MetEver 05-11-179


(but were afraid to ask)


Eric Metaxas

Waterbrook Press, 2005, 226 pp., ISBN 1-4000-7101-1


I almost passed this up on the library shelf until I saw Chuck Colson endorsed it.  He called it “quick, witty, engaging, and often profound.”  I agree.  This is a special book.  It’s a Q. and A. about God.  It’s fun and light.  But it’s solid.  A great gift book for seekers.  Metaxas has written humor for The New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and Veggie Tales.  He has written extensively for Books & Culture and Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint.  He has also written 30 children’s books.


“Our culture is so obsessed with the physical and the material that we have lost the ability to think logically about anything outside that realm.  “Many people somehow believe there is no way to reasonably discuss anything outside the material realm, so they conclude that everyone can have whatever opinion they want on ‘spiritual’ issues—which makes no sense.  Because if there is such a thing as spiritual reality there’s no reason it shouldn’t be as solid as physical reality....  And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to discuss it the same way we discuss anything else...” (4-5)


“The argument for God from design basically says that the universe is so intricate and beautiful that it obviously didn’t just happen; it had to have been designed by someone.” (7)


“If there is one thing God has made clear in the Bible, it’s that he is a person and that we are persons because he made us in his own image.” (20)


“If we think of God as a being like us, we know that he understands us and isn’t just some ethereal brain or energy field that doesn’t particularly care if we live or die.” (11)


Q.  What about miracles?  How can any reasonable person believe in them?  A.  “If we believe—as many scientist do—that God created the world, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to make the leap that he could do relatively easy things like parting the Red Sea or healing lepers, does it?  It’s kind of like accepting that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace but then being shocked that he could move a comma in the manuscript.” (13)


“Human beings love to assume that everything they know is all that can be known—which, of course, is a mistake.” (14)


Q.  What is evil?  A.  Evil is that which is utterly opposed to God and, consequently, utterly opposed to all that is good, loving, beautiful, kind, true, and son on.” (20)


“A lot of people can’t deal with the idea that something could be objectively evil, because for something to be objective evil implies a certain someone—God—who is objective good.”  It implies a moral standard outside ourselves.” (21)


“God is doing everything he can to get us to make the right choices, but he won’t force us.” (28)


Q.  Why does he need anyone to pray?  A.  “Well, it’s not that he needs us to pray.  He lets us participate in the process of making bad things turn good.  Humans can enter the process of redemption alongside God.  Honestly, this is a huge and frightening privilege when you think about it.” (29)


“If there is a spirit world, it can’t be whatever we want it to be.  It is what it is, which raises the question, ‘What exactly is it like?’” (43)


Q.  What does the Bible say about psychics and ESP?  A.  Nothing good. (43)


Q.  If these supernatural powers aren’t bogus, then what exactly are they?  A.  “Well, there’s no use beating around the bush.  They’re demonic.” (44)


Q.  Isn’t talking about the devil and demons just a way of using scare tactics on people?  A.  “Well, it’s only scare tactics if it’s not true.”  (44)  “Most people in our society rule out the possibility of things existing outside the material world.  But those things in the spirit realm haven’t lost sight of us.” (45)


Q.  What does the Bible say about talking to the dead?  A.  “It says you should talk very loudly, because the first thing that goes when you’re dead is your hearing.” (45)


“God forbid astrology.”  “God can be very persnickety and old-fashioned sometimes, but since he’s also infinitely wise and loving, that’s his prerogative.” (49)


Q. Why do so many people make it sound as if God is against sex?  A.  “God isn’t against sex at all.  Quite the contrary.  But perhaps because he thinks so highly of it, he has very high standards for how it should be used—and how it should not be used.” (58)


Q. But what about the idea that marriage is just a piece of paper?  A. “Well, if you put a Rembrandt in the bottom of a birdcage, you are using it as though it were a piece of paper.  But it’s not just a piece of paper; it’s a sublime work of art.” (61)


Q. What does “holy” mean?  A.  “It means ‘set apart.’”  “So in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was saying that God’s name is sacred, and we should remember that at all times....”  (77) [I desperately wish we Christians would remember this.  I am dismayed to frequently hear, “Oh my God,” from Christians. dlm]


“Without a relationship with God at its core, all religion devolves to superstition.”  “Superstition is a way of trying to manipulate God.”  (78)


Q.  Isn’t religion just divisive?  And haven’t more people been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason?  A.  “History tells us that in all of the inquisitions and crusades, approximately three thousand people were killed, total.  And that is over the course of several centuries.”  But compare that to various political regimes guided by secular and militantly atheistic ideologies.  “Atheistic regimes such as Stalin’s, Hitler’s, Pol Pot’s, and Mao’s murdered 100 million people in the twentieth century alone.” (80)


Q.  Don’t all religions really worship the same God?”  A.  “Well, yes and no.  First of all, yes, because there is only one God.  It’s not as if he has three or four siblings to choose from, depending on our personal preferences.  There is just one God, and there has always been only one God.”  “Everything that exists, he invented.  There simply is no other God, and we are stuck with him, no matter what religion we claim to belong to—or refuse to claim to belong to.” (84)


“And on the other hand, no, all religions don’t worship the same God.  Because even though there is only one God, some religions have a distorted view of who he is, which confuses things.  They worship a version of God that is not exactly the God of the Bible.” (84)


“All I’m saying is that God is who God is, and we can’t go around believing whatever we want to believe about him....  Facts are facts, and we’re bound by them.” (85)


“No matter what one thinks of how God created us, the idea that we have been created in his image is staggering.” (105)


“One way to describe hell is to say that it’s a state of existence that is completely devoid of love and all the things we associate with love.” (109)


“If the Bible is to be taken seriously, heaven will be something so real and so wonderful that it will make life on this planet look like the dullest, most pleasureless existence imaginable—which is one reason it’s so hard to depict heaven.” (116)


Q.  What happens when you die?  A.  Well, it depends, but typically the lawn goes unmowed for a while, and the newspapers really pile up...” (121)


Q.  Then what is an evangelical Christian?  A.  “It’s someone who takes his or her faith seriously, so seriously that the person wants to share it with other people.” (129-30)


Q.  If Jesus told his followers not to judge, why are Christians so judgmental?  A.  “Christians can be awfully un-Christlike at times; there’s no doubt about it.  But isn’t it possible that in accusing others of being judgmental, we ourselves are being judgmental?” (130)


“One of the core teachings of Jesus is that his followers are to love their enemies.  And anytime you stand up for something, you will have enemies.”  “”And that isn’t because Jesus wants his followers to lose.  On the contrary, he knew that the most powerful thing in the world really is love...the kind Jesus demonstrated most radically and explicitly and famously on the cross, by dying for people who in many cases hated him.  There is power in that kind of love.”  (133).


Q.  Turning the other cheek seems so wimpy.  A.  “You thin turning the other cheek is wimpy?  Think about Martin Luther King Jr. and the whole civil rights battle.”  “...loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek is the secret power that can’t be resisted, because somehow it’s backed up by the power of God.  It’s real, and one’s enemies can sense this.”  “That’s radical Christianity, and it’s real Christianity, and God honors it.  It’s not merely a nice idea.  It’s at the heart of who God is, and it has real power, world-changing power.”  “But very few people ever have the guts to practice it, so they never find out.” (133-34) 


Q.  But how does anyone know what to take literally and what not to take literally in the Bible?  A.  “As with many things, common sense I a good place to start.  Most of the Bible is history.  It was written that way, it has been read that way for centuries, and most important, Jesus read it that way.  So when the Bible says this kind did thus and such and this nation defeated that nation in battle, we’re not meant to take it as a parable.  It actually happened.” (153)


Q.  So being a Christian means believing that Noah built an ark and put hundreds of animals on it, two by two and all that?  A.  “Well, first of all, it wouldn’t kill you to believe this.  Either it happened or it didn’t.  If it happened, which it seems to have, then why is it ridiculous?  It might cause embarrassment to admit such a belief in certain circles, but just because it might cause embarrassment doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” (153)


Q.  But isn’t Christianity easier to believe without this idea of a bodily resurrection?  A.  “Absolutely.  But the problem is that without the resurrection, it would be nothing more than a collection of nice ideas about how we should live.”  “Why would anyone follow the teachings of a first-century rabbi who lied to us?  The resurrection is one of those nonnegotiables.”  (155)


“Have you ever heard of anyone in history being imprisoned or executed for distributing copies of Grimm’s fairy tales?”  “Such ideas are comical, but the Bible, which has been called a mere collection of myths and fairy tales, has suffered all of these fates.”  “There’s something about this ancient book that threatens and frightens those in power, especially those who use power to oppress people weaker than themselves.  And they have every reason to be frightened.” (155)


“Christianity is for people who know they can’t get through life alone, who know they need help.  It’s not for people who believe they can do just fine on their own.” (157)


Q.  What exactly is the “problem?”  A.  “Traditionally it has been called sin....  Our parents had it, and their parents had it...  Let’s face it, we all have ‘issues,’ and we all have bottomless insecurities, and we all have deep, dark desires and secrets that would kill us if we ever let them run wild.  It’s the human condition.  We all know we have it; otherwise, we wouldn’t be looking for ways to deal with it.  All religion and all psychology are humanity’s attempts at dealing with it.” (158)


“If there is anything in our world that is vastly underrated, prayer would have to be it.” (169)


Q.  Why would his moral teachings be meaningless without his crucifixion and resurrection?  A.  “Because his main moral teaching was that we need saving.  In other words, he came to teach us and show us that we can’t be good without God’s help.” (188)


Q.  Why would God play favorites like that?  What makes the Jews so special?  A.  “God’s plan was to use Israel as a way to reach all of those other nations that had no knowledge of him and were still worshiping pagan gods.  But being God’s chosen people is a burden.  For Israel to be the nation through with God would reach the world is no small thing.” (200) [To be the Church, God’s instrument for reaching all nations is also a burden and I wonder if we take it seriously enough.  dlm]


Q. Since we’re on the subject, what exactly is that story?  A.  “The story goes like this.  God created Adam and Eve in his image, to be his children forever.  They blew it—big understatement—and wandered off on their own, away from God and his love.  It caused them and their descendants endless suffering, and it broke God’s heart.  So the rest of the Bible is basically the story of God wooing us back.” (201) [Christians seem to be pretty well agreed that ‘redemption’ is the primary theme of the Bible. dlm]


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