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Home > What Are You Asking? -November 2005

Tom Ehrich
Tom Ehrich


What are You asking?

Pastor, Author and Speaker Tom Ehrich responds to
your questions about God, faith and
living spiritually

Send us your questions



I am a Christian who believes in the love and forgiveness of God. I struggle, however, when my church says Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths are going to hell. How can a loving and forgiving God condemn children of strict Muslim countries to hell, when this is all they have been taught?

In my opinion, one of Christianity's greatest failings has been its insistence that only Christians are truly loved by God. That is triumphalism and hubris, and not a good interpretation of Scripture or a faithful adherence to what Jesus said and did. It is the voice of an institution trying to make its way in a competitive environment, not the voice of a loving and forgiving God.

In my opinion, we need to appreciate that there are many pathways to God, and that when Jesus said, “I am way, I am truth, I am life,” he probably was adding himself as another way to God, not declaring all other ways invalid.
I encourage you to reach your own conclusion. For one thing, become familiar with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other faiths, see what they truly proclaim, see how faithful adherents of those pathways actually live. I think you will find them very similar to the ways decent Christians live. We make God too small when we declare that only people like us can know God.

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I am a Christian woman who never had children. My childhood was abusive and seemed chaotic so much of the time. Even though my mind knows about idolatry and that anything of this earth is temporal, I am struggling with finding a balance. I have two beautiful dogs that are my constant companions. I'm certain I have made "children" of them in my heart. I recently found a lump on one of them, and it sent my heart racing down the "what if" road. I believe God is trying to use this to make me see that I love my dogs too much

An idol, as I see it, is anything to which we give devotion that should belong to God. Thus, the Hebrews in the wilderness made a golden calf and worshiped it as a god. It sounds to me as if you have chosen to love your dogs as a substitute for children, not a substitute for God. That doesn't sound like idolatry to me.

As to your dog's illness, I don't believe God sends pain or disease to teach us lessons. We might learn from our suffering, but that doesn't mean God was the cause of our suffering.

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My daughter is 14 years old, has been raised in church most of her life and has strong beliefs in God. She has a boyfriend who is, I believe, an atheist. He is 16 years old, never been raised in church, and hasn't had much guidance. But he is a good kid. We are going to try to get him into church. He really knows nothing about God at all. He doesn't know what it feels like to have faith in things unseen with your eyes. Is there anything else we can do for him? He believes once you die life is over, no heaven or hell. This really concerns me that there are people like this.

I hope you will start by understanding that faith is a lifelong journey. It starts in childhood for some and later for others. Whenever the faith journey starts, it tends to be rocky road with many twists and turns. The fact that your daughter's boyfriend doesn't have an active faith at age 16 simply means that it hasn't happened for him yet. You can help him by inviting him to share your faith community. Not as a should, but as an invitation. One of the quickest ways to discourage someone from considering faith is to make it a heavy-handed matter of judgment.

If he sees your family praying at meals, treating their daughter with dignity and respect, valuing family cohesion, attending church together, and having healthy values, he will want to know more about the God who is molding you.


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I am concerned about doubt. The Bible says that to enter heaven we need to believe that Jesus is the son of God and believe it in our hearts. Surely, if I doubt, then I don't completely believe? I very much want to believe, but I don't have a sense of peace inside me that I am saved. The most that I can seem to muster is a great hope that it's true. I would also like to know about speaking in tongues. I have seen people speaking in tongues, and it has been explained to me as an expression of love for God when we are filled with the Spirit. I would very much like to speak in tongues or have some kind of revelation of God's love, but nothing ever seems to happen for me. This greatly contributes to my doubt. I am struggling with these questions.

You are asking important questions. No simple answers. You could spend a lifetime on these questions. I will give you some brief answers, but I urge you to keep digging, perhaps in the company of healthy Christian friends.

First, I think doubt is normal. The claims of faith are enormous and, by any reasonable standard, should kindle in us confusion, questions, uncertainties and doubts. Not that God wants to leave us there. But we have to start the faith journey by being shaken free from old ways. That process of newness happens again and again.

Second, wanting to know God is far more important than thinking of oneself as already having arrived. Faith is a journey, not a destination. There is always more.

Third, speaking in tongues is one of the 25 spiritual gifts that Paul enumerates. It needs to be paired with another gift, namely, interpretation of tongues. Thus, tongues is always a community event, not a private accomplishment. It exists for the good of the community. Over the years, Christians have been tempted to see spiritual gifts in a hierarchy of value, with some placing tongues at the top of the list.

This was the situation in Corinth that led Paul to write his first letter to the Corinthians. Read chapters 12 and 13. In fact, all gifts of the Spirit are necessary for a healthy Christian community. The more exotic or noticeable are not more valuable than quiet gifts like teaching or hospitality. Moreover, gifts are given, not achieved. Rather than set out to attain a specific gift, you should reflect on what gift God seems to have given you. It would be a shame for you not to exercise your God-given gift while you pursued something that wasn't God's intent for you.

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How can you explain to a person what faith is?

I think it's like talking about love. Yes, there are concepts, assertions and definitions. But the best way to talk about love is to tell about someone you love, and how loving that person has changed your life. It's about feelings, experiences, glimmers of understanding — “soft data,” perhaps, in comparison with doctrine and definition, but probably more hearable, more convincing. It's why Jesus taught in parables. The kingdom of God, he said, is like a father whose love was extravagant, or like a woman who found a pearl, or like a wedding banquet.

To talk about faith, then, you might talk about a moment when God's mercy touched your life, or a warming of your spirit during prayer or worship, or how you are making different decisions because of faith. The point is not to define God and to impose that definition on someone, but to help them see your beloved through your eyes. Their own language of faith might turn out to be different from yours. That's okay.

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I have struggled for a long time to know what exactly my gifts or talents are and how to use these to serve God and people.

In my experience, discernment of one's gifts involves both a conversation with God and conversations with other people. In talking with God, you can ask for guidance, explore ideas aloud, express your passions, hear yourself, and ask God to be a light on your path. I believe God does respond to our prayers, although it isn't always easy to perceive that response.

In talking with others, you are looking for some confirmation of giftedness. What gifts do they see in you? It might be artistic, but it might be something entirely different, such as hospitality or mercy or intercession. God tends to work through us before we are aware of that happening. By inviting others into your questioning, you are asking them to hold up a mirror and tell you what God already seems to be doing in you.

These conversations will help you out of the isolation that can occur when we are unsure of ourselves.

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What should a young man do when he wants to get free from homosexuality?

I suggest that you step back two paces and approach this matter differently. First, given the volatile nature of the topic of homosexuality, I urge you to find a pastor or counselor whom you can trust. These are matters that require dialog, the kind of searching conversation that cannot happen in a forum like these questions and answers. Ultimately, you need to come to your own understandings, but a wise and trustworthy pastor or counselor can help you.

Second, in that dialog, I urge you to examine homosexuality, to determine if it is something that one would want to be “free from,” or a normal and natural part of human life. In that examination, consider your own sexuality. Admittedly, not an easy topic to discuss. But before you view yourself negatively and explore ways to purge something that might be intrinsic to who you are, you should examine the issues.

To learn more about Tom Ehrich’s writings, visit www.onajourney.org.

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