BTW, I can think of few other concepts that have so much impact on understanding the rest of Scripture. You are working on a crucial problem that has profound practical and long-term implications.
I will be praying for you - and for me, if I can help.
The evidence for God and all truth is available (Romans 1:18-22). We just have to "seek the Lord" and seek the truth diligently. If we do, He has promised that we will find it (Matthew 7:7-11). We may not like it, and that is often where the real difficulty lies (Luke 24:25), but we can see it, assuming we don't look away (Matthew 13:25; II Thessalonians 2:9-12).Luke wrote:"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27)
Remember, our faith should not be a blind faith. It should be based on the truth, evidence (Romans 10:17). If your faith is based on answers in God's Word, or self-evident truths (the creation, for example - Psalm 19; Romans 1:20), then simply recalling those truths can jump you over those hurdles. This is part of equipping ourselves with the "whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10-18).
I pray this helps.
It is hard to give up 40 years worth of beliefs without being REALLY certain. Over the years I have made many sacrifices because of my convictions. I have prayed intensely for 8 years that God would reveal the truth of the situation to me. It appears that my prayer has not yet been answered because I am still uncertain. Your answers have been clear and concise, and I appreciate their helpfulness. I simply do not know in which direction to go.
The apparent lack of an answer to my prayers have led me to consider atheism (not a good idea), agnosticism (perhaps slightly better), deism (at least nature is good evidence of a Creator) - but I am at the end of my rope. It would be a lot easier if God would send me an email with the truth in a way that I can really understand.
Thanks for your time.
After praying and meditating on this, please allow me to offer these words of encouragement: Now, as my doctor says on occasion, "You may feel a little sting". And, since "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down", please let me offer this lighthearted story:
As Peter noted, there are "some things hard to understand" that are written in the Scriptures (II Peter 3:15-18). However, they are not impossible to understand - just difficult, which implies we will have to give diligence to study (II Timothy 2:15). In fact, Peter admonished them to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". But, you have given much time and prayer to this topic. "Has God not heard your prayers?", we may ask.Earl had was born, raised, and lived on the same farm for over 50 years. One day, the weather sirens alarmed, because a fantastic flood was coming. Earl, being a devout man, was convinced that God would save him. He started preparing some things, and then he went and sat on the front porch, waiting for God to save him. As the rain started, a neighbor drove by in a large pick-up truck. "Jump in!", the friendly neighbor exclaimed. Earl waved the man on, explaining, "God's going to save me!" The rain continued to pour, and the river continued to swell, filling the pastures. After a few hours, a city volunteer came by in a fishing boat, picking up people who had been stranded. Earl waded over to the edge of his porch. Again, Earl dismissed the kind man, while confessing, "I am waiting on the Lord!" The rising flood waters forced Earl onto the rooftop. With rushing waters beating on the house's foundations, a rescue helicopter finally arrived with a national guardsman hanging from a rescue line, offering an outstretched hand to the trapped Earl. Once again, Earl refused the help, shouting over the noise to the bewildered hero, "Go on! God will save me!" ... Well, Earl waited and waited for the Lord to save him. But, the torrential floods eventually swept away Earl, his house, and all his possessions. ... Later, Earl stood before the Lord, awaiting his judgment. Earl was disappointed, confused, and even a little irritated. "I prayed for your help. Why didn't you save me, Lord?", he demanded incredulously. The Lord calmly explained: "Earl, I did hear your prayer. In fact, I sent you a neighbor in a truck. I sent a rescue worker in a boat, and I sent the National Guard in a helicopter! What more did you want!?"
This leads us back to the above illustration. How do you know that God has not answered your prayer?
Although this passage specifically applies to the inspired apostles, who spoke God's Word by revelation so long ago, it seems applicable here too. Did you know that God never once revealed the plan of salvation to any person who needed it? Peter preached the first gospel sermon (Acts 2:37-38). Phillip was sent to intercept the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-31). Although the Lord appeared directly to Paul, it was Ananias who was directed to preach the gospel to Paul (Acts 9:10-18; 22:12-16). Cornelius was guided to Peter (Acts 10:3-33). The Spirit instructed the apostle Paul many times to certain cities and away from others, ensuring the gospel was preached first in specific locations (Acts 16:6-10). And, the Lord encouraged him through visions to keep preaching (Acts 18:9-11). God always used human messengers ("earthen vessels") and the written word ("when you read, you can understand", Ephesians 3:3-5) to offer the answer that people prayerfully and diligently sought.email wrote:"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (II Corinthians 4:6-7)
Could it be that God has heard every word of every prayer you uttered, and once again, He has guided the seeker to a messenger?
Maybe your uncertainty reflects not the vagueness of the answer. ... We could continue to review again the passages we have studied, which would be good to do, but I do not want to delay the immediate point.
Could it be that God has answered your prayer? Maybe it was not the answer you wanted? Or, maybe it was not sent in a way that was attractive to you? What exactly do you want? Is it the truth? Could it be that you are seeing what you want to see, while closing your eyes to what frightens you?
My friend, I think you do know the answer, but for some reason, you do not want to accept it. I offer these words not to scold, but to implore. Please don't take this the wrong way, because I hold Scriptures as the only authority for men today: However, I think now may be time for less Bible searching and more soul searching. I offer this, not because the Scriptures don't hold the answer - they do, but I do not think that is where the answer to this particular question lies any more.
I commend you to read the chapter of Acts 10. Put yourself in the place of Peter, and think about how hard it was for him to give up the customs that he had been taught for so many years. God did not give him the answer directly, but he figured it out ("In truth, I perceive ...", Acts 10:34). I am confident that you will too!
I am here to help, but I think the ball is in your court.
May God help us both to have a sincere love of the truth.
With all my godly heart and love, (II Corinthians 2:1-4).
I had heard the story of Earl (in various forms) previously. But I had never considered it in the way you suggested -so thank you for that. I spent much of yesterday considering my previous 'rescuers'. I had jumped on board both at various times - only to get back into the water again when I was uncertain that they could get me to safety. (I guess that's when atheism and agnosticism seemed attractive). But I do sincerely believe there is a Creator. I look around me and see the beauty and order of Creation and KNOW it didn't happen by chance. So I wonder why it is so difficult to understand the basics of Christianity.
Maybe it is because of the difficulties my family and I have faced. ... Perhaps it will come as no surprise that I feel very depressed and my health is suffering - and then to (seemingly) have a problem with my relationship with God is really hard. (No, I'm not angry with God about these events.)
I'm sorry to go on - but I feel perhaps understanding the background might help.
Yes, maybe a bit of soul-searching might help. But I do feel that I have been through that exercise on more than one occasion.
As regards the scriptures you quote - I continue to study them.
As always, you provide a thoughtful and thought-provoking response. I do believe that the emotional ride of the last few years HAS played a part in my current spiritual distress. ... Thanks you again for your commitment to helping me.
I do appreciate all your concern for me. I believe over the weekend I did see the helicopter or the coastguard or the lorry driver coming to rescue me from the roof top. The rescuer is not quite in full view yet - but is getting closer.
However, this morning I woke up very despondant. How could I have been so wrong for 40 years? And what about the people with whom I have discussed matters for so many years - and possibly led them astray with my thinking? Why would God allow such a thing to happen? I was truly sincere - but, maybe, truly wrong. And just why are there so many denominations - all claiming to be right, many claiming to be the 'one true church'? And all use the scriptures to back up their claims.
Paul tells us that God is not the author of confusion - so that confusion must come from elsewhere. So just what is truly right?
If you would like to discuss these trials, suffering in general, peace, why bad things happen to good people, etc., please let me know. If these trials truly lie at the the heart of your struggles, then the other issue may clear up quite quickly, once this first issue is resolved, and until then, it may be slow going.James wrote:My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 2:2-4)
As the Scriptures suggest, the key for my internal turmoil has always been to eliminate my anxieties by resolving or comforting them through some knowledge or understanding ("a good word makes it glad", see also I Thessalonians 4:18; Psalm 94:12, 19; 119:50). On occasion, the anxiety is relieved by learning God's plans. For example, Paul relieved the Thessalonians' concern for the dead saints by elaborating on the resurrection (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Other times, our worry can be relieved by realizing that the matter is out of our control. Such worry is profitless. In such cases, dwelling on God's manifested love and promised care can ease our concerns:Solomon wrote:Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)
This paragraph follows a discussion regarding double-mindedness, which is trying to serve God and this world (see James 1:2-8; 4:1-10, for more on "double-minded"). The connecting word, "therefore", indicates that such a mindset may be responsible for our worry. ... Notice the reasons that Jesus used to dismiss our worry:Matthew wrote:"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:25-34)
- From minor to major - God takes care of the birds, who do not worry, and we are more valuable than they. Will he not also take care of us, since we are more important to Him? Similar argument is made from "clothing" of flowers to our own.
- Vanity - Most worry is useless. (For example, try to make yourself taller through worry.) It does not change anything, except it makes us feel worse.
- Providence - God already knows we need these things, and He loves us and has promised to take care of us, based on first argument (see also Romans 8:31-39; I Peter 5:6-7).
- Priorities and Faith - If we focus on doing God's will, He will take care of these lesser matters. Our concern should be on obeying God. We need to trust Him to handle with the fallout.
We should not worry over things that we do not need. As Paul mentioned, this is a "learned" skill. And, I believe it is a prerequisite to applying his advice found in the immediately preceding verses:Paul wrote:Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Although I profess and try to be a Christian in all my ways, on occasion I still find that I have permitted undue worry to creep into my life. When I come to those realizations, I examine myself (II Corinthians 13:5) and question my faith and priorities, while reminding myself of God's manifest love and commitment to us. On many occasions, I realize that I did not know myself as well as I thought (Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:54-62). On really dark days, I may even need to meditate on passages regarding our confidence in salvation (http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... saved.html). Generally, such occasions ultimately produce increased understanding, patience, zeal and commitment in us (II Corinthians 7:8-11).Paul wrote:Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
I do not know if these passages will apply to your worries, but if they do, I am confident they will help, because I am confident in the Author!
Please suffer me to make one "shot in the dark". It has been my experience that the most difficult part of any significant religious change is the impact to our human relations. For example, we worry, "What will my wife think?" "What will my children think?" "How will my congregation receive me?" "Should I even maintain membership, or do I need to find another congregation?" "What about my parents and grandparents?" etc....
Using the above passages, we can answer these worries like so:
- From major to minor - If God is willing to send His Son to die on the cross and save us, will He not be willing to see me through this spiritual difficulty (Romans 8:32; I Peter 5:7)?
- Vanity - What good can be accomplished by worrying about the past? We need to look to the future and press on:
Paul wrote:But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.[/i] (Philippians 3:7-14)
- Providence - God knows our needs, and He has promised to love and take care of us. Maybe He has provided this opportunity, so we can provide it to others? Consider the apostle Paul: He had previously persecuted Christians, forced them to blaspheme, and even put some to death (Acts 26:9-11)! Imagine the guilt he felt and overcame! However, God used him to reach untold thousands upon thousands, while making an example of His mercy through Paul (I Timothy 1:12-16). We never know how God's plan will unfold in our personal lives. Based on the evidence He has provided, we simply have to trust and obey.
- Priorities and Faith - This can be very hard to accept, but God has not promised that all our earthly ties will persist through every spiritual transition. In fact, if anything, He has promised us some division:
We must accept that possibility. We may even have to realize it in our own lives. I have known many that have been kicked out of their homes, because they took a stand for truth. But, this gets back to Paul's previous comment: Here we must learn contentment and accept that God has provided a greater, true, closer family:Matthew wrote:"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39)
Luke wrote:So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life."[/i] (Mark 10:29-30)
I would encourage you to objectively decide what the Bible teaches. Do not let the consequences factor into your decision making. I think that is how the headaches come into the process. We worry about the consequences as part of deciding what to do. ... You should resolve all your questions, or an overwhelming number, such that you are confident in what the Bible says (Romans 10:17; II Timothy 2:15). Then, and only then, you must decide whom you serve and commit yourself to them. Then, you must obey, letting the "chips fall where they may" - or in the language of Scripture, "casting your care upon Him, for He cares for you".
Now, to answer your specific questions: Here's my opinion and judgment, based on Scripture and my observation:
There are many denominations, because the church is powerful (Daniel 2:44; Acts 5:35-39). People pervert the gospel to promote their own selfish agenda, be it for dishonest income, license to sin, swell pride, etc. (Galatians 1:6-8; Titus 1:10-13; I Timothy 6:3-6; II Timothy 3:1-14; Philippians 3:3-3; Galatians 6:12-13). They deceive people, and these people have children who naturally do what their parents did. In this way, error becomes tradition, and tradition becomes "law" (Matthew 15:1-9). Through the generations, some people continue in the error, compelled by "the tradition of their parents". Others persist because the original, carnal appeal of the error appeals to them also. Others persist out of sincere ignorance, often because the "the whole counsel of God" is not taught - only supporting portions (Acts 20:26-28; Hosea 4:6). Can you imagine what would happen if a church preached all the Bible? Imagine if, 40 years ago, you and others had been shown all the passages we studied! However, a "remnant" seek God, and eventually He ensures they see the truth (like Cornelius, Paul, and others we discussed previously). The rest fall on the stumbling stone, as did the Jews who could not accept the spiritual nature of the Messiah. The enemies of God, man and the Devil, are the source of the chaos, "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
The chaos does not originate with God (I Corinthians 14:33), although He is clearly permitting it - for now - and possibly even working it for good. Why? Think back to the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-43). If God executed instant judgment, where would we be? God's delay is patience (II Peter 3:8-9, 14), and it seems to also be part of the means by which He draws an eventual, even brighter contrast between His children and the "tares".
Since so many claim to have the truth, how do we know who does? Compare them to the standard (I Corinthians 14:37)! Test their claims (I John 4:1, 6)! See if they are who they claim to be (Revelation 2:2)! If they refuse or fail, you have your answer (John 3:19-21; Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22). Remember, even the Devil quoted Scripture, so testing is required, and further study of the Scripture will bear the truth out (Matthew 4:5-7). Some churches do not even bother to claim that there is truth, much less being in possession of it. These have largely rejected God and His Word, crumbling into an earthly, "good deed", social club. Others make frail claims, but they roll over quite quickly if you question their practices. The few remaining groups require some more diligence, but these also can be discovered, as you have already done. The true church will not just claim the truth, but they will teach it and do it! Study, give diligence, pray, and trust God (II Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; Matthew 7:7-11; Philippians 3:15; Psalm 119:67). Examine yourself (II Corinthians 13:5). Make sure that you love truth above all else, no matter the cost (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). Remember, God's comments about Moses' "tongue" (Exodus 4:10-14)? We must apply that to our brains, as all our body. Our mind has the ability to "taste salt" and "discern the unsavory" (Job 6:6, 30; 12:11; Psalm 34:8; 119:103). Remember, He made your brain and the Bible. They were made for each other! In the hands of an honest and humble man, they will perform as God intended and designed (Ephesians 3:3-5; Isaiah 55:11).
I can answer that the church of which I am a member, teaches and practices the truth, as far as I can tell (I Corinthians 4:1-4). However, I would not want you take my word for it. Look to the Bible for answers, because we are judged by it (John 12:48), and only it is from God. I pray my answers have been from God's Word. If not, I trust that in time, you, someone else, or some other happening will direct me to the truth in God's Word, as God has promised (Philippians 3:15).
I cannot answer confidently on the workings of God, but I believe He has left us some clues to comfort us, as I have tried to show above. However, ultimately, we must learn the lesson of Job: God never did explain to Job that it was the Devil who had been afflicting him. In fact, Job did not even know there was a "Devil" (Job 9:1-4, 22-24). God only reminded Job of His great power, His care for Him and all things, and Job's inability to sit in judgment of Him (Job 38-42). In short, God provided evidence and essentially asked Job to "Trust me".
God has answered many of our concerns in Scripture. He has given us clues and insight to many others, although they may not be answered completely. But, in the end, much is left hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29), and for those issues, God simply asks, "Trust me". We must examine the evidence and decide if it is sufficient to support His claim and request, and if we think it so, then we must ultimately step out in faith (II Corinthians 5:7; Habakkuk 2:4). In the end, learning to trust is more important than understanding all God does.
I apologize for the length, but I tried to put myself in your shoes and explain what I would want to know.
I pray you find this helpful,