Does God think about everything all the time?

Question 182, from Ben J.

Is God omni-conscious (actively thinking about all things at all times)?

The traditional Christian definition of God which borrows more form Greek philosophy than from Biblical revelation is that ‘God’ is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. In other words, God is all-powerful, all-knowing and exists everywhere.

While there are good philosophical reasons for reaching these conclusions about God, there are a number of issues with them. The problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of such a being leads to either denying God’s goodness, or finding a way to explain why an omniscient being would not exercise their power and eradicate evil.

Within the classical definition of God, it would naturally follow that God has all things in mind at all times. Everything exists in both reality and in the mind of God. However, even within a classical framework, some clarification of the terms is helpful. (more…)

Five responses to the ‘Problem of (Natural) Evil’

Question 181, from Emma

I am doing a talk on suffering. I want to focus on WHY there is suffering if God is a loving, omnipotent, omniscient God and in particular why God would plan a world where earthquakes etc. would be necessary (yet cause deaths and pain)? I understand to a certain extent how man-made suffering comes about as a result of free will but please explain a bit more about natural suffering.

The issue of evil that appears to be naturally occurring is a taxing one. It seems arbitrary and inconsistent with the Christian assertion that God is good and created the world as a ‘good’ world for humans to live in.

There have been a number of attempts to provide an explanation for ‘natural evil’. Some are more convincing than others, and there is no definitive answer that conclusively answers the question. Here is a brief introduction to five approaches that have been used. (more…)

A ‘simple’ introduction to Calvinism

Question 180, from Iwan

Would you possibly be able to explain as simply as possible what Calvinism is! Somebody asked me about it and to be honest I haven’t the first clue about it so would appreciate your help.

Calvinism is a theology based on key principles developed by John Calvin (1509-64), a noted protestant preacher and church leader during the Reformation. Churches that followed his theology are often referred to as ‘Reformed’, as distinct from ‘Lutheran’ churches that follow Martin Luther’s teaching instead.

Although Calvin’s theology had a number of interesting theological ideas at the heart of it, the doctrine for which he was most famous was what is now known as ‘double predestination’. At its most basic level, this is the idea that if God has predestined some members of the human race to salvation, then God has also predestined other members of the human race to eternal punishment. (more…)

Book review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman

This book was published in 2010 by Canongate as part of its ‘Great myths’ series. Various authors were invited to rewrite a classic ‘myth’ of their choosing. Philip Pullman chose the story of Jesus, trying to separate out what could have really happened from the Christ ‘myth’ that he assumes was created by Jesus’ followers.

For a novelist to approach this is interesting, as the discussion in Biblical studies about trying to discern the ‘historical Jesus’ behind the stories in the gospels has been going on for well over a century.  The ‘Jesus of History’ and the ‘Christ of Faith’ have sometimes been juxtaposed by theologians, as if they were almost two different people, and that is the tack that Pullman takes in his story.

In Pullman’s version of events, Jesus had a twin brother, born shortly after him. Because of various prophecies about messiah-ship, this twin is given the nickname ‘Christ’. Jesus and Christ grow up together, although don’t particularly get along. Christ chronicles Jesus’ teaching and the things he does, sometimes altering it to make it sound better. He also has the idea that Jesus needs to found an organisation to further his ‘good news’ – this ‘church’ could become a powerful institution. Eventually, Christ is tricked into handing Jesus over to the authorities, who kill him. However, a mysterious stranger reassures Christ that his brother’s name will live forever in the ‘church’ that will now be reliant on the fabricated version of events that Christ has written down. (more…)

The second day of creation

Question 179, from Ben, United Kingdom

In Genesis chapter 1, the second day of creation doesn’t have “God saw that it was good”. It is the only day that misses this phrase out. Is there a particular reason for that?

The creation story in Genesis chapter 1 follows a fairly clear pattern of events, and contains eight different acts of divine creation spread over six ‘days’. Seven of the creative acts are declared good by God, with the exception of the division of the waters of the heavens and the earth on the second day.

This has been noticed by a number of commentators, over the centuries. Louis Ginzberg, noted some Rabbinical explanations in his book ‘Legends of the Jews’ published in 1909. According to ancient Jewish lore, “On the second day God brought forth four creations, the firmament, hell, fire, and the angels.” (more…)

The Essenes and Jesus

Question 178 from Ben J

Lately in my bible studies, I’ve come across a historical Jewish Sect called the Essenes. Further research has shown a variety of details about this Sect, that aren’t always in agreement. Some claim that John the Baptist was raised by this group, others say that Jesus’ healing miracles have origins with this Sect and that his mother Mary might have even been raised as one. Some of the alleged beliefs would be suitable explanations for some passages of scripture (for instance the secrecy of Jesus when he performed healings), whereas others seem opposed to scripture. Because the details are so conflicting, could you provide me with some reliable information about this Sect? And also, if they are significant, then do you think they should have more mention within the Church?

The Essenes are a Jewish sect mentioned in three main historical sources of First Century Palestine – Josephus, Philo and Pliny the Elder. Josephus and Philo were Jewish, although did not belong to the sect, while Pliny was a Roman historian. However, the sect remained fairly obscure until the discovery of large quantity of Essene documents in caves near Qumran by the Dead Sea – commonly called the Dead Sea Scrolls. (more…)

The salty fate of Lot’s wife (Genesis chapter 19)

Question 177, from Andrea

Why did Lot’s wife turn into a Pillar of Salt?

The story in Genesis chapter 19 of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah includes the escape by Abraham’s nephew Lot, who is warned of the imminent destruction by angels and told to flee. After much prevarication, he does so with his household. However, his wife turns to look back as they flee and is caught up in the carnage of the two cities’ destruction, with the writer of Genesis describing her being ‘turned into a pillar of salt’ (verse 26). (more…)

Christians, citizenship and pledging allegiance

Question 176, from Johanna, United Kingdom

I am considering becoming a naturalised citizen of the UK, and there are two options: swearing an oath of allegiance to the queen (“I swear by Almighty God”), or making an affirmation of allegiance to the queen (“I do solemnly, truly, declare and affirm”). Should Christians swear an oath of allegiance to a head of state? Does it make a difference if the head of state you are swearing allegiance to is Queen Elizabeth II rather than Nebuchadnezzar or Nero?

Historically the relationship between Christians and the states they live in has varied widely. Even today, there are certain political systems that forbid open expression of Christianity, so the question of allegiance, patriotism and loyalty to a particular country is more than academic.

Jesus discouraged his followers from swearing oaths in Matthew chapter 5, verses 33-35, mainly as an outworking of the third commandment about not misusing the name of God. Jesus extends this by telling his followers not to swear by ‘heaven’ or anything else, because to swear by anything created by God is effectively the same thing as swearing by God’s name and thus misusing it. (more…)

Christian and other symbolism in the movie Prometheus

Question 175, from Ian, United Kingdom

There’s a lot of discussion about the movie Prometheus at the moment. I was talking to someone who said that the reference to ‘two thousand years’ referred to the crucifixion of Jesus, who was an alien. What do you think about this?

The following answer contains spoilers

Prometheus poster

Having taken almost $300 million at the box office, Prometheus is the latest box office hit directed by Sir Ridley Scott of Alien and Blade Runner fame.

However, despite its popularity, the film has generated much debate, particularly around the use of religious iconography and themes that seem to be deliberately woven into the storyline.

The basic gist is that archaeologists discover cave drawings and other relics that purport to be a star map. After journeying to the planet identified in the drawings on board the spaceship Prometheus, the crew discover an alien military base that was wiped out following an accidental release of a bio-weapon some two thousand years before. One surviving member of the alien race – referred to  by fans as the Engineers – has survived and attempts to set course for Earth to destroy it and the crew of Prometheus have to stop him by any means necessary.

It is the two thousand year time-gap that has caused many people to speculate whether the story is supposed to link in with human history – especially the death of Jesus Christ approximately that length of time ago.


Choosing a church

Question 174, from Anna, via Facebook

Does it matter what church or group you belong to in Christianity? I have spoken to a lot of different Christian denominations and don’t know how to find a church. I want to be baptized. They all seem to be sincere to me. As long as Jesus is your Lord and saviour and you love God with all your heart and love your fellow man, does it matter which church you go to?

Although there are many differences between Christian denominations, in terms of theology, structure, emphasis, and activity, many of those differences seem to be trivial to people viewing churches from ‘outside’.

There are some important principles to apply, however, based on recommendations made by the earliest Christian leaders, as recorded in the New Testament. (more…)