Overcoming Barriers to Faith
Study Guide, October 17, 2021
Pastor Clay Olsen
Few things in the natural world are more striking than lightning. (Pun intended…) Really though, there is a natural fascination with lightning because of its brilliance and power. There are many things in creation that really are fascinating. And yet, for believers, even more fascinating than creation itself is our Creator Himself. Our Lord and Savior is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. He is the source of our life, the very provider of each breath, and the reason we have daily hope and assurance of eternal life. Actually, the beginning and the end of every day of our lives should include giving our praise and thanks to the Alpha and Omega of our life – Jesus Christ.
And really, the more that we do focus our minds and fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfector of our faith and life, the more our Creator and Savior will become the fascination of our life. And the more that Jesus becomes the ‘fascination’ of our life, the more we will find that ‘faithfulness’ to His Word and His Will, will then become a more natural part of our life. And the more that our faithfulness to Christ becomes a more natural part of our life, the more striking our life will look to the natural world around us. Remember, we are and are called to be ‘peculiar’ people who live in the midst of the natural world around us. And even as we do similar things that others do in this world, from our work to our play to our relationships and our fellowships, we are to do them ‘differently’ from the world…as in whatever we do we are to do it all to the glory of God! And as we live this ‘different’ life, in the midst of a deceived world, we are then to, as the Apostle Peter put it: “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15 NASU
We should expect questions from those around us about things they don’t understand or can’t reason out, because most of life is about things that can only be understood according to the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. Again, since unsaved people in this natural world are controlled by their natural mind, naturally they think about the matters of life and even about faith matters from their own natural reasoning instead of from God’s revelation. And so they naturally carry around questions about faith that have become more like ‘barriers to faith’ for them. And sometimes these barriers are honest barriers that they just can’t get over. And at other times, people just use these barriers in a dishonest way in order to justify their desire to just keep doing life their own way, instead of God’s way. But either way, what are barriers to many people can also be opportunities for God’s people to point them to God’s Word and to the ‘striking answers’ that God has to the questions that people naturally have about faith.
Recently in our Men’s Fellowship we have been talking about some of these barriers to faith as identified by the Barna Research Group on such things. And since we have also recently been highlighting the great place that participating in a local Church family has in the life of every Christian, or in every person’s life as part of the body of Christ (if they are able) we thought it would be very helpful for all of us to become even more equipped to share some Biblical answers to these common questions about these faith matters. And remember, questions are good. Christians should never feel threatened or seek to avoid the questions that the unsaved carry around with them. Again, questions are good…and God’s answers are great! What we need to do is to try to carry around some of God’s great answers to share with those who have good questions. Jesus invited questions because it was an opportunity to speak truth to a world saturated in falsehood. And truth is what sets people free!
But again, what we want to try to carry with us are God’s truths…Biblical answers to the world’s questions. And, of course, that is to come from one of our ‘holy habits’ of ‘Studying God’s Word’ on a daily basis. As Charles Spurgeon put it: “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” So live your life from the inside out…live it from inside the Bible to then outside in the world. And if at times you’re not sure what the Bible says about someone’s question, just remind them that they have a really good question and that you’ll try to find out more about what the Bible says about it, since you don’t want to just give your human opinion about it. People often respect you for that. And it’s a chance to remind them that in life there really is just either man’s opinions or God’s Words.
Are you ready to ‘run over’ some faith hurdles that many people have? Actually, we’re going to slow it down and do a walk through some of them and unpack them a bit, and then you can condense whatever Biblical information we share so that you can have both some ‘pocket size Biblical answers’ and also then some ‘backpack size Biblical answers’ for those who want to explore these things further.
What do you suppose is the most common barrier or question that people have about faith? It’s this one: “I have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil and suffering in the world.” That is at the top of the list that many people point to in their questions about the Christian faith. And again, it’s a good question. We could take that question even further and ask; “Why would our good God ever allow any evil and suffering to ever exist in His world in the first place?” Why would God ever allow any opposition to His will in this world at all? Before God created mankind, everything around God was perfect, and, plus, since God has no needs, why would He create people that He knew were going to mess His created world up so badly? God didn’t need mankind. But, and this is crucial…but He wanted a family. And that’s why He created human beings. In fact, you remember, God even planned on becoming Human Himself, as in, fully God and fully human, even before any humans were created. Why? Because He wanted a family. That’s what the saved people of God represent; from both the Old Testament and New Testament and through the ages until His new eternal Kingdom is ushered in…all the saved people of God are part of His family that, even though He didn’t need them…He wanted them. Even before the world even existed God wanted you and me to be a part of His forever family. How does that make you feel? Even way beyond special, right?
But now we come to something that is key to all of this…and it explains why such things as evil and suffering exist in this present world…and it’s this: God not only wanted a family…He wanted a family that He could love and a family that would love Him. But in order to have love, you have to have freedom…freedom to choose to love…freedom to choose to love God. And with this creation of freedom came the creation of choice. Both Angels, for a time, and people were created with freedom of choice. You recall the choice that Lucifer made, along with many Angels that followed his rebellion…or now ‘Demons’ that followed his rebellion. He chose to love himself instead of God, but that is to love death instead of life.
But again, what God gave to mankind was the freedom of choice. What God didn’t give to mankind was freedom from consequence. Every choice carries a consequence. And along with this freedom of choice came the consequences of bad choices, ungodly choices. That’s why we counsel young people, and everyone really, to first choose the consequence you would like to experience, and then choose the course of action that will result in that consequence. We see God counseling the children of Israel with this very principle. Deut 30:19-20- “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” NASU
Choosing to love God and live according to His counsel is to also choose the blessing and the blessed way of living. But to choose otherwise is to essentially choose the curse and choose the cursed way of living and even dying. That’s how sin entered the world of mankind. When our first parents chose against God’s Word, they chose the curse…and the curse is what they got, and this cursed world is what all mankind has experienced ever since the Fall of Man into sin. The perfect world that God created, a world without evil and suffering, became a cursed world, cursed because of the damaging presence of sin in this world that has affected both the human kingdom and the animal kingdom and everything in this world. Even the world’s weather systems are broken. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but the toxic effects of sin have broken every facet of this world; and has resulted in death and decay and disease and strife and war and on and on.
So again, when our loving God created the freedom to choose; the freedom to choose loving God and His will, with that choice came the freedom to choose badly…to choose to love self and self-will. And whenever or wherever a person chooses to love self above God, all manner of evil can result, along with the suffering it causes in the lives of other fellow human beings.
One thing we should realize about this particular question about why a good God would allow evil or suffering is an underlying doubt about God’s goodness and God’s care. We have to understand that the crossroads of every question about God’s care is the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ is central to understanding everything about life! And if a person does not understand the message of the Cross of Christ, he or she will not understand much of anything else. But once you do understand the message of the Cross of Christ, you will never have to let any doubt about the love and care of God ever have a place in any issue of life. Think about the implications of this revelation: Rom 5:6-10- “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” NASU
There is no greater love than the love that God has for us. There is no greater demonstration of that love than the cross where God gave His life in order to save us from our sins. There is no greater statement of how much God cares than to reveal to us that while we were helpless, while we were sinners, while we were enemies, still – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jn. 3:16 NASU So, and especially for now saved sons and daughters of God, since God loved us that much while we were enemies, how much more now does God love and care about us since we are now His very own children?
When you understand the message of the Cross and this height and depth and width and length of the love of God for us, it’s then that you can trust God even in the midst of things you can’t understand, like evil and suffering. The question then is no longer about our good and loving God. No, the question is then about ‘what’s wrong with this cursed and broken world?’ All evil, suffering, pain, and harm finds it’s source in this world, not in God. All that is good, true, blessed, and helpful is related to God. Harm is related to this world. Help is related to God.
Remember something very important; it was sin that added thorns to every good thing, to every good place, to every good field. So think about it: If there was only one field that you could walk through to get where you needed to go, and it was a field of thorns and thistles, then regardless of whether you were saved or unsaved, you would suffer the cuts and scrapes from walking through that field of thorns and thistles. This world is that field. And this world is the only world we have until God remolds and remakes a new world. This world is a field of thorns and thistles…thorns of sickness, disease, malice, strife, wars, disasters. And in order to be completely relieved from ever experiencing any suffering from any of these things in this world it would require being completely removed from this world. One day we will be removed, when we pass out of this world into Heaven, or when the Lord will return to renew and remake this world. But until then, anyone who lives in this world or thorns may suffering from them. And when it’s God’s children that suffer the cuts and pains, our Heavenly Father suffers right along with them. Sometimes we’re delivered from them…sometimes we’re delivered through them, but at all times we share it all with our Deliverer, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so we can trust Him through it all. And we’ll have more to unpack about all of this in our next study.