It is human nature to question and try to find the reasoning behind God’s ways. A TELL pastor is here, ready to answer any spiritual question and help you more fully understand God.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I expect a special message from God?
Imagine this. You and a friend are enjoying dinner together looking out at the street. She’s feeling unsure about her current relationship and asks you whether she should continue to date her boyfriend. You don’t know what to tell her. “I know,” your friend says, “I’ll ask God to give me a sign. If a red truck drives by within the next minute, I’ll break up with my boyfriend.” Sure enough, within the next minute a red truck drives by.
Was that really a message from God? Or was it all just an against-all-odds coincidence? Was the devil involved?
No one can know that answer for sure. But we can know some things about God from his word, the Bible. First, God is a) under no obligation to tell people anything and b) not in the habit of providing direct verbal answers to prayers via, say, skywriting – to break up with your girlfriend or make any other minor or major decision.
Yet couldn’t we ask God for a sign, at least occasionally? Hasn’t God ever given people signs?
Yes. God appeared to Abraham with a smoking firepot and a blazing torch to give him a sign (Genesis 15:8-17)
The LORD gave signs such as a staff that turned into a snake and a hand that turned leprous to help Moses reassure the Israelites. (Exodus 4:1-9)
Gideon asked for and received a sign of a fleece that was dry while the ground all around it was wet with dew. The next morning the reverse happened. (Judges 6:17, 36-40)
God showed King Hezekiah that he would not die from a dread disease; God made a shadow go backwards ten steps on a stairway. (2 Kings 20:8-11)
On the other hand, Jesus orders us not to test God. (Matthew 4:7) We should never demand a sign or message from God while thinking that if God fails to come through, we will refuse to honor him.
We should also never ask God for a sign about something he has forbidden. Don’t pray, then, “God, if you want me to move in with my boyfriend before we’re married, please do this or that.”
Instead, recall what Moses told the Israelites, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
- God keeps secrets. There are many things he won’t tell you, even if you ask.
- God has uncovered many things to us in the Bible. Confused? Facing a tough decision? Read and treasure God’s Word (Psalms 23 or Psalm 25 are great places to start). God’s Word lasts forever.
- Whatever God has uncovered in the Bible will lead us to obey all God has told us to do. No Bible verse will lead us to disobey God.
There are so many translations of the Bible. Which one should I read?
The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew and Greek. So unless you can read and comprehend the original languages, you will do well to find a solid and faithful translation in your language.
In English, the King James Version (KJV) is a widely trusted translation. The KJV is an older translation, so its language feels antiquated and possibly confusing for the modern English reader. The New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV) or Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) are faithful translations of the original language and easier to read. Translations like The Message (MSG) are modern summaries of the Bible that seek to make the thoughts of the author clear in modern language but don’t rigidly follow the grammar and syntax of the original language.
In general, a good translation is both faithful to the original language and understandable to the modern reader.
I’ve tried reading the Bible, but I still don’t understand what I’m reading.
Two thoughts – first, try reading the passage again and think about it in light of what you have already read in the Bible. Read twenty verses before the passage in question and twenty verses after it. By reading the passage in context you’ll get a better idea about what is being said. Second, ask a friend who has read the Bible more than you. Here at TELL we have pastors and Bible learners who are dedicated to helping you find answers from the Bible. Send them a message with your question. Perhaps the next time the meaning will be clearer, because you’ll have learned more.
I’ve never read the Bible. How do I start?
The Bible is a big book. Maybe you’re like many people who want to read the Bible but don’t know where to start. We’re glad to help you get started!
First, we’ll talk about the Bible’s outline. Then we’ll share a practical way to get started. As you start reading the Bible its life-changing message will fill you with hope and peace. Truth brings peace!
In reality, the Bible isn’t just one book; it’s a collection of 66 books. The Bible is divided into an Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains books which were written before Jesus’ time and the New Testament contains books written after Jesus’ time.
When you’re reading Old Testament books (like Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, etc.) you’re reading about events which happened before Jesus came. In those books God is telling us about his plan of salvation, how he brought Jesus the Savior to the world, about our need for the Savior, and prophecies about the Savior, so we could recognize Jesus when he came. Some of the books of the Old Testament are straight-forward history (like Genesis). Other books have many details about the worship life of the Old Testament Israelites (like Leviticus), and others address very specific time periods in the Israelite history (like Amos and Hosea); those can be a bit more challenging to read and understand.
The New Testament books were written after the birth of Jesus. The first four books, the “Gospels” – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – give us the account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The book of Acts records the history of the early New Testament church and the spread of the gospel message. The majority of the books of the New Testament are letters, written either to churches or individuals, in which God gives us further insights into the truths he expects us to believe.
How can you get started? We suggest starting with reading one of the Gospels - an account of Jesus’ life. After all, his life and work are the most critical part of the Bible. Then, check out books from the Old Testament where you’ll learn the incredible back-story.
Here’s a suggested list of books of the Bible to start you off:
- Genesis and Exodus
- 1 & 2 Samuel or John or Acts or 1 Peter or some Psalms or Ephesians or Philippians – you decide! Or, re-read the first five suggested books again, and then go on.
How do I know there’s a God?
In 1961 the Russians sent the first man into space. His name was Yuri Gagarin. The Russian premier at the time, Nikita Krushchev, said that when Gagarin went into space the cosmonaut discovered that there was no God there.
In response Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote an article called “The Seeing Eye.” Lewis said that if there is a God who created us, we could not discover him by going up into the air. God would not relate to human beings the way a man on the second floor relates to a man on the first floor. No, God would relate to us the way the author Shakespeare relates to his character Hamlet. Shakespeare is the creator of Hamlet’s world and of Hamlet himself. Hamlet can know about Shakespeare only if the author reveals information about himself in the play. So too, the only way we can know about God is if God reveals himself to us.
Billions of people around the world believe in God although they cannot prove he exists. Some believe in an impersonal force that holds our world together. Others believe in a feeling of enlightenment we need to search for and find. Even non-religious people hold firm beliefs or truth statements like “I believe that above all, people should be treated equally.” or “In the end, whether you believe in God or not, you should treat others with respect.” Both religious and non-religious people have more in common than they realize. They both make truth claims about what they know to be true themselves. Both do not have empirical (observable) evidence of their truth claims.
The Bible says that all people, religious and non-religious, recognize something deeper about the human experience. People can discover God or his ideas in a general way by observing the world around us: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) Both hold ideas about morality that are ingrained in them by God, whether they believe in God or not: “(Non-religious people) show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (Romans 2:15)
Still, none of this proves there’s a God. And if there is a God, neither our conscience or nature tell us a whole lot about God. But what if God wrote himself into the human story? What if all of these deeply held, widely accepted beliefs like “justice” and “love” were perfectly demonstrated right in front of our eyes? What if instead of explaining away God, we explored his interactions with humankind? The Bible invites seekers to begin their search by opening its pages.
What happens when I die?
It is often fear that lies behind that question. As if death wasn’t terrifying enough without imagining some state of unrest or unconscious oblivion while we wait and wait and wait for Jesus to return to take us to heaven. To answer quickly up front, when you have faith in Jesus your soul goes to heaven immediately when you die. On the Last Day when Jesus returns our bodies will be raised to either live forever with God in heaven or, in the case of unbeliever, will live forever without God.
Jesus often talked about life going on into eternity. He didn’t just mean that our loved ones who have died would live on in our memories. He literally meant they would live on forever. Look closely at this conversation between Jesus and Martha, the sister of Lazarus who had just died. “’Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’” (John 11:23-26). Martha believed that her brother would rise on the last day of the earth’s existence, which the Bible refers to as Judgment Day. Jesus further comforts her by pointing out that Lazarus would not have to wait that long to experience the joys of eternal life. “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Our soul goes to be with Christ immediately when we die. In that sense, we will never die, even though our body remains here until Judgment Day.
God’s missionary Paul was in constant danger because of his bold confession about Jesus. He spent a lot of time in court and in prison. He found comfort in knowing that if he had to die for believing in Jesus, it would be a blessing. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). To “depart” and to “be with Christ” were simultaneous events. There is no allusion to a long period of time in between. Ecclesiastes 12:7 speaks the same way. “And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit (or soul) returns to God who gave it.”
The clearest statement comes when Jesus is on the cross next to another dying man. “Then he (the criminal) said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Jesus puts a time stamp on the soul’s trip to heaven with the word “today.” When Jesus gave his life on that very day, he paid for every sin and paved the path to heaven for everyone who puts their trust in Him. When he rose from the dead three days later, he secured the promise he just made to that dying man and to all of us. Jesus turned death from a curse into a blessing—a blessing that starts the moment we close our eyes for the last time.
What is hell like?
Most people think they know what hell is like. Ask them on a blast furnace August day how hot it feels. Search Google for graphics featuring hell and flaming infernos will fill your screen. The terrors of war are compared to hell. As is terminal disease, divorce, and a dysfunctional workplace.
The Bible uses similar pictures to describe hell. Jesus predicts how on Judgment Day his angels will throw those who have rejected him “into the fiery furnace.” He goes on to say that those in that furnace will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matthew 13:50) Hell, then, is a place of abject sorrow and staggering grief. It is a place where people’s fate is horrific and unstoppable. That’s why they gnash (grind) their teeth to display their frustration, rebellion, and anger.
There are additional ways the Bible helps us relate to hell. In Jesus’ story about a rich man suffering there, he has the man describe the place as a torture chamber. (Luke 16:24) Hell is pictured as a place of blackest darkness. (Matthew 8:12, Jude 13) The Old Testament prophet Isaiah uses a metaphor Steven King would enjoy. He says the people in hell are perpetually consumed by worms. (Isaiah 66:24)
The essence of hell is separation from God and his kindness, love, generosity, and care. It was from the depths of that separation that the sin-suffering Jesus screamed from the cross, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Paul promises such separation awaits those who reject God’s grace. “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
Gruesome pictures. Distasteful descriptions. But even worse is being there. Words are inadequate to capture hell’s excruciation, its anguish, its dread. Little wonder that Jesus urges us to avoid hell’s torture, torment, and terror at all costs: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Hell is what anyone deserves who has ever done anything wrong. “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10) Hell is the destination for all who believe they don’t need forgiveness or that they can earn their own forgiveness. That’s the price a lack of perfection exacts in the holy God’s court of justice.
How wonderful that God provides us a way to escape. He gives us a place to live for an eternity that is the polar opposite of hell. That is what Jesus is all about. The Bible assures us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation….God made him who had no sin [that’s Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17,21) With Jesus’ righteousness, heaven is ours.
What is the Trinity?
“Trinity” means “three-in-one.” It’s true, the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But the concept is.
The true religion has always stated that there is only one Divine Essence who is called “God.” From the beginning of time God has revealed himself as the LORD God (Genesis 2:4) and there is no other but him (Isaiah 44:6). Monotheism set the Hebrews apart from other nations (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Christianity follows the same truth.
God the Father is God. Jesus spoke of him as “the only true God” (John 17:1,3). The apostle Paul spoke of God the Father as the creator God and the source of life (1 Corinthians 8:6).
God the Son is God. Hebrews chapter one emphasizes that fact, explicitly saying “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (1:3). We believe as the Bible teaches that “in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). And we believe that “he is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). Besides, the Bible attributes to Jesus all the characteristics of God (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is also to be worshiped as true God (Matthew 28:17; Hebrews 1:6). The New Testament shows that Jesus is the redeemer of the world from sin and the power of Satan.
God the Holy Spirit is God. “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). He is distinguished from the Father and Son when Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, the Spirit of truth, to be with you forever” (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit is more than an impersonal power of God. He grieves (Ephesians 4:30), and is the person of the Trinity who works faith in our hearts. Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Some people “speak against the Holy Spirit” to their damnation (Matthew 12:32).
There are many places in Scripture that mention all three Persons of the Triune God (Matthew 4:16-17). God has always presented himself in plural terms (Genesis 1:26).
There are three Persons, each one the complete God, and yet there is no more than one single God. “We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God” (from the Athanasian Creed of the Christian church).
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And they are one God.
Who wrote the Bible?
Picture this: the CEO of the company is dictating a letter to the secretary. As the CEO speaks, the secretary takes down every word. When the CEO is done, it’s clearly the CEO’s letter.
At the same time, the secretary’s abilities, skills, etc. are sure to show through. For example, if the secretary has poor eyesight, the letter will probably be typed in a larger font. Yet the letter remains the CEO’s.
Although simplistic, that basically illustrates how we got the Bible. God is the “CEO,” and various human writers are the “secretaries.” God gave the writers the exact words which He wanted them to use. The Bible describes it this way: “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Similarly, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Often in the Old Testament (written about 1400 – 400 B.C.) you’ll hear God say something like, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you … ” (Jeremiah 36:2) These words are God’s Words.
Does Jesus agree? Yes! One time Jesus quoted a passage from the book of Psalms. After He did, He made a parenthetical, yet important, remark: “–and the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He was saying, “These words are God’s words.”
The New Testament makes the same claim. One example is found in 1 Thessalonians: “… when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God . . .” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Again, these words are God’s words.
And yet God in mercy chose to work through human writers, more than 35 of them. God used people like Moses, Isaiah, Luke, John, and Paul to write down His words, to be His “secretaries,” and indeed their personality/talents shine through. For example, Luke was a physician. In his books, we see lots of details, as you might expect from a physician. Paul was a learned man, so the books he wrote are often quite deep, even a bit more difficult to understand.
To summarize, God gave the Bible through human writers; we can learn a few things about them by reading their books. Yet they remained merely the “secretaries.” The words, finally, are God’s.
Why do bad things happen?
In this world, why do bad things happen at all? One would have to agree that bad things do happen to all people. War, poverty, disease, sickness, accidents, pain, sorrow, death occur everyday to people around the globe. The rich, the poor, the intellectual, the illiterate, the strong, the weak, the old, the young can all be stricken and afflicted by that which we might define as bad.
This is not how God envisioned the world he created. When he was done creating the world, God looked over his creation and we read his evaluation in Genesis 1, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” What happened to this world that was very good? The answer again is found in the Bible, just a few short pages away from Genesis chapter 1. Adam and Eve, the first humans created by God, listened to the temptation of the devil, chose to go against God’s command and so sinned. Sin entered this perfect world. The effect of this sin was felt not only by Adam and Eve, but by all of creation. God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”
About 4000 years after Creation, the Bible gives us an evaluation of the status of the world with these words: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” All of creation is tainted by evil. The ultimate evil that sin brought into the world is death, which awaits all living things on earth.
What good is there in this world that is so steeped in evil? On this side of eternity, the bad things keep happening. Evil will continue to happen until the end of time. God has not left us without hope. God in his love sent his one and only son, Jesus, into this world to live as our brother and to suffer the sorrows of this life, including a horrible death in our place. In exchange he guarantees us a place where we might enjoy goodness and mercy forever. There will be no more sorrow, or crying or pain. As believers in Jesus, the bad things of this life will pass away and we will be able to experience paradise in heaven.
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Pastor Daniel Laitinen (“Pastor Dan”) is a Christian pastor and Bible teacher. He lives in Austin, Texas, United States, with his wife and four children. He studied biblical languages, history, world religion and more at Martin Luther College, graduating in 2008 with a Bachelor of the Arts. He continued biblical studies at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, graduating in 2012 with a Master in Divinity. He served as pastor at Holy Word Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas from 2012-2019.
Today Pastor Dan is a TELL English online missionary. He loves God and sharing the good news of Jesus with people across the globe. For fun Pastor Dan likes to play basketball, travel, watch sports and spend time with his wife and children.