In a Sunday school class last week, the lesson included the question “Does God answer prayers?” Members expressed their belief that God answers prayers according to his will and time. The answers are not always understood or accepted. Believers must come to accept God’s will through scriptural study and prayer. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” (1 John 5:14) Most Christians believe that prayer is viewed as humans having a relationship and conversation with God.
Theism, one God, is based on the belief that he interacts in the lives of humans. Deists, however, believe that the laws of nature were created by God, and they function according to his plan. God does not intervene nor reveal. Many people of faith believe in monotheism, one God. The three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic. Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Pantheism is the belief that the world and God are the same or an expression of God’s nature. Atheists are those without a belief in a God. Agnosticism is the belief that existence of God is unknowable.
In my teaching career, students asked about the older world religions. We discussed some of the oldest religions including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism. We also discussed some of the religious practices that were prehistoric.
A brief look at ancient religious practices will help in understanding the way humans expressed a need for religious connections. Early people were motivated by the fear of natural occurrences; therefore, they looked upward in supplication. These movements and eventual sacrifices were to appease angry natural forces. They also gave praise to earth gods and prayed for fertility. Another possible motivation for their religious practices could have been their unwillingness to accept that those who died were gone. Perhaps dreams of the departed ones signaled that human spirits remained. Early archaeological findings of prehistoric burials with preparations for another life have been discovered. Slowly the belief in soul and an afterlife became a part of their lives. They believed in what is now called animism, which means that objects, places and creatures all possessed a living spirit.
Later cultures invested in gods with supernatural powers, but they were fashioned in the image of humans. A good example would be the early religious beliefs in Greece. We now called these gods and religious expressions Greek mythology. In ancient Greece, these stories about gods and goddesses created measures and aspirations for the culture. The gods of this period could be as foolish as humans, but the period produced some of Western civilization’s greatest philosophers and writers. These thinkers presented a new type of justice and the suggestion of a force stronger than the 12 gods.
The Old Testament prepared the foundation for the messiah and the God of love. Another reason to understand the history of all things including religion is that we learn valuable lessons that can inform the future.
Today religions are faced with changing cultural values and the increasing power of technology. Among other things, social media has the power to persuade millions of people to support or degrade anything including religious values. We have witnessed a definite change in social values such as truthfulness and kindness.
False information on social media is problematic. Some people believe that the information denying climate change could result in the lack of will to preserve the planet’s resources. Scientists predict that water levels would rise in places. Droughts could leave millions of people without clean water or food. Would these people kill for the necessities of life without regard for religious values? What if a country destroyed millions of people with a nuclear blast? Would religious people be prepared to handle the devastation?
Perhaps, believers are obligated to care for what has been given as stated in Psalm 115:16, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, But the earth He has given to the sons of men.” Should people of faith be proactive in trying to solve possible dangers?
Since I have commented on dangers, I will end by saying technology is a powerful tool. It can improve lives and secure beliefs if guided by people who have strong values and deep commitments to the well-being of others.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13