Q – How would you go about structuring a message titled: answering life’s toughest questions?
Jim – I have a brief answer. Woody Allen said in one of his films (they all run together at some point) that humans spend their time creating trouble and dilemmas in their life so that they won’t have to face the really big issue, which is that we are all going to die. There’s a lot of truth in that. I would add that we create dilemmas that are actually within our power to control or solve in order to fool ourselves into believing that we are the masters of our destinies and that we actually will have some control over our ultimate fate.
But, the real issue remains – we are all going to die.
I’ve heard a whole rash of sermons on the radio lately [they seem to run in cycles. I think the radio guys all listen to each other and when somebody comes up with an idea or series that sounds intriguing the rest of them jump on the bandwagon so as not to lose their audience…but, I digress) that have to do with Life’s Tough Questions, and similar titles. And, of course, they all run through the litany of human troubles, especially those that are “big press” items, like abortion, race relations, marriage, crime, drinking, etc.
To be honest, those messages don’t do much for me. I listen to them to try and get the pulse of “the church as entertainment” movement. But, they are always little more than popular questions with semi-Biblical, or pseudo-Biblical, answers. Abortion? Hate the sin; love the sinner. Race relations? Love your brother as yourself. Marriage? Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church. Crime? Thou shalt not steal. Drinking? Be not drunk with wine.
You get the picture. Basic answers to complex questions. It’s sort of like Nancy Reagan’s answer to the drug problem – Just Say No. Well, if the drug problem in America were so simple it could be solved with a slogan, we’d have licked it a long time ago.
Nevertheless, these questions are hardly anything new. These are problems that are typical of the human condition in any age. Sinners do sinful things. The sinful things that sinner do will always be a problem for the church. Well, at least they used to be a problem, until the contemporary church decided to embrace them as opportunities to be more “seeker sensitive.”
The supposed “hard questions” of life aren’t really that hard. They may be complex, but they are ultimately manageable. That gives us frail humans some sense that we can, by own effort, solve some of our own problems. And, most of what I hear called “the hard problems” are really quite basic, according to Scripture.
Human actions fall into two categories: right and wrong. Most reasonably educated people, or at very least people indwelt by the Spirit of God, have some sense of what’s acceptable and what’s not in God’s eyes. Only sociopaths don’t understand that killing people is at very least “anti-social.” We may act as if we don’t recognize any authority but ourselves, but deep down we all fear that there might actually be a God, He might actually be watching, and we may in fact be held accountable for our actions. But, we don’t have to think about that if we fill our time and thoughts with problems we might actually be able to solve with a little brain-power and effort. We’ll just push that “God” thing to the side.
So, are there answers to our social problems and ills? Sure.
Abortion? Don’t do it. Children are a gift from God. Murder is wrong. There, that wasn’t too tough. Race relations? Esteem every man as better than yourself and remember that the purest races are mixed breeds. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. He has made of the two “one new man.” So, act like it. I could go on, but you get my drift. God actually has provided answers to our “toughest” questions. We just don’t like His answers. Murder? Don’t kill. Crime? Don’t covet; it leads to stealing. Sexual immorality? Don’t fornicate. Don’t commit adultery. Those are the answers.
The simple reality is that God has laid down His standard and He expects His standard to be upheld. Now, will it be? Nope. Sinners to sinful things. Will it be upheld in Church? It should be, but that’s why grace is so necessary. We all have come short of the glory of God.
So, are life’s toughest questions that same list of social ills that’s repeated ad nauseum in these sermons? No, absolutely not. Life’s toughest questions are the ones nobody asking, because they are afraid of the answer. So, to avoid the answer, they don’t ask the questions. It’s easier to deal with questions we can answer in a thirty-minute, radio-friendly sermon.
So, what are the tough questions?
Let’s start at the top: Is there a God and will He really judge me for my actions?
The answer, of course, is: Yes, there is a God. And yes, everywhere that He presents Himself in Scripture He represents Himself as a jealous God, who will judge in righteousness and who is willing to condemn people eternally.
Life’s toughest questions #2: Is it true that all men are sinners, born dead in trespasses and sins and there’s not one thing we can do to satisfy the holiness, or appease the wrath, of God?
Answer: That’s right. You’re born dead in sin. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re a sinner or whether you have verifiable evidence that you’re better than, say, Hitler. The standard of righteousness is not other people, the standard is the Holiness of God. And, whether it’s Hitler or Mother Teresa, all we like sheep have gone astray and turned, everyone of us, to our own way. No human being that is tried on the basis of his or her personal works and individual level of sanctification will be allowed into Heaven. We are all guilty, and our best works of righteousness are nothing more than filthy, bloody rags.
Life’s toughest question #3: Is it true that God is absolutely holy and that people have to attain a standard of holiness commensurate with God’s in order to avoid eternal damnation?
Answer: Yep, that’s the deal. The standard is impossibly high. Don’t attempt to lower the standard in order to convince yourself that you can attain it. I mean, if real holiness could be achieved by how you dress, or wear your hair, or what church you attend, then we could certainly live up to that. But, those are manmade standards designed to convince egocentric people that they actually are impressing God with their actions.
Nevertheless, the true standard, according to Jesus, had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (who were actively attempting to achieve salvation through the actions of the Law). In other words, neither the Pharisees nor the disciples had yet to achieve a righteous standard sufficient to obligate God to save them. No one gets in by their personal merit. The standard remains and the standard does not bend. God does not grade on a curve. Only absolute, eternal, spotless holiness will achieve eternal salvation.
Life’s toughest question #4: Oh my Heavens!!! What if those first three questions and answers are right????!!!! What will I do???!!!! I mean, if God is absolutely holy and I am absolutely depraved, then I am absolutely hopeless!!! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
And that, my friend, is life’s toughest question. God is holy. I’m dead in sins. The gulf between us is insurmountable. What will I do?
That’s the question no one seems to ask anymore. They want to make sinners look good, or bring God down to our level. Either way, they are creating a false answer to a seemingly impossible question. God’s standard does not bend and dead men do not make themselves alive. We are in desperate trouble.
Life’s one toughest question: What will I do about eternity?
Answer: Christ. There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. That’s the answer. Christ did not live and die in order to give us a simpler, calmer, more blessed life here on earth. He did not agonize on the cross in order to supply us with endless health and comfortable shoes. He did not endure separation from His Father, causing Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” in order for us to make Him our bellhop and let Him know when we need something from Him.
The answer to life’s toughest question is that only faith in Christ’s finished work will result in salvation, the only thing you absolutely, positively must have when you leave this world. And, as I said, we’re all going to leave. You can suffer through life’s other miseries and do it with great aplomb or with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but if you don’t know the answer to that one question, you will be cast off from God’s presence for the rest of forever. Get that one question right, and Christ’s own righteousness will be imputed to your account, and you will live gloriously through eternity, accepted in the beloved, and securely wrapped in the powerful, unchanging love of the Father.
Spend the rest of your life debating the minutiae of the human experience and you may never have to address that question.
So, if I were constructing a message with that title, that’s the approach I would take. I know that life has bumps and troubles. But, that’s life. The big questions are those that lead to eternal life or damnation, and those questions are far too frequently ignored in favor of the minor, more immediate dilemmas that are within our grasp.
Grace and peace, philos.