This week, we're continuing our conversation around Christian ethics. When we left off on Friday, we were tackling the issue of being an interfaith people in a culture that essentially demands it of us, and as I said when the conversation started...it's complicated. It's complicated because we want to be a people of love, and we want to be good citizens of our culture (both things that God calls us to be), but at the same time, we cannot deny that Christianity asserts an unapologetic truth that Jesus is the only way to God's promise and that God is the only God.
Now, I said on Friday that this is complicated further by some of the things that we believe theologically and even know to be true. And...it is. In a couple of ways.
The first is that we have a theology that tells us that every individual human being is created in the image of God and is therefore a sacred being that has something to reveal to us about the nature of our God. And if every human being is sacred as a being created in the image of God, then shouldn't we just celebrate one another? Shouldn't we just love one another? Shouldn't we let others live the way that they want to live and let them teach us what they have to teach us about the nature of God, whether they know that's what they're doing or not?
Heaven forbid, we think, that we stand in the way of God's revelation through someone else just because we don't like the way (of all things) that they "worship."
To this, we must all say that we are not the persons that we once were. None of us (I hope) is the same person that we were before we honestly met Jesus, before we allowed Him to really live in our hearts and change our lives. We are all growing and changing and becoming more of the fullness of who God intended us to be. There is not one of us that God looked at, even in His image, and said once upon a time, "No. That's perfect." We are all in a process of becoming perfected. Yes, we were sacred from the moment we were created, but through faith, we are becoming holy.
It's simply never been a Christian ethic to believe that anyone is perfect just the way they are or that there is anyone on this planet who does not need to grow more into Jesus. Never. Jesus loved everyone, but He never claimed they were fine and didn't need to grow. Not once. So there is no precedent for our pretending-to-be-Christian attitude that just leaves everyone exactly as we found them and celebrates that.
The second issue at hand here is also a bit tricky, and it's this: we know that the same God that we worship as Christians is the God of the Jews and the Muslims. The Jews, of course, have as their holy text our Old Testament, and Muslims are descended from Abraham's first son, Ishmael. So when we talk about worship and about God and about a God who is worthy of worship, it becomes a little more challenging for us to draw lines between Christianity and Judaism and Islam because, hey, it's the same God.
Kind of. It is the same God. It is the same Creator of the Universe, Establisher of All Things, In the Beginning God. But the Jews are living in a revelation not fully developed. That is, they don't have Jesus. They don't have grace. They don't have a new covenant; they are living under the old one. And it's the new covenant that is the atoning sacrifice, that shows us for certain our place in our Father's heart. It is the same God, but in Judaism, this God is no Abba; He is not tender Father in the same way that we, as Christians, know Him through His Son.
And Islam broke off really early. Really, really early. All the way back before God's first covenant promise to Abraham was fulfilled or even really believed or understood. Islam was broken off as an illegitimate son to the Christian faith before there even was a Christian faith. And we have to understand how being a firstborn son of a slave woman sent off into what amounted as exile when the true son came along has shaped the tensions between Christianity and Islam. This is the foundation of the Islamic faith - son of a slave woman, excommunicated, cut off from the promise given to a righteous man. And Islam has spent its history in pursuit of that promise. As Christians, on the other hand, we are a people living that promise.
So yes, even though it's technically the same God that we worship, these three faiths have an entirely different perspective on who He is. And it's the kind of thing that we spend so much of our time in the church pushing back against, isn't it? We push back against the notions that God is distant and is not close like a Father, even if the person we are talking with is not a Jew. We push back against the notions of us being slave children, of having a promise that we can't reach, even if the person we are talking with is not a Muslim.
We cannot, then, turn around and say, well, let them worship the way they want to worship. After all, their God is our God. Because He's not. He's the same being, but He's not the same God. He's not the same presence. He's not the same promise. And if we give up these very essential things that are true about our God, then we're not worshiping any more either.
(We'll keep this conversation going for a few more days. There is more to say.)