Posted by: robertartemenko | September 23, 2012

got GOD

AN INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

A long time friend invited me to a presentation on the interplay of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wary that it would just be secular philosophy blurring my Christian views, I was surprised by its encouragement to keep my beliefs distinct. It suggested that I could enhance the efficacy of my beliefs by developing empathy for other faiths. Dr. Heide Hadsell, PhD., President of Hartford Seminary and Professor of Social Ethics made the case for comparative theological training to inject more grace into crusty parochial convictions. Even proselytizers need this context to effectively promote their positions, let alone to love others, a common admonition of the three faiths. She focused on concepts common to each system, catalyzing ecuminity as opposed to the division. Admirable. There’s a season to note disconnections between dogmas, and there is, hopefully, a time to observe alignment. Not alignment for the purpose of recruitment or forming better arguments, but to respect the hearts of those with a different worldview. Dr. Hadsell’s thoughtful analysis was not a cool forensic listing, but it practically outlined intersecting passions, areas where their theologically rhythms resonated.

To her list below I appended references from each faith’s “scripture,” the Old Testament (Pentateuch and Haftorahs), New Testament and the Qur’an. Single verses from the respective “bibles” of the Abrahamic faiths hardly validate each element, but they demonstrate that Dr. Hadsell’s conclusions are readily identifiable in the doctrine of each. My hope was to reinforce the affinity of these attributes with each faith.

CONGRUENT ATTRIBUTES OF THE THREE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS

1) MONOTHEISTIC, one God – Only One can be honored above all. In Judaism and Christianity the singularity of God appears somewhat strained by His divine scale. Two commonly used vowels for God in the old testament are plural (God – elohim, Lord – adonai).  God refers to Himself in the plural (We, Us, Our) six different times in four different passages: Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8. Islam sees Judaism and Christianity as having been corrupted by creeping polytheism, in part because of this “singularity” issue, with the Jews accused of waywardly worshipping golden calves and Christians, deifying Jesus. Jews and Christians still claim they worship one God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Mark 12:29 “’The most important one,’” answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'”

Qur’an 112:1-4  “Say: He, Allah, is One. Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”

2) ABHOR IDOLATRY, again one God –  God is One, number One and there is no number two. God is alone on a divine plane of existence, no comparisons are possible, let alone the potentiality of anything surpassing Him.

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

1 Corinthians 10:14 “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”

Qur’an 4:48c  “And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.”

3) INSISTENCE ON THE WORD, The Tanakh, Bible, Qur’an – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and obviously Mohammad are acknowledged “messengers” of God’s truth in Islam.  Most scriptural overlap appears to be with selected Old Testament histories, psalms and prophecies and the story of Jesus life and ministry. Jesus (Isa) is mentioned by name 25 times in the Qur’an and Muhammed is mentioned by name 4 times.

Psalm 19:9-11 ” The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Qur’an 4:171 refers to Jesus as Allah’s Word as well, “His Word.”)

Qur’an 3a:3 “He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Taurat (Jewish Torah) and the Injil (a source from which the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were derived) aforetime, a guidance for the people…”

4) STRIVE FOR PIETY, as believer’s hearts absorb the words of God and His Truth/Good News/Commands, it is understood that it must have an impact on the actions of its disciples. Acquisition of truth is no value to God unless it carries through to motives, character and loving service.

Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, 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.”

Romans 12:1-2a ” Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Qur’an 49:13 “Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of God-Almighty is the best in conduct.”

5) “OTHERNESS” OF GOD, that which is utterly different and transcendent cannot be known to man fully, as s/he is so un-God, they should be utterly humbled before Him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 ” ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ”

Ephesians 3:17b-20 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Qur’an 46:93 “Say (O Muhammad), “I am not different from other messengers. I have no idea what will happen to me or to you. I only follow what is revealed to me. I am no more than a profound warner” NOTE: Al-Ghazali, the most prominent theologian in the history of Islam, went so far as to say: “The end result of the knowledge of the (knowers) is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him.”[Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1964, p. 37.]

6) HONOR CREATION, of the Creator – The overflow of who God is, is His creation, God’s repetition outside of Himself, the radiating effluence of his immeasurable Deity. If you love God, then you will love that which flows from Him. What flows from Him is His creation. (Jonathan Edwards, New England Puritan pastor, theologian and President of Princeton of the early 1700’s spoke inspirationally about God being so-God that He overflows. This is His “effluence”).

Psalm 19:1-2 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”

Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Qur’an 6:73 “And it is He who created the heavens and earth in truth. And the day He says, “Be,” and it is, His word is the truth. And His is the dominion [on] the Day the Horn is blown. [He is] Knower of the unseen and the witnessed; and He is the Wise, the Acquainted.”

7) LOVE ONE ANOTHER, our exercise of a right loving of God develops naturally in loving His creation, of which His people are a part. God also commands us to love one another in “the Book.”

Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Matthew 5:43-45a “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

Qur’an 4:36 “Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess.”

8) ALL BELIEVERS THINK THEY ARE RIGHT, self-explanatory, just watch the network and cable news shows, no one group has the corner on zealotry, all excel.

Proverbs 30:5 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

John 8:45-52a “ ‘Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ The Jews answered him, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ ‘I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’ At this the Jews exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed!'”

Qur’an 17:45-47 “And when you recite the Quran, We place between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter a hidden barrier; And We have placed coverings on their hearts and a heaviness in their ears lest they understand it, and when you mention your Lord alone in the Quran they turn their backs in aversion. We know best what they listen to when they listen to you, and when they take counsel secretly, when the unjust say: You follow only a man deprived of reason.

9) SEEKERS OF TRUTH, of God – We all have a worldview, whether we intentionally form it or not. Pursuit of God ultimately involves assembling, refining, defending and projecting what your belief system is. See 4) and 7) above. The overflow of knowing truth is necessarily to take action, and that greatest action is to love God, and next, man.

Proverbs 1:1-7 ” The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Qur’an 2:2-6 “This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil). Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them. And who believe in that which has been revealed to you and that which was revealed before you and they are sure of the hereafter. These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that shall be successful.”

SO WHAT

Dr. Hadsell’s purpose as stated in the event’s press release was to promote positive “interfaith dialogue and engagement,” that being “essential to understand and work with religions beyond one’s own.”  She delivered on this effectively. An implicit hope of interfaith dialogue is to promote learning, goodwill and peace among these faiths, a well-intentioned mission. It is also logical in that a first step to reconciliation is finding common ground.

That said, I am of the opinion that this mission is impaired by a general lack of wonder by seekers of God’s scale. While there are exceptions, too many dumb God down, become over-familiar with Him (think Morgan Freeman or references to “the man upstairs”), and are more astounded by black holes, white dwarfs and the genome project, than by their conceiver, designer, creator and sustainer. [NOTE: See my post at HugeGOD.com, “Black Holes and the Whitewhole,” February 20, 2011, https://hugegod.com/2011/02/20/black-holes-and-the-whitewhole/ ]

Yes, most will acknowledge God to be big and only and awesome, but are we really raptured-and-reset by the thought of Him, and actually sense HOW BIG and HOW ONLY and HOW AWESOME.

THE VERTICAL MUST PRECEDE THE HORIZONTAL

While the HORIZONTAL similarities of the faiths cause us to consider our common condition, making different hearts resonate, the actually drawing together of the hearts to unified compassion, empathy and love must be empowered by VERTICAL domination of and submission to a ravishing HugeGOD. We might appreciate this list of congruities, but they are unlikely to move us to action because their source is often seen as an authoritative father as opposed to the Compelling Almighty, All-knowing, Omnipresent and Immutable Lord.

Consider the following example… and unfortunately in trying to draw a comparison with the Divine, we can see but dim shadows of this transcendent mechanism.

Take three sons … independent, strong willed, a bit rambunctious. With their own goals, they are snorting and pawing the earth to move off on their own. Their father would like them to get along, remain in community, help one another to progress and succeed. They all want to progress and succeed, right! It’s better together, right? Their father gives them “the speech,” outlines their common heritage, the call to each during more innocent times to play nicely, look out for one another, come to each others aid. “Yes dad” they say, but “it’s my time and my life and well, I think it best to get on with my plans … maybe we’ll work together … maybe we won’t, but it’s my time to move on.” (One son might even ask for his inheritance ; )

Now … consider three sons, independent, strong-willed, a bit rambunctious. With their own goals, they are snorting and pawing the earth to move off on their own. Their father would like them to get along, remain in community, help one another to progress and succeed. They all want to progress and succeed, right! It’s better together right? They are in awe of their Father. They always have been. In fact, as their capacity to learn and understand has grown, they continue to be amazed at all His facets of excellence and magnanimity. They are overwhelmed by His wisdom, goodness, graciousness, mercies, justice, faithfulness totally different from ALL/ANY others, all exhibited in a loving and consistent way. Each of these facets, though identifiable, is incomprehensible in its depth, and grows more so as each attribute is examined. The sons know they have a life, and from knowing their generous Father, know that He wants them to have their own lives too. The sons are thankful, and are excited about having their own experiences, but cannot imagine separation from their Father and the relationship they have known. Going forward, as far as the sons’ relationships to one another are concerned, they have been so imprinted by the character of their Father that they can’t imagine not demonstrating the same affection to their brothers, and they certainly hope to receive it in return, because it has been so wonderful from their Father. But like the Father, who loves so graciously and unconditionally, they too love their brother’s with no conditions, because that is the way they have been loved.

My argument is … the grace in the HORIZONTAL relationship among the brothers is a function of how great the VERTICAL admiration is for the Father, and their VERTICAL love is a function of how big, grand, good-beyond-comprehension, … how Huge they come to know Him to be.

KNOWING THE HUGEGOD

How Huge was Moses’ God?

Exodus 33:19-23 ” And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’ ”

How Huge was Job’s God?

Job 11:7-9 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.”

Job 38:4-7, 31-36 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” … “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, and guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water will cover you? Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being Or given understanding to the mind?”

How Huge was Isaiah’s God? 

Isaiah 6:1-6 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ ”

How Huge was John’s God?

Revelation 1:17  ” When I saw him, I (John) fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.’ ”

How Huge was Muhammad’s God?        

Qur’an 6:103  “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING TO HUGEGOD

Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all people of the Book, have a heritage in a HugeGOD. They also over the years, as so thoughtfully described by Dr. Hadsell, have exhibited similarities (There is one God, He is “other,” we seek pious, et al.) in their approach to God. One’s approach to God I think can be called their religion. While the commonalities of the Abrahamic faiths are edifying, they cannot unify without consensus on the correct assessment on WHO GOD IS, and will likely have little power to be transformative unless the sense of the HugeGOD’s scale can be radically expanded.

Sadly, the prospect of enlarging our view of God is under a withering attack by our culture and the influences around us. Our own natures work against us as well as our appetites, natural desires and inclinations seek to inflate self versus God. There is a perfect storm whirling around our hardened hearts. God shrinks as we look not to His, but to our glory. As the world around us preoccupies us, its voices tempt and delude, as anxieties choke, as jealousy blinds, as hurry confuses and as noise deafens, it gets harder to be tender toward receiving how HugeGOD is.

Even with these challenges, we can be still and know that if we want to move toward God, He is ready to move toward us. This is where I need to depart from my generally ecumenical handling of this topic and consider a Jew, Saul of Tarsus, who experienced a cataclysmic explosion of who He thought God was, so much so that it blinded Him for days, renamed him, changed His “party” affiliation and made him so outspoken against his former mentors that he was imprisoned (and likely beheaded) by them.

Paul found HugeGOD, and he assures each of us that He is there for all who truly pursue Him:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verses 38 and 39.

When we are humbled and undone before HugeGOD, when we collapse at His feet because His presence fills the sky, when the brightness of His purity shines through to our eyes no matter how we try to shield them or hide, when we feel his voice before we even hear it, when we sense that He knows all we have ever said and done and that our destiny is instantaneously controlled by a mere unspoken thought … there will be no sarcasm, no fighting, no bigotry, no bullies, there will be no doubt that there is truth and one source for it … there will only be a desire to please Him, and we will naturally know that we need to submit to Him, and to our brothers and sisters, and those around us as more important than ourselves. And consider this, if we believe “the Book,” and truly, truly see the HugeNESS of God in it, do we feel like “acting differently” whether we are in His direct presence, all withered before Him in His Glory, or He is behind His curtain in Heaven, just as aware of us as if He were hovering at our roof tops.

Hope for brotherly love is not dependent on being eye-to-eye with one another in the classroom or office, at our places of worship, or on the street – determining what we agree on. What we agree on is of value, but mortal and temporal. That will not be duly enabled until our innate longing for God causes us to see that with which HE is in agreement, to find Him in His Glory and that vision captivate our hearts, to bring it to it’s full joy and to make it beat with compassion for one’s neighbors. The heart filled with God’s Glory cannot but love God and man. Not easy, but that should be our goal, to see God as Huge as He is, which gives us the life He want’s for us. And it’s a life with Him, immortal and eternal.

 

AFTERWARD

The above, given the ground that it’s attempted to cover, is not comprehensive enough to be a proof. It couldn’t be anyway. Positions on HugeGOD will ultimately come down to faith decisions. It is a walk thru of my assertion that God is a lot bigger (Huge!) that we all think, actually bigger than we-think-we-think. My hope is that this is another reason for us to keep seeking after Him, who He is and His relationship to us. For me, this was a first engagement with the Qur’an, and needless to say, I did not enter this exercise, nor depart it, a scholar. I avoided taking quotes out of context for the references, but the Qur’an is different from the scripture I am used to. That said, Islam refers to part of “the Book” as the Injil which is “whatever” the original source text was (as they predicate) for life of Jesus as found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. With that I am more familiar. Lastly, I am realizing that while my three-son example is heavy on what might be thought of as the “softer” attributes of God, the “How Huge…” scripture references are more of the “hard” nature; soft as in being “loving and gracious,” hard as in “fearful” and “you might drop dead if you see Him.” On one hand, all I can say about this seeming contradiction is, “welcome to trying to comprehend God,” on the other hand, the Injil is clear that we can better understand God by looking to Jesus (John 14:9b “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”  and  John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”) As the Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes is part of Islam’s Injil (Matthew 5,6,7) we have a pretty good idea of the heart of Jesus, the Christian Messiah (Islamic Masih), a Qur’anic apostle, from which we might infer the “softer” attributes of God. I feel more confidant in referencing this in that the Qur’an ( 4:171) talks to the stature of Jesus as fellow messenger and apostle with Muhammad (In Islam, Muhammad is the ultimate prophet though), and even refers to Jesus (Isa in Islam), similar to the Christian New Testament, as the Word, when it says “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles.”

A concept Deogram of what I am asserting is found below:

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