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Christianity - Meeting Their God

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz takes a look at meeting God. The key religious experience for many believers (Christian or otherwise) is to be convinced that they have had a direct encounter with their God, and which will transform the purpose and daily fabric of their life. Such an experience may come in a variety of forms, such as Wesley ‘feeling my heart strangely warmed’, or, in the somewhat extreme case of St Paul, the vision of a blinding light; but however it manifests itself, the technical term for such a moment is a ‘theophany’ ~ when a god makes him- or herself apparent to the human senses.

Christians believe that their God has manifested Himself in the form of Jesus, to live a human life, showing ‘how it should be done’, but also, by experiencing a (particularly brutal) death yet returning through the Resurrection, to re-open a way to the Father in heaven for all people who turn to Him.

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However, since His Ascension into heaven, God would no longer have any apparent form of active agency among us on earth ~ unless (or until!) the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, alighting in visible form upon the heads of the Apostles, who were then ‘energised’ to go out, fearlessly preaching God’s word in languages they had never formally learned (see early passages in the Acts of the Apostles).

Few people alive today have needed to receive God’s blessing or commission in quite such startling ways, yet He can still be known first-hand in a believer’s heart. This quiz will help you consider some of the ways in which individuals can seek, or come, to be at one with their God.

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  1. Someone with no religious faith or interest might look around our present world and claim 'there is no evidence for the existence of a 'worthwhile' God (who would be powerful, caring and 'hands-on' to dampen down the woes of war, pollution, suffering etc.)'. How might a Christian best address this attitude?
    Answer 1 offers only a circular argument, depending on any proof of the authenticity of the Bible; Answer 2 (with its inclusive 'we') opens up the narrative of The Fall and suggests a way onwards. Answer 3 may be well-intentioned but is perhaps rather insistent; Answer 4 may well hold truth for the speaker, but could feel as alien and unhelpful as answer 1 to someone outside any religious tradition or experience.
  2. Even people with no religious faith or background can take comfort in 'everyday miracles' ~ though they would probably question that description. Many songs list several such experiences, but only one of these titles continues with words explicitly acknowledging God as creator: which ONE?
    The lyrics beyond answer 4 include the phrase 'I believe' ... without specifying 'in what'. The two songs in the odd-numbered answers are simply, if artfully, mere 'catalogue songs' ~ though they are certainly, even deservedly popular and can bring on something of a warm glow in the mind. 'All things bright and beautiful' is a 19th-century hymn originally written for children, and remains one of the few widely enough known to be requested regularly at special church occasions such as weddings and funerals. (Five or six colourful little verses are usually sung, but time and taste have quietly sidelined the one which said: 'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate: God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate'!)
  3. People of faith have wrestled mentally with the concept of miracles over many centuries, not least the 13th-century Catholic divine St Thomas Aquinas. Into how many categories did he seek to divide them?
    For an analyst of a much earlier age, this is quite a businesslike taxonomy. The Catholic church has a particular interest in miracles, as you may discover elsewhere.
  4. Fervent Christians may not be the only ones to pray for God's miraculous intervention in a seemingly impossible situation; but Brother Andrew, more widely known as 'God's Smuggler' (in his autobiographical book of that title), felt called to a particularly difficult ministry ~ transporting Bibles and other sacred literature into the communist-controlled lands of Eastern Europe, where these were legally forbidden. As he approached the barriers of the old 'Iron Curtain' in the 1950s and 60s, in a Volkswagen 'beetle' crammed with religious printed matter, in what terms would he pray?
    This seems a strange prayer, but by his own account it appears to have done the trick on multiple occasions. (Elsewhere during his trips, he tells of an encounter with a car mechanic who inspected the motor ... and spontaneously declared it a miracle that it should still be running, with so much load and mileage, so much dust and so little maintenance.)
  5. 'How can anyone hope to glimpse God through the smog and warfare of the 21st century?' How might a Christian best begin to answer this challenge?
    Many of these answers cover similar ground, but answer 2 makes the clearest theological point.
  6. 'How can anyone these days believe in God creating the world, in the first place?' Again, which answer offers the most appropriate Christian response?
    Answer 4 is a circular argument (as offered in an earlier question); Answer 2 opens up an interesting debate over Evolutionism, though its opening premise is certainly sound with regard to the 'days' in Genesis meaning 'time-periods' more broadly ( ... and what could be a more obvious time-period than a day?). Answer 1 somehow confines us to an unhelpfully vast cosmic canvas. If our 'challenger' is coming from a scientific or rationalist standpoint, answer 3 offers a good way forward ~ since some field of specialism may emerge, onto which the discussion might be focused regarding specific examples in the 'Argument from Design'.
  7. In an instantly visual age, people are (perhaps surprisingly) quick to spot 'images of Christ' in apparently unlikely contexts, where random natural or man-made processes generate a shape that echoes ~ usually ~ a classic traditional image of Him. All of the following, apart from ONE, are contexts in which such images have genuinely been claimed to be spotted within real natural life. Which category is clearly the most dubious?
    At time of writing you can view a gallery of such images at Image Gallery. Failing that, there may be others, but please only venture carefully into such online realms. Answer 1 covers many examples, but even if non-deliberate, these are collectively 'man-made' in ways in which few of the others could be, and hence beyond the stated scope of our question. The telegraph pole example is weirdly potent visually, at least to your author ~ but by the time we come to steam-iron soles and damp-stained drainpipes, his credulity begins to wane. And the further question begs: WHY might the Almighty choose to disclose Himself in such mundane contexts? Perhaps the response to that lies between Him and the various witnesses.
  8. For some particularly sensitive people, a 'theophany' may trigger acts of creativity which others can enjoy after them, and which these later people may come to regard as a blessing.

    In 1936 a French composer, orphaned in his teens some 20 years before, lost a dear friend in a particularly unpleasant car accident, and during a planned holiday shortly afterwards sought solace in the sanctuary at Rocamadour. This spiritual experience reawakened and refocused his previous religious sense ~ and he went on to write many sublime religious musical works that have rightly become cornerstones of the 20th-century sacred repertoire (cherished by countless performers and listeners, not least in times of their own trouble).

    Who was he?
    Whether or not you, personally, are either spiritually or musically inclined, you may still be interested to hear his motets, &/or the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani which contains many sublime moments (though as critics have justly said, this work juxtaposes 'Poulenc the monk and rascal' ~ there are moments of jazz and the fairground in it too; and your author shares this as one who has himself performed the work in public, partly out of a deep empathy for its more soulful passages).

    At any rate, in this instance as very possibly in others, one man (Poulenc)'s spiritual inspiration has certainly become a numinous blessing to others.

    Many people find music a potent and evocative channel into deeper levels of their awareness ~ not even, or only, 'church' or classical music as such, but also film-scores, showtunes, pop and folk, and, of course, Gospel. Even the sometimes-cynical Noel Coward (no mean tunesmith himself) has one of his characters remark, 'Strange how potent cheap music is' ... and it certainly floats some people's boat. With others it might be evocative smells or scents that somehow transport them to another realm of awareness, and open them to a sense of the Divine or the 'beyond'; the combination of colossal architecture, stained glass, music and incense-smoke in some churches and cathedrals is indeed a deliberate separation from everyday experience. Christians rejoice that we are created as complex beings with the faculties to appreciate and respond to such special stimuli, and to praise and draw near to the Creator through them.
  9. Numerous Bible characters, and others subsequently in history, reported that they had been sent messages from God through their dreams. In the case of Joseph (the Old Testament one), he was released from jail thanks to his God-given ability to interpret the dreams of others (having had many ups and downs in his life already, not least due to dreams of his own). Perhaps it is understandable that the false-reality of dreams, playing in our own minds while we are alive yet not awake, should fascinate and even occasionally scare us.

    Along came a very famous psychoanalyst around 100 years ago, proposing that all human dreams are self-generated and largely self-ISH with their emphasis on ill-disguised desires, regrets and ambitions. This psychoanalyst happened also, famously, to be of Jewish descent ~ 'one of God's chosen'.

    Who was he?
    This may be a slightly odd angle from which to define it, but Freud reckoned that the visions played out in our mind's eye overnight were fanciful, yet essentially truthful portrayals (once one could understand the 'code') of what a person deeply hoped for from life. That approach rather barges-out any prospect of dreams being sent by God; but just because Freud argued his case, does not mean that some people might not genuinely believe they have sensed God telling them something important via this channel.
  10. A final 'minor miracle' story, again of a church-musical nature ~ but for which your author can vouch, as having been present on the occasion.

    During the late 1970s Britain suffered a period of industrial unrest which included frequent power cuts. One such evening the congregation for Evensong in the chapel of New College, Oxford had been expecting a service with organ-accompanied choral music, but a power-cut meant the organ could not be blown, and the singing went on unaccompanied, by candle-light, as it had done traditionally all through the pre-electric centuries since the College's foundation by the Bishop of Winchester in 1379. Staff outside (and out of earshot) were meanwhile labouring to coax a petrol-driven generator into action to provide some current.
    By one means or another, the power supply did indeed come back on during the service: the lamps sprang back into action, and those present blinked, rubbed their eyes and smiled at one another.

    Within the regular service, what words had been sung immediately before that moment?
    Of course, this could have happened at any moment, but this was when it did. The previous summer (the long drought of 1976, when spontaneous flash-fires would leap across a 6-lane motorway and reservoirs ran dry) had found your author's own parents taking part in a touring production, to local churches in the middle Thames Valley, of a play called 'The Old Man of the Mountains', about the life of the prophet Elijah: one hot and sweaty Sunday afternoon, after weeks on end without rain, we took the show to the charming village church at Hughenden ~ where, just as the play reached the point about Elijah praying for rain to break the drought over Israel, in real life there came a colossal crack of lightning, and the heavens seemed to open at last, and at once, with a torrential downpour.

    Within the Great Scheme of Things these may seem trivial examples ... but to one hopefully 'on-wavelength' soul, they offer a fairly convincing and relevant pair some 40 years on, even hinting at a divine sense of humour in the timing.

Author: Ian Miles

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