IV. The experience of believers in the God of the BibleThis can also be considered as the 15th fact about the Bible: Its power to change individual people’slives. This was partly discussed earlier, in ch. 5, V, B, on psychological challenges to Christian faith, and also in the previous section which focused on the Bible’s good influence on society as a whole. Here the focus is on individuals.
The experience of believers is in many ways subjective, unlike the objective facts of the universe, living things, and the Bible. It is impossible to compare different people’s experiences and feelings directly and quantitatively. But it is an objective fact that so many people report certain types of experience in connection with the Bible. As was mentioned in ch. 3, VI, on other religions, there is also a power in them, and various types of experience of that power. It can only be left to the reader to make his or her own comparison of the accounts of believers of various religions, and perhaps also personal experience of various worldviews and the resulting lifestyle and state of mind. That comparison was begun at the end of the previous section.
In this book I have often criticized Christians’ mistakes in thinking and behavior, but I do not want anyone to be afraid to become a Christian for fear of associating with Christians as I have described them! My purpose is just the opposite, to prevent these things being an obstacle in the way of people believing in Jesus Christ. I hope that if we Christians admit our faults, and aim to correct them, this will make it clear that our faults should not be blamed on the Bible and God.
Also, in this section I want to balance those criticisms with an emphasis on the virtues Christians have demonstrated. Despite all their faults, joining a group of Christians should be, and often is, one of the benefits of believing in Jesus Christ. This has been my own experience, particularly among Chinese Christians who are willing to accept me despite the difference in language and cultural background. Five minutes after I have met a Chinese Christian whose work and interests are far different from mine, I feel closer to him or her than to a non-Christian American whom I have known for years and with whom I share many common interests. Christians are the family of God.
The Bible not only teaches a high standard. It puts us in touch with God, who has power to enable us to change toward conformity to that standard. It produces a life of contentment, responsibility, and honesty. It gives guidelines for both structure and love in family relationships and child-raising, in work and government, in joy and sorrow.
This includes not only Christian believers, but also all believers during the Old Testament period before Jesus Christ. Thus it includes many who would be called Jewish or Hebrew, Catholic, and Protestant, but not all of them; membership rolls do not reliably reflect heart commitments. It even includes some who are members of cult groups (ch. 4, I) but do not fully understand or accept all the deviant teachings of the group. There are many such members who simply, humbly acknowledge their sin and trust Christ for forgiveness; what more does the Bible require? The tragedy is that these groups do not teach their members about the deliverance and blessings that are theirs through faith in Christ. And I include among “believers” those who have no contact with the Biblical revelation, but sense the presence and love of God and respond to Him to the extent of their understanding (ch. 4, II, A). Their experience is limited by their limited understanding, but it is still significant. In the rest of this section I use “Christian” as a brief generic label for all such believers, briefer than “believers in the God of the Bible.”
Christians report many experiences of God’s care and guidance in their personal lives. When Christians read the Bible, they feel there is a power beyond their own, a supernatural power which moves, helps, changes, and teaches them. Some have experienced unmistakable miracles of various types. This seems especially necessary in societies dominated by fear of spirits, where there is common experience of the power of spirits to both reward and punish the behavior of the people. In such circumstances, people rightly want to see a demonstration that the power of the God of the Bible is greater than that of the spirits, before they dare disregard the spirits and commit themselves to faith in God. This is the legitimate function of a “power encounter,” a clear-cut demonstration of God’s power to evict other spirits from people and objects, and restrict their activity.
The danger of course is that we must not regard God as our servant, in competition with other spirits to court our patronage, and expect Him to respond to a “But what have you done for me today?” attitude. He has not promised that believers in Him will never experience persecution, illness, failure, disappointment, or accidents, in fact He assures us that such things will occur. Christian faith is not a magic charm. So the need and provision of a “power encounter” demonstration is subject to His decision, not ours. Books by Neil Anderson emphasize that the crucial issue is a “truth encounter.”
Many including myself have not seen obvious miracles, but have seen provision, protection, “fortunate” events, and answers to prayer that are not miracles in themselves, but happen so often and so precisely that it is impossible to explain as mere coincidence.
The term “answer to prayer” is usually used to refer to instances in which God acts as we request. This is too narrow a definition. He always answers, but often His answer is either “not yet” or “no.” We must accept His right to follow His wisdom which is far higher than our short-sighted wishes. Review ch. 4, III.
Supernatural events are an important and essential aspect of life in touch with God, but they are not the central issue, so they will not be further discussed until later in this section. The focus must be placed on everyday life. Christianity seems to have a very negative image in this regard. Many people think being a Christian means enduring many restrictions and constantly feeling guilty and worthless. Christianity is often portrayed as kill-joy, ascetic, even masochistic, repressive, psychologically unhealthy. Unfortunately, many Christians seem to think so too! “Why can’t Christians drink, dance, smoke? What’s wrong with some kinds of books, magazines, movies and TV programs? Isn’t it hard resisting so many temptations? What do you do for fun? It seems like everything that is fun is either illegal, immoral, fattening, or causes cavities.”
These questions show a basic misunderstanding. Christians are not restricted; in I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23 Paul says all things are lawful for him, but not all are profitable, and he will not be controlled by anything. “Why not?” is the wrong question; the correct question is “Why?” When you choose the best things first, you don’t have time to finish them, let alone ask the “Why not”s, nor have any interest in them. It is too much fun doing the most profitable things; anything else would be boring, a waste of time when there is so much else you would rather do. To those who drink, dance, smoke, etc., I ask “What do you do for fun?”
The Bible does not mention smoking. Fortunately they had not yet discovered it. The Bible definitely accepts moderate drinking of wine, though distilling alcoholic drinks had not been invented. What the Bible forbids is being controlled by anything but God, including being drunk. Smoking also controls people; they cannot stop, even when they very much wish to. In their teenage years people prove their “courage” by starting to smoke, and in their 40s by stopping. In fact some people have so much courage that they have stopped many times.
In modern society smoking and drinking are almost always done in places and ways that are an expression of a way of life that a Christian cannot join in. Drinking and smoking have either a sedating or stimulating effect on our emotions; Christians do not need this kind of peace or happiness.
Smoking and heavy drinking are definitely harmful to our bodies. A Christian’s body belongs to God, so he or she does not have the right to damage God’s property. Also, the Holy Spirit lives in a Christian, and it is very bad manners to blow smoke or pour excessive alcohol in His face! If there is a genuine medical problem, there are far better ways to treat it.
Both practices have a strong influence on the health and well-being of those around us and related to us. The physical effect of second-hand smoke is just the beginning. This is not merely a personal matter.
Now for what is probably currently the hottest potato. Modern society seems preoccupied with physical pleasure, and often specifically sexual activity. Christianity is often considered to be opposed to sex in general. Some comments were made about this in ch. 4, IV, B, 1, in connection with AIDS. There always are numerous examples of Christians now who take a very negative view of sex, and those who were even more so in medieval European monasteries, or in Victorian England. It is popular to take these as representative of all of Christianity and the Bible, in order to try to justify the opposite extreme. But the Bible does not support this repressive view of sex, in fact it gives sex an important role in life as one of God’s good gifts. And that is precisely why restrictions are placed on it, to protect its value and benefits as a good aspect of marriage, not to suppress it as something inherently wrong. We do the same with anything we consider valuable and meaningful in our life and closest relationships. There have been surveys about sexual satisfaction carried out by both Christian and non-Christian organizations. Even the latter, to their surprise, had to grudgingly report that the highest rate of satisfaction was reported by those adhering to Biblical principles. The Bible’s teaching is intended to increase, not decrease, our enjoyment. God loves us and aims to increase our happiness, not make us miserable. By the way, this was the view of the 17th- and 18th-century Puritans in England and America, the popular prudish caricature of them notwithstanding. The Puritans were not puritanical, but Biblical.
This is why Bible-believing Christians are opposed to pornography, public nakedness, premarital and extramarital sexual activity, and homosexuality. Such things damage the intended and possible benefits, and thus damage the people who do them. There is no such thing as a victimless crime or strictly personal matter; everything one individual does affects him or her, and therefore affects relationships with others. Ask the spouses of men hooked on pornography or women hooked on romance dramas and books. Anything that derails one person’s capacity for a healthy married life produces devastating waves in the lives of those who are, or who would have been, involved in that person’s life. The most visible examples of this are the stars of entertainment who are unable to behave in a mature, stable manner, and suffer the consequences which are reported throughout the news media. Millions of other examples occur every day, with little publicity but great cost to society.
The very people who accuse the Bible of having a negative view of sex, themselves use as a swear word a four-letter word referring to sexual activity. It is not Bible-believing people who invented such words or attitudes. It is not the Bible that considers sex as disgraceful, but such abuses of it that degrade it. And this is why Bible-believing people oppose those abuses.
A conspicuous aspect of this vast experiment is the “sexual revolution.” Actually it is nothing revolutionary at all. Hollywood and sociologists did not invent lust and indulgence. It was a highly developed skill in ancient Greece and Rome, and in Canaan and Sodom long before that. Most who participated in this revolution in their youth are willing to say they now regret it, but of course that statement is somehow not spotlighted in the news.
It is a one-way street, an irreversible process, to change from a person who has not experienced pre- or extra-marital sex to one who has. You can never return, only repent, be forgiven, and make a change “from now on,” but the results and regrets are still there. See the discussion of sinning and repenting in ch. 4, IV, B, 1. I have never heard anyone who followed Biblical guidelines and now regrets it. My wife and I did, and don’t. Both experiments have been done, and the results are in. Which one would you prefer to repeat? See also further comments later about happiness.
It takes love and commitment to make sex meaningful, not vice versa. That love and commitment is expressed and formalized in marriage. Not all marriage contracts do express that, which is often used as an excuse to bypass such a contract. “Our relationship doesn’t depend on a piece of paper.” This is true, but lack of such a piece of paper certainly can indicate that something crucial is lacking in the relationship. A partner who equates love with sexual activity does not understand love, and anyone who has such a partner will be much better off without him/her. Those with no partner at all often think one, any kind, would be better than the loneliness with none, but the divorce courts are full of those who have one and wish for the good old loneliness again. Heaven help those for whom children have come along to further complicate the situation, not to mention those children themselves who are enmeshed in such a mess through no fault of their own.
This is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the subject of improper sex, because it seems to be the current preoccupation. The Bible does not lay so much emphasis on the subject, but has much more to say about proper, healthy relationships.
I saw a cartoon somewhere years ago. In the first frame, a person is peering between bars shouting “Let me out!” In the second frame the viewpoint is backed up quite a ways, and it is apparent that the bars are a curving fence, and the person is on the outside of it. The third frame backs up further, showing that the fence encloses a small area, and behind the person is a vast plain stretching to the horizon. The final frame shows the entire fence, and enclosed within it a smoking volcano crater.
The secret of resisting temptation can be summarized as “Minimize the benefits and maximize the consequences.” (This comes from Bill Gothard.) An action seems attractive if it seems to have greater benefits than consequences. If we see clearly how little and brief the benefit is from a certain action, and how much and how long the undesirable consequences will be, then it is not even a temptation any more.
Satan is a master salesman; he has been very successfully selling a totally destructive product for thousands of years! Satan’s strategy is ingenious, already well-developed in the Garden of Eden and refined with practice ever since. He tantalizes us with the attractive side of a certain object or behavior. “Just once. That won’t hurt you. Try it. You can always quit. Satisfy your curiosity. God didn’t really say don’t do it. He doesn’t object. In fact, He wants you happy, and this will make you happy. Be smart. Find out what you’re missing.” That is the voice that spoke in the Garden of Eden, and we should learn to recognize it. So we do it just once, thinking that will be that with no consequences. But it is an irreversible transition from never to once. Those who haven’t done it can become ones who have, but those have can never becomes ones who haven’t. And of course once is never enough; if it was pleasant once, twice will be even better. And a third time. And soon we can’t quit. Curiosity becomes habit which becomes compulsion which becomes obsession, and by the time we are no longer enjoying it and honestly wish to stop we are trapped. It may be smoking, drinking, abuse of other drugs, overeating or other eating disorders, pornography, sexual affairs before or during marriage, homosexuality, gambling, stealing, shopping, gossiping, anger, physical abuse of others, controlling others, or many other things, some of them “respectable” in society and even among Christians.
But the voice that initially whispered “It won’t hurt you” now has reversed his tune and shouts within you “You’re ruined, hopeless, helpless, guilty, stupid. God could never love or accept you again.” And most people believe this lie just as much as they believed the first one.
Other religions and therapy methods can report success stories in changing people’s lives for the better, and solving their problems. Any system and principle is better than none. Psychiatry is effective in observing and classifying problems and apportioning blame on others, but it has little help to give when you have lost control of yourself, let alone of the situation. Radical feminists also are right about many of the problems, but seem unable to advocate any better response than for women to behave as brutally as the men they criticize; this is not progress.
An approach based on obedience to and dependence on the God of the Bible can easily produce successful examples outnumbering all other methods one hundred to one. Millions of people have been delivered in this way from all of the above-mentioned compulsive, antisocial behaviors and restored to constructive members of their society and family. Jesus said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32. Seeing the deception of Satan’s temptations, and the reality of God’s love and eternal plan for us, we are free to choose what is best.
This does not mean that all temptation and failure is instantly magically gone forever after. There are some stories that come close to that ideal, but they are exceptional. The problem is that because they are exceptional they are noticed and publicized, and because all that is publicized is that way we get the impression that it is normal ? a very contradictory state of affairs, but true nonetheless! Long-ingrained habits are not usually changed easily or quickly, nor their sources and consequences totally removed. In this life there is always the opportunity for reversion. But progress can be made, helpless control by the old habit can be broken, and freedom can be experienced a moment at a time. This is the testimony of countless former slaves of all the sins listed above.
The currently hot topic is, once again, promiscuous sexual activity. There is great resistance to the concept that this is something that we need to be delivered from, let alone that deliverance is possible. It is especially not “politically correct” in the US to say this about homosexuality. But with all due kindness and compassion to those involved, the Bible requires it to be said. And so do the facts.
To say so is even placed in the category of “hate crime,” and associated with incidents of violence against homosexuals. Such an association with hate crimes is unjustifiable, and the news media practice a glaring double standard in their emphasis on incidents of violence against homosexuals but not on such actions by homosexuals. The Bible condones no such violence, and the well-publicized few who claim such a basis for their acts against homosexuals are only using it as a pretext for their own mental instability. There does seem to be considerable hate in this situation, but from whom against whom?
As for the facts, the truth is that those who practice homosexual behavior are desperately seeking secure and fulfilling relationships, but never finding them, which is tragic. Their quest for happiness (next topic) is never successful. It is not a happy lifestyle, as many of them admit, and especially as reported by those who have experienced escape from it. And there is the further fact of sexually transmitted diseases which decimate the population practicing such behavior. These are preventable diseases; the prevention is a simple change in behavior, not billions of dollars of research and treatment, though of course the research and treatment should be done for the benefit of those already suffering, and for other benefits that will no doubt result. But there is no such thing as “safe sex” outside of monogamous marriage, and this will continue to be true even if research does one day find a cure for these diseases. Unrestrained behavior will still continue to be ruinous to psychological health and personal relationships. It is not hate but compassion to attempt to lead its victims to a different way.
There was a well-publicized research project which claimed to find a genetic connection with homosexuality, and thus indicated that it is a legitimate physical condition for which the individual is not responsible. There is also homosexual behavior among animals, and this is sometimes cited as a justification for such behavior by humans. However, the research project was done by a homosexual, which raised immediate doubts about its validity, and a few years later one of his associates admitted that the data had been altered, so that the results were not valid. That fact has somehow not been so well publicized. As for animal behavior, do we really want to take their behavior as our standard?! They are brutally amoral, with many other behaviors very few would dare advocate imitating. What assumptions are implied in such an argument?
Happiness is not found by seeking it. When Christians first become believers, it does remove some of their problems, but it also brings new ones, probably more than before (review ch. 3, III). But they have peace and happiness anyway. They do not seek their own happiness, but God’s and others’, and as they do so they find their own happiness, or rather it finds them. Of course, one reason they seek the happiness of God and others is that they believe it will in the end be best for themselves too, but this does not mean we “serve God” only for a selfish motive. There is such a thing as genuine love for God and for others that is not simply a disguised selfishness, and is not seeking immediate or even long-range reward for its own sake. We feel we are capable of that kind of love for other people, so why not for God? He is most worthy of such love. Motives are always complex, and it is probably impossible for us to understand our own motives, let alone others’. We must beware of obviously wrong motives, and beyond that not get bogged down with endless self-analysis. It will spoil our peace of mind and happiness!
The quest for happiness for its own sake is the great experiment of the late-20th century “free world.” The United States Declaration of Independence claimed the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but this generation assumes the right to possess it. The remaining totalitarian states of the world are rightly reluctant to join in experiencing the decadent consequences that are so evident, though of course that does not legitimize their oppressive practices. There is no simple answer, short of a change of heart in each individual. The results of the experiment are ghastly, though very few of the participants seem willing or able to see the connection between cause and effect. In fact they often blame the problems on purported restrictions, and claim the solution is still more “freedom.” But it is plain nevertheless in statistics, the nightly news, movies, songs, your neighborhood, school, street, and sadly even church. Has seeking happiness made us happier? The facts say no. Movies and songs betray the failure of the experiment, filled with loneliness, heartbreak, emptiness, anger, and despair. Portrayals of pleasure-centered “happiness” in movies and books are wildly unrealistic and fleeting at best. The experiment is obviously a disaster, yet the rest of the world and the next generation are stampeding to repeat it and do even worse. Why? Only because they are unwilling to find the better alternative offered to those who become obedient children of the God who created heaven and earth. Satan’s swindling salesmanship continues to succeed.
Jesus emphasized His paradoxical teaching that happiness is not found by seeking it. Several times He taught that whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Him will find it. Mt. 10:39; 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 17:33. Something repeated this many times must be important.
What about feelings of guilt and unworthiness? Psychologists teach us to ignore guilt as an illusion, a product of our background and society, but the Bible says there is real guilt. The Bible emphasizes our guilt as sinners, and our unworthiness of God’s grace. That is the bad news, but there is good news. God does not leave us there. Guilt can be dealt with on the basis of Jesus Christ’s payment for sin in our place (ch. 6, III, C). Guilt is a good place to begin a commitment of faith in Christ, but a Christian who spends his entire life burdened with unrelieved guilt and unworthiness has failed to progress. We are infinitely valuable in our relationship to God as His loved, eternal children. He does not wish to leave us forever miserable under a burden of unrelieved guilt.
We have all done things we cannot forget, which injured ourselves and others, for which we are really guilty. It is not only the murderer, child abuser, drunk driver, or bank robber who has a problem. Only the Bible offers hope for this, a genuine escape for “big” sinners and all the rest of us. No other religion can do this, or dares even offer it. Most deny that it could be possible. We need not be trapped forever feeling undeserving of good, deserving of punishment, never knowing how much punishment is enough, in fact knowing there can never be enough. Jesus paid enough.
This does not bypass the need for appropriate apology and restitution to the persons involved if possible. In fact this is one test of the sincerity of our repentance in our heart before God, and is an essential aspect of the healing process. Nor does it bypass natural consequences, nor legal penalties where applicable. Forgiveness does not mean pretending the sin never happened, only that the wrath of God will not fall on us for it. It means God is now on our side in dealing with the unfortunate consequences. We are relieved of our fear of God, and of our sense of alienation from Him when we most need His care and comfort. We are not waiting for Him to “cool off.” He is waiting to respond instantly to our repentance and confession.
However, there is also false guilt, an unnecessary sense of blame for things which we in fact did not choose, and cannot control. This is a trap, and God does not place us in traps, so that tells us where this does come from: Satan, who is intent on finding ways to spoil God’s plan of blessing for us. He has many helpers. Parents blame their children for their own problems, and expect small children to solve adults’ unsolved problems. Teachers and parents blame children for being normal active easily distracted human beings with limited and varying abilities. Cultures set up impossible standards of heroic achievement and behavior, and give no help in achieving them or accepting failure.
Only the Bible gives an absolute standard, on the basis of which we can consider all other standards as false, and therefore be freed from them. God accepts us now, requiring only childlike trust, not impossible demands as prerequisites for acceptance. This gives us hope and power to begin to change. Forgiveness is a prerequisite for change, not vice versa. With the problem of guilt and punishment solved, we can have a positive outlook on the evil and suffering we experience, as explained in ch. 4, IV, B, 2 and 3.
As was discussed in ch. 3, VI, on other religions, some types of supernatural experiences are not unique to Christianity. The spirits behind other religions also have supernatural power. But Jesus’ authority is highest, so Christians need not fear these spirits, but can escape their control. Other spirits must obey when obedient Christians command them in the name of Jesus and His precious blood, but no other spirit has ever been able to assert authority over the Holy Spirit of God or the name of Jesus Christ.
The effect of supernatural experiences from other spirits is sooner or later to produce fear, loss of self-control, hopelessness, and helplessness. The effect of supernatural experiences from God on Christians is unique, causing them to trust God’s love and care for them, giving joy and peace of heart. This is based on a confidence that God has a good plan and is accomplishing it, and there is a coming day when all problems will be solved and we will understand the purpose of the events God has caused and allowed to occur. On that day we will consider that the price was an incredible bargain for what we receive (Romans 8:18). Review the discussion of evil and suffering in ch. 4, IV.
Speaking of Christians’ supernatural experience, however, there is one problem area: many Christians talk about being “filled with the Spirit,” or “baptized with the Spirit.” These phrases are in the Bible, but many Christians’ definition of them is based on their own experience, which is a special occasion and feeling, often very emotional and involving speaking in an unknown language (or at least ecstatic sounds unintelligible to anyone present), and perhaps also other unusual actions such as rolling on the ground. Many people watching this find it frightening, especially if they see similarities between it and the activities of the demon-possessed mediums in folk-religion temples.
I have not had such an experience, and I am not comfortable with seeing it either. I cannot deny that it is in some cases genuinely from God and beneficial; I have some friends to whom it has been a great help in their sense of relationship with God. Churches that emphasize such experiences are called Pentecostal, full-gospel, or charismatic, and they include most of the fastest-growing churches throughout the world, especially in Latin America, Africa, and Korea. Supernatural experiences have been the crucial turning point to faith, or to understanding God’s love and grace, in many people’s lives, including some of our friends. For all this we are of course thankful, and cannot deny that it must be a work of God. But this must not be the primary basis of our faith or our sense of relationship with God. In Mk. 12:38, 39 Jesus said wicked people ask for miracles so they can believe, and this statement is also recorded several times in other gospels. It must be important. Jesus did many miracles, but He did them at His choice, not theirs, and if they still did not believe they had no excuse.
The problem is that such experiences are so easily misunderstood, and their outward manifestations can so easily be counterfeited by evil spirits, that it is a very complex situation and must be handled very carefully. No one needs to fear becoming a Christian because they think all Christians must have this kind of experience. The Holy Spirit does not “possess” us against our will like evil spirits do to some people. Such experiences are the subject of I Corinthians 12 to 14, which is virtually all devoted to warning against abuses that result from emphasis on such powers, and ch. 13 teaches the superiority of emphasizing love.
There is a large number of people for whom such experiences,
or the lack of them, have been a hindrance to faith, if not a major life
crisis. They were told, or at least had the impression, that this is the
standard God intends for everyone, so they sincerely sought it, often at
a highly emotional meeting surrounded by many people experiencing such
manifestations. They experienced nothing. This left them concluding that
God rejected them, which must mean they were unfit to become a Christian
or at least enter into this more advanced level of contact with God. A
sizable proportion of patients in mental institutions in the US connect
their emotional breakdown with such an experience. They were already weak
and desperate, and if God Himself rejected them it was just too much to
cope with. Contact with such patients is one reason many psychiatrists
are opposed to Christianity. This is an unnecessary tragedy for both the
patients and the psychiatrists.
This has unfortunately become a controversial subject among conservative Christians. The Holy Spirit is supposed to be the source of our mutual love and unity! Some people take the position that such miraculous activities were a unique work of God in the first-century church, and ceased in that generation, so that all present-day instances are a work of the devil. The other extreme is that it is certainly God’s will for every Christian now, and some even make it the criterion by which to determine whether or not you have obtained salvation. I find no Biblical basis for either extreme. What the Bible does teach is balance, caution, the sovereignty of God, and mutual respect and acceptance.
It is a serious misinterpretation to connect such experiences with the Biblical terms “baptism of the Spirit” and “filled with the Spirit.” It is not supported by the passages in which these terms occur. This is not the place to go into a study of this subject, but only to point out that it should be studied. We must interpret our experience by the Bible, not the Bible by our experience, saying “This is what happened to me, so it must be what that phrase in the Bible means.” We also cannot make others’ experiences our standard, not even events in the Bible, unless the Bible explicitly teaches that God has made it a general principle.
Life’s final supernatural experience is death. If they are not drugged into unconsciousness, many Christians in their final moments express peacefulness, happiness, and often even describe seeing heaven, angels, and other sights. Non-Christians usually die in fear and despair, sometimes describing demons and the terrors of hell. There are no reliable statistics, but this was common knowledge of doctors and nurses of earlier generations (but see ch. 3, VI, E).
Christians are as reluctant as anyone else to face the pain that may precede death, but they do not fear the aftermath. In fact they look forward to it. It is a conflict of emotions, torn between separation from loved ones here and finally joining Jesus whom they love even more, and others gone before in heaven, e.g. Paul’s feelings in Phil. 1:23-25. And we cannot even imagine the joy of entering heaven, forever freed from this world’s cares, pain, disappointment, loss, and decay. For those left behind there is of course the grief of separation, but it is not the hopeless grief of those who do not believe, I Thess. 4:13. A Christian funeral is a farewell party, not the outpouring of grief, mourning, and despair that is the best all other religions can offer. We who die as believers will all be together forever, and will finally be able to get along with each other, which unfortunately seems so difficult here.
This is an endless subject, which must end here for now. It is sufficiently subjective that most things I have said cannot be quantitatively proved. But millions of believers from the time of Adam onward have experienced the benefits of faith in the Bible’s truths. The unique authenticity of the Bible as God’s Word is confirmed by the experience of those who believe and obey Him, and of those who do not. The reader must make his or her own comparison between these two alternatives. Does our modern society demonstrate a freedom and happiness that is worth passing up the peace and purpose experienced by Bible-believing Christians? Who is making a sacrifice?
If you are not yet a believer, this should be a strong reason for you to at least hope that the Bible’s claims are genuine, that it is our instruction manual for life from our Creator. You can seek answers to whatever factual stumbling-blocks may stand in the way of your acceptance of its message, and submission to its God; that is the subject of most of this book. But for many people its ability to meet our everyday needs is by itself sufficient evidence on which to base a step of commitment.
Given these four sources of information about God (the universe, living things, Bible, and believers’ experience), the only simple, reasonable, consistent explanation is that He exists, and is like the Bible describes Him.
The only reasonable response to this fact is to trust and obey Him, accepting the opportunity to become His children now and forever. Romans 1:19, 20. If this is not sufficient basis for faith, what would be? If we wait until we are directly coerced into submission to God, that will not be faith, and we will have forever missed our chance. The Bible says there is such a day coming.
This is the conclusion of this long chapter. I hope this book thus far has helped you to understand yourself, the Bible, and God better. If you are a Christian, I hope it has helped you understand what the Bible teaches, and why we believe it. You will then be able to answer questions better when others ask you what you believe and why. (I Peter 3:15)
If you are not a Christian yet, I hope this has helped
you to understand the Bible and Christianity better, and most important
to understand the God of the Bible. I hope it helps you overcome the barriers
which have made it difficult for you to believe, and helps you begin your
own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.