At their confirmation retreat a couple of weeks ago, our 10th graders had the opportunity to ask faith questions about things they were still wondering about. We discussed as many as we could, but I said that I would try and answer the questions that remained on my blog over the next few weeks. Here are a few more questions and my thoughts:
Q: If Jesus was Jewish, how did we get the Christian faith?
That’s a great question. People are kind of surprised when they hear that Jesus wasn’t Christian. (They also are surprised when they hear that Luther wasn’t a Lutheran, but that’s a story for another day.)
Jesus was Jewish. As a matter of fact, he was very Jewish. He was a rabbi, which meant that he was a teacher of the faith, and a Jewish worship leader.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
Jesus’ goal was not to create a religion to compete against Judaism. Rather it was to fulfill the law so that the Jewish people’s relationship with God could be made whole. To do this, he went to the cross, died and was resurrected. His hope was that the Jewish people would follow him into this new relationship with God. And many did.
But others did not, because the kind of salvation he was bringing was a different kind of salvation than what they were expecting. And so they chose to reject him as Savior.
So those (Jewish and non-Jewish) who followed him after his resurrection became what we call Christians…followers of Christ. But that didn’t happen until after the resurrection. So ironically, one could argue that Jesus was never actually a member of a Christian church (though we think that in Spirit, he was…and still is…there!
Thanks for the question!
Q: Why doesn’t Christ make himself more obvious, or easier to recognize?
Also a great question. And to be honest, it’s one that I ask God all the time when I pray. “Come on God…can you please be a little more obvious here?”
But that’s not how God chooses to work.
We don’t know exactly why God chooses to work in the world in the way he does. But I’ve got some suspicions about it.
In Hebrews 11:1, it says that: “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
There is a difference between knowing something and believing something. I know that 4+4=8. I know that because I can count it on my fingers. I can see it. There is proof. But, I believe that the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl this year. (a foolish belief, I know.) Why is this an “I believe” statement, and not an “I know” statement? Because there is no proof. There is no way of saying it as an absolute certainty.
I believe that God is less obvious or easier to recognize because God wants us to believe in God. If we knew that God existed, then it wouldn’t be faith…it wouldn’t be a choice…and we would just follow blindly.
As hard as it can be, God wants us to wrestle with belief, to have our doubts, and then to choose to believe. For something to be faith, there always has to be the possibility that we won’t have faith. It’s harder this way, but God asks for our faith more than our obedience.
Great question. Thank you!
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Wouldn’t you?
Q: Why does Trinity do confirmation in the fall, most churches confirm in the spring?
Actually, if you look across the whole of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…the denomination to which we belong) I think most churches actually do confirmation in the fall. I’m not sure when St. John or Our Savior’s here in Owatonna do it.
Usually, churches pick an important, or “Festival” worship experience to connect confirmation to.
Churches that do confirmation in the spring, often do it around the festival of Pentecost, when we believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit came to the church. (See Acts 2 for the full story.) That’s when I was confirmed. And they do it that day because they believe that in confirmation, God’s Holy Spirit is at work.
Other churches, including Trinity, do it close to Reformation weekend, at the end of October. They pick Reformation because confirmation is a kind of a reformation of our understanding of our faith, and of our relationship with God, as we take responsibility for our own faith in the service of confirmation.
And…some churches do it at other times.
There really is no right or wrong answer. It could be anytime. I’m kind of fond of doing it at Reformation weekend in October because of the special meaning of that day.
There’s also a practical answer: By doing it in the fall, we give you more time (the whole summer after your 9th grade year) to get your stuff finished up for confirmation. If we moved it to spring, you’d have a much busier 9th grade year!
Q: Is heaven described as a place in the Bible? Or is it a state of mind as an individual after death?
Actually, heaven isn’t described in the Bible. The whole image of heaven as a place that floats on clouds with “Pearly gates” is a human invention. It doesn’t show up in the bible at all. I think it’s because as people were trying to get their mind wrapped around “what heaven is,” they created these images to make it understandable.
But at the same time, the Bible does talk about heaven and “eternal life.” So we do believe that it’s real.
So I don’t think of it either as a place or a state of mind. I think it’s something that we cannot totally grasp or describe. I think of it as a complete and whole relationship. It’s like we enter into this condition of being in a complete and whole relationship with God. All the ways that God has felt hidden or non-obvious melt away and we really know God in the same way that God has always known us. Someone asked me once if that means we become God. I think that answer is pretty clearly no…because the first commandment makes it pretty clear that we aren’t God. But I think we do become one with God.
Does that make sense? No. Because this is one of those areas where we can’t fully understand. But some day…when we’re there…we will.
The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, that: “ For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[a] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)
So now…it’s a dim mirror. But then? We will understand…and we will fully know.
I believe that’s the “state” or the “condition” that we enter in to when we move from this world to the next. God will be transparent…and we will understand…it all…
…and it will be amazing!
I really appreciate all of the questions from our sophomores! Watch for more great questions and my meager attempts to answer them next week!