People think they know what Christianity is all about. But are their assumptions accurate? Addressing 10 common spiritual questions below, Rick Warren reveals the truth plainly without clouding the issue with religious jargon or rules.*
Questions 1. Why is there evil in the world? 2. Is Jesus really God? 3. Do all religions lead to God? 4. What’s going to happen to those people in the world who’ve never heard about Jesus Christ? 5. What about all the wars that are caused in the name of Christianity? 6. Is there any real right or wrong? 7. Why do I exist? 8. What is my purpose in life? 9. Does my life really matter? 10. Is there a real hell and why would a loving God send anyone there?
Question 1: Why is there evil in the world?
You know, this is a difficult stumbling block and question for many people. The simplest way to look at this question is to examine God’s nature and His desire for mankind. Look at the logic. God loves us and wants us to love Him back. And how could we love Him back unless we have the freedom to not love?
God could have made us like robots who do nothing more than say, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” But we’d be forced to do that and that wouldn’t be real love. Love is a choice. And if you have a choice, you have to be able to choose not to love. That in itself is the nature of evil: evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, He gave us not only our greatest blessing, but He also gave us our greatest curse — we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.
The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. Now the potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are because man has chosen to make wrong choices.
God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t. I hope you’ll use your freedom to choose God.
Question 2: Is Jesus really God?
Well, when you think about it, you only have three options as to who Jesus Christ was. You see, Jesus claimed to be God. He said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He claimed to be God many, many times. Now, that means either:
- He is who he says He was,
- He was the biggest liar in history, or
- He was crazy. He was a lunatic on the order of the man who calls himself a fried egg.
I’ve had many friends who said, “I believe Jesus was a good man.” Well, He couldn’t have been a good man and said the things He said. For instance, if I said to you, “I’m Rick Warren and I’m a good teacher and a good husband,” you might say, “Okay, I buy that.” But if I said to you, “I’m Rick Warren and I’m God and I’m the only way to heaven.” Well, you would have to make a decision. You couldn’t say I was a good person because a good person wouldn’t say that. You’d either say, “He is who he says he is, he’s a liar, or he’s crazy.”
Now Jesus didn’t just expect us to believe Him and take Him at His word. He said, “I’m going to prove the claim that I am God.” He said, “I’m going to let people kill me on a cross, then let them bury me. I’ll be dead for three days and then I’ll come back to life.” And, of course, that was the event that changed history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every person since then refers to Jesus Christ, whether they believe in Him or not. Every time you write a date, A.D. or B.C., what’s the reference point? Jesus Christ. His life was the event that split history.
Question 3: Do all religions lead to God?
Well now, think about the logic of this. Can I go into a phone booth and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. I could be sincere, but I could be sincerely wrong. The truth is, all roads don’t lead to Rome and all religions don’t lead to God.
You see, it all depends on which direction you take. Jesus said this: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I’m betting my life on the fact that He was right because I figured Jesus knows more about it than I did.
The Bible tells us that on the road to heaven, there are only two directions: toward Christ or away from Him. You can accept Him or you can reject Him, it’s your choice. You can make Jesus the Lord of your life — that means the manager, the CEO, the person in charge of your life — or you can call Him a liar, but that’s what the Bible declares.
You know a lot of people sincerely believe that even though they’ve broken God’s rules that they can earn God’s forgiveness by doing good works, by observing the Five Pillars of Islam or the Buddhist Eightfold Path or the Hindu Doctrine of Karma, for example. But I don’t get it. How will doing some good works, that we should have done all our lives, make up for all the countless times we failed?
You see, heaven is a perfect place and that means only perfect people get to go there. If not-perfect people were allowed in, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Well I don’t know about you, but I stopped being perfect a long time ago. So God came up with Plan B. He came to earth in human form, Jesus Christ, and He lived a perfect life and now He offers to let us go to heaven on His ticket. And I pray that you will trust Jesus Christ and stop trying to bat a thousand — because you ended up not doing that a long time ago. Accept God’s free ticket through Jesus Christ.
Question 4: What’s going to happen to those people in the world who’ve never heard about Jesus Christ?
You may have heard this question put this way: “What about the person living in the jungle somewhere who’s never heard the good news about Jesus Christ? Are you Christians saying that a person won’t go to heaven based solely on where he lives?”
No, we’re not saying that. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t work that way. We understand that God is perfect in His love and perfect in His holiness and He’s perfectly just and fair. Therefore, it’s against God’s nature to be unfair. It’s against God’s nature to hide the ball on salvation or to condemn somebody who’s ignorant of His truth. In fact, the Bible declares that God is loving and patient and not willing that anybody should perish. He wants everybody to come to repentance and to come to know Him.
If God is a perfectly loving and righteous God, then He will figure out ways to help people understand Him. He somehow reveals the simple truth of the gospel to people throughout the world. You know, I’ve talked to people who were missionaries in Africa who’ve told me that Jesus has revealed Himself through nature. When you look at nature you learn that God is organized, that God is creative, that God likes variety. But it’s when we look at Jesus Christ we realize that God is loving.
And as Christians we are called to tell the good news to other people. It’s God’s decision to decide what happens to people who haven’t heard about Him. But it is our decision to take that news to as many people as possible. And the Bible says we will be held more responsible because we have heard and we have known that God is love, that God wants a relationship to us and that God will forgive us if we give our lives to Jesus Christ.
So, what do we do about those who haven’t heard? We tell them. First we accept God’s good news and then we tell people about it. Then, we leave the result in the hands of a fair, loving, and just God.
Question 5: What about all the wars that are caused in the name of Christianity?
Well first, let me say that a lot of things have been done in the name of Christianity that Jesus Christ would totally disavow. Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t necessarily make him a follower of Christ, nor does it make him a representative of Jesus. It’s very, very important to distinguish between the Bible kind of Christianity and the actions that have been taken throughout history by people who claimed to be Christians, but who really didn’t know Jesus.
You see, there’s a difference between religion and a relationship with God. Jesus is not interested in the religion of Christianity. He’s interested in you having a relationship to Him. Jesus never said, “I’ve come that you might have religion.” He said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
A lot of people have claimed to be followers of Christ, but they’ve lived their lives contrary to His teaching. We shouldn’t label this group "Christian." But let me say this: have you ever seen a counterfeit dollar? Well, maybe you haven’t, but maybe you’ve heard of them. Why are there counterfeit dollars in the world? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because there are real dollars in the world. If there were no real dollars, there would be no counterfeits. And if you find counterfeit Christianity in the world, it must mean that somewhere there must be the real thing. The point is, we don’t identify Jesus by claiming that all the things that were done in His name were done by Him. In fact, Jesus prevented His own disciples from defending themselves against the enemies when He said, “I want you to turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).
A lot of wars have been done in the name of Christianity that Jesus probably would have disavowed. The real issue is: do you know Jesus Christ? You see, it doesn’t matter so much what has been done by hypocrites or phonies or false followers of Christ. What matters is: do you know the real, true, genuine item? Have you ever turned your life over to Jesus Christ? If you haven’t, I would encourage you to investigate Him today.
Question 6: Is there any real right or wrong?
You might have heard somebody say, “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as right or wrong.” Or maybe you’ve heard a professor say, “There are no absolutes.” Whenever I hear that I want to say, “Are you absolutely sure?” You have to ask yourself, “Is this statement even logical? Is there any right or wrong?” Because when people say, “There is no right or wrong, or it’s wrong for you to impose your morals on me,” think about it. By them telling you that, they are imposing their morals on you.
The fact is, we all inherently know right from wrong. We just have this weird tendency to disregard it, especially when it conflicts with our desires for pleasure or personal gain. Now, sure, you might justify having an affair, but certainly you wouldn’t condone your spouse having one. Or you might justify taking something without permission, but if you were the one being robbed you wouldn’t think it was okay. There isn’t a person alive today who’d come home from work and discover that their entire house had been robbed and say, “Oh, how wonderful that this burglar is able to enjoy all my things without my permission. And who am I to impose my view of right or wrong on this poor burglar?” You see how ridiculous that is? Of course.
Even those who claim there is no right or wrong have their own moral conscience, they’ve just set their own standards. Here’s a good way to determine right from wrong. Turn the situation around on yourself. Jesus said it best. He said, “Treat people the same way you want people to treat you.” You see we all know that murder and rape and lying and stealing and torture and injustice are absolutely wrong. Why? Because we wouldn’t want any of these things to happen to us. The person who would say, “there is no right or wrong,” would not agree that it was okay to be raped. No, when you turn it on yourself, you realize that even inside ourselves God has placed a moral conscience and that conscience tells us when we do right and when we do wrong. And when we violate our conscience, we need forgiveness. That’s why the Bible said, “God sent Jesus to earth so that we might be forgiven of all of our wrong.”
Question 7: Why do I exist?
That’s the most fundamental question of life. What on earth am I here for? Well, you need to understand God to answer that question. The Bible says, “God is love.” It doesn’t say He has love, it says He is love. It’s part of His nature, His character, it is the essence of His being. God is love. Now, love isn’t very valuable unless you bestow it on something. The Bible says, “God made you to love you.” You were created as an object of God’s love. If you want to know why you’re taking breath right now, why your heart is beating, it’s because God made you to love you. It’s the sole reason. You were made to be loved by God and to bring Him pleasure.
Now God wants you to learn to love Him back; that’s the first purpose of your life. One day Jesus was walking down the street and a man came up and said, “What’s the most important command in the Bible?” And Jesus said, “I’m going to summarize the entire Bible in one sentence. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.”
God wants you to get to know Him and love Him back. So that means when you get up in the morning, you should sit on the side of your bed and say, “God, if I don’t get anything else done today, I want to know you a little bit better and I want to love you a little bit more.” Because if at the end of the day you know God more and you love Him more, you have just fulfilled one of the purposes of your life.
If, on the other hand, you’ve accomplished all kinds of things and achieved many, many successes in life, but at the end of the day you don’t know God better or love Him more, you have missed the primary purpose of your life. Because God didn’t put you on this earth just to mark things off your to-do list. He put you here to know Him and love Him. That’s why you exist.
Question 8: What is my purpose in life?
Well the truth is, God created you for five purposes. You see, you were made by God and you were made for God. And until you understand that, life isn’t going to make sense. When you come to this question, you only have three options.
First is what I call the mystical approach, and that is to look within. You find this in a lot of talk shows, a lot of new age books, and a lot of seminars. They say, “Look within to discover your purpose.” The only problem is that doesn’t work. We’ve all looked within and didn’t like what we saw. It’s quite confusing. In fact, if we could know the purpose of life by looking within, we’d all know it by now. It doesn’t work.
The second way you can try to discover your purpose is called the intellectual or philosophical approach. And that’s where you go to a seminary class or university class and you sit there with a pipe and your latte and you ask questions like, “Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?”
I once read a book by professor John Morehead, the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Northeastern University in Illinois. And he wrote to 250 well-known intellectuals and asked them, “What is the meaning and purpose of life?” These were novelists, scientists, well-known intellectuals. I read the book (now out of print), and it was quite depressing because most of the people said, “I have no idea what the purpose of life is.” Some of them admitted they just made up a purpose. And some of them admitted they guessed. And some of them said, “If you know the purpose, please tell me.”
You see, there’s a better answer to speculation and that’s revelation. If I were to hold up an invention that you have never seen before, you wouldn’t know its purpose. The only way you’d know its purpose was either talk to the creator who made it, or read the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual of life is the Bible and your Creator is God. And it is only as you get to know God you will discover His five purposes for your life. I hope you’ll begin that journey today.
Question 9: Does my life really matter?
Well, it’s a good question. You know, today we teach our kids that we’re all just one big cosmic accident. We came from the goo through the zoo to you over billions of years. Well, if that is true, in a nutshell it teaches that your life really doesn’t matter, you’re just the freak accident of random chance, you’re complex slime, and you were an accident. And if you get accidentally killed, well, of course, that doesn’t matter. It creates a lot of our sociological problems and a lot of our self-esteem issues.
But the truth is, you are not an accident. You were created by a loving God who loves you and designed you with intricate detail in your life. When you understand that God made you to love you and that God made you to be a part of His family and that God made you to last forever, then you’re never going to have a problem with low self-esteem again.
It was Bertram Russell, an atheist, who once said, “Unless you assume the existence of God, then the purpose and meaning of life is irrelevant.” The truth is, if there is no God your life doesn’t matter. But because there is a God, and He had a specific purpose in mind when He created you, you do matter. You matter because God created you. You matter because He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. If you want to know how much you matter, think of Jesus Christ with His arms outstretched saying, “I love you this much.”
Now, if you had to choose between a loved one and a material thing, even if that thing was priceless, you’d chose your loved one in a heartbeat. When you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to surround yourself with material possessions. You’re not going to say, “Bring me my trophies. Bring me my credentials. Bring me my certificates so I can look one more time at my grade point average.” No, you’re going to surround yourself with loved ones and everybody’s going to be crying because they’re going to miss you. You see, that’s how much you matter.
Personal relationships to God and to other people are the most important thing in life. God wants you to know Him and He wants you to have a relationship with Him because you’re worth so much in God’s eyes that He sent His Son to die for you. I hope you’ll get to know Him very soon.
Question 10: Is there a real hell and why would a loving God send anyone there?
Well, first I believe in hell because Jesus talked about it. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell then He did heaven. He said it is a real place and it is a place of eternal torment. And I believe Jesus knows more about it than either you or I. But second, I believe in hell because logic and fairness demand it. Think of all the atrocities and evil that have been done throughout history by evildoers in this world. For God to allow those crimes to go unpunished would mean that God is not worthy of our worship and love.
Why would a loving God send anyone to hell? Well in a nutshell, He doesn’t. God doesn’t send anybody to hell. We choose to go there when we reject the love of God. Imagine I were to say to you, "On my right is a door heading to heaven, and on my left is a door heading to hell." If you walk out the door heading to hell, you don’t have anybody to blame but yourself.
In fact, the Bible tells us that God does almost everything – well everything possible — to keep us out of hell. He cared so much to keep us out of hell that He sent Jesus Christ to come to earth, to die on the cross, to pay for our sins so that we don’t have to pay for them. He wants to set us free. He wants to give us forgiveness. God made us in His image and He gave us the ultimate power to say yes or no.
If we choose to reject God here on earth, then we, at the same time, are choosing to spend eternity separated from Him. You see, there are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who say, “God, may your will be done” and those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” When we say, “I want to do it my way,” we essentially say to God, “I don’t want you in my life while I’m here on earth.” Then God says, “I don’t want you in my heaven for eternity.”
You don’t have to go to hell. In fact, Jesus Christ has made it possible for you to go to heaven. Open your heart to Him and say, “Jesus Christ, I need you, I want you, I trust you, and I ask you to forgive me.” And He’ll come in and save you.