by ProfDave, ©2021
(Nov. 17, 2021) — Extremists of one faith are slaughtering extremists of another faith in Africa and the Middle East. They must be extremists if they are willing to die for religion, some think. Watching the news, we are tempted to concede the atheist’s generalization that religion is an unreasonable and violent factor in human affairs. (Historically false, but . . .) A plague on both their houses?
All religions are not the same. Beliefs matter. Perhaps we have forgotten the difference between the God of the Christians and other gods? Between Jehovah and Allah, for instance? Muhammad urged his followers to worship the God of Abraham and of Jesus, but he understood God’s character much differently. A God of righteousness and justice, yes, but not of love, not the father of Jesus, not a Trinity who would sacrifice Himself in the person of his Son to reconcile a world of sinners and infidels to Himself.
The death of Jesus on the cross is an historical fact that the Koran denies – although it accepts his virgin birth, sinless life and special place in heaven. What kind of God would allow himself to be humiliated? Most religions agree that wickedness deserves destruction. Sinners are enemies of God. Allah hates his enemies. Jehovah loves them. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). To be like Him, Jesus followers are commanded to do likewise: love their enemies, even sinners and infidels! Muhammad’s followers are commanded to hate them. Christian martyrs die praying for their persecutors. Islamic martyrs die killing them. Hmmh!
President Obama once denied that ISIS was Islamic. Is the Pope Catholic? I think that was a blooper, but perhaps a Freudian slip. He thought he understood Islam, and the Islam he understood was not ISIS. But I don’t think he – or a lot of us – understood ISIS. Sword wielding bullies certainly don’t seem religious in any sense we understand.
But what Obama failed to comprehend is that you cannot separate Islam from its political expressions. He had a brick wall between his personal faith and morals on one side and his public and official actions and policies on the other. You can’t do that in Islam (can you do that as a Jesus-follower?). Islam is a political faith: church is state and state is church for them. It is an ordering of society according to the law of God. The only variable is how you go about it. Progressives have a hard enough time understanding Jesus-followers wanting to live their faith in their own public lives.
Have we forgotten the difference between the God of the Bible and other gods? Most gods require performance. “Feed me!” Anything from your firstborn to animal blood to cash to self-mutilation. Suicide bombers get a free pass. Ceremony and sacrifice and/or obedience to detailed rules is required. Many Christians and Jews fall into the same thing, but Jesus wants a living sacrifice.
Imaginary gods are a little easier on you, allowing you to bend their rules (if any) for your own convenience, but their benefits are imaginary, too. There is no hope, no transcendent vision, in old age and hard times when the pleasure is all gone, and your strength is running out. No wonder the euthanasia lobby is so strong.
But what does the God of the Bible require? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength.” Love wants to give, to sacrifice, to worship, to obey, but the performance is not the point. Such love, obviously, is not just a warm fuzzy emotion, but “to will one thing,” to choose, with the whole being (Kierkegaard).
The God of the Bible requires a relationship – or rather the return of a relationship. He is the One who loves, who chooses unilaterally to love the human race – to love you! It does not depend on you earning or deserving it or being worthy. Being a true Christian is not an achievement; it’s a relationship. That is grace. And in that love, that relationship, we find the power to change, to become clean and right, fit to live with God!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.