Lesson 8: Witnessing— Answering Questions and Objections, Part 1 (Various Scriptures)Related Media
One of the main fears that we all have about sharing our faith in Christ is that the person with whom we are sharing will ask a question or raise an objection that we cannot answer. What will I say if he says, “I don’t believe in God”? Or, what if he says, “If God is all-powerful and loving, why does He allow innocent children to suffer”? And so, rather than causing embarrassment to the cause of Christ by not knowing what to say or by giving a dumb answer, we play it safe by keeping quiet about Jesus Christ.
So I want to take a couple of weeks to go over some of the most common questions and objections that you will encounter if you talk to others about Christ and give some simple ways to reply. These messages will not be our normal exposition of a biblical text or theme, but I trust that they will help you think biblically about these issues so you can share your faith more effectively.
First I will give some general guidelines. Then I will go over some of the most common questions or objections, along with a way to deal with them.
Some general guidelines:
First, always be courteous, polite, gentle, and kind. Paul instructed Timothy (2 Tim. 2:24-26), “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” Peter says (1 Pet. 3:15), “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
The common word in both of those texts is “gentleness.” Be gracious and kind, even if the other person is rude or obnoxious. To do that, you must enthrone Christ as Lord of your heart.
Also, as Paul says, “Don’t be quarrelsome.” Don’t argue. You might win the argument and lose the person. If you come across as contentious or argumentative, you erect a needless barrier between the person and the truth of the gospel. Don’t be demeaning, either in words or body language. If you roll your eyes as if to say, “What a stupid question,” you’ll hinder the gospel. You can affirm the person by responding, “Thanks for that question. It shows that you’re thinking about these issues.”
If you have no clue as to how to answer, you can always say, “Wow, you got me there! Let me do some research and let’s get together again and talk.” Then make sure that you follow through. If you struggle with an issue, be honest about it. You can say, “The problem of little kids suffering is difficult, isn’t it! I’ve often wrestled with it, too. Here’s how I have worked through it.”
Don’t give pat, flip answers. If you dismiss the question too quickly or too easily, the person will get the impression either that you are not a thinking person or that you’re trying to brush him off. So don’t be like a machine gun, quickly firing off your rounds to finish off your opponent, or the person will not feel understood or heard. Listen to his concerns. Ask a lot of clarifying questions.
Sometimes it is good to put the question aside until later, because it takes you off course from the gospel. You can say, “I’d like to finish sharing how you can have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. If that question still is an issue when I’m done, let’s come back to it.” If you sense that he is just raising objections as a smokescreen to divert the conversation from the real issue, you can say, “If I can give a reasonable answer to these questions, are you saying that you’d become a Christian?”
I’ve shared with you before how a man in the church I pastored in California responded when I asked him that question. His wife was in the operating room for exploratory surgery and I was sitting in the waiting room with him. He had been attending church with her, but had not yet made a commitment to Christ. When I asked him where he was at spiritually, he said that he still had a lot of questions. I said, “Well, we’re going to be here for a while. What are your questions?” He repeated, “I’ve got a lot of them.”
Then I said, “If I can give you reasonable answers to your questions, are you saying that you’d become a Christian?” He got a wry smile on his face, as if I had found him out, and said, “If I’ve heard you correctly, to become a Christian I’ve got to submit my entire life to Jesus Christ and follow Him as Lord. Is that right?” I nodded. He said, “Well, I’m not ready to do that yet.” I said, “That’s an honest answer. When you’re ready, let me know.” Some months later I had the joy of baptizing him.
The main thing to keep in mind when any question or issue comes up is: Always try to steer the conversation to the person of Christ. He is the issue! If Jesus is who He claimed to be and who the Scriptures proclaim Him to be—God in human flesh, who died for our sins and was raised bodily from the dead—then all objections shrink to almost nothing.
Coupled with directing things to Christ, keep in mind that you’re talking with a sinner who needs the Savior. Whether a person is an intellectual atheist or an uneducated criminal in prison, he has the same need: to have his sins forgiven before he stands before God in judgment. And you have the greatest news in the world for this sinner: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). It’s not always necessary to answer all of a person’s questions before he trusts in Christ as his Savior. Often, when he trusts in Christ, his questions evaporate rather quickly. So stick to the main issue: he is a sinner and Jesus Christ is the only Savior for sinners. Point him to Christ.
With those general guidelines in mind, I want to deal with a number of questions under some general headings: Questions and objections concerning God; concerning Christ and the way of salvation; concerning the Bible; and some personal objections.
Questions and objections concerning God:
1. “I don’t believe in God.”
Usually, atheists are not atheists because they thought it through and concluded that atheism is the best logical and rational explanation for the universe and life on this planet. Rather, they are atheists because either they had a bad experience with someone who claimed to be a Christian, or they want to engage in sins that they know the God of the Bible does not approve of. So they need to eliminate this God. Most often, they are not rejecting the God of the Bible, but rather a caricature of God.
Rather than confront the atheist directly, you can ask, “Have you held this view for a long time? How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Rarely, the person may say, “I was raised as an atheist by atheist parents.” Or, “I took a college philosophy course and the professor proved how ludicrous it is to believe in God.” But more often, the person will say (often with a lot of anger), “I became an atheist because my evangelical Christian father molested me and my mother let him do it!” Or, “I got fed up with all the phony hypocrites who claim to be Christians!” Even if he gives it an intellectual veneer (the college philosophy course), often the real reason is, he had a bad experience with a professing Christian.
I’ll deal with the questions of why God allows children to be molested and churches to be full of hypocrites later. You should respond with sympathy to the person’s pain: “I’m terribly sorry that that happened to you.”
But then you can ask, “Is it possible that God exists, but you have not yet come to know Him personally?” In other words, to deny God’s existence really means that you possess all knowledge in the universe. For me to say that there is not a 1920 Model T Ford in Flagstaff, I would have to have comprehensive, simultaneous knowledge of every car in town. I could honestly say, “I don’t think that there are any such Model T’s in town, but I can’t be absolutely certain.” But then I’m a Model T agnostic, not a Model T “atheist.” So atheists are really agnostics. As far as they know, there is not a God. But, they don’t possess all possible knowledge.
From there, I’d try to lead the discussion back to Jesus Christ by asking, “Have you ever read through the four Gospels and tried to find the answer to the questions, ‘Who is Jesus Christ? Who did He claim to be? Could He have been merely a legend created by His followers? Why did He say that He came to this earth? What evidence is there that He was raised bodily from the dead?’ I encourage you to read the Gospels honestly and ask, ‘God, if You exist, please show me who Jesus is.’”
Some find it helpful to try to prove the existence of God to an atheist. I haven’t found that to be a fruitful approach, because almost always the atheist’s real problem is not intellectual; it is moral. He is a sinner who is running from God because he loves his sin. As Paul puts it, he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). But of the various arguments for God, I find the argument from design to be the most convincing. How could this world, with the finely tuned balance and the complexity of life, starting on the cell level, not to mention the marvel of the human body, have just happened by sheer chance?
The other thing I will sometimes say to a professing atheist is, “You’d better be 100 percent certain of what you’re saying, because if you’re wrong and Jesus is right, the instant you die you will face God in judgment. In your current condition, the outcome won’t be pretty. Have a great day!”
2. “How can a loving God send people to hell?”
If the person professes to be an atheist, then this shouldn’t be a problem, because he doesn’t believe in such a God anyway! But the crucial issue is, if God exists, how can we know what He is like? You have your opinions and I have mine, but we’re just speculating with no basis in fact. We need revelation. Jesus Christ claimed to have come to this earth from heaven to reveal God to us. Either He was crazy or His claims deserve to be considered. Millions of intelligent people down through history have found Jesus’ claims to be credible. And Jesus spoke frequently about a horrible place of eternal punishment for the wicked called hell.
The other issue is, for God to be God, He must be not only loving, but also just and righteous. An unjust human judge is not righteous. If an evil man molested your little daughter and the judge told him, “Try not to do that any more,” and let him go, you’d rightly be incensed. If a drug addict killed your sweet, elderly mother to steal $10 out of her purse and the judge said, “We need to understand this poor man’s disease,” again you’d rightly be angry. Crimes deserve just punishment. Not to punish such criminals is to cheapen the lives of your daughter and your mother.
The difference between God and even the best human judge is that God is absolutely holy. He will not allow any sin into His heaven. If He did, heaven would not be heaven, because sin is what makes this earth so cruddy. God has declared that the wages of sin is death, which means eternal separation from Him in hell. He will be perfectly just when He judges every person. No one will get anything that he does not deserve. We all deserve His wrath because we have repeatedly broken God’s holy laws. (If necessary here, you can go through the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount or just the two Great Commandments, to show how we’ve all broken these repeatedly.) Then turn it back to the skeptic: How will it go with you when you stand before God someday? Then you can turn the conversation to Christ, who bore the punishment for all who will repent of their sin and trust in Him.
Also, you can point out that the truth of God’s final judgment, when He will punish every sinner who has not trusted in Jesus Christ, allows us to give up personal hatred and vengeance. We can trust that God will right every wrong, so we don’t have to get even. We can love even our enemies and leave the judgment to God.
3. “If God is good, then why does He allow innocent people to suffer?”
First, admit that the problem of suffering, especially of seeing little children suffer because of the brutality or decadence of evil people, is very difficult. But it is only a problem if you believe in an all-powerful, loving God. If there is no God, why do you have a problem with suffering? It’s just an evolutionary mechanism to rid the planet of the weakest of the species. What’s the problem?
And, if there is no God, then how can you make a moral judgment by saying that it is evil to rape or maim or kill innocent women and children? If there is no God, how can you sit in judgment on Hitler for trying to exterminate the Jews? He thought that he was doing a good thing, trying to rid the world of what he believed to be an inferior race. How can you say that he was evil?
In other words, eliminating God from the picture does not solve the problem of evil. People still suffer horrible atrocities that they do not deserve. Everyone is subject to disease and death. If there is no God, then this is just a cruel, senseless, arbitrary world. Good luck!
But if there is a God who created us and has an ultimate purpose for us, then there is hope in this dark world. The Bible’s explanation for why there is pain and suffering is the best one that I’ve found. It says that God created the world as good, but sickness, catastrophes, war, and death came into this world through sin. The effects of Adam’s original sin spread to the entire human race, so that we all are born in sin. You don’t have to teach your baby how to be selfish and defiant. It is inbred. While some people are relatively better than others, no one is truly innocent before God, who knows our every thought, word, and deed.
The only solution for human sin and suffering is Jesus Christ, the Savior whom God sent into this world. He suffered the awful judgment of God on our behalf. In other words, God entered into this wicked, suffering world in the person of Jesus Christ, who willingly took our suffering and death on Himself. If we will turn from our sin and trust in Him, God promises eternal life with Him in a new heavens and new earth, where there will be no suffering, sorrow, pain, or death.
Also, just because you cannot see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something terrible to happen does not mean that there can’t be one. You don’t have the comprehensive big picture that He has. If He is powerful enough to stop evil and suffering, which the Bible says He will do someday, then He is also wise and powerful enough to have good reasons to permit it to continue for the present time. Your problem with evil and suffering is that you are assuming that you know more than God does! You are not in submission to Him as the rightful Sovereign of the universe that He created. You need to repent of this arrogance and trust in Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer.
4. “Why did God command Israel to slaughter entire populations and take their land? That does not seem right or fair.”
Again, this question assumes that we know more than God does about His justice in judging the people of this earth. At the heart of the question is, “Does God have the right to judge evil people, whether temporally or eternally?” In the case of the Canaanites, God gave them over 400 years of continuing in idolatry, child sacrifice, and sexual immorality before He commanded Israel to judge them by wiping them out and taking their land (Gen. 15:13-16). During that time, He did not leave these people without a witness. Melchizedek lived in the land of Canaan during Abraham’s time and knew the one true God. Also, they were not that far removed from the judgment of the worldwide flood during Noah’s time. Surely the Canaanites knew that God had the right and power to judge whomever He chooses to judge. They were not innocent victims! God allowed their iniquity to fill up before He judged them.
God presently warns us that a day is coming when “He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Jesus warned that God will be more lenient towards the ancient people of Canaan, such as those of Sodom and Gomorrah, than He will be towards those who have heard of Jesus and His miracles, but rejected that testimony (Matt. 11:20-24). He will judge all people fairly based on the light which they had, but refused to believe.
So the question for you is, you have heard about Jesus Christ. You have heard that He performed miracles to authenticate His ministry. You know that He died on the cross for your sins, was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and has promised to return to judge the whole earth. The temporal judgments that God brings, such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, famines, and epidemics are His merciful way of warning that a more terrible eternal judgment is coming, when none will escape. Either you can turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith now and escape that judgment, or you will perish in that day (Luke 13:1-5).
I hope you have noticed how with each objection or question, I’ve tried to point the person back to Jesus Christ and the need to repent and trust in Him for salvation.
Questions and objections concerning Christ and the way of salvation:
We will only be able to deal with one question under this heading today:
1. “What about people who have never heard about Jesus Christ? Does God send them to hell?”
First, if God is truly God, then He is perfectly fair and just. He will not condemn anyone unjustly. He will judge every person fairly, according to the light the person has rejected.
Second, everyone has been given some revelation about the existence and nature of God, but they have suppressed that knowledge because of sin (Rom. 1:18). Romans 1:19-20 declares, “… that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” He goes on to show how the peoples of the world have exchanged the glory of God for manmade idols. All people, even those who know nothing about the one true God, have violated their own conscience. Thus all are guilty before Him.
In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus says that there will be worse judgment for those who reject the light that God has given them about Him than for those who had less light. So there will be degrees of punishment in hell. Sodom and Gomorrah will be punished less than those who saw Jesus’ miracles and rejected Him.
The serious matter for you is, you have heard about Jesus and His miracles. You have heard how He suffered and died for your sins and was raised from the dead. There is solid eyewitness testimony to confirm these truths. Will you now reject Him or turn from your sin and trust in Him?
(We will continue to look at other questions and objections next time.)
- What is the most common question or objection to Christianity that you have heard? How could you respond to it?
- How can you tell whether a question is sincere or whether it is just a smokescreen to divert from the real issue?
- Which question or objection gives you the most trouble? How can you think it through more carefully?
- Why is it probably unprofitable to try to prove the existence of God to an atheist?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation