby cut themselves off from the only source by which God has chosen to leave a record for man of his activities and his instructions. We will therefore presume that the reader who continues accepts this also, even if only as a temporary assumption.
THE NATURE OF GOD
God always existed before time began, for time is merely one of His many creations. He is outside of time and can see the future as easily as He can the present and the past. Once we understand this, there is then no difficulty in realising that God can accurately predict the future course of events, as He has done so frequently in the Bible.
God is One, and yet three Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, between whom there is always unbounded love for each other. These three persons are co-equal and co-eternal. There are many distortions of the Christian faith which deny that the Son and the Spirit are equal to God, claiming that they were created by God, thus making Christ less than God the Father. To those who hold this view, I would ask them to consider the following: Of all God's great attributes the most important is His infinite love. Indeed, the Bible tells us that God IS love. If there was any time when only God existed, then how could He love? There would only be Himself, and self love is quite the opposite of true love. There is therefore a need for the Godhead to consist of at least two persons.
With only two persons in existence, each can only love the other, and therefore there is no possibility of that love being tested. With three persons in the Godhead, there is the possibility of one of them being jealous. When each of them delights to see the love which exists between the other two, without any jealousy, then this surely is pure love. Such an explanation does not help us to comprehend the Trinity as this is more than our limited human mind can understand, but it does suggest why there are three persons in the Godhead in view of the selfless loving nature of God.
God, in His love and wisdom, for His own pleasure and glory, created man, who was made free to worship God and enjoy Him for ever. To many people, the idea of a God, who seems to command His created beings to love and worship Him, appears to be a contradiction, for one person cannot be forced to truly love another. But we must never forget that God is PERFECT love and desires only the highest and best for the objects of His love, which is to have communion with Him, for He is an infinitely perfect and glorious Person. This can be illustrated by considering what happens when a man and a woman fall deeply "in love". While it is an intense emotional experience, it is only a pale reflection of the powerful love which can exist between God and man. When two people are in love, obedience to each other's desires, and self sacrificial giving, are JOYS which are a delight to both partners. In an infinitely greater way, it is man's highest act to behold and worship such a wonderful God, particularly when he knows how much God loves him, as we shall see later.
MAN'S REJECTION OF GOD
God made man perfect, and gave him freedom to enjoy direct communion with Him. God's only requirement was that man should be obedient. It was against this that man was tempted to rebel, and to throw off God's authority. In so doing, he was effectively trying to make himself equal to God. That man, who had received his existence, freedom and ability to commune from a perfect loving God, should fling such love back in God's face indicates the extent of his ingratitude and rebellion, the depths of which we cannot fully appreciate. The inevitable result of his rebellion was an immediate separation between God and man, and man in a spiritual sense "died".
Man, by his own wilful act, lost his contact with God and ever since has worshipped either a 'close copy' of god, false gods, or has even gone so far as to say that God does not exist. Without God's guidance, man has no clear direction or meaning to his life, and for his moral standards only looks to the behaviour of other people or follows a moral code drawn up by another human being. As people's standards are imperfect, a descending spiral of moral values is started, which is clearly demonstrated in world events today.
Despite this separation, God left three signs of His existence and requirements which we all recognise. These are:
1. The Existing Universe
In the immensity of space and the energy of the stars we have an indication of God's power and Glory, whilst in the detailed intricacy of living things and atoms, we have examples of the loving care with which He created the world in which He put us. In the face of this, man has developed the Theory of Evolution, which conveniently allows him to eliminate the necessity of God to explain the existing order of life. That there is a great deal of scientific evidence against the theory of has been known by scientists for many years, but it has received little publicity. It is symptomatic of man's condition that he prefers a poorly substantiated theory rather than be forced to accept the existence of a miracle-working God. There is, however, a growing awareness of the flaws in the theory among the informed public, as witnessed by the increased interest in the Creation-Evolution controversy.
2. Man's Conscience
Almost all men know instinctively that they ought to do that which is right. We usually try to excuse our wrongdoing by giving the weakest of reasons, saying for example: "It is not as bad as all that", or "Everybody else does it". In some, the small voice of their conscience is so badly crushed that it appears to be non existent. Indeed, to go further, the depraved and sadistic appear to enjoy evil for its own sake. Nevertheless, whatever sort of life we lead, when we ultimately stand in the presence of a pure and almighty God, we shall ALL recognise that our lives of rebellion and selfish pride fully deserve His condemnation.
3. Sense of Worship
The third evidence of God's existence is the sense of worship which is found in every culture. We all instinctively feel that a God exists. We have an innate desire to worship - or at least acknowledge the existence of - someone or something greater than ourselves. Psychologists would have us believe that this is only an extension of our fear of the unknown, and that man only pays homage to the gods to induce them to give him good harvests, etc. However, this is quite inadequate to explain why the desire to worship is so widespread, even when all basic needs have been met, nor can it explain why martyrs are willing to die for their faith.
We see then that, although we rebelled against Him, God left in us a clear indication of His authority over us, as shown in the three sections above, so that no one would be able to excuse himself before God in the Day of Judgement. However, with God displaced from the centre of man's being, our only alternative, whether we admit it or not, is to place ourselves at the centre, so that everything is judged by the standards of OUR desires, OUR needs and OUR opinions. Even when someone appears to sacrifice himself for a particular ideal, it is still based upon human wisdom and no reference is made concerning God's desires.
Despite our rebellion, for which we deserve His judgement, God, in His infinite love and mercy, desired that we should be reconciled to Him. Yet how could a perfect and Holy God accept into His glorious presence men who were corrupt and self centred? Our rebellion against God's love was a terrible crime and was deserving of punishment. God could not just overlook our sin, for this would have been contrary to His justice. When a crime has been committed, it is perfect justice that a punishment should be exacted. If man was to be punished for his sin of rebellion, he would be utterly destroyed. How then could God reconcile man to Himself?
It is here that the centrality of the Crucifixion becomes obvious, for Christ willingly took our sins and their punishment upon Himself so that we could be reconciled to God, whilst in exchange, Hid perfect life is attributed to us. ANYONE who accepts this as a fact in simple faith is looked upon by God AS THOUGH he had Christ's perfect nature. This does not mean that the Christian no longer goes wrong, but it DOES mean that if he asks for forgiveness, he continues to be justified in the eyes of God, for all his sins, past and future, were punished on the Cross.
Jesus Christ, being perfect God, was completely obedient to His Father and was able to face all temptations and yet not submit to them. Christ was born in humble surroundings, for God was willing to suffer humiliation, such was His love for men. He lived a life of perfect love, but men's minds were so warped and resistant to God's ways that eventually He was crucified. Many men have faced death calmly, yet we find Christ, God's son, praying in Gethsemane that He may not suffer the forthcoming ordeal. It is here that we see that this was no ordinary death. Here we see the great lengths to which God was prepared to go in order to save men from the hell of an eternity separated from His love.
It may sometimes be thought that God is using humans as though they were puppets in a play. The simplest refutation of this is to be (in our imagination) with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. When we see God in human form in agony before the Cross, we will realise that He is facing a spiritual crisis, the depth and reality of which are beyond our understanding.
The Crucifixion was the focus of the whole of God's redemptive plan for restoring rebellious man. On the Cross a spiritual battle took place of cosmic and eternal significance with all the factors centred upon Christ, as follows:
1. Physical pain
Christ had suffered the following when upon the Cross:
a) He had not slept the previous night, being taken prisoner in Gethsemane and had been through the stress of four trials, i.e. before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate.
b) He had been scourged by a whip with hooks and weights to flay the skin until it was a mass of raw flesh, to which myriads of flies would be attracted. Many had died from the scourging alone.
c) Nailing through outstretched hands or wrists causes an agonising pain across the chest, and the stretching of the arms made it impossible to breath out. This intense pain and inability to breath could be eased by pushing up on the nailed feet and resting the weight of the body by sitting on a small peg - the sedilis excessus. This position could not be held for long, and so the body would slump forward and the weight would be taken on the hands again. The pain, however, would be so severe that the victim would force himself upwards again. In this way he could exist for days and effectively was able to pace his own death in the cruellest fashion. These convulsions of movement could be so intense that, to prevent the victim tearing himself from the Cross, his body and legs were often tied with ropes. Breaking of the victim's legs prevented him from supporting himself and death soon followed.
That Christ in the midst of all this agony should think of His Mother's welfare and commit her to the care of John the Disciple, gives us yet again an insight into God's great selfless love and compassion. Christ voluntarily gave up His life at a time of HIS choosing, for He died after six hours. However, to ensure a quick death for the two thieves crucified on either side of Him, they had to break their legs.
Christ faced the Cross entirely alone.
a) He was deserted by all the apostles, His closest friends who had shared His life for three years.
b) The religious authorities plotted His death because of who He claimed to be, and for the way in which His perfect life was in contrast to their corruption, compromise and intrigue.
c) The crowd of ordinary people, who had previously hailed Him as a saviour, were easily persuaded to demand His death, so that a popular thief could be released.
d) God the Father forsook Him, for as Christ took on to Himself the whole of man's sin, God poured out upon Him the full force of His wrath and righteous judgement which such sin justified. It was for this reason that He cried out the opening words of Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
There is in most of us a strong desire to be well thought of by our friends and acquaintances. To be humiliated deeply offends our self righteous sense of pride. Christ was spat upon and ridiculed. He was then stripped absolutely naked and nailed to the Cross, being treated no longer as a person but as an object of derision, to be laughed at and spat upon. In Roman society it was considered too offensive to talk about crucifixions, but God has made it into the focus of our reconciliation to Him, and the conquering of evil.
During his Crucifixion He was taunted by the priests to come down from the Cross to prove that He was God. As He was able to work miracles, He would have to resist the enormous temptation to free Himself from the intense suffering, and at the same time prove to everybody that He was God. That He chose rather to obey God to the death and resist such satanic temptations than to enjoy the praise of men, should put our priorities in perspective.
5. God's wrath
Our rebellion justifies the full punishment of God falling upon us. Christ was prepared to take this punishment upon Himself, even though He had obeyed God completely. Indeed, although He was perfect, He became like a sinful man, which must have been infinitely repugnant to Him, being the exact opposite of His own nature. It was like the repugnance which a healthy man would feel in taking on the physical characteristics of extreme leprosy.
Many men have faced a cruel death calmly, yet we find Christ asking in an agony of prayer that He may not be required to pass through the forthcoming ordeal. Surely it was not the physical pain of the Cross or the other factors given above which horrified Him, but the aspect of becoming sinful and taking the full wrath of God's punishment. Here we are dealing with spiritual dimensions which we can only dimly understand. We would do well to meditate upon this most important aspect with a little imagination to appreciate why the Cross is so central to God's plan and in the history of our world.
The six hours on the Cross consisted of three in light and three in darkness. It could be said that the first period was physical suffering to which was added the spiritual suffering in the period of darkness, when physically He would be at His lowest ebb. Obviously, what exactly took place on the Cross we cannot fully understand, but we can begin to see its importance in God's plan.
After lying in the tomb for three days and three nights, Christ rose from the dead. The evidence for the Resurrection is fully set out in many books, but a summary is given below:
1. The Disciples
Men, who had fled in the face of arrest and had hidden in fear from the authorities, were now prepared to die for what they believed, showing that the Resurrection was not a hoax arranged by the Disciples, for death would have been too high a price to pay. The changed lives of the Disciples is for many the most convincing proof of the Resurrection.
2. The Historical Records
The life of Christ contained in the Gospels and the sequel described in Acts are the most fully documented events in early history. What we know about many Greek writers and philosophers are based upon a few copies of copies of their original writings, but no one doubts their authenticity. The Gospels were written from accounts given by His own disciples and numerous accurate copies exist.
3. The Tomb
The Jews set a guard to ensure that there would be no trickery, as Christ had said He would rise after three days. By doing this, without realizing it, they provided the necessary proof that the Resurrection was not of human scheming but by a Divine miracle.
It can be seen that Christ came to this earth specifically to die, in order that we may be reconciled to God. Christ made it very clear that there were only two possible alternatives facing us in the life after death.
1. REUNITED WITH GOD
All those who trust simply in the sacrificial death of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be accepted by God the Father, for in a mystical way the Father was "in" Christ. To be in the eternal company of those whom you adore and love to serve because they are perfect and adorable, having first shown their unlimited love towards you, is to be in HEAVEN.
2. BANISHED BY GOD
This is the exact opposite of the first alternative. The rejection of God's love leaves the centre of one's life to be taken up in self love, and when this principle is extended into eternity it becomes hatred of all except the self. To exist in the company of infinitely selfish spirits, who are incapable of showing any love towards another being but only hatred, is to exist in HELL.
[Some may object and say that although they are not Christians, they 'love' people just the same. But this is the "common grace" that God has given to all so that we may live reasonable lives, for without it, life would be a hell on earth.]
To describe these two states in such terms may seem to be an exaggeration. Many hope that the life after death will be a comfortable existence, not being prepared to face the possibility that hell may exist. A study of Christ's words on this subject, however, gives no comfort to such thinking. Strip the thin veneer of civilisation from us, and the selfishness of our lives is quickly revealed when circumstances become difficult.
We have seen how Christ died to reunite us to God, and we have set out the result of refusing this offer of reunification. We will consider the precise way in which God has said that man can return to God. Before doing this, however, we will first deal with false ways in which we CANNOT reach God.
1. Good Works
It is a common fallacy to think that, provided we "don't do anybody any harm" and "are always prepared to do a good turn", we will get to heaven. Those who say this (and they include many Churchgoers) usually look upon Christ as one who lived His life as an "example" which we must do our best to "follow". No one, however, can live a perfect life which would be acceptable to God, and such an attitude shows an ignorance of what sin is in the eyes of God and just how deeply rooted it is in the human soul. Many think that as they do not commit murder, theft, adultery and other such major crimes, they are, therefore, not "sinners" and they consider such terms only apply to the more degraded members of our society. Christ made it clear, however, that as well as DOING something wrong, even THINKING evil thoughts is a sin. Thus we see how hopeless it is for ANY man to try to justify his ways in the face of God's standard of perfection.
Those who do not go to Church often say that "you don't have to go to Church to worship God". But this is clearly an excuse which allows them to go about their daily tasks and ignore God, rather like children who do not acknowledge their parents. To ignore a person completely is to behave as though he does not exist and is thus the most complete rejection of that person that we can make. When that person ignored and rejected is God, He is fully justified in His condemnation of us. This, alas, is the situation in which the majority of people find themselves. Oh, that they would open their eyes to the eternal result of their blindness to see just how self-centred their lives really are!
Because of his rebellion, man has deposed God from His rightful seat of authority. In His place he has automatically (but subconsciously) enthroned that which is his deepest desire - the gratification of his own self interest, pride and ambition. Without realising it, the whole of his life will now be orientated from this viewpoint. This is clear as we watch the aggressive and acquisitive actions of man today. However, so subtle and deceptive is pride that it affects the actions and motivations of every single one of us!
One wonders whether at times we carry out "good works" in order to be more highly esteemed by our friends. We may also be doing them so that we can bask in the warmth of self-congratulation of being a "good" person. Indeed, one could go further and wonder, on this basis at least, whether ANY act has been carried out from an utterly selfless motive!
This is not to be cynical or dismissive of human kindness, for this gives warmth and richness to life as we help each other, for this is the remnant of His love that He has left in varying degrees in us all. If, however, our motivation at the very deepest level is fundamentally wrong, could not this be the explanation of God's amazing charge against us that "all our righteousness are as filthy rags" [Isaiah 64v6]? How much higher is the true love of God who humbly died to save men and women who hated His rule and rebelled against Him.
Regular attendance at Church, the saying of prayers, generous giving to the Church collections and entering into the busy round of Church activity are only a "religious" form of trying to reach God by good works, which we have considered above. Indicators of this approach would be -
a) An absence of private prayer life in which there is a sense of communion with God.
b) Negligible study of the Bible with an unwillingness to accept what it may reveal of God's truths to the heart.
c) Sermons in which such terms as "sin", "being saved", "the wrath of God" and the need of all men to be 'born again' are not used, being considered likely to offend the congregation. Where such a view prevails, comforting sermons are preached instead and great emphasis is placed upon urging the congregation to engage in social work and the betterment of mankind. Indeed, at times this is made to appear as though it were the sole purpose of our existence on this earth. OF COURSE we should all be willing to help our fellow men, even sacrificially, but God asks us to get our priorities in the right order, for -
d) Most important of all, there is an absence of true worship and adoration of God for being such a God of Love and Compassion as He is. What is practised is often little more than a sentimental piety. The FIRST and great Commandment is that we should love God with ALL our heart, with ALL our mind and with ALL our being.
The views which have been set out above will almost certainly annoy many devout churchgoers. Nevertheless the warning must be sounded, for many are unwittingly not going along the narrow path that leads to God. Their situation is even more dangerous than that of the non-churchgoer. The latter is at least aware that he is out of touch with God and may be awakened to seek Him. The former, confident that he is going the right way, is heedless of the cries of warning from those who see the end of such a course.
As one who for many years was in such a situation as an earnest churchgoer, the writer is particularly conscious of just how deceptive this path can be. To all who still object to this view, we would earnestly ask them to read FOR THEMSELVES what the Bible ACTUALLY teaches as the way of God's salvation. It was the respectable, religious, self-righteous Pharisees who condemned Jesus, for they did not accept His teachings and insisted that THEIR attitude to God was the right one. To prefer to follow deceptive, natural human thinking on a matter of such importance will be found to be greatly in error after death, for there will be no second chance.
OUR RETURN TO GOD
Let us now consider the only way in which we can be united to God that He will accept.
The FIRST step we must take is to acknowledge that we have rebelled against a God of Love, to realise the true nature of such a terrible act and to ask for God's forgiveness. All this requires very much more than saying "sorry" to God, for true repentance does not come naturally to man in his pride. It is essential that the full effect of our situation should be felt at the deepest levels of our being, resulting in our complete humility before God. God cannot build us up into new men and women until He has first broken us down. This is indeed the root problem of why we do not willingly come to God, FOR IT INVOLVES THE COMPLETE HUMILIATION OF ALL OF OUR STUBBORN HUMAN PRIDE, which we find so abhorrent. It is this and this alone which keeps us from humbly coming to God on His terms.
It is also the reason why many are provoked to great anger when challenged to repent of their rebellion against God, for subconsciously their deep seated pride rises up against such a suggestion. Indeed, I would suggest that if your reaction is one of anger (or alternatively of cynical indifference) at the suggestion, then this can be taken as a sure sign that you are still in the control of self pride. True Christians are always willing to humbly admit their past rebellion against God, and that their salvation from its punishment is solely due to the loving grace of God.
The SECOND step is the very simple one of HAVING FAITH AND TRUSTING SOLELY IN THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST AS BEING FULLY SUFFICIENT TO SATISFY GOD'S PUNISHMENT FOR SIN, and thus allow ourselves to be cleansed and return to our loving Father. We must emphasise the word SOLELY, as any attempt to add to Christ's finished work is to devalue its true worth. To say that the way back to God is by belief in God and ...... anything else, is a subtle turn from the true path of faith in Christ with its inevitable consequences.
That acceptance of Christ's sacrifice as sufficient for our total salvation should be the only acceptable way to God may appear far too simple an act in such an important matter, but surely its very simplicity makes it so attractive and so universally applicable. No one who has heard the Good News can say that he CANNOT come. Whether we are healthy or completely paralysed, highly intelligent or simple minded, NOTHING prevents us from accepting Christ in our heart, except our arrogant pride and self centred determination to continue on our own way.
Having read this far, we now plead with you to pray that
a) God will forgive your rebellion and
b) accept that Christ died and took the punishment for your sins, and you will therefore be looked upon as totally forgiven.
These two steps are simple and yet are a matter of YOUR eternal life and death. If you earnestly seek God and come to Him in the only way He can accept, you will be starting a new life which God has promised HE will finally make perfect in His Kingdom. You will join the joyous company of other Christians who know God's inspired Word (The Bible) is true, and who also know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Christ died for nothing less than that YOU might be united with a loving God for all eternity.
The one hymn that stands out above all others for me is Isaac Watt's masterpiece. To my mind, no other writing captures the essential truth of the evangelical faith better than this poem, every line of which repays careful reflection.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the cross of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.
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