We saw in the compressed 4½ minutes of The Shawshank Redemption that not much changed in those 20 years. In all three scenes the room is the same room, with exactly the same drab curtains and blinds, with the same amount of sunlight shining through, with the same number of hearing board members, five. Red is the same Red he has been for decades. Three different chairmen of the parole board ask Red the same question: “You feel you’ve been rehabilitated?” Red gives essentially the same rehearsed speech. After 20 years in prison, Red answers: “Oh, yes sir … absolutely, sir. I mean, I learned my lesson. I can honestly say that, I’m a changed man. And … I’m no longer a danger to society; that’s the God’s honest truth.” Rejected. Ten years later, after 30 years in prison, he answers: “Oh, yes sir … without a doubt … and I can honestly say I’m a changed man … no danger to society here … God’s honest truth … absolutely rehabilitated.” Rejected. [Read more…]
I wish I had more time to read the amazing, engrossing, and heart-felt blog posts from Christians struggling with what it means to “be the church” by expressing their frustration with “going to church.” I want to meet these people face-to-face and hear their stories and tell them that it’s OK to not “do church.” Take some time off. Be honest with yourself. Tell your pastor you’re taking some time off. Tell the people you’re close to “in church” (hopefully you have such people) you’re taking some time off from “doing church.” But give some time limits to your sabbatical and some expectations for self-discovery because if you don’t, you run the risk of losing one of the greatest gifts Jesus gave you: being the church, being the body of Christ on earth, which you cannot do alone. And please, PLEASE, for the love of God and God’s church, when you’re done taking time off, tell a new story! Bloggers, please don’t leave your readers hanging at the end of your blog post feeling even more desperate about “church.” Keep us updated on your sabbatical. [Read more…]
I was asked this question in an email: Is God the same God for Jews, Christians, and Muslims? What prompted the question was a personal encounter within the context of a church group, study of 1 John, and some discussion about friendships with members of other monotheistic religions and how their love comes from and reflects the One True God. One of the interlocutors claimed that “Jehovah and Allah are not the same God.” The following is my email response:
First, I think we have to scale the language barrier. The word “Allah” in Arabic is simply the generic word for “God.” All three religions use numerous words and phrases to refer to “God,” with Christianity perhaps using fewest, such as the Trinitarian “names:” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Occasionally Christians sprinkle in words like “Almighty,” “Creator,” “Redeemer,” “Sustainer,” etc. Jews and Muslims are more expressive, IMO, with their diverse names for God.
Second, all three religions have as their primary tenent that there is only ONE God and that there are no other gods.
Judaism (Deut. 6:4):
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Christianity (Mark 12:28-30):
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Islam (Holy Qur’an 112:1-4):
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.
Third, we should not confuse various monotheistic theologies of “idolatry,” ie. giving devotion to a “false god” instead of or in distraction from devotion to the “One God,” with the idea that members of the other two major three monotheistic relgions worship a “different God.” I may disagree with Islamic theological conceptions of “God,” but who am I to somehow “know” God more than they do? Because I am a card-carrying member of the “Jesus Club,” does that mean I have the “Truth” about God? No. (I refer the reader to the Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine and her imagined story of entering heaven after death, which ends in Jesus interpreting John 14:6.)
Fourth, 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” That’s clear, isn’t it? Again: “Whoever lives in love lives in God.” Verse 7: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Fifth, the Bible contains many, many teachings from diverse circumstances and theologies that developed over approximately 1000 years. The Bible does not contain one simple view of God, ethics, salvation, etc. Our trouble should not be with the Bible, with its polyphonic theology; our difficulty rests with our modern presuppositions about “truth” as conditioned by “facts” and “logic” and “scientific reasoning.” For example, in the same letter of 1 John the writer states in 2:23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” Given our modern evangelical zeal for a Christocentric view of salvation, it’s easy to take this one verse out of context and say, “See, if you deny Jesus you deny the One True God!” Yet, in chapter four we encounter something quite different, as mentioned above.
Sixth, Jesus was a servant, not a dictator. To use the contemporary parlance of today’s youth, Jesus came to ask us a question, “Are you going to be a ‘hater’ or a ‘lover’?” Do we “love” Muslims by saying they worship a “different God?” Do we “love” them by telling them they’re going to hell if they deny Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Are we “loved” when some Muslims claim we Christians commit the one unforgivable sin of shirk (polytheism) by believing the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, ie. God is Three, and thus deserve “Hell-Fire?”
Seventh, Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What’s the will of God, then? Well, many things, and God’s will likely changes depending on the circumstances, which is the resounding witness of the Scriptures. But as for a simple conception of the will of God?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
That’s it, that’s enough, yet there is always more in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God.