Christianity -- Christian Living/some questions

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Question
I was raised Christian, but I've grown confused by it over the years. Sometimes I don't think I understood it at all. I have a lot of questions, but it mainly boils down to two.

1. Why is the God who is love so scary and terrifying? Not just in the Old Testament, which many Christians seem to disregard, but also in the NT where if you even think about sex it's a one-way ticket to eternal damnation, or maybe that's just how I was taught? I could be wrong.

2. Why do all non-Christians go to Hell? When I was younger I reconciled this by thinking that all Christians were good and all non-Christians were evil. But the truth is there's good and bad people in both groups. There are Buddhist and Jewish charities and ancient pre-Christian cultures were known for their hospitality and generosity. I couldn't imagine God sending a Buddhist monk to Hell just for being a Buddhist. When it all comes down to it what do beliefs really matter? Isn't our actions what's important?

Answer
3 August 2013

Dear Alex,

Even when my friends left, things remained crazy; but now I have made time to address your important issues.

Your two questions are deep; and it really would take at least a lengthy chapter each in a book to do them justice. But what I am going to do is answer them as fully as I can briefly. I also am willing to answer as many follow up questions as needful to make things more clear, and I am willing to send you the best apologetics book I know of at my expense if you will send me your name and address to my e-mail. It is  stsaviour@swcp.com  . Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli are professors of philosophy at Boston College and address many issues in their HANDBOOK OF APOLOGETICS.

The Old and New Testaments teach both the love of God AND the awesome holiness and justice of God. The Law of God is briefly summarized in the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments of Love (called in the Old Testament the "Shema"), and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount where one can find your reference to sex:

"You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (St Matthew 5:27-28 ESVUK).

The Law of God, which must be kept inwardly and outwardly to merit eternal life, condemns every single human person. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, all of us have "had it." Read Romans, Chapters 1 through 3 to learn how all are condemned by their failure to keep the Law. The law is like a mirror where we see our true selves--motives and all; it condemns us and lets us know that we have missed the mark (sin) and simply don't measure up to God's expectations if we expect to be made right with God by our own goodness or perfection (Romans 3:23)

That's why we have the Gospel--the good news of what Jesus has done for us on our behalf that we could never do for ourselves:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 ESVUK). "23 [F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

St Paul is talking about a real, living, authentic, acted-upon faith and not just a casual intellectual assent to something.

God reaches out to us further through His Word and Sacraments. Bottom line, it is only through trusting in the Perfect Life and Perfect Sacrifice of Jesus that we are made right with God through Jesus' infinite merit. Some might ask, "But why would we try to live God's way in the strength of Christ if it is freely given to us by God's mercy through faith?"  The answer is "Why shouldn't  we want to offer a perpetual response of godly living to say thank you to God for such truly AMAZING GRACE!!!!" (Romans 3:24)

All that is an oversimplification, but it is the best I can do briefly. Jesus offers universal atonement and universal justification (being made right with God). That is the Gospel!!!  

Concerning your second question, human beings look on the "outward appearance", but "God looks at the heart." He knows who in any belief system by grace is really seeking God and who isn't. He is the ultimate judge. Because sin and redemption come through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and not a belief system, ultimately all must be saved through Jesus. But we can't say for certain that anyone is condemned who hasn't consciously and finally rejected Jesus when knowing and understanding fully about Him through the work of the Holy Spirit. That is what the Holy Spirit does inwardly, and when we reject what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in bringing us to Jesus, what Jesus taught applies:

"And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven [not really inwardly understanding], but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit [ultimately resists Him and His witness to Christ] will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (See St Matthew 12:31-33--read the whole twelfth chapter to see it all in context.)

There is such a thing as "invincible ignorance":

Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad examples given by others, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, lack of  true conversion and of a true love and understanding of Jesus Christ: these can be at the source of errors of faith and failure of judgment in what we believe and how we live. Such a person never fully knew and never really understood; so is it so unlikely that Jesus Christ, who died for the person, won't fully reveal Himself to him or her at the individual's particular judgment after death?

But those who do know and understand the Gospel are responsible to trust, receive, love, know and follow Christ; and, if they fully and inwardly know their need and understand the Saviour by the Holy Spirit using God's Word and the Lord's Sacraments, they shouldn't take Jesus and the Gospel lightly.

I hope all this helps. Count on my prayers and further help.

Your friend in Christ,

Harold L. Trott  

Christianity -- Christian Living

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Rt. Rev. Harold L. Trott, SSC

Expertise

I am able to answer general questions on the Bible, Christianity, Christian Living, Theology, and devotional life.

Experience

An Anglican priest, I have been in Holy Orders for 49 years and served in pastoral ministry all that time. I consider myself an Evangelical Catholic.

Organizations
Society of the Holy Cross

Education/Credentials
B.A. cum laude in History M.A. Equivalent of an M.Div.

Awards and Honors
Outstanding Young Educator in Albuquerque (1976) (Junior Chamber of Commerce)

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