Hello hopefulagnostic and welcome! My heart goes out to you.
(Sorry if this post is too long…!)
I'm even younger than you, 18 (baptised and confirmed when I was 16, atheist Dad, sort-of agnostic Mum), and I only discovered Tentmaker this year (and registered only a few days ago) and I have had serious problems and fears in the past. One very low moment (perhaps around April this year) was when I was almost abandoning the faith, but, as a last ditch in desperation, I opened up the Bible at any place, and I think it was right on the page with Colossians 1 v15-20 on it (an excellent passage):
"15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
This passage was absolutely wonderful at that time (and still is now) - a lifesaver!
In case you're worried, the 'all' here really means 'all', and not 'some' (it's easy to get worried about little details such as this)! The Greek word according to my search program is "panta", which is the same 'all' that is used in Matthew 19:26: "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' "
Of course, some of my favourite passages are below:
Romans 11:32 (NIV) "32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
" (Romans seems to give a whole story about God's plan for both the Gentiles and the Jews, resulting in this monumentous statement)
1 Corinthians 14: 20-22 (NIV) "20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Holding onto the words of the Bible can be our stronghold in times of doubt about Christian doctrine, rather than being tossed to and fro between different interpretations! God desires us to be thoughtful, and to follow our conscience and reason, which I think clearly point to Universal Reconciliation:
Romans 2:15 (NIV) "15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them."
I have decided to anchor firmly my trust in the truth about God – that He is love alone, and acts in love alone, and so in all things we can trust and love Him:
"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16, NIV)
"God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.
" (1 John 1:5, NIV)
In this, God is said to be both light and love, and so the term 'light' can be thought to wholly include a reference to 'love'. It is said that in God there is no darkness at all
, and thus no lack of love at all in any way. This means that we can trust that God is love, and love alone
, no matter how many misconceptions people can have before we all finally realise this liberating and wonderful truth! God's justice, in my mind, is not a retributive form, it is a corrective form (the Greek word used for punishment is usually, 'kolasis', referring to correction rather than retribution) that seeks to restore the offender. Hence, God's justice is restorative and aims to restore 'wholeness' to everyone: it is a fundamental part of God's love, rather than standing opposed to it in any way, as I believe is a common misconception. Similarly, God's holiness can be thought of as referring to the fact that He is infinitely more loving than any person, separate and way above any human standard, rather than an abstract concept.
Jesus Himself mentioned how the Law and the Prophets (composing much of the Old Testament), are based on love:
37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
(Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)
This is then the key to understanding God, morality, the Bible, and absolutely everything. The Bible, especially some passages that can, on the face of it, appear really conflicting with God's love on the outset, can be interpreted with God's love in mind. By this, it seems to me that many of the more difficult events in the Old Testament, all of which have text inspired by God, can be thought of as figurative, conveying ideas rather than being a history textbook (in this, I consider the Canaan conquest, and some other passages, to be figurative, like one of Jesus' parables). This does not stop them being inspired, but just proposes that we treat them as inspired parables (for want of a better word) rather than as totally literal record of history – in this, they can be seen to have deep meaning that is utterly compatible with God's love.
Another problem that a person may have is with constant (and utterly false) accusations that we see that Christianity is 'irrational', or 'without any evidence', when, in reality, it seems to me that it is, to the contrary, an extremely reasonable faith that we can be completely confident in. To make a few points on this issue (which is one of my favourite areas): science and Christianity are not opposed, but stand in harmony, with science being not a 'replacement' for God, but instead a description of how God does things within the world. For me personally, this includes evolution: it is perfectly compatible with Christianity (and may even support it). With all these things, when we see quantum theory etc. happening, we can just think to ourselves, "Wow! That's how God did it!"
There is a multitude of evidence for God (unlike what some people like to say); for starters, I'd just like to quickly give a taster of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ (showing that God loved us so much that He was prepared to die for us), involving a historical argument that does not need to first assume Biblical inspiration (although I agree with Biblical inspiration, this argument does not require it):
The good majority of scholars (even agnostic and atheist) accept the following facts on the basis, largely, of a passage about resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 (ironically the same chapter as the "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" verse) which is widely believed to have come from within a few years of the crucifixion:
1) Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross
2) The disciples had experiences which they sincerely believed to be of the risen Jesus
3) Jesus' half-brother James, a sceptic, and Paul, the persecutor, also had experiences which they believed to be of the risen Jesus, which caused them both to become Church leaders.
Then there's very good evidence for the empty tomb in that Christianity began in Jerusalem and Jesus' tomb was near Jerusalem. If it had not been empty, all the early authorities would have had to have done to disprove the disciples (which they certainly wanted to do) would be to show them that a crucified body was still in the tomb where Jesus was buried, and this, if it had happened, should have crushed the Christian faith. Thus, because Christianity certainly did not stop and there are no credible reports of anyone revealing a tomb with Jesus' body in it, we can be confident of the empty tomb.
What can we conclude from these 'minimal facts'?
a) The disciples were not lying, and hence they did not steal the body (especially since the tomb was guarded by armed soldiers). Many died for their faith (and stood against the tenets of their original Jewish worldviews), which would not have happened if they personally knew themselves to be propagating a lie, especially when Jesus was so focussed on truth.
b) The 'swoon' hypothesis is utterly false (Jesus not actually dying) Survivors of crucifixion were very, very rare, and, even if He had survived, He would have had to get out of the graveclothes, roll back the stone (all while needing desperate medical attention), single-handedly fight off the guards, walk all the way back to the city (without being noticed by anyone at all as covered in blood and without good clothing) and then dishonestly convince the disciples of 'resurrection' while in desperate need of medical attention. Then, He would have to hide all the time, or leave completely, in order to not be found, and refuse to be known to any of the disciples, or ever reveal Himself again. This 'theory' also fails to account for Jesus' sceptical half-brother James and the conversion of Paul. Therefore, this 'alternative theory' utterly fails.
c) Hallucination hypothesis is also not true: 500 people are reported to have been having experiences of the risen Jesus, as well as many other mass hallucinations. Since a single mass hallucination is extraordinarily implausible, a number of mass hallucinations is a very poor explanation, especially as, in this case, people would not see the same thing.
In massive contrast, the resurrection of Jesus Christ fits all these facts easily without forcing, unlike the above unsuccessful attempts. It explains the experiences of the disciples, Paul and James with the empty tomb perfectly. Hence, as by far the best historical explanation, we can be confident that Jesus, indeed, has been bodily resurrected.
In all these ways, we can be confident that the central affirmation, the resurrection, is wonderfully rational, and objectively true. In addition, and even more importantly, God is love, and love alone.
Anyway, sorry if I have just ranted on. Please keep posting on this site with any queries that you may have – you are very welcome indeed!
For another particularly book, "Hope Beyond Hell" on the reality of Universal Reconciliation, see http://www.tentmaker.org/books/hope_beyond_hell.pdf
for a copy (which, quite possibly, is available in a more modern version than this link).
I wish you all the best, and hope that you can be comforted from your fears and nightmares by the truth about God – that is, He is love and love alone!
Best wishes, Confident UR Christian