Life has changed in so many ways since Jesus’ time on earth. There have been so many technological, scientific, medical, cultural, religious and other changes and life has become far more complicated than thousands of years ago. One only has to think of the ability to put men on the moon; send rockets to Mars; the ability to communicate all around the world in seconds; create babies through IVF; and all the other medical and scientific advances that have been made and so much more.
In the past, people were far more prepared to believe in the supernatural, or worship idols or gods, whereas these days we like to think that we’ve advanced and demand more specific proof. People are far more questioning than they were even 50 years ago, particularly from people who were once regarded almost as saints, including doctors, police officers, teachers and scientists and, dare I say it, even priests! I well remember the fear and deference such people instilled, particularly among the often poorly-educated working-class.
So many people these days don’t have a belief in a Christian God, or any other faith for that matter, and some atheists actively discourage others to believe. One of the most powerful arguments against there being a God is that a good God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen. That’s very hard to argue against in any rational and persuasive manner.
These days, many people don’t seem to care much about life after death and just live every day as it comes. It seems to be mainly the older generation who still attend church regularly and stick to their traditional religious beliefs and habits. This is borne out by the statistics which shows church attendance decreasing all the time and, in some areas, is almost a thing of the past.
Graham – with all the developments that have taken place over the centuries, why do some people still need God in their lives? Why do you think He is still relevant to us when people are now so much more self-reliant and less prone to needing an invisible friend?
Rev Graham replies:
There are many sub-questions, Carol, contained in your overall question and I will not be able to give a complete answer to them all. I believe the nub of your question relates to how relevant is the presence of an eternal God in a contemporary world? Yes our modern world is more technical and advanced than centuries ago but it does not mean that it is more wise or knowledgeable. I think we have to be careful to conclude that, just because church attendance has declined, that people are devoid of any faith in an invisible God.
There are over 11 bible verses that speak about God being invisible such as (John 1: 18), ‘no one has seen God at any time’ but, as in the case of the Apostle Paul after he was physically blinded, the Lord opened his eyes spiritually and he went on to reflect to the world the reality of the invisible God he personally met after being an enemy of Christ (Acts 9)
In my book “Blog 51: Insights to Daily Living” (2019 and a second edition 2020 in black and white or colour ) one of my blogs: I’m not religious but I’m spiritual touches on some of your observations, Carol, and how people are thinking and believing in our modern time.
The faith of any individual is very private and personal. It can be argued that some aspects of the Western church have abandoned support and guidance for the individual in the face of secularism and the rise of other world faiths. When we compare the Roman Catholic church, it seeks to uphold the teachings of Christ and the doctrines of the church in an uncompromising manner. Such a stance can help an individual who might be unsure of their faith when questioned on aspects of the teachings of Jesus and church doctrines. What they can do is confidently refer to church teachings as a basis of their own faith and as a form of answer to the challenging questions asked of them.
By comparison, many of the free Protestant churches and the Anglican Communion, since the Reformation, have allowed philosophical and political pressures to challenge and change various aspects of their understanding of Jesus’s teaching and church doctrines. Then, when a person is asked on certain matters what they believe, they struggle to answer in a collective manner because the church, rather than holding to an uncompromising position, has allowed itself to change and accommodate to modern thinking that has undermined its strength and collective belief.
As a result of these different stances, some people have left the church that does not accommodate modern and secular-related issues while others are happy to hold on to positions which maintain and strengthen their faith. Conversely, many people have left churches because it seems that the views of the world have become more important than the teachings of Christ and long-standing doctrinal beliefs. Such churches have declined in attendance because of their compromise with secular and other world faith positions. Either way the church has to be true to the teachings of Jesus and people have to decide in their own ways to join, support or reject such teachings to accommodate their personal and private beliefs and lifestyles.
The purpose of our website, Carol, is to raise awkward questions and find answers that hold on to the teachings of Jesus and church doctrine but also try to accommodate modern thinking so as to embrace the Christian faith rather than reject it.
Choices and Consequences
When we think of a bygone era of faith, we may be tempted to believe that everyone who attended church was a very godly and devoted Christian! In reality it is not to dissimilar to today, only in a different guise – people are more real in what they believe or do not believe which is evidenced by church attendance or no attendance.
As society in general has changed over the years, it may be argued that it is freer from the previous constraints of certain religious laws and practices which I’m sure Jesus himself would not have approved of. A person with faith will always seek to encourage people to embrace faith and live a life that models Christ. Equally, those without a Christian or spiritual faith will want to persuade people to live a moral and upright life but without any reference to a guiding and constraining deity.
At this present time we may say Western Europe is more secular than spiritual but, as any study of church history records, situations can change, especially if they are fanned by the prayers and faith of believers and God’s Holy Spirit that can renew and revive. So, in all our debating and thinking, we have to remember that church attendance and personal faith is, and always should be, considered separately with the emphasis more on personal faith than church attendance.
When people break away from the disciplines of faith they tend to becomes more self-seeking and confident in their own theories and practices and find that they want to become more god-like themselves. This tends to lead to a moving away from any organised faith and undermine any existence of a personal and invisible God.
Within human nature, there is a tendency that exists in all religions, philosophies and political debate that one group is completely right and the other is terribly wrong. Lots of people drift in and out of church or some form of organised religion while holding on to their own form of faith or no faith. As Christians, we have to be humble is our quest for truth, to seek wisdom and to hold on to Holy Scriptures that anchors us in the forever challenging world of faith, belief and unbelief.
In my many years of pastoral care and support with individuals and families, I have observed that many young and old people, when realising they are going to die, will seek to make peace horizontally with family and friends and vertically with their creator, universe or just themselves as they realise the limitation and value of human and divine relationships.
It does seem that, in our western and secular world, the existence and worship to God is considered irrelevant and meaningless. However, we have to remind ourselves and each other that the world is God’s – He has created it and daily sustains it. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in the market place, in the corridors of power, in palaces, hostels, entertainment venues and freely within the country and seaside and speaks to that spark of the divine that lives within us to encourage and offset current views of unbelief.
In concluding my responses to your question, Carol, I find the thought of an invisible friend very heart-felt and so true. It is in the heart of all human beings to act as their own god and have their own say on life’s decisions and journeys but that is not wise or the complete picture. Scripture brings out on a number of occasions how God is active and powerful, even in an invisible form, but is able to sweep over individuals and nations as in times of revival.
Recently we have witnessed the example and legacy of the late Queen Elizabeth II who allowed the Lord to fill the God-shaped hole in her heart and, as a result, the Queen today will be experiencing the reality of the resurrection to eternal life and the visible presence of God Almighty.
Listen to this great hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise which challenges modern thinking that all ‘religious worship and liturgy’ is just a whole lot of ‘Mumbo Jumbo.’ We all live by faith and do not have a complete understanding of all that is around us both materially and invisibly. As we wear those spectacles of faith, we are able to see and believe the reality of God through Christ ‘image of the invisible God’ (Colossians1: 15-20) that offsets doubt as we daily walk, talk and pray with our invisible friend in a modern world which is so reassuring.
Check out this powerful worship song: The Greatness Of Our God by Hillsong Worship