Answers to Ultimate Questions
For a Christian, as with any human being, the ultimate questions facing a person are to do with meaning. What is this all about? Why is existence like this? Is there more to life than what I see and perceive? Is there a God? If there is a God, what is he, she or it like? Does God communicate with human beings? If God is so good, why does he allow suffering? How did the universe come into being? Similarly, but at the other end of the scale, why am I like I am?
Because humans are self-conscious and reflective beings, they are in a position to ask questions of an ultimate nature. The answers to these questions might not be easily apparent, but as the Psalmist, in an attempt to prompt an examination of the nature of God, says, ‘Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”’ (Psalm 14:1). Humans encounter awe, transcendence, otherness, and religious experiences however defined, and have sought a means by which they can express these feelings. Often it is in figurative expression such as that seen in the book of Ezekiel, but the Alister Hardy Archive of Religious Experience at Lampeter, University of Wales contains about 6000 accounts of first-hand religious experiences from individuals in many countries and of many religions. The research potential of this collection for those working in the field of religious experience and major world faith traditions is being increasingly recognised.
For Christians, the nature of the self is more than the ‘body-mind’ model i.e. physical and mental processes. For believers, the nature of self is seen in the model ‘body-mind-soul’ i.e. in addition to body and mind, physical and mental processes, there is a third element, which tends to be referred to as ‘soul’. It is to this that the other two elements belong, and is that part of the person which is real and has communion with God.
An experience of transcendence and awe, an experience that some might refer to as religious, might certainly lead a person to have faith in the reality of God. An experience might be as dramatic St Paul experienced on the Damascus Road, or much smaller associated with seeing a sunset over the sea, or the quiet experienced in a chapel or church. The Bible has many ways of describing how God calls people – Samuel’s calling is particularly vivid – and this attempts to show that God, has a purpose for each of his creation.
The greatest yet hardest ultimate question a Christian faces is that if God is good and loving and has purpose for his creation, why does he allow suffering, and why does suffering often occur to those who do not deserve it? It is a question not easy to avoid and all Christians have to endure such probing questions without resorting to the stock answer of the mystery of faith. Job, in the Old Testament was confronted with undeserved suffering, and answered the question by suggesting that God alone knows why this happens. Jesus however, puts undeserved suffering onto a human scale and into human life. It exists and Christians must not only live with it but help to alleviate it, ultimately placing themselves in the position of those who suffer most.