Common questions

Common Questions
How do we account for all the suffering in the world? Wasn’t Jesus just another great religious teacher? How do we know God exists? Hasn’t science disproved Christianity? What about other religions; are they all true? Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?
These and many other questions keep being asked, and often they are our questions. When asked such questions by others we may wish we had an ‘expert’ prompting us with the answers, or maybe we decide to leave such questions for the top theological brains to wrestle with. 
In the Link over the next few months I thought it would be helpful to consider possible ways of answering such types of questions because it may help us (me included !) to be more confident in our knowledge of the truth and also because we need to have answers for those who question us. 1 Peter 3 verse 15 says “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect……”
This month we will just look at the general principles involved in answering questions of this sort.
1.   Before we attempt to answer such questions we need to do some preparation. This could involve some reading, talking it over with others, maybe even practising answers on understanding and sympathetic friends and of course praying. 
   It is important to try to discern what question we are hearing for often we will not get a straight question but one that is wrapped up in an issue, a complaint, a general discussion or casual social chat. 
   We therefore need to be listening with sensitivity and understanding. It is useful to have talked to a friend about the story of our own spiritual walk because it will help us to clarify it in our own mind. We all have our own God given experiences.
2.  During our conversations or dialogue with people be ready to listen. People who are listened to are themselves more ready to listen. We must be gracious, truthful, respectful and, I would add, cheerful! Don’t be too hasty but measured. We should not be confrontational but seeking to understand where the other person is coming from. This helps us to address the right issue!
   So rather than respond immediately with a rehearsed answer it would be helpful for us to ask questions such as “Why did you say that?” or “What do you mean?” or something which begins to unlock their thinking and helps you pinpoint their concern.
   It is not primarily about winning arguments but about lovingly helping people in their understanding and their search for the truth – which we know is embodied in Jesus Christ. Instead of thinking we have to stand there and defend Christianity it is good sometimes to help people clarify where they are on their spiritual journey.
   We may end up providing more questions than answers! At some point, which maybe after several chats, we need to direct our focus towards Jesus. 1 Peter 3 v. 18 says “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” That is at the heart of the Gospel we are trying, in our own feeble way, to share.
 We must be honest, and say when we don’t know the answer, but say we will try to find the answer. After all, we are all seekers after truth wherever we are on life’s journey and we can often identify with others and were at one time asking the same questions and expressing the same concerns.
3. After our chat we need to find out the answers that we promised to chase up for it is important to keep our promises. It also provides you with the opportunity to return to the conversation. 
It would also be helpful to analyse your answers and ask yourself “Did I get that right?”, “How could I have answered that better?”, “How could that point be illustrated from everyday life?”, “Was my answer free of jargon that would be unhelpful?” or “What is the next step in our conversation?”. 
Most important of all we should pray for guidance, wisdom, courage, future conversations and for the person with whom we engaged in conversation. We will not always get it right but we do have a story and experiences to share, and you never know, it may be ofhelp or an encouragement to someone else, even the person who was eavesdropping on your conversation ! 
As a church family we need to encourage each other in the faith, so why not share our faith and doubts with others within our fellowship and pray for each other for our witness to the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.        
David Howell

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