“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It’s written on hand-held signs at sporting events, emblazoned on clothing, and plastered on billboards. And we all assume that we know what this verse means: If you “believe in Jesus,” you’ll be saved.
You’ve heard it before:
- All religions are the same.
- Suffering is proof that God doesn’t exist.
- Christians are so narrow minded!
- Religion does more harm than good.
- A loving God would never send anyone to hell.
- Science has disproved Christianity.
- The Bible isn’t a reliable document.
You’ve run into these ideas in books or articles. They’ve issued from the mouths of friends or family members. You might even agree with some, or all, of them. Skepticism and atheism are oh, so trendy. Entire networks of blogs are devoted to dissing God and religion, usually with plenty of snide comments and a great degree of sarcasm. (I’ve often wondered why people get so snarky when it comes to criticizing other people’s beliefs.)
The argument is as old as the Bible. Do we really choose to believe in God, in Jesus? Or does God choose us, extending mercy to some, and hardening the hearts of others?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:18)
I prefer to avoid thinking about confusing and contradictory concepts—they make my head hurt! However, the tension between predestination and free will concerns me a great deal. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death.
“Just believe! It’s that simple.” I’ve heard this comment so many times. Is that really all it takes to become a Christian? Is simple belief all the assurance we need that we’re heading for heaven?
Some parts of the Bible clearly support a “yes” answer to these questions. Here are a few verses (out of many possible examples):
For the second time in as many months, someone near and dear to me has announced that they’re going through a crisis of faith. One person is still struggling, questioning God’s very existence, while the other has concluded that God does not exist.
In both cases, I knew they were investigating various philosophical viewpoints, but they presented themselves as solid believers. There was no hint of the struggle happening on the inside, until each one in turn chose to disclose it.
These pronouncements have left friends and families reeling. Both spouses were blindsided. They thought the faith they shared was the firm foundation of their respective marriages. Now, the most important part of their lives has become a divisive issue.
Religion and politics are the two topics a genteel person is not supposed to discuss with company. I assume that’s because we usually have strong opinions on both of these topics and a civilized discussion can rapidly disintegrate into an all-out war, with normally well-mannered guests popping up from behind the sofas to lob verbal grenades at one another.
However, an article on CNN’s website caught my attention—and it deals with both religion and politics:
According to a poll released [last week] by the Public [Religion] Research Institute and Religion News Service, most Americans (56%) say it is somewhat or very important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs.
I have to agree. I want my president to have the fear of God deep down in his or her soul! However, the news report goes on to say: