(Blog 3 of 3)

Faith and the “real” world.  How does that work?

A few years ago, two of the Men’s Bible Study groups that I am apart of were looking at Islam.  In one I was confronted with a sense of fear, a fear that for all intent and purpose has prevented a clear and unfettered discussion of Islam.  I failed to keep the conversation focused for there seemed to be such a closed mind, which surprised me. All my brothers seem to be able to concentrate on is violence and what they see as “Allah, the avenger”, out to kill all infidels (Christians, Jews, etc.).  A very frustrating discussion.

I may have fallen out of favor with them as I have argued that there is only one God. Contrary to the thinking of some, Christianity is monotheistic, and the Christian belief is that the one God is “triune” in character: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is a God that is personal, that walks with my walk, that is compassionate, merciful and, above all, forgiving.

I think that Muslims see Christians as polytheistic, meaning multiple gods…Father, Son, Holy Spirit as three, not one, entity.  They have a hard time understanding a personal quality to God, since Allah (their perspective) does not communicate with humans.  And the concept of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us, for them, it is a bridge too far!

My other Men’s group has followed a slightly different tack.  We have kept “on task” as it were as we tried to look as honestly and openly at Islam.  In the back of my mind and, I think, in the minds of the other men in this group, is the hope that within Islam is the peace imperative.  My limited reading of the Koran, so far, has not revealed what I had hoped I would find, but then I have not gone much beyond the Book of Cow.

I have this image of God watching all this and smiling at our human frailties.  He might have given passing thought to the wisdom of giving us humans the gift of free thinking. Or, perhaps, He actually sees us making progress despite all the contrariness and conflict.  He may draw on his own experience as a human and understands our need and drive for certainty.

My point in all of this is – As a Christian, fear should not be part of any exploration into religions of the world.  I should not fear what the future holds, or my declining health, or anything else.  Christ has taken away the need for me to fear, but as a human it is hard to surrender it all.   This certainly is a topic that has focused our attention ever since 9/11 and the ill-advised attack on Iraq and then it was Afghanistan.  And now, continued violence throughout the world only fuels our fear and tests our faith.

But, how do I carry my faith into such matters those as well as abortion, or gay marriage, or racism, or even poverty?  Without question these are among the most divisive moral and political issues of our time.  For each of us, as individuals, these should not be political issues, but, rather, a matter of conscience, of how we act on our beliefs.  I am troubled by the application of rigid, and often selective, literal interpretations of the Bible applied to these issues.  It calls to mind the Pharisees of old as they developed those 613 laws.  If we apply rigidness to these matters, with a closed mind, how, then we do achieve peace and harmony?  Think like I think, or else…is not an option.

I don’t know if I can articulate what my position is on these issues.  I do know this:  God gave us intellect.  He gave us a conscience.  He gave us common sense. He gave us compassion and reasoning.  He gave us the imperative to love.  In short, God has gifted us.  The solution to all these knotty human problems is right there in front of us, but we have such a hard time embracing God’s answer.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy he urges his young follower to use the gifts that God has given him in his daily work in Ephesus.  The same applies to us.  Our position on the issues of our time should not be influenced by external forces, but by the application of what already rests within, our gifts, our belief. And that, my friends, is my position!

My closing point.  Throughout the world we keep trying to get it right, witnessed by a Wikipedia article which claims there are 41,000 Christian denominations!  Each one claiming they got it right!  Is there one point where they all “got it right”?  Surely, we can agree on the Great Commission to love one another.  Although, it does give one pause to wonder why there are so many denominations, often caused by dissension within a congregation, despite God’s command to love one another.  If we can’t do that, then what?

May God be with you every step of your faith journey.

May God grant you a New Year full of grace and love.

For What It’s Worth.