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GCSE RE Quiz

Christianity - Life's Big Questions

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz challenges you on life's big questions. If you ask a typical Christian (is there quite such a person?), they will probably gladly enough affirm that their faith is about life and living ~ how best to live in positive harmony with God's will, and in the confidence of eternal life beyond this one on earth.

But bound up with this concept of life, must also be its corollary: death.

Christians believe ~ centrally ~ that only Jesus could, and did, defeat death on the Cross, so that they and others might have ‘eternal life’, i.e. a blissful existence in permanent union with God once their individual life on earth is over and their body (as we know it) expires.

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In common with many faiths, Christianity holds, not least through the Ten Commandments, that any form of killing is wrong ~ because anyone’s life is God-given, fundamental and to be honoured as sacred above almost anything else (besides God Himself).

Within about the past 100 years in particular, humankind has made huge technical strides in improving, lengthening and preserving life (e.g. through nutrition and medicine), yet also, regrettably, in the extinction of species and indeed the killing of other humans … accidentally or intentionally, individually or en-masse. We have become able to control human fertility through contraception ~ reasonably reliably splitting, for the first time in human history, the pleasurable or even ‘recreational’ aspects of sex from its reproductive consequences ~ and can now also bring on babies who might never have survived in an earlier age. Meanwhile we can extend people’s lives with careful medical care, or it is possible (where legal) to ‘put them to sleep’ if incurable illness appears to make their otherwise remaining years unbearable.

How are Christians to deal with such issues, both in principle, and in such hard cases as may affect their own nearest and dearest? Those are such thorny questions as this quiz aims to help you consider.

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  1. As matters currently stand, no-one's life can begin without an 'act of love' having taken place between a male and female parent ~ whether or not this was a one-off occasion, or fully loving and consensual for both people involved. If the couple are committed to each other (in marriage or otherwise) they could 'make love' without starting a baby, by using some form of contraception.
    Which branch of Christianity holds that it is deeply wrong to seek to 'play God' by enjoying the physical relationship while deliberately preventing the creation of a new life?
    This is a point of deep principle, which even non-Catholics should be able to understand as such, even if they cannot agree with it. For further thoughts on this please see our equivalent quiz in the Catholic Christianity strand.
  2. At the other end of the arc of anyone's life, obviously and inevitably enough, lies death. Few of us can have any idea how or when this will occur. A sudden death through acute illness or accident is clearly hard for anyone to deal with (the person in question, or those around them), but might in some ways seem preferable to a long-drawn-out period ~ months, years even ~ of irreversible decline, and gradual loss of one's human faculties and dignity. Some people argue that a person in such circumstances should, subject to very careful safeguards, have the right at least to be allowed to 'slip away', rather than being kept officially 'alive' for as long as possible (yet hardly, any longer, in any meaningful sense of that word).

    What is the technical term for the process of giving someone such a sooner and pain-free death?
    Answer 3 was, at one time, a supposedly softer and more fashionable alternative term. Certain Christians may regard any premature taking of life as 'murder', but that is not a specific technical label within the sense of the question.

    In this connection it may be pertinent to quote Arthur Hugh Clough, who died in 1861 (so, writing when medics had barely discovered the anaesthetic chloroform), who in a modern take on the Ten Commandments, wrote:

    'Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive / Officiously to keep alive'
    (i.e., perhaps there is a point beyond which desperate scientific attempts to prolong a failing life may not be appropriate)
  3. In Christian circles, the end of a believer's life is regarded ... yes, of course, with some inevitable sadness (however the death may have come about) ... but also with pleasure at a life well-lived and completed under God, and with joy at the prospect of that person now claiming eternal reunion with God through Jesus in Heaven (where, as Revelation wonderfully tells us, there can be no more war, pain or tears).

    Which of the following phrases would one be LEAST likely to hear among the congregants at such a person's funeral or remembrance service?
    This cynical phrase dwells on the mortal remains; but as the American song puts it, [while] 'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, his soul is marching on'. There are plenty of other good Christian phrases for this transitional moment in a believer's existence. The analogy of the lumbering caterpillar which re-emerges as a glorious butterfly may seem apposite and helpful ~ except that like most earthly analogies, it falls short, in that the life of a butterfly is also sadly rather brief.
  4. 'Where is Heaven anyway?' one might well ask. Earlier civilisations may understandably have assumed that a god, or gods, who were worthy of human respect would dwell above us, i.e. in the skies ~ from which good and bad weather, the seasons etc. come round. The first Russian cosmonauts assured us that God was not visible 'up there'; so where, or what, is Heaven?
    According to Jesus it is possible for the kingdom of heaven to be within the human heart. Quite often he began telling parables in such terms as 'The kingdom of heaven is like when ... '. Of course it is intriguing to wonder what the afterlife is like; but we are told we will come to that each in our due time, and should meanwhile live our earthly life in as heavenly a way as we can. It is worth bearing in mind that an omnipresent and omnipotent God must be able to cover all times and places ~ way beyond the scope of what mere, finite humans can grasp.
  5. 'Hasn't science answered most, or all, of life's big questions and problems by now?'
    Which of the following do you think best answers that challenge?
    One could debate this huge topic a great deal further (see elsewhere!) but the question, as prompted, pre-supposes that religion and science are opposed ~ 'heart' versus 'head' as it were. Maybe that opposition is itself a simplistic mistake?

    If you sat two people atop a high hill to describe a sunset, one might describe the cloud formations, windspeed and other technical details while the other reports along the lines of the sky being 'shot with blood and gold'. Obviously they're approaching the same experience from very different viewpoints ... but who's to say either of them is less valid, let alone which?
  6. 'If (or when) we find other planets with communicable civilisations, surely they won't have religions ... all that God and Jesus and other superstitious stuff?'
    Which of these seems the most appropriate Christian answer to such a challenge; how far down the offered answers might we reasonably be prepared to go?
    Beyond answer 2 we seem to be into the realm of the grotesquely conjectural; answer 4 may be well-meant but feels a tad pugnacious as a potential Christian riposte.
  7. You may have heard the phrase 'born-again Christian'. To those considering this from the outside, it may sound almost as absurd (and distasteful) as the misunderstood rumours about the early church indulging in cannibalism ('eating flesh and drinking blood' during their furtive communion rites); but what is the phrase supposed to mean?
    There are helpful elements in most of the other answers, though answer 1 cannot be physically practical!
  8. Come to that ... what is the real point of a Christian's earthly life, at all?
    Again, there are worthwhile elements in most of the 'wrong' answers, but answer 1 seems slightly passive-defensive, answer 3 seems (strangely) slightly arrogant ~ there are plenty of other such representatives, so another one, though welcome, may or may not make a crucial difference ~ while answer 4 suggests something that both the believer and God Himself might wish, but it is not of itself the chief object. As Paul wrote, 'It is not given to all to be missionaries'.
  9. Christians, like anyone else, are human beings ~ created ultimately and individually by God, so they believe, yet less than perfect under Him (because they would never dare to claim to equal His power and goodness). This in turn accounts for our human instincts and appetites: and as the prophet Job wrote, 'Man is born to evil as the sparks fly upward'. While the human soul may aspire to greater, purer and nobler conduct, it comes alarmingly naturally to us to get hungry, angry, jealous ... and, potentially, into all manner of sexual and relationship troubles.

    What label do Jesus and Paul apply to our biological nature, particularly when its urges distract us from higher purposes?
    Jesus famously observed (as reported in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew), 'The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'. Generations of Christians have wrestled with ways of subduing 'the flesh' and its appetites, not only during the particularly penetential preparatory seasons of Lent and Advent.

    Relatively recently (1943; 1954) Abraham Maslow proposed a 'hierarchy of human needs', with absolute basics such as food and shelter on its lowest tier ~ things without which no form of human life would be possible at all ~ while higher matters such as love, loyalty, belonging and esteem come at higher levels. Of course we need to look after the basics (our physical body being, after all, also a 'temple of God's Spirit'); but beyond that, our priorities ought to be outward-looking in the service of God and others, rather than seeking selfish pleasure in addictions or the temporary satisfaction of our sexual whims. Elsewhere in the Scriptures we are enjoined to 'mortify the flesh', even to the extent of a (surely metaphorical) comparison with the Crucifixion itself; but if we put that physical self completely to death, what purpose would that serve? There is surely a balance to be struck, and with God's help it is the Christian calling to achieve it, even if on occasion we should fail.
  10. Sooner or later, the world as we know it will come to an end; but Christians believe the eternal God will still be there, and He will take stock of all people, taking His 'saved souls' to Heaven and discarding the rest. Earlier generations had vivid images of inextinguishable fires of Hell, where unrepentant souls would suffer the permanent torment of not being with God (based, very possibly, on the Gospel-era public rubbish dump at Gehenna, just outside Jerusalem ~ where an endless supply of non-recyclable material fed a large bonfire that never went out).

    Particularly in traditional artworks displaying this concept, what is the usual formal title for the moment when God separates the saved from the damned?
    Any of these labels might be used, but the most usual formal one is answer 3 (you might like to Google that, carefully, seeking images by great artists of the Renaissance and other periods).

    And on that doomful note, that's about 'it' for this particular quiz. By the nature of our subject, we do need to tackle some pretty major issues!

Author: Ian Miles

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