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Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

December 19th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Whether one is Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian, how you live your life is proof that you are or not fully His. We cannot condemn or judge or pass words that will hurt people. We don’t know in what way God is appearing to that soul and what God is drawing that soul to; therefore, who are we to condemn anybody? – Mother Teresa

In response to the question about whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians, we want to find an answer that is supported within the realm of our dogma and tradition, that can be seen as authoritative, that is based on more than just wishful thinking or emotion. For many, the question is neatly answered by referring to one or all of the following New Testament scriptures:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NABRE)

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NABRE)

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human. (1 Tim 2:5 NABRE)

 

In these citations we focus on what it means to come “through” Christ, what it means to be saved by the “name” of Christ, and what it means that the man Christ is the “mediator.” All of these things are related. In mainstream Christian theology, the human dilemma is that through willful disobedience humans have created a chasm that separates them from God that cannot be bridged by any human action. There is a lot of discussion to be had about the nature of the dilemma but for our purposes we will cut to the heart of it and acknowledge that it exists, and that the mission of Christ is to provide a way whereby humans can once again be in full communion with God.

The primary attribute of God is love (1 John 4:8). This love is not the pink hearts and valentines love of our modern culture, but a complete self-sacrificing love that seeks only the well-being of the beloved. The sin that separates humanity from God is that they choose to love themselves and created things ahead of God (Ro. 1:20-22). Since this is not a self-sacrificing love, but rather a love that seeks self-satisfaction, it alienates humanity from God. Humanity’s dilemma is that they cannot not choose to love themselves and created things. Or, to state it positively, they cannot choose to love God wholeheartedly.

The Christian solution is for God to do what humanity cannot. If by a created man the love relationship between God and humanity was broken through disobedience, then it will be required that a created man by obedience pay the penalty in full. But since no created man after Adam is able to be completely obedient to the point of utter self-annihilation, the remedy must be accomplished by God. Christ is unique in cosmic history because he is the only one who is both created man and God. So Jesus is the one who can bear humanity’s penalty. Christ’s death on the cross, which is significant in his abandonment by the Father (Mt. 27:46), paid the penalty in full. But it left Christ dead. When Christ rose from the dead, communion with the Father was restored. It is in this living Christ that the hope of Christians rests, because Christ did what no one else could, and that is to rise from death.

That resolves the dilemma for Christ, but not for the rest of us. Because Christ is God, however, humans can be united with him through the Spirit he sent at Pentecost. Receiving the Holy Spirit unites humanity with Christ. The ritual of baptism symbolizes being united with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. All of those who have been baptized then in  theory compose the real body of Christ on earth. That means the Church, but not in a sectarian or denominational way. It means all of those who are in union with Christ. This is what it means that Christ is the mediator.

Interestingly, and this is something far too many professing Christians miss, the proof of whether or not one is “in Christ” (or in the Church) is not participation in a ritual or a solemn declaration but a life devoted to Christ’s mission. Too many focus their religion on the possibility of personal salvation as the end, while Christ’s mission was not personal salvation but the salvation of the world. Christ still exists in the world and continues his mission of salvation through his body: the Church. The personality of Christ doesn’t change when Christ exists in the world as the Church. So the way to recognize the Church as the authentic body of Christ is to see Christ’s ministry continuing through those who are united with him. When the world sees Christ’s true Church in action it recognizes Jesus himself.

This is why on the night before he was crucified Jesus commanded his disciples: “34 I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. 35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NABRE) Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to have affection for one another, he tells them to love “as I have loved you.” How is Jesus’ love manifest? It is primarily through the cross, the complete self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity with no expectation of reward. Jesus is calling his disciples, and through them his Church, to complete self-negating self-sacrifice for the benefit of humanity.

I think we should notice here that Jesus didn’t die for Christians. Jesus died for all who are separated from God (1 Tim. 2:4), which pretty much encompasses everybody then and now. Notice also that Jesus indicated the world would identify his followers through love, not by what was done or said (rituals and declarations).

Thoughtful Christians have always acknowledged it is impossible to know who is saved and who is damned because it is impossible to know the mind of God. It is entirely possible that someone who professes to be a Christian may not in fact be a follower of Christ by his definition, and it is just as likely that some who do not profess to be Christians are in fact followers of Christ by the commandment noted above: Christ-like love.

So then we come to the task of reconciling the assertion that one might be a follower of Christ without professing Christ with scripture which declares that it is only through the “name” of Christ that one can be saved. This requires some explanation. Most of us don’t know what Jesus’ “name,” in the sense of the language syllables that identified him, was. In Hebrew, it was ישוע which is pronounced “Yeshua.” The fact is that only a tiny fraction of Christians, when presented with the Hebrew script, would be able to either recognize or pronounce the name of Jesus. The name that comes to us in English is a translation of the Greek Ἰησοῦς, pronounced “Iesus.” So if we call upon the name of Jesus using the word “Jesus,” are we calling upon the actual name of Jesus? Do the syllables even matter when we name Jesus, or are we speaking about something deeper?

The Bible often uses the word “name” differently than we do. In the Bible a name is more than a label. It signifies character. This is why we see God beginning even in Genesis changing the “name” of those he interacted with when their character changed. In the Gospels Jesus changes the name of Simon to Cephas (Peter), because Peter (which comes from the Greek word for “stone”) is the stone upon which Jesus plans to build his Church. So we see that the fundamental character of the man changes from Simon the fisherman to Peter the fisher of men.

When we call upon the “name” of Jesus, we must be calling on more than a label. We must be calling on the character, the essence, the fundamental nature of Christ. And what is that? “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Love as Christ’s love. So one who loves with Christ’s love is in the “name” of Christ. I think we can see that what Jesus has done here is to take salvation out of the realm of religion and placed it in the realm of action. Remember the Jews with whom Jesus contended and who ultimately had him executed were the most religious men in Israel. Christ’s salvation is not contingent on adherence to any theological dogma but rather on acting in the name of Christ: with self-sacrificial love.

When we consider what the Bible truly says in context, we see that certainty about who is saved and who is not must be tempered by our lack of knowledge of scripture in context (in other words, on failing hermeneutics) and by our inability to know the mind of God. The truth is that if we are to use the Bible as our only guide, the only people we know with certainty are in heaven are Jewish: Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and two thieves. All of them worshipped God in fundamentally different ways, and none of them (other than Jesus himself) professed the name “Jesus” in any language. We can learn to better understand the context of scripture but the mind of God remains alien to us. Rather than placing ourselves in judgment of our neighbors, we are far better off adopting the humility God calls for through his prophet Isaiah:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their way,

and sinners their thoughts;

Let them turn to the Lord to find mercy;

to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways,

my thoughts higher than your thoughts.  (Is. 55:6-9 NABRE)

 

Lifting the worship of God out of sectarianism renders moot the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. As Christians, following our own scriptures, we must acknowledge that this is a question we are not equipped to answer. What we know is that we are called to love as Christ loves. That is what determines whether our actions are in tune with the will of God.

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