I have believed in God and the main teachings of Christianity for my whole life up until this past year. I was taught there was a God by my parents and the main points of Christian belief (heaven, hell, free will, gift of eternal life, sacrifice of Christ). I never questioned these beliefs or thought any reason why they could be wrong. When I began going to college, studying science, history, and biology, I became more intelligent and started to look at my beliefs through a new perspective. At the same time I was learning this information(much of which seeming to contradict what the bible says), I also began to ask the big questions(what is the meaning of life?, what about the people before Christ or have never been taught of him?, the problem of free will, why a perfect and all-knowing God would allow the Devil to have so much power and take so many souls?). Christianity seems to have no answers to these questions and the Christians I know seem to understand it less than I do. Many of them have not even questioned their own faith or the big questions in life. Then, I would read about how the bible says the world was created around 4000 B.C., but we have found that it is billions of years old and homo sapiens have existed for 160,000 years. Why would the Bible give these stories of the fall of man, the beginning of the world, when science has proved them false? I feel farther from believing in God than ever and wish this was not so. My mind is at a limbo, trying to process everything I see without coming to any conclusion and I am beginning to get more frustrated with it. I do not want to side with atheism because I hate to believe that there is nothing more, that there is no loving God, no afterlife. But at the same time, I cannot convince myself to believe in something I don’t understand and doesn’t seem to fit together. Any answer is appreciated. Thank you.
Well, you certainly have a lot of questions. I wish you had asked earlier before so many piled up on you. I am sure you are feeling a bit overwhelmed. I am afraid that you pose at least a dozen major questions, each of which deserves a page or two of reply, and here I am about to go off to travel around Christmas. My first response is that every question you raise has a perfectly reasonable answer from a Christian perspective. Some are really quite easy to answer, some, to be honest, are not. Every one of these questions have been asked and answered at my web site. Most of them more than one time. If you do a bit of a word search, you will find these questions and answers. Let me pick a couple of the questions you raise and give you at least a start.
First of all on the age of the earth. The Bible does not say that the earth is 6000 years old. You will not find this claim anywhere in the Bible. That is one interpretation, but I believe the most reasonable interpretation of the "days" of Genesis 1 is that they represent chapters or periods of time over which God did what he said he did. Genesis 1 is not a scientific treatise, but a theological one. Trying to force a Western/rational analysis on this Near Eastern literature is not a reasonable approach. As theology, Genesis one gives credit to God for creating everything. The outline goes something like this. First God created light (big bang), then he created the earth with an ocean which covered it. Then land rose from the water, then life appeared in the water, then on the land, then ever more complex creatures, then, last of all human beings. Where is the scientific error there? If you read the creation myths of other cultures you find wild ideas about gods doing this and that. You find chaos, but in the Bible you find order. This is all in agreement with science. I see no problem whatsoever with the age of the earth and no contradiction with the evidence from evolution either. You will find an essay and power point titled "Four Christian Views of Evolution" at my web site for more on this.
About suffering and evil, this is a harder question. Here is how I see it. The fact that free will exists is a matter of common sense experience of all human beings. If deterministic scientists want to deny the existence of human will and consciousness based on scientific experiments, then I say that such experiments cannot ever settle the question of the existence of a soul or a spirit or free will. Biblical theology answers the question of evil and of suffering as follows:
We either have free will or we do not.
Why do we have free will? Because God loves us and he wants us to love him. Free will gives choice. In fact, love, by definition, cannot exist without free will. That is the biblical answer to the question.
We either have a real freedom to reject God’s love and his will for our lives or we do not. Genesis 2-4 is the story of this granting of free will and our rejection of God’s love and of his will for our lives. Sin happened because the choice for Adam and Eve (and for us) is not just theoretical. Once sin entered the world, so did suffering and evil. This does not make the problem easy. It does not make suffering and evil easy to accept. God’s will is that we love him and have an eternal relationship with him. God does not choose to send people to hell, but people choose to reject God’s love and his will for their lives. Again, this does not prove that God does not love us. Ironically, it proves that God DOES love us. The Bible says that God is love. God is incapable of an action which is inconsistent with his love. However, love is not the only attribute of God. Holiness and justice are part of what defines God. God’s holiness and his justice demand that there be consequences for rejecting his will and his love. God is loving, he is good, he is just, but he is not "nice" as some perhaps wish he is. This is the consistent biblical picture. Those who lose sight of biblical theology get into all kinds of confusing conundrums. You appear to have found yourself in just such a conundrum.
I hope this will get you started. Feel free to send me some more specific questions or to follow up on these.