God: Chapter 4

THE GOD AMONG US

 We are trapped here on earth in a physical environment of struggle. We seek to comprehend that which is beyond our senses. When our faith has questions or inquires, we strive for tangible answers from an empirical world that we perceive through our senses.   The limitations of our inquiry give us little hope beyond our world. A young Christian in a classroom once asked, “How can I know that there is a God out there or here?” How would we answer that question, for the answer involves something, or Someone who is beyond our empirical world?

We seek to know, to touch, to be confirmed in our faith. We often feel that the believer has been relegated to a world of guesses, to a faith that is based on a book called the Bible and human intuition. Has God left us to ourselves in a physical world of cosmic chance?   Has He laid the foundation for doubt by hiding behind some distant planet? Our questions often push us on to a faith that seeks to walk by sight.

“Walk by faith” seems to call for too much.   We would guess that you are the typical believer who at one time or another has prayed for the appearance of an angel, a miracle, or just a small flicker of a candle flame in the privacy of your own room. If God would just indicate His presence by the minutest revelation, our faith would be confirmed; we could joyfully go on our way—by sight.

Entire religious systems are built upon such yearnings that are fulfilled by humanly claimed experiences. To some, an angel has supposedly appeared, the Spirit has spoken, the flame flickered. There is an assortment of religious people who “believe” because they claim to have put their hand into the spear-wounded side of Jesus and touched the nail-pierced hands. But are these “Thomas disciples” more blessed because they have supposedly seen and touched? We think not.

 The existence of experiential religiosity only manifests the desires of those who seek to walk by sight and not faith.

There are those religious groups today who have claimed to have experienced some wonder as the blind being healed, the dead raised, or some cancer cured. We do not doubt that God works behind the scenes of our empirical cocoon to accomplish great things. However, we do question those who affirmed that the empirically perceived miracles of Jesus and the apostles occur today. God seeks to lead us today by faith, not by sight.

We do not want God to steal away our blessedness by an empirically perceived miracle. “Hold the angel, God.” We seek to walk by the strength of faith. Could it be that faith is stronger than sight? We think so. After all, for three years Thomas experienced the feeding of the multitudes, the walking on water, the raising of the dead, and a host of other empirical confirmations of Jesus as the Son of God. And yet, he still wanted to touch a nail-pierced hand before he would believe in the resurrection. If sight is so powerful, then why did Israel seek to swim back across a sea through which they had walked on dry land to escape the Egyptians? Why did they, at the foot of Mount Sinai, build idols on which they could lay their hands?

So we want to empirically know the “comings” and “goings” of the Spirit. We want to know His “doings.” Our questions betray our humanity. They manifest our frustrations with the limitations that confine us to a material world. Can we ask for the Spirit of God to behave after the definitions of our words? We must confess that our questions are confined to the words of our dictionary. Therefore, for God to answer the questions, He must answer with the same humanly defined words. You see the problem. If we understand His answer, then we are understanding only because we understand our own words that He has used. We thus place His explanation of His work within the confines of our own vocabulary. We have thus imprisoned God to a verbal cell into which we can comprehend how He works. We have limited Him to that which is experiential to man himself. Is this the God about which the Bible speaks?

If God could adequately answer our questions about His work, then He would not work beyond the realm of our understanding.   But who wants to believe in a god who is limited to the confines of human understanding? Is the Spirit of God limited to our deductions, to our ability to comprehend what He is doing? Since the Spirit is God, we must affirm that He is not limited. His work is beyond our discovery by sight. We must understand by faith that He is doing what He has said He will do.

We ask about His “comings” and “goings.”   To ask such is to assume that His presence can be located. We as earthly beings “come” and “go.” God is.   It is not that the Spirit is either here or there. He is.   We argue over the “presence” of the Spirit. Such argument only reveals our understandings as childish in comparison to God’s omnipresence. We do not believe in a God of location. We believe in a God who is everywhere at all times. He is neither here nor there.   When we say that He is here, my friend on the other side of the world can also say the same thing at the exact same second. “God is here” in China and America at the same time. Does this sound like a God who can be located somewhere? Certainly not! Any “definition” of God that we would draw from the Scriptures must not confine Him to a specific location.

The Spirit reveals through inspired words that He is in us; God is in us; Jesus is in us. We thus debate about the literality of the metaphor and miss the point of the Spirit’s revelation. We are in a house; water is in a glass; fish are in the sea. Would we apply the literality of in to that which is beyond the physical world?   Can anything of the physical world possibly contain that which is not of this world without being incarnate? Do we not seek to locate the Spirit of God because we yearn for an empirical presence with God? The fact is that the Spirit is in us, but He is also “in” other places than us. His presence is not limited to the location of human bodies. His presence in the world is not limited to being in Christians.   The presence of the Spirit is much greater than the church in the world.

Allow us to digress to humanity. Would the Spirit work less in our life if He “dwelt” on the planet Pluto instead of literally in us on earth? If we confine the Spirit’s work to His “presence,” then we have located Him to where He works. If we presume that His presence is only in the life of the believers, then we might assume that His work is confined to the presence of the believers and His work limited to the believers. But how can we confine Deity in this way? We cannot. His being “in” or “with” us makes little difference when it comes to His work.   We believe in an omnipresent Deity that can whisper a work in our life from ten galaxies away. Our God is that big and powerful. His Spirit is not limited, not confined. Neither is He distant. Only through our earthly dictionary would we make Him “near” or “distant.” But we must continually remind ourselves not to confine Deity to the definitions of our dictionary.

We find the debate over the “location” of the Spirit a manifestation of our inability to transcend the literality of earthly defined words. Did the Spirit actually seek to locate Himself by use of the word “in”? Do we believe in a Spirit whose work is confined by a so-called location of His presence? Can He not work beyond the sphere of “personal indwelling,” beyond the confines of the community of God? Or, is the debate simply over our efforts to literalize and localize the God we have created after our own understanding, and thus confined to our own locations. After all, if we can completely calculate the workings of this God, then certainly He cannot work beyond our thinking, or beyond our presence.

We believe in a Spirit who is bigger than the body of believers. We believe in a Spirit whose work is not confined to the realm of the personal presence of the believers. After all, the Spirit was working before there were any Christians. Is not the Spirit omnipresent? Could He not be opening doors for evangelism in areas apart from the physical presence of the saints?

So we ask too many questions and give so few answers. But is it wrong to believe in a God about whom more questions can be asked than answered? If we had all the answers about the “comings” and “goings” of God, if indeed God “comes” and “goes,” then He would no longer be God, but a god. He would no longer be the Spirit, but a spirit. And then, what’s the use? One god is just as good as another; one spirit is as good as the next. If we could figure out the Spirit, then He is not worth figuring out. If we could answer all the questions, then the questions are not worth asking in the first place. Every concept of the spirit world would only be an exercise of our humanly generated imagination. At the end of the day, we would be religious as the atheist has always claimed. We would be religious and have beliefs that are simply excited thoughts that are of human origin.

The Spirit said that God is able to work exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we can think or imagine. If this is true, then we can ask all the questions we want.   But we expect fewer answers. We would be cautious with those who have all the answers. They believe only in a god that cannot work beyond their answers. They believe in a god they can figure out.

The fact that we cannot answer all the questions is evidence that we are on the right road. Every other road leads to a walk by sight, to a god created after the imaginations of those who do not want a mysterious God who can work beyond our thinking. To be satisfied with only a few answers about a God who works exceedingly above what our minds can imagine, is to discover the strength of faith. Therefore, we will continue to seek for answers. However, we will not frustrate ourselves when we venture into those areas that are beyond our imagination. We will content ourselves with the few answers given, and believe that the others are yet to be revealed in another existence beyond this world.

 

God: Chapter 3

THE FOREKNOWING GOD

 God is foreknowing. He knows what is going to happen in the future. He foreknows the happening of all events before they happen. But does God individually predestine things to happen because He knows that they will happen? At least, we suppose that He does not because we would have no free-will if He did. Since He foreknows the happening of events in the future, however, does not mean that He predestines what will happen. His foreknowledge does not preclude predestination.

Our human thinking struggles with the thought of the foreknowledge of God. How can there be any theological or philosophical harmony between the concepts of free-moral agency and God’s foreknowledge? It is difficult from an earthly perspective to consider something as this from the viewpoint of God. What kind of God is this that can foreknow without individually predestining?   How can He foreknow without predestining, and thus, violate our free-will?

We must go back a few years in order to understand God’s foreknowledge of the years to come. God was a billion earth years ago in eternity with foreknowledge of our obedience to a gospel event that had not yet become a historical event at the time He foreknew we would obey. Foreknowledge would assume that He knew everyone who would obey the gospel. He saw the cross of Jesus because it was in His eternal plan to bring into eternity through the cross those whom He would create after His own image. In the midst of eternity, He planned that He would interrupt history with the creation of the world. Time would become a part of eternity by the creation of that which would produce history.   In other words, time did not exist until this world was created.

In creation, God whispered into existence the best of all possible environments that would be the dwelling place of free-moral agents. This set the stage for the gospel event of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection for our hope. The occasion was then presented to us for a response to the gospel event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So here we are, only specks in eternity and universe, confined to a history-making world that is destined to return to that out of which it was created—nothing. God knew that by the time our individual specks of existence streaked across the history of this world, the cross and empty tomb would have already blinked into history with eternal consequences. Though a brief earthly happening in an eternal plan, the impact of the cross on the obedient believer would have eternal consequences.   We have obeyed. God knew we would. But did He predestine that we should respond to the cross through obedience to the gospel? And if He supposedly predestined us to obey the gospel, then are we truly free-moral agents? Or, are we simply cosmic robots created by a playful deity who is engaged in some diabolical chess game with evil? It is difficult from our human perspective to understand how God can know that one will obey the gospel, and yet, not predestine that individual to obey.

Jesus was crucified before the foundation of the world. God had orchestrated His own plan of redemption before the existence of history and time and us.   He planned before the existence of the world that we would be destined as members of the body of Christ for eternal existence with Him. His action was foreknown and predestined because He foreplanned the happening of the cross and the existence of the church. It all happened according to plan.

But how could God in His omniscience foreknow our response to the plan without predestining our response? We presume He knew that we would obey the gospel.   After all, does not omniscience mean all-knowing? But now postulations confound us. The purpose of the plan was to lift us from the confines of a temporary historical event to an eternal cohabitation with Deity. The only real purpose for our brief earthly existence was to mold us into that which is suitable for cohabitation with God in eternity.

If we believe that our obedience to the gospel was foreknown, then we wonder why God made all the plans for our salvation?   Why all the pain and suffering in an environment that seems to always go wrong? Now we are thinking as humans. We have identified oursselves as the finite beings we are because we do not always understand the workings of God. Nevertheless, we wonder why God would create an environment that would involve pain on our part when all He wanted in the first place was eternal cohabitants in heaven.   Could He not simply have created is the way we should be, and then go on with eternal heaven without all the pain and suffering of this world? This is a question every Christian must answer. In answering it, we can better understand the purpose for our existence in this world. We can better understand the purpose for evil and suffering in our existence here on earth.

God knew that the obedient were destined to eternal cohabitation with Him. Since this was known even before the creation of our environment (the world), then does this not connect the prefix “pre” to our individual destiny, and thus, we are individually predestined.   If this is true, then our free-moral agency is canceled. If we are so predestined, then where is our choice? If God determined before the creation of the world that we would obey the gospel, then certainly we would have no choice in making a decision concerning the cross of Jesus. Somehow, it is difficult for a mind that is confined to time to understand the consistency between concepts as foreknowledge, predestination and free-moral agency.

So we wonder for a moment. For God to be truly omniscient, then our eternality in heaven, which is based on our obedience to the gospel event, was in His knowledge before any word of creation was spoken. But how could He know such without destroying our freedom to choose?   After all, there will be another reality for those who have not fallen at the foot of the cross—hell. Could the one who refused to respond lift up his head in the destruction of hell and accuse God of being unjust, unfair, fiendish?   After all, if God foreknew our eternal glory, He also foreknew the destruction of the ones who would not respond to the cross. Therefore, does God’s foreknowledge of the condemned preclude that He destined them to be lost?

God’s justice is affirmed by our free-moral agency.   Because we can make choices, God can stand just in the condemnation of the disobedient to hell. He can remain a just God because it was on the basis of choice that the condemned chose not to obey. But how can God foreknow the destiny of every individual without having predestined either the saved or the lost? If He foreknows destinies, then what is the use of making any effort to obey?   Can freedom of choice have any part in the eternal omniscience of a Being who is not confined to time and history?

We must reason together for a moment. In order for God to be a just God, we must be truly free-moral agents who live in an environment wherein choices can be made.   This presupposes that an environment must be created that is the perfect dwelling place for choice making.   Free-moral agency also presupposes that we have the mental capacity and ability to choose. There can be no pre-programming. There can be no fixing of the tapes or virus in the program.   We must be totally responsible for our behavior and accountable for our reactions to divine law. True free-moral agency in an environment that allows choices to be made reaffirms the justice of God in the condemnation of the disobedient. If our interaction with one another or God during our brief period of testing in time is negative, none of us can lift up our head in destruction and accuse God for our condemnation. Because of our free-moral agency, we are responsible for our own destiny. But does this not contradict the predestination of God? Why does the responsibility shift from God to us in this humanly supposed contradiction between the existence of God’s foreknowledge and our own free-moral choice? Or, is there a contradiction?

Here is the solution to this supposed contradiction. Before the foundation of the world, God planned, and thus foreknew, the community of believers He would deliver from mortality into immortality. His plan was that His people be those who respond to the predestined cross. This community of believers would be/are predestined to eternal cohabitation with God in eternity. However, individuals must make a free-moral decision to become a part of the predestined group, the church. Since the group (the church) was predestined before the creation of the world to be accepted into eternal dwelling, then those who free-morally chose to become a part of the group are thus destined to heaven.   However, one must make a free-moral decision to become a part of the group before he can be destined with the group. But does this mean that one is predestined to become a part of the church?   Where does free-moral agency fit into this predestination? Where is choice? Can we really make free-moral choices to become a part of the church if God foreknows that we will obey the gospel?

The answer is not as complicated as one might first have supposed. We are given a choice concerning the cross. We have the freedom to choose concerning our new birth into the community of the predestined. If our response is positive, then we become a member of a predestined body that has been purchased by the sacrificial blood of the incarnate Son of God. Our positive choice to His gift of redemption places us in the company of all those who are headed for heaven. We are thus predestined as a part of the body because the body is predestined. We are not predestined to become a part of the body, though God foreknew that we would become a part of the body through our free-moral choice.

But you still question how God can do this.   Did He not know that our responses would be positive? Did His foreknowledge of our obedience, therefore, not preclude predestination of obedience? Have we not simply moved predestination back from final judgment to initial obedience? If one is predestined to heaven as a part of the church, then why cannot one be individually predestined to become a part of the predestined?

The critic may have a point in this matter.   However, his point is from a human perspective. After all—we speak as men—if God foreknew our obedience, then was not our obedience predestined? And if predestined, then we have exercised no free-moral choice. God will still be responsible for our demise in eternal destruction if such be our destiny. He will be responsible because He created us while knowing that we would be destined for eternal destruction.

What we continue to wonder and postulate is if there is any consistency between foreknowledge and free-will without God having individually predestined us to either heaven or hell. Can foreknowledge and free-will exist without logical contradiction? Can God foreknow our obedience or disobedience without having predestined either? If He thus foreknows our individual obedience, then is there room for free-will?

Admittedly, these contemplations confuse those who are limited to time and history. And we all are so limited. If we understood all, then we would be God. Therefore, on this subject we must allow God to be God. Must we understand all that He is or all that He understands in order to affirm that His existence is not a logical contradiction?   Certainly not. If we presumed we should know everything about God before we believe in God, then we are seeking to elevate ourselves to be as God. What we are actually doing is bringing God down to god, and again, creating a god after our own imaginations, or better, our own finite ability to understand. We are wanting a god we can comprehend, one we can figure out, and thus, compute His workings. You can have such a god. As for us , we will take the One we have difficulty trying to calculate with finite mentality. We will take this God because we understand that we will never be able to figure out the one true God who is higher than our greatest thoughts.

Therefore, we will settle for our own understandings of what the Infinite has revealed to us through His word of revelation. He planned before the creation of the world that His community, the church, would dwell with Him in eternity. Thus, the church is predestined. All those who individually choose to become a part of this predestined group are thus predestined to eternal dwelling. In this way God can foreknow our destiny. His justice will stand in relationship to those He has foreknown to obey because they made individual choices to become a part of the predestined church.

Think of it from God’s perspective in eternity before the creation of this environment. God foreknew our choice before we existed in order to choose.   From our human perspective this may sound like preprogramming. But remember, we are not God. He can foreknow without preprogramming. Simply because we do not understand this, does not mean that it is not true from God’s perspective.

Some have simply ignored the issue by saying that God chose not to foreknow. It is believed by some that in order to spare us of our frustrations concerning this humanly defined logical contradiction, God simply said to us that He never knew in the first place. If the condemned in eternity accuse, He can respond by saying to them, “I never knew.”

But this seems to be a convenient theology gymnastics to escape our frustrations in understanding the omniscience of God.   So we ask the question, Would not God have to foreknow first that which He would decide not to know? If so, then we are back to where we started.

Simply because we cannot sort through our finite thinking and understanding of God’s foreknowledge without individual predestination, must not frustrate us to accuse God of “willful ignorance.”   After all, if He has chosen to willingly not know our destiny, then He is not omniscient. So why would God choose not to know simply because we cannot understand His knowledge or ways? Are we again trying to create a god we can understand, one that chooses ignorance in order to accommodate our inability to comprehend that which pertains to Deity?

So we have not figured it all out. The fact that we are writing on the subject with a host of others who have written on the same subject is evidence that there are no final answers, no declarative statements of revelation to bring answers to all the questions. But this is again proof that we are on the right road.   We believe in a God whose ways are beyond our finding out. We believe in a God whose ways continually challenge us to wonder, to postulate; One that makes us continually realize that we are still human.

God: Chapter 2

THE “I AM” GOD

 Come along with us on a short journey to an imaginary land that might help us discover God. Walk with us along a narrow path in a quiet jungle that meanders beside a remote and forgotten African village. Our ethnocentrism makes us reason to be superior to the resident villagers who are clad in rags and leaves. Surely we would be greater than they; we would be somewhat in the eyes of a god whom we have created after our own image. But to our surprise, this journey will take us to a realization that we are not as much as we think we are. We are all clothed in spiritual rags wherein we thirst for the grace of a God who is far greater than our comprehension.

As we speed by the village in a modern-day car, our fellow man becomes a passing blur in our peripheral vision. We still retain our egocentric personality, proudly passing ourselves off as those around whom the universe must surely evolve.   We are important; people to be noted, recognized, considered by a god whom we conceive to be culturally identified with us alone.

We now pass over our fellow man in an airplane at five thousand feet. We recognize houses and cars. However, what was once the passing blur of a fellow man outside a car window has now disappeared from view. We are alone. What seemed so significant on earth has now dwindled to non-recognition from a distance by our finite eyes. We can no longer see the human bodies on earth. It is too small, too insignificant in a world that is far bigger than the individual.

We are now at forty thousand feet in a jet that whizzes over the earth. We see no houses, no cars, but especially, no human beings. Earth now becomes increasingly small as it whispers below in gradual movement. Even the small planet on which we reside now starts to become small, insignificant in a galaxy of other worlds.

Something now comes to our awareness. We begin to struggle, to look through the mind of a God who must be infinitely greater than anything that we could invent on earth.   The man who felt so great in the African village now contemplates his own insignificance from the viewpoint of a God who can whiz by galaxies beyond light speed. It is a humbling experience. It is humbling to realize that our world is so small. And if our world is so small, then we are smaller.   We are insignificant existences of space. Who do we think we are?

Aboard a space ship blasting to the outer fringes of the universe, we begin to ponder. We look back over our shoulders and see a faint glimmer of a small blue marble clothed in silk white clouds. Would the God we now conceive consider such a finite speck as us from the vastness of space? Would we be so arrogant to believe that He would even identify our existence?

Who is this God, that by a few words of revelation from Him, He has excited our imagination? Can He be so great that He can consider something so finite? So small? So useless and insignificant? Human reason and rationality frustrate us. But faith excites our thinking to believe that such a great God can consider such a small particle existence. Our faith drives our minds to dimensions beyond our empirical limitations to conceive a God beyond our imagination.

We so reason that certainly His creation is not larger or more mighty than His existence? He is the Creator and creation can never surpass the greatness of the Creator. The universe is so gigantic, so awesome, so beyond the reach of our largest telescopes.   Who is this God who can be so immense and yet so individual? Would we dare locate Him somewhere among the galaxies of His creation? We dare not.

If we say He is “here” or “there,” then we are wanting to locate Him in a position among the galaxies. We humanly struggle to place Him somewhere in order to identify His presence. If we place Him here, we want to mentally dislocate Him from there. If He is the God who is there, then can He be here also?   Our human postulations frustrate us as we struggle to conceive a God who can be here and there at the same time.   Our only recourse is to revelation, to a simple explanation on a small mountain in Sinai whereupon this God proclaimed, “I Am, that I Am.” This humanly precise, yet inadequate statement leaves us wondering. Therefore, we must again walk by faith. We will never fully understand this GREAT I AM.

As our space ship returns to earth, the enlarging blue marble becomes more significant. Amidst the background of a billion planets and stars and suns, this God who is greater than all has chosen to visit this one planet alone. Could He be so considerate, so specific in His work as to count men one by one in a universe so immense? This is the God who is so great that He can consider that which is so small.

Our aerial flight brings us home. We alight from our car. We meander again down a trail, through that village of those over whom we once foolishly exalted ourselves. If the God of the universe would be so individual with us, what right do we vainly assume to place ourselves above the most humble of His creation? Would we dare stand before Him and cry that we were somewhat? Would we plead for special consideration? Would we then be so arrogant as to pass ourselves off for special judgment?

The God who is so great, but can consider that which is so small, certainly must be the one God worth believing. If not, then we are hopelessly lost in a galaxy that is so immense that we are reduced to bust specks of existence.

The God who is so complex, but can be so individual, must certainly be of such presence that He is infinitely beyond our understanding. Nevertheless, we trust He is great, and yet, so individually considerate, for in Him we would live and move and have our very being. He is the God who can count the hairs on our heads just as He can count the galaxies of the heavens.

The only God who is worth having is the one we cannot fully comprehend. If we wonder why He can consider just one human speck in a universe composed of galaxies, then we prove that He is a God greater than our minds.   It is this God in whom we must walk by faith. It is this God we must wholly trust. It is this God before whom we dare not show the slightest pretense above our fellow man. Because He is the great “I Am,” we are lowly individuals in all His creation. Because of who He is, we are individuals He has chosen to love and save and consider for eternal dwelling. Oh, how majestic and wonderful our God is. He is far beyond our greatest imagination.

 

[Next lecture:  February 2]

God: Chapter 1

THE GOD BEYOND OUR DICTIONARY

 In his book, Human Destiny, Lecomte du Nouy wrote, “If we could really conceive God we could no longer believe in Him because our representation, being human, would inspire us with doubts.”

If we created a God we could comprehend, then we would certainly create in our minds doubts about His being. If we are to believe in a God, then certainly this God must exceed our understanding. It is easy for an atheist to be such since he has created a god after his own imagination. He first creates the god, then he denies such because he knows that his god is no greater than his mind.   At least the atheist is honest with himself. He says he does not believe in a god who is limited to his own thinking.

The true God is beyond our thinking. He is beyond our full understanding simply because He is God. We are men.   What if we attempted to relate to you the experience of a desert? You have probably never been there. We have.   So what would we say? How would we verbally involve you in our desert experience? We would struggle to convey to you through the inadequa­cies of words our personal desert experience.   In using words for which you have little “desert definitions,” we would have to resort to metaphors. We must take those words you have defined by your own experiences and wrap them around our personal experience in a desert in order to in some way help you to understand something that is beyond your experience.

The desert is as dry as a summer heat wave.   It is hot as drought. Envision the disappearance of all trees, plants, houses, cars and life from where you are. This is the desert. It thirsts for the moisture of the heavens. It yearns for the color green or anything that would be the resemblance of vegetation. The winds cast its sands from dune to dune. Throughout time, the mighty forces of weather move the great sand mountains from one location to another. The desert is a place where the sun is not quenched and heat is not shielded.

We could go on. However, we cannot fully explain that which is beyond your experience.   We could use the greatest of metaphorical expressions and yet fail to fully take you with conceptual thought to the reality of a desert experience. There are no words to take you there.

In like manner we struggle to understand God, the supernatural, and even a place to which we all yearn to go—heaven. The inspired writers combed human dictionaries in order to select through guidance of the Holy Spirit the most precise words possible to give us a glimpse of that which was beyond human definition. The Holy Spirit, however, was handicapped.   He too was limited to the confines of an earthly dictionary that contained the earthly definitions of our earthly experiences.

How would God explain to us, by use of humanly defined words, a place that is beyond the limitations of our dictionary.   Herein lies the challenge of Deity.   Herein is the imagination of humanity expanded by the beauty of metaphor in divine revelation.

We can somewhat bring to your imagination the concept of “desert” by resorting only to those experiences you have stored away in memory by your personal experiences. However, as soon as we use a word or a phrase that goes beyond your personal experience, we lose you. You cannot understand. Therefore, we must test your imagination. We must tease your thinking with the richest of metaphors in order to open a door of thought concerning our desert experience. No matter how hard we try, however, we will fail. We cannot through human communication take you to that which you have never experienced. Your understanding will always be inadequate.   It will always be limited to your vocabulary that has been defined by your own personal experiences.

Our failure to adequately communicate, and your lack of a desert experience, however, does not distract from the reality of the desert. Our failure only signifies that there are no words with your definitions that will fully explain our exper­ience. You must understand this, lest you doubt our experien­ces and the existence of the desert which we have personally experienced.

You also must play along. You must not “literalize” our metaphors. You must use your imagination and allow us to elevate your thoughts beyond your personal experiences. In this way, we are using your dictionary in order to take you on a mental trip beyond your environment, beyond your presence to a far away land.

God would do the same with us. He comes to man with a concept of heaven that is so far beyond our experiences that we awe and gasp at its possibility; we grasp after its reality; we yearn for its presence. However, because it is so far beyond our understanding, some would even doubt its existence. Their inability, or unwillingness to conceive of that which is beyond this world leads them to skepticism. They doubt because they are too earthly confined. They are in bondage of their own vocabulary. They refuse to dream beyond that which is of this material world.

God’s being, existence and character have to be beyond that which He originated. The Creator must be greater than that which is created. But our dictionary contains definitions of the creation. How can we escape the confines of our earthly defined words in order to grasp that which is beyond earth’s dictionary?

The Holy Spirit comes to us with a book of human words, the Bible. We must first understand that He did not bring a heavenly dictionary. Paul learned this when he was caught up to Paradise and heard “inexpressible words,” words that were not lawful to be uttered (2 Co 12:1-4). They were not lawful to be spoken simply because we do not have the heavenly dictionary that has definitions of a realm that is beyond this world of our only experience. If he had by chance been given just a few heavenly words to utter on our behalf, we would in no way have been able to understand them. Even if he had brought from Paradise a dictionary, we still would not have understood simply because the definitions of the dictionary would have been beyond our earthly experiences.

It was the Spirit’s task through revelation to challenge our imagination, to take us beyond our personal experiences, beyond the words of our world in order to understand that which is beyond human experience. So God comes to us in the Bible with metaphors. His inspired Book is loaded with metaphors as “the face of God,” “streets of gold,” and “fire and brimstone.” What is God communicating? Should we understand these metaphors after the literal, earthly origins from which they were taken? Should we make earthly a revelation of that which is beyond this earth? Or, should we understand that the metaphors point us to something greater than the metaphors, greater than earthly defini­tions?

In our frustration to understand God, our first inclination is to create a God after our own image. We see God as ourselves, after our physical existence.   We conclude, therefore, that God has a real arm. He has a literal face, eyes, ears and vocal cords. In our childish hermen­eutics we have brought God down to where we can now under­stand Him. He has now gone from God to god. We have created a god we can understand. We have created a god to whom we can relate after an imaginary way.   This is the spirit of idolatry.   Our next stage of digression is to form this god in a piece of wood or carve him in a rock. You laugh. But this is how man has unceasingly behaved throughout the annals of history.

We might affirm that we are too educated to carve the image or file the stone. But our conception and perception of the god we worship possibly justifies the acts of our rebellious life. Whether carved or conceived, man’s gods always seem to submit to the vile cravings of man himself. Somehow, god always ends up being a “force” out there somewhere with which one can deal and around which one can conceal wickedness.

What good is a god that can be defined by an earthly dictionary? Who wants a god that cannot act beyond the verbs of a compound sentence? If our god cannot work beyond the confines of our grammar, then any god we linguisti­cally construct will do. Let us simply conceive and construct one that will allow us to eat, drink and be merry. Who wants a god who is simply created after our fears and subject to our own lusts?

However, there is something in us that says we know better. We cannot explain it. It is just there. It is innate; it is a yearning to be beyond ourselves. It is a longing of hope that says this is not all there is. This yearning, this longing has compelled us to search the universe in order to discover this God who is bigger than words, bigger than our understanding of things of this world.   This God is bigger than our dictionary of words. He is even bigger than the Bible which contains the Spirit’s assortment of human words to take us metaphorically beyond humanly defined concepts. We therefore understand that the Spirit seeks to challenge our imagination with the majesty of metaphor in order for us to see the majesty of our Maker.

Moses struggled to take a divine ID card back to Egypt from Mount Sinai. There was no way that God could fully explain to Moses or Israel who He was.   The Eternal Spirit simply told Moses to tell Israel that “I AM” sent you. We are sure that this “name” confused Moses as it does us. But what better statement could possibly explain the mystery of our God.

Israel had spent four hundred years in the seat of idolatrous polytheism in Egypt. The Egyptians were riddled with the created gods of old through whom they sought blessings from above in every aspect of life. There was the god of the river, the god of the sun, the god of the harvest. When it came to creating gods, no society had a better god factory than Egypt.

So Moses stood before an Israelite society that had been infected with the virus of polytheism and simply stated, “I AM, sent me.” We cannot help but think that the ignorant of Egypt scoffed. However, those who had seen the futility of creating a god after one’s own desires, knew that there was something right about what Moses’ proclaimed. They knew that God had to be beyond carved stones and created images.

Man’s gods were always handicapped. They could never function beyond the ability of their creator’s mentality. They were crippled by a mindset that desired a deity who submitted to the inadequacies of humanity. The righteous of Israel knew this.

They therefore followed Moses out of captivity and into a desert experience. However, the venom of created gods had not left them. When Moses delayed on the mountain before the “Great I Am,” the people clamored that Aaron “make them gods that will go before us.” Only when the true God opened the earth in order to consume the imagined gods of Israel, did they understand that there is only one God. This is not a hand-sculptured god. He is a God beyond gold, beyond man’s base desires. He is not simply, but majestically “I AM.”

When the apostle Paul walked into Athens and down the streets lined with idols, he came upon an altar that read, “To the unknown God” (At 17:23). This one inscription explains centuries of ignorance by man of the one true and living God. Greece was an intellectual center of mankind. Here lived Plato, Socrates and a host of other thinkers of history who knew that there was something beyond the material world. They also lived in the midst of idol gods that had been created after the imagination of men. Nevertheless, the philosophers of ancient Greece knew that if these imagined gods were no greater than their imagination, then they were gods who were tainted with humanity. These gods could be tricked by clever men. Every idol was constructed to appease the Greek gods. However, the philosophers knew that there had to be a God out there who was beyond the cleverness of men, a God who could not be conceived by the imagination of the wisest man. Therefore, just in case, they built an altar to this God in order to appease Him.   This was the God about whom Paul said, “… for in Him we live and move and have our being …” (At 17:28).   This is the God the Spirit seeks to communicate to us through revelation. This is the God about whom we read in the Bible. And this is the God that every man misses if he does not come to the word of God in order to discover His marvelous greatness.

God: Introduction

SEARCH FOR GOD

 The skeptic Voltaire was at least right on one thing when he said of religion and mankind, “If God has created us in his image, we have more than returned the compliment.” And truly, we live in a world that has created every imaginable god after the image of man.

We live in a world that conceives a variety of “higher powers.” The Muslim, or some nonChristian religionist, will often say that they believe in the same God as the Christian. We would differ with this conclusion. The Hindu will simply add the Christian God to the catalogue of gods in which he already believes. With this we would also differ. God cannot be the invention of a culture with a hidden agenda. God cannot be manufactured from the minds of those who are set on destroying their fellow man through violent means. God cannot be broken into theological pieces in order to cater to the changing whims of adherents who seek to pacify their own consciences. Our concept of God must in no way be determined by our human inclinations and desires. The fact is that men have this insatiable desire to create gods after their own desires. This is why Emil Brunner wrote, “For every civilization or every period in history it is true today: Show me what kind of God you have and I will tell you what kind of humanity you possess” (Man in Revolt, 1939).

Man has a hard time learning the truth that God must not be formed to fit man; man must be formed to fit God. A god that is determined and defined by the culture of those who bow down to it, is a god who has been invented by man. Gods that portray the culture of man are simply the imagination of those who have manufactured a higher power after their own behavior and beliefs.

Since the Christian bases his definition of God on the Bible, we could correctly assume that his understanding of God is different from any religion that does not use the Bible as the source of research to discover and define God. For this reason, the Christian does not believe in the god of those created religions that have rejected the Bible as the final authority for defining God.

Men have too often reversed the process of discovering God. They have created religious beliefs after their own desires, and then, searched for a god to fit their religion. This humanistic approach to discovering the one true God will never work. This system of thought will always leave one with a god that is subservient to the mental capacity and desires of those who have manufactured their own religion. Any true search for the true God must begin with God Himself. If there is a God, then certainly this God would reveal Himself. It is our task, therefore, to find and investigate the revelation of this God.   We must set aside our own inclinations about who we think God should be and simply accept the revelation of who God says He is. God does not believe in the gods we create.

Christians believe in a loving and merciful God who is just, and thus, deals with man without respect of persons. He is a God whose primary means to encourage man to do right is His character of love. For this reason, the apostle John wrote, God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16). John was more explicit concerning our understanding of God when he wrote, He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Any religion that is based on anything other than the principle of love cannot be true. Neither can such religions give us a correct understanding of God. A loving God does not reveal an unloving faith.

The fact that the nature of God is love helps us in our search through the catalogue of religions in the world today in order to discover the one true God. World religions and denominations of churches that do not focus on that by which God works to move man—love—cannot be the faith that is revealed by God. Religions, therefore, that justify that which is unloving simply cannot be founded on the revelation of a God of love.

We must study through those scriptures in the Bible that give literary definitions of the character of God. However, unless we are prepared to exemplify in our lives the loving nature of God, our intellectual knowledge of Scripture will only take us so far in understanding who this God of love really is. Unloving interpreters will never come to a knowledge of the God of love in the Bible.

God will allow us to use the Bible alone in our efforts to discover who He is. In other words, the God of the Bible will settle for no other supposed written revelation in order to discover who He is. One cannot use the Qur’an or the Bhagavad-Gita or any other religious literature in order to discover the true God of the Bible. Other religious authority other than the Bible can only be man’s definitions of who he thinks his god is. If we are to discover the God of the Bible, then certainly we must limit ourselves to the Bible. When it comes to discovering the God of the Bible, the Bible restricts our studies to it alone, for through it God has defined who He is.

In Romans 1:20 Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” One might refer to God’s revelation of Himself through that which is created as natural revelation. Through such revelation, God has assumed that we have enough sense to understand that the environment in which we live did not spontaneously generate. It was created, and thus, it has the marks of a Creator and Designer.

Unfortunately, some cannot get past the physical environment in which they live. Their understanding of God is limited to their empirical feedback from the physical world. A host of religions today are thus limited to rocks and trees that God intended to simply ignite our wonder to search for His direct revelation. But many have tripped over the created rocks, and thus found it impossible to discover the Rock of Ages.

Though God has revealed Himself through the created world, we must not stop at the created world in order to discover His being.   Nature is only an empirical launching pad from which we must be lifted into the special revelation of the God who created the launching pad. Therefore, unless one arrives at the Bible in his or her investigations of who God is, he or she will never discover the one true God.

Does this mean that because the Christian has the Bible that he understands all that God is? Not at all. It does say, however, that he has an advantage over those who grope after God through the maze of their theologies and traditions. But at the end of the day he must confess his inability to fully comprehend the incomprehensible. In De Veritude, Thomas Aquinas was right. “The highest knowledge we can have of God in this life is to know that He is above all we can think concerning Him.”

We must allow ourselves to be challenged concernng who we think God is. We must first break down some misconceptions of God in order to reconstruct a biblical perspective concerning the nature of God.   Therefore, as we take this mental journey through some theological and philosophical conceptions of God, we must be prepared to allow the Bible to be sole dictionary of our definition of God.

January 12: The Rise Of A New World

THE RISE OF A NEW WORLD

 As you read through the following material, you will discover why we have added it to a book on this subject.   What will be discussed is becoming a generation throughout the world that is being cultured with a world view that is in many ways opposed to the Christian’s world view, but at the same time, produces an opportunity for the spread of Islam. Not only is the world view of Islam contrary to that which we see in the Bible, the new immerging generation that is arising in the developed world is in many ways also in conflict with Christianity. The selfless example that we see nailed to the cross of Calvary runs contrary to a narcissistic non-religious generation that has itself at heart and the world as its final destination. It is a generation that has forgotten that all we are is a clod of dirt invested with a spirit from God. The concept expressed in the words, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gl 2:20), is on the other end of the spiritual continuum of a vast majority of this generation. It is imperative, therefore, that leaders of God’s people understand this new generation in order to influence its direction by the message of sacrifice that comes from the cross. Therefore, do not read lightly over this material. It is by no means complete, but it will give you some idea of how this immerging world generation can easily lead to the fall of Christianity, and thus open the door for every religious invention possible to man, and possibly move the world closer to the Genesis 6:5 scenario. This religious scenario happened with the world prior to Noah. It happened with the cities of Sodom, Gomaoorah, Admah and Zeboiim (Gn 11:19; 13). It happened with the nation of Israel (Hs 4:6). And it can happen today to any society that claims to be “Christian.”

We include these thoughts primarily for our audience outside America who have a romantic view of the West that is rapidly passing away. As the faith of European nations vanished, who first went into all the world with the gospel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so it is the case today with twenty-first century America. The “Christian nation” is rapidly becoming a faithless nation with little desire for anything that is religious.

Some of the recent statistics on this matter are shocking. They are shocking to the extent that it is time now that the rest of the world must take ownership of the future evangelization of the world, for the Western church is fast pulling out of world missions. As the American church brings its soldiers home from foreign nations, so the rest of us in the world must assume the responsibility of engaging Satan in our own backyards. We see the work of God throughout the world in all this cultural transformation.   God is simply turning the work of Satan against himself. God removes the influence of foreign mission sources in order that local disciples take ownership of the evangelization of their own countries. Therefore, as fellow world citizens, we must get on with that which we are supposed to be doing without focusing on the financial crutch and leadership of the West. We must assume our responsibility to take Jesus into all the world. In order to do this, we must listen to what this new immerging generation is saying.

 I.  “We are changing.”

All societies go through generational changes.   Though traditions and customs may minimize these changes from one generation to another, there are still changes that take place as the next generation wants to do things differently, and often better. Such changes continually take place in every culture of the world. It significant, however, that there seems to be a most dynamic worldwide change going on at this time that is affecting worldwide cultures in the same way. It is not a sociological change that is unique with one particular world culture.   Though this change is significant in the Western societies of America and Europe, we bear witness that the new Millennial Generation is not unique with the West only. It is worldwide.

We have traveled to many places of the world where we have witnessed the core nature of this new generation that is growing stronger on the world scene. It is a generation that has changed the Arab world through what was called the “Arab Spring.” The rapidity of this generational change will answer some questions as to why some Muslims feel that Islam is under attack. It is this worldwide generation that seeks to be educated and informed as the rest of the world. No youth of the world wants to be left out, for young people know enough in the most remote places of Pakistan or Afghanistan that if they are left out of this new world citizenship they are doomed to live among the relics of the past and under the control of uneducated leaders or authoritarian clerics. The Muslim youth of this generation, therefore, no longer want to be uneducated recluses in caves, jungles or deserts, and subdued by ignorant leaders who find self-esteem by oppressing others into the subjection to self-imposed legal religious codes. Young girls throughout the Muslim world want to be freed through education, something that Islamists as the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab simply cannot allow among the people over which they seek to dominate. The youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai (17 years old), who recovered from a gun shot to the head by the Taliban, once said, “They only shot a body but they cannot shoot a dream.”   These are brave young Muslim girls who want to be educated, and also show the world that Islam is not the twisted religiosity that is often reported on the nightly news.

For the Islamists, the Muslim youth of the world made the mistake of buying a smart phone. These youth then discovered themselves joining in with the Millennials worldwide who seek to take this world into a new and better world order for themselves. They have discovered, however, that ignorance among clerical leaders has a hard time giving way to a better way, a life of freedom to think.

It is unfortunate that the Millennials who are culturally formed to work as a team find it difficult to produce the type of leaders who are necessary to take an Arab Spring into a truly democratic government. The young Google employee who inspired the Egyptian Spring simply said after all the changes that were made in Egypt, he wanted nothing to do with leading the country as a politician.   The team culture of the Millennials is so strong that it has a difficult time producing the type of leadership that is necessary to stand alone and lead the way for the masses.

No book on a subject of world views would be complete without some thoughts on the rise and affect of the Millennial Generation on the world as it is and is to come. More books have been written on this generation than any other generation of civilization. Sociologists know that the Millennial Generation will change the world as it is.   And for this reason, studies have been made and numerous books written in order to prepare the world for some interesting surprises that are coming.

In the context of our ministry of the word of God, it is important that church leaders understand some of the basic principles of the Millennial Generation in order that the gospel can be communicated effectively to those of this culture. Simply standing back and begrudging changes that one does not understand and cannot control is not an option for a church leader. He must understand and engage those to whom he is to preach the gospel.

The Millennial Generation is composed of those who were generally born between 1980 and 2000. In America, this generation is 80 million strong. It is a generation that will eventually change America forever as it moves into being the leadership of the nation.   Therefore, we write these words in order to prepare all of us who reside outside the continental United States and Europe to understand the nature of a changing West.

Every country of the world has its Millennials.   Because of globalization and communication, no country of the world that has come online can escape the affects of this generation. Because Western cultures have been exported worldwide, the Millennials in countries throughout the world have more in common with one another than any previous generation of history. The Millennials have moved us from a world of national citizenship, to a borderless world of global citizens. There are no borders on the Internet, and thus, the Millennial Generation electronically travels freely throughout the world for information and relationships.   If one were an imam in a cave in northern Afghanistan, then certainly he should be on guard against his adherents acquiring smart phones that would connect them to a worldwide citizenship.   Once cave dwellers are connected, they realize how backward and underdeveloped they are. We can understand why the North Korean government is terrified about allowing the citizens of the country to have access to the Internet.

The 14th wealthiest man in the world, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has made it his goal to bring the world online through Internet connections.   Facebook presently (2014) has 1.35 billion user connected, and it is his goal to connect the entire world. The present world population of the world is about 7.2 billion. Of this number, 2.9 billion people are using the Internet (Time Magazine, Dec. 25, 2014). This means that there are about 4.3 billion people who are not online. It is Zuckerberg’s goal to get these people online and connected to the information that is available on the Internet. Education brings freedom, and thus Zuckerberg is a “digital pioneer” who will lead the world to be better by being connected. The world will thus continue to change rapidly in the decades to come. This change has already started and will accelerate as more people connect to information highway of the Internet.

A few years ago one of our brethren in South Africa said, “Brother Dickson, they are different.” (He was speaking of Millennials who had visited South Africa.)   The brother continued, “You can see it in their eyes!” So this was our impetus several years ago to do some research to see what the folks in Africa saw in the eyes of this new and different Millennial Generation that was going to reshape the sociological structure of world society. We have since learned some good things, and some not-so-good things in reference to spiritual orientation of this generation.   Therefore, these words are written to our older generation who seem somewhat unsettled about these new digital thinkers who have come onto the world stage of sociological drama.

In speaking to an older generation that does not know the difference between megabytes and bug bites, we thought it necessary to aid somewhat in understanding this generation to whom we are to take the gospel. Instead of scaring Millennials away with our archaic ways, we need to separate Bible from tradition in approaching a generation that is educated and moving on into the future. If a church leader does not do as Paul said below, then he will be left in his empty cave (pew), complaining that the world has all gone wrong:

I have made myself a bondservant to all, so that I might gain the more. So to the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win the Jews.   To those who are under law I became as one under law (though I myself am not under law), so that I might win those who are under law. To those who are without law, as without law, though not being without God’s law but under Christ’s law, so that I might win those who are without law.   To the weak I became as weak so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the sake of the gospel so that I might be a partaker of it (1 Co 9:19-23).

Get the point?

 II.  “We are digitally connected.”

In reference to what we have seen throughout the world, one common thread runs through this generation that will redefine the new world culture of the future. President George W. Bush once said many years ago that we were moving into “a new world order.” He said this in reference to the change of the guard of several governments. But he may have miscalculated what the new world would actually be. Certainly, governments change, for they are the reflection of the people, whether a dictatorship or democracy, depending on what government the people first placed in control. But the new world order in reference to government is yet to arise to reflect the worldwide phenomena of the digital generation.

We would name this new generation after that which gave it birth and binds its citizenship together. It is the “Digital Generation.” Digital communication gave birth to this generation through communication devices. They have exchanged person communication for worldwide connection. Cellphones, smart phones, Ipads, notebooks and an assortment of computers and electronic gadgets have opened the door for a worldwide connection with information and other people. This generation would not continue to exist without these digital devices. In fact, none of us would now be able to function in the developed world without some digital device.   Wherever we have traveled in the world, this digital generation exists, whether on the off beaten roads of Africa or main street Beijing. It is a generation that is obsessed with their communication devices. It is a generation of which the digital communication devices are the very center of its culture.

Digital communication devices have changed the way the people of this generation relate to one another. If there were no digital or virtual communication devices, then this generation would culturally collapse. It would collapse because the relational part of the culture of this generation depends on the communication devices, not personal contact with others in communication. The devices are its heartbeat, because through the communication devices, the citizens of this generation stay in contact with one another. Instant worldwide communication now defines the world as it is. And we presume that this communication mania will intensify in the world to come. We cannot think that it is a bad thing for the world to become smaller through digital communication relationships.

 III.  “Everything is about us.”

The letter “I” is worn off the computer keyboard of the Millennial Generation. If he had a computer, this would be the case with the narcissistic Diotrephes about whom John wrote, “… but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not receive us” (3 Jn 9).

A narcissist is one who is focused on himself.   He seeks to be noticed, to be first, to have no competition, and the “winner” in all things. Narcissism is a personality disorder with which one is not born, but is trained to be from childhood. The present Millennial Generation is three times more narcissistic than the generation that is 65 and older in America. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, among college students, 58% of those in their twenties scored higher on the narcissism scale than the same age group of college students in 1982.

This is a generation of people who are obsessed with themselves. They have grown up in a society where there are no losers and everyone is “the man.”   Some sports games of schools in America no longer keep score because they do not want the children to feel like they can lose. Every player on the field is “a winner” because he simply played in the game.   Everybody is trained to be a winner, and a “good job” statement is made after every activity in which one involves himself.

Unfortunately, when this generation encounters the real world where there are losers, suicide is high, and riots on the street are easy when all these “winners” confront a police force that tells them that there are limits to what they can do in society. Since this generation is convinced of their own greatness, their social development is stunted, and thus, they simply have a hard time “growing up.”

When one has obsessed over his or her self with countless “selfies” (self-taken pictures), both by parents and one’s self in the developing years, what would we expect? When one’s personal room is filled with countless trophies and award ribbons as to what a winner is, then we can understand why such communication mediums as “I”phones, and “You”tube (broadcast yourself), and “I”pads have been so financially successful. Tweeter is based on the social norm that one supposes that everyone is interested in one’s every moment of life. Millennials broadcast their daily activities on FitBit, their whereabouts on PlaceMe, and everything else on 23 and Me. This is narcissism refined.

Many single people in Sweden do not seek to be married. In fact, 26% of the people of Sweden do not intend to marry. The same is true in America, for 26% of the Millennial Generation in America also do not intend to marry. Someone once asked why this is. The answer is simple. It is just too difficult to take two “I’s” and make a “we” relationship. When one has lived a life of 25 years or so focusing on one’s self, it is certainly difficult to change course to focus on someone else first.

The West trained their children to be this way because they were paranoid about rearing up losers, and in reference to family, those who would end in divorce. Parents wanted their children to have great self-esteem, for in having such they could find good jobs. Unfortunately, being obsessed with one’s self may help to get the job, but not keep the job. Sean Lyons, coeditor of Managing the New Workforce: International Perspectives on the Millennial Generation, wrote,

This generation has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations with respect to their careers and the lowest levels of satisfaction with their careers at the state that they’re at.

Instilling self-esteem within our youth is great. But we must keep in mind that self-esteem is only one step away from the mental disorder of narcissism. Only a fine mental line separates the two. It is as the psychologist Jean Twenge said,

When they’re little it seems cute to tell them they’re special or a princess or a rock star or whatever their T-shirt says. When they’re 14 it’s no longer cute.

Twenge’s advice was, “Just tell your kids you love them. It’s a better message” (See Twenge’s books, Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic). We believe the Bible says something similar.

But do not conclude that narcissism is a plague that is sweeping across the Western world only. We have experienced the same overconfident and self-obsessed Millennials everywhere we have traveled in the world. This is not a social problem for the rich and famous of the West.   There are “poor” Millennials throughout the world who have been self-glamorized by the communication of themselves and desire for a materialistic way of life. Their focus on themselves has often been their escape from poverty.

However, the West has been particularly fruitful in producing the self-oriented generation of the Millennials. After all, it was the Baby Boomer parent generation of the West that was “me” oriented, and thus gave birth to and reared a generation of children who were obsessively focused on themselves. The “Me” Generation produced the “Me, Me, Me” Generation. For those of you who live outside the American society, consider the fact that you have in your house a picture of your wedding, and maybe a few other pictures of yourself. Now compare this with the average American Millennial who has surrounded himself with an average of 85 pictures of himself throughout his house (Time Magazine, May 20,2013). They are both the stars and audience of their lives.

 IV.  “We are entitled.”

A personality characteristic that is contrary to the spirit of Christianity is entitlement. This is the attitude that “I” have a right to a piece of the pie, to enjoy the pleasures of the things that this world has to offer because one believes he deserves to consume all things upon his own lusts. This is an attitude that is basically worldly, since the very drive of the individual who has been stricken with this earthly mentality is focused on those things that are of this world. The Holy Spirit dealt with this thinking in Colossians 3:1,2:

If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set you mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

Any thinking that moves the Christian’s mind from the heavenly to the earthly is simply worldly. This is the spirit of entitlement. Since those of the Millennial Generation are self-oriented, then they think they are entitled to that which surrounds them. They climb the mountain in order to have others see them, not in order to see the world. In order to be seen successful by their peers, they must give the presentation of being successful. This is not a generation that has grown up with worn shoes, or walked to school in knee-deep snow, up hill both ways. It is not a generation that had to put together a bicycle out of junk parts from a junkyard. They simply bypassed the new bicycle generation of their fathers and went straight for the new cars in their teens. It is a generation where parents have lavished the material world upon them, and now, they believe they are the center of their world, and thus entitled to everything that this world has to offer. It is a generation that finds it very difficult to follow the One who said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt 8:20).

The character of the Millennial Generation has never traveled through life with a lack of this world’s goods. It is a generation whose thinking was developed by having everything, and thus having everything is their way of life. They know no other way to live. In fact, they believe that their materialistic way of life is what defines life. This is the “American dream,” the “American way of life.” Everyone in the world who does not live this way is “underdeveloped.”

It is the goal of the West, therefore, to “develop” the rest of the world. The Western definition of the “developed world” is that the rest of the world must surround themselves with possession in which they too can consume upon their own desires (lusts). If a nation has not “developed” to where every citizen can walk into a Walmart shopping center for a tube of toothpaste and come out with a trolley full of consumer goods, then they are living in a “developing” nation. The apostle Paul wrote, “If we have food and clothing, with these let us be content” (1 Tm 6:8). We have always considered that if Paul walked into Walmart for a tub of toothpaste, he would walk out with only a tub of toothpaste.

What has developed the psychological problem among those of this “developed” generation is also the digital means of communication by which one can embellish himself with all sorts of media to broadcast his personal social status to his friends. When one starts broadcasting himself on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, the “likes” and “followers” start inflating one’s ego to the point of believing that he is some type of celebrity. When others start “liking” our broadcasted parties, pictures, vacations, and job promotions, then we start to believe that we are in the middle of a micro-universe where we are entitled to be popular.

Such digital means of broadcasting one’s life becomes an obsession. Everything and every event in our celebrity lives is thus “posted” in order to retain our personal cheerleading “friends.” We are obsessed with how many “likes” we receive when we post a picture of ourselves involved in some sort of activity. But when this means of self-glamorization goes wrong for young people, worlds collapse and suicide happens. When the self-glamorized are electronically bullied, it is just too much. When one who thinks he or she is always a winner, it is a traumatic experience when others digitally communicate that he or she is a loser.

But before we are too hard on the Millennials for being a self-oriented and entitled generation, it may be that they have simply adapted better to their environment. In the West, they have grown up in a very affluent economic environment. It is an environment in which every need has been satisfied with abundant options. Food markets do not have just one or two choices of breakfast cereal, but one or two isles of options from which to make selections.   Their’s is a consumer society in which every citizen is innundated with choices.

Millennials unconsciously feel that they are entitled to a host of choices simply because they have lived no other way. They are like the young Millennial who came with a group on a “vacationary” mission to an African country. This young group of vacationaries were teamed up with the locals to go out into the surrounding community. With one team, a local young Christian was horrified when his Millennial partner from the West threw in the trash a US$150 pair of Nike tennis shoes.   The Millennial was just disgusted with the shoes because they had worn blisters on his feet.

 V.  “We are not religious.”

In his release in the Time Magazine of his study of the Millennial Generation, Joel Klein wrote of this generation,

[The Millennials are] not into going to church, even though they believe in God, because they don’t identify with big institutions; one-third of adults under 30, the highest percentage ever [of America], are religiously unaffiliated (Time Magazine, May 20, 2013).

This brings us to the major “threat” that this generation throughout the world would pose to Christianity. In their book, The Millennials, Thom and Jess Rainer reported on their comprehensive survey of this generation, one of the first surveys that was conducted concerning the Millennial Generation. They reported initially in their book, “In many ways this generation is the most diverse generation in American’s history” (The Millennials, p. 1). It is diverse in that it reflects a great deal about the multiplicity of influences that led to its creation, and thus, the various identities the generation offers to produce a new world culture. This is particularly true in reference to the “spiritual” nature of the Millennials. Rainer & Rainer wrote,

The shocking reality for us is that only 13 percent of the Millennials considered any type of spirituality to be important in their lives…. Most of the Millennials don’t think about religious matters at all” (Emphasis mine, R.E.D., Ibid., p. 22).

“This generation is not just agnostic to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. They are agnostic toward all matters religious” (Ibid., p. 23). Now here is something interesting that Rainer & Rainer discovered in their survey of over 1,200 Millennials.

Millennials are the least religious of any generation in modern American history. Millennials are still spiritual. Three out of four Millennials say that they are spiritual but not religious. If you state you are spiritual, most people will take that at face value. If you state that you are religious, you will have to define what you believe. Most Millennials are unable to define their beliefs (Emphasis mine, R.E.D., ibid., p. 47).

Rainer & Rainer found that most Millennials “are no longer choosing to identify themselves with religion” (Ibid., p. 47). The percentages speak volumes concerning the spiritual nature of this generation. For example, only 6% of the 13% who claimed to be “spiritual,” stated that they were “evangelical,” or “Christian.” Of this 6%, only 18% of these stated that their religion was of any importance to them. This is definitely not a religious-oriented generation. And it is 80 million strong in America and is growing up to shape the future of America. America is not only becoming non-Christian, it is becoming “nonspiritual” with no religious affiliation. Keep in mind that America is only 20-30 years away from this identity as a nonreligious culture.

One might say that the future for faith in the West is going to be greatly challenged by the onslaught of unbelief that is characteristic of the Millennial Generation. This is revealed in the thinking concerning where Millennials seek to find authority for their religious faith. One Millennial stated, “I really don’t think we can say that any one person or any book is a real authority. You really have to examine what people say and then decide. You could find some truth in the Bible and maybe the Koran (sp)” (Ibid., pp. 228,229). Now consider this statement in the context of a non-committed “Christian” (religionists) who is living in the same society with a very committed Muslim. If the non-committed Christian has little regard for the authority of his faith, then certainly he will be overcome by the Muslim who has a firm conviction in the Qur’an which is the foundation of his faith.   Does this give you any idea of where America could be headed?

Some of the Western Millennials, who still have some faith, are now establishing authority for their faith as many in Africa have done for centuries. Some in Africa have taken beliefs from past and present pagan religious beliefs, and brought them together into a syncretistic faith that they claim to be “Christian.” It is not a Bible-defined faith, but one that is defined by the culture in which the African lives. It is as bad as what some Catholic priests did when they first went to Brazil in the footsteps of the conquistadors three centuries ago. In order to keep the money coming from Rome, they simply put Catholic names on the spiritualistic practices and ideas of the local pagan rituals of the tribal groups.

One of the amazing discoveries that Rainer & Rainer found in their survey of the American Millennial Generation was that in the top ten priorities of the lives of the Millennials, faith or religion was not mentioned (See ibid., p. 229). As previously stated, this is the most nonreligious generation that America has produced in its history. The institutional church failed this generation, since 70% of this generation feel that church is irrelevant to their needs. The “faithful” 6% who still cling to some of their Christian roots, have also presented to the church their “me” culture. The Millennials are more concerned about their needs at home, than they are about the nations of the world. This generation will vote a president into office who promises “to bring our troops home,” and then make him promise that there will be “no boots on the ground” of a foreign nation in the future.

This thinking of the Millennials has spilled over into the mission efforts of many churches of the West. And for this reason, the mission ministries of many churches throughout the West have been greatly diminished in the last two decades.   We assume worldwide missions and missionaries from the West will continue to diminish and be a thing of the past once the “withdrawn” remnant of the religious Millennials grows into the leadership of the Western church. We do not know of one missionary on the field who has not been affected by the Millennial mentality in the mission departments of supporting churches.

But in all the negative doom and gloom that we have thus written, there is indeed some great things that the Millennial Generation will produce in the future. Many of the 6% remnant are very committed. It may be that we have to go back to Jerusalem to an upper room wherein are again gathered only 120 faithful “Millennials” in the midst of an unbelieving world of the first century. But what those 120 did two thousand years ago in their lifetimes was truly phenomenal.   They turned the world upside down.   We believe the present faithful Millennials can do the same.

We see in the faithful of the Millennials today those of this fanatical conviction. One of these “fanaticals” visited us a few years ago. He said, “There is in our generation those who claim to be Christians, and those who are Christians. Some of us [Millennials] do not take our faith seriously, but those of us who do will die for Jesus!” And he was serious. We have friends who are Millennials who are men and women of tremendous conviction.   They are truly those who will give their lives for Jesus. Maybe we have been uniquely blessed by some of these who have passed our way, but we can truly give our testimony that there are some “Timothys” out there among the Millennials who will take that remaining 120 faithfuls of this generation from an upper room into a revival of spirit and preaching of the gospel to the world. We pray for these truly committed and convicted Millennial faithfuls. It is truly an inspiration to be around them. Rainer and Rainer made their optimistic conclusion of this generation known in the following statement at the end of their book:

Some churches in America will likely continue to decline and weaken because their leaders and members refuse to get out of their comfort zones. These churches will continue to have mediocre Bible study groups and anemic preaching. Not only will these churches fail to attract the non-Christian Millennials; they will forfeit the opportunity to reach Millennial Christians. Christians who are members of America’s largest generation will not embrace churches where the Bible is not taught and preached with depth and convictions (Emphasis mine, R.E.D., ibid., p. 264).

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Thank you France for the example in leadership against social tyranny.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

January 11: Qur’an Concepts

QUR’AN CONCEPTS

 Though we have sought through these words to be as objective as possible in reference to true Islam, we would not have the reader misunderstand us. The fact is that Islam is a political/religious system of government that was born out of an era of conflict. It was given birth by one who was seeking to usher in among his Arab people peace among conflicting nomadic Arab tribes who were polytheistic and politically divided. Muhammad and his close friends were military people. As the leader of his movement, had his thoughts transcribed, and then his followers, who were often in conflict, fed upon them as political/religious dictates that must be implemented in every society that conquered.   The result was that they inspired themselves to be victorious over unbelievers in their political/religious system of government in order to live in peace and unity among themselves.

Muhammad was one of the great spiritual and social leaders of his time. The fact that he is given credit for producing religious and social oracles is evidence of the fact that he was a leader who wanted to bring to his people under a creed that would encourage peace and unity.

Any reading of the Qur’an gives the impression that Muhammad sought to bring to the lives of simple nomadic people a life-style of social order in the chaotic manner by which nomadic tribes did that which was right in the eyes of each chieftain. In order to produce this order, he did what most religionists do in order to marshal the behavior of the adherents into conformity and uniformity. He produced laws that were eventually collected together over one hundred years after his death into what is now referred to as the Qur’an. This was a legal document of precepts and codes similar in nature to what God gave to Israel through the Torah. Israel needed “precept upon precept” in order to maintain order among scattered tribal farmers throughout the land of promise.   Likewise, the uneducated bedouins needed simple directions on how to live the spiritual life and maintain a government of unity. And in reference to this need, Muhammad delivered.

It is often the desire of those who seek a following to do the same with the New Testament. Some leaders have interpreted from the New Testament a legal system of Christianity that is simple and legal: Five steps of salvation and five acts of worship. As long as one had obeyed these simple dictates, then he was fine with God, regardless of his behavior and thinking.   The early uneducated rural farmers of America—and now the rest of the developing world—could easily understand this system of legal requirements. They could thus implement such a legal system of law in their lives in order to legally claim their salvation before God, and then judge others “unfaithful” if they did not conform to the code. Even “worship” was legalized in order to give attendees at assembly a sense of self-satisfaction that they had worshiped God according to law.

Muhammad, with different and more complex rules, did the same for the Arabs. Of course each system of religiosity is legal. And because the systems are legal it places the responsibility for salvation on the shoulders of the adherent to live perfectly in compliance with the laws before one can self-confidently claim salvation on the merit of his own obedience. But when the submissive adherent confesses to his inability to keep the laws perfectly, he is continually racked with guilt for not performing perfectly the codes of his legal religiosity. But the systematic theology of Muhammad appealed to the people. He was successful in that he gave people a legal system of behavior by which to conduct their lives in all aspects of human relationships, and by doing such, live in peace with Allah.

Because of the era in which Muhammad lived, we would assume that there would be many concepts in the Qur’an that are contrary to the Bible. When religions are invented by men, they inevitably reflect the times in which the men live. Such was the case with the birth of the Qur’an. When religious “scripture” is born out of the contemporary times of the writers, the mandates of the “scriptures” of these “holy books” reflect precepts and concepts that are eventually dated with the death of the authors and the changing of the times. And because man-made “scriptures” are dated, they are inevitably in conflict with the unchanging word of God, which word finds its uniqueness in the fact that it is valid and relevant for all cultures until the end of time. Moderate Muslims are such because they seek to bring Islam into a modern age of the developed world. We must certainly commend them for this effort, though we do not cease to point out those problems that they have in doing this by ignoring some precepts of the Qur’an that are dated.

Now in reference to the Qur’an that Muslims have today, there is a very dubious history. Muhammad died in 632. However, the earliest materials that Muslims have today in reference to the life and teachings of Muhammad were written by Ibn Ishaq in 750. It takes little math to figure out that this is about 120 years after Muhammad died. Now this story becomes even more interesting when one realizes that Muslims do not even have any of the original autographs of the work of Ibn Ishaq. What is available are only some copies of the revisions and amendments of Ishaq that were produced by Ibn Hisham, who died in 834.   Again, if we do the math, this is about 200 years after Muhammad died.

Now add to the intrigue of this story the work of Uthman Ibn Affan (644-656), the third caliph after Muhammad. This was an era when the Muslims needed a sacred book in order to consolidate the Muslims under his caliphate. So in order to marshal the people together under his rule, his scribes, with the help of the Samaritans, began to build a character model of Muhammad after the leadership of Moses. The Qur’an that Muslims use today was based on the material that was gathered by Uthman to produce a Qur’anic text. This is the Qur’anic text that is generally accepted by all Muslims today. However, this unfortunately means that the Qur’an that Muslims use today did not originate from Arab scribes. Muslims today assume that the Qur’an in their hands dates back to some original autograph of Muhammad at the time he died. But this is simply not true. There is absolutely no historical evidence that the Qur’an that exists today dates back to the time of Muhammad, or even immediately after his death. This history of the Qur’anic text is one of those embarrassing historical facts with which most Muslims are uncomfortable in discussing.

Now when we speak of the documents of the New Testament text, there is a similar history of collecting copies that were made from copies of the original autographs. However, there is a significant difference between how Christians view the New Testament text they have today and how Muslims view the Qur’anic text. Christians follow the message of the documents, and this message is clearly, and without any contradictions, revealed through the more than five thousand manuscripts that we have today of the New Testament. However, Muslims are always in a frantic search to verify the exact words of Muhammad because the Qur’an is the very revelation of Allah to man. Any corruption of the text of the Qur’an, therefore, would be a corruption of the revelation of Allah for Muslims today.

Now in contrast to Bible teaching, the following are a few example teachings of the Qur’an that might be interesting to the Bible student in order to determine some basic differences between teachings of the Qur’an and the Bible:

 I.  Mercy, forgiveness and forbearing:

In view of the present conflicts that prevail throughout the Arab Islamic world, we find the following statements of Muhammad quite interesting, if not a paradox to the militant Islamist:

Allah is forgiving and merciful (Surah 2:218).

And know that Allah is forgiving and forbearing (Surah 2:235).

Allah is embracing and knowing (Surah 2:247).

Allah is gracious toward mankind (Surah 2:251)

These statements are scattered throughout the Qur’an. All moderate Muslims of the world focus on these statements in reference to defining their Islamic faith to the Christian world. However, when we see the conflicts that are presently happening in the Middle East, we are led to believe that the conflicts are not the result of pious spiritual leaders who are trying to implement Islam. What radical Islamists seem to be doing is enriching themselves on the wealth of oil that is sold to the infidel. And in order to do this, power must be claimed. And in order to claim the power, Islamists must ignore the forgiving, merciful and forbearing teachings of Muhammad concerning his understanding of the nature of Allah.

 II.  Deceive for Allah:

Now Muslims would lead the world to believe that the basic nature of Islam is “mercy, forgiveness and forbearing.”   But the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world know that this is not always the case. The teaching of Taqiyya is a doctrine of the Qur’an. It is a principle that gives the right to the Muslim to proclaim one’s beliefs in a deceptive manner in order to escape persecution or harm. When in negotiations with the West, the Islamic nation would feel that it is their right to deceive the Western negotiators for the sake of promoting the Islamic cause. Surah 16:106 reads,

Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters unbelief, except under compulsion, theirs will be a dreadful chastisement.

What the surah is saying is that a Muslim has the right to utter falsehoods in order to escape persecution. The same principle of deception and denial is taught in reference to breaking oaths, promises and other contracts with the infidel, if such is down for the benefit of the Muslim (See surah 2:225; 8:54; 9:3; 11:106; 40:28; 66:2). Would an Islamic nation that is governed by sharia law sign a treaty with the West, and then later recant on the conditions of the treaty? The Qur’an would certainly justify such.

 III.  Aggression:

We do not forget that within the pages of Muhammad’s teaching that there are clear statements that encourage aggression.   Surah 9:29 states:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor abide by the religion of truth—from among those who received the Scripture—until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.

In contrast to this aggression that is taught in the Qur’an, note Surah 5:87:

O you who believe! Do not prohibit the good things Allah has permitted for you, and do not commit aggression. Allah does not love the aggressors.

And fight them until there is no oppression, and worship becomes devoted to Allah alone. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except against the oppressors (Surah 2:193).

In reference to this aggressive spirit that is taught in the Qur’an, which was military aggression, the West must not forget that the radical Islamist obsesses over these statements in order to launch jihad against the free world. The West would certainly use military force to resist any formalized Islamic army that would endanger nationhood and the Western citizen’s way of life. But such a military conflict with jihadist will not happen. Islamic jihad is covert. The aggression of the Islamist today is carried out through the infiltration of society under the umbrella of the “freedom of religion” embedded in the laws of the free world. Islamists in the West are using the freedom of democracy as the means to continue the Islamic war against the unbelievers.

This does not mean, however, that when Muslims have the majority vote that they will implement sharia law. There are countries as Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia that by far are Muslim in majority with Islam as the state law, but do not seek to oppress other faiths by a strict application of sharia law.   We must keep in mind that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are moderate and want to continue on with peace in their lives as any citizen in the freedom of a democratic society. But we must never forget that deep inside, Muslims know that the world must become Islam. This is the thinking of the vast majority of Muslims, though the moderate Muslim would use more subtle means than outright military conflict.

It is certainly the goal of the Christian to make all the world Christian. His evangelistic outreach is through the proclamation of the gospel, to which people can voluntarily and individually respond. No one is forced to become a Christian. Those who would impose their faith on others, will eventually have others retaliate by imposing their faith on them. There is the vast difference between using terrorism as a means to impose one’s faith on others.

If the Christian would succeed in his evangelistic efforts to reach the world, then he does not have in his back pocket a religious state constitution that he would impose on those who would volunteer to be Christian. Almost all modern Muslims in democratic states feel the same in reference to Islam and the Qur’an. However, we must keep in mind that movements as the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Sahabaab and Al qaeda have copies of the Qur’an ready to impose on the people as a state constitution.

We are often horrified at the horrendous atrocities that are being carried out by Islamic groups in different parts of the world. There is a reason for this.   The radical Islamist accuses the non-Islamic world of attacking Islam. They are right, but not as they think. The attack is with the gospel, not with guns. In the early 1960s there was a book that was published annually entitled, Unreached People. In the early 1960s it was stated that about one billion people in the world had never heard the name “Jesus.” But since then, this has all changed. The name of Jesus has been preached throughout the last fifty years to people all over the world. Few people in the world today have never heard of the name Jesus.

Now we wonder why Islamists feel that they are under attack? The truth is that Muslims are converting to Christianity throughout the world. And what would we expect when the kingdom of darkness is under attack? Islamists know that the message of love that Christians bring through the preaching of the gospel will overcome the power of any religious system that is of this world.

Christians recall in their history when the same scenario of oppression of their faith happened at the beginning of the first century until the first of the fourth century. The Jews first persecuted Christianity, and then state persecution began with Nero and extended until Rome finally relented under Constantine and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Hate and military aggression of the great Roman Empire succumbed to love.

When one has an inferiority complex about his faith, his only recourse is terroristic aggression. When one knows that he is losing the battle for the hearts of men, then he will often lash out with fierce aggression. A once “unreached people” of the world are now being reached with the message of love from the cross that was expressed through grace and was poured out on the cross of Calvary. There is no power whatsoever that can stand against the power of the love and grace that was revealed on a cross a short distance from Jerusalem. Someone once asked us how to convert Muslims. There is really only one answer that would begin the conversion process. Jesus gave the “method”:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34,35).

 IV.  Islam only:

Surah 9:33 states that Islam is the only true religion.

It is He who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, in order to make it prevail over all religions, even though the idolaters dislike it.

The religion before Allah is Islam (Surah 3:19; see 3:85).

This statement would also reflect the goal of Christians in reference to Christianity. What the constitution of a democratic state accomplishes is to offer both the Christian and Muslim, as well as all religious faiths within a nation, the social environment in which differences in faith can be freely discussed.   If either side of the discussion would seek to impose the laws of their faith as the laws of the state, then we can know that that faith is simply the invention of man. If one needs the law of state to convert the people, then we can be assured that the law of one’s faith is simply from man and not God.   Those who lack confidence in their “system of faith” will always seek some way to impose their faith on others by using the law of the state.

But the doctrine of “Islam only” is totally contrary to the teaching that Jesus is the only way, truth and life (Jn 14:6).   He is the only way into the realm of the eternal Father (At 4:12). Islam cannot be the only way, if the only way is through Jesus. The teaching that Islam is the only religion forces every Muslim to accept the following teaching of the Qur’an:

 V.  Denial of the cross:

Surah 4:157 states:

And for their [Jews] saying, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah.” In fact, they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them as if they did. Indeed, those who differ about him are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it, except the following of assumptions. Certainly, they did not kill him.

This is one point of teaching of the Qur’an that will always separate Christianity from Islam. There will never be a compromise between the two faiths, as some have attempted with the theology of “Christlam.” Such teaching is a mockery of the Son of God and the cross upon which He poured Himself out for the salvation of all men.

Muhammad denied the very foundation upon which God labored for centuries throughout human history to accomplish. The cross is the centrality of the work of the one true and living God. And it is by the denial of this salvational event of history that proves that Islam is simply a religion of man. Because of this denial on the part of Muhammad, he will always be considered a false prophet by all Christians.

Muhammad’s denial of this central reason for Christian faith speaks volumes concerning the digressed state of “Christianity” that he encountered. He placed no salvational emphasis on the cross, indicating that the supposed Christianity of the era had long forgotten that the Christian life is centered around the cross. What Muhammad encountered was a religion that was defined by organized religious people who based their faith in a religious institution. There was no preaching of the gospel of Jesus and the cross at this time in history. There was only preaching of the church. If the gospel had been preached and lived throughout the Arabian areas of the world, then certainly Muhammad would have mentioned message of the gospel that “Christians” were supposed to be preaching. If “Christians” were preaching the gospel of the cross, Muhammad would have attacked the message of the cross and not simply what he considered to be the fraudulent claim of the death of Jesus.

Will this be the demise of the church in the years to come? Will we too stop preaching the gospel of the cross and the necessity of obeying the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in the waters of baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Will preaching of an institutional churchianity overshadow the cross? It seems that the digression has already started with those who obsess over “faith only” salvation to the neglect of obedience to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See 1 Co 15:1-4; Rm 6:3-6; 2 Th 1:6-9). The central message of some in these days is a message of church, and not Christ. It is often a message of preserving one’s religious heritage, and not preaching of our inheritance through the cross.

When prophets start preaching that people are individually predestined to either heaven or hell, then there is no need to proclaim the cross to which all men must have an opportunity to respond.   When prophets rise up, and with sweet voices, proclaim that a simple faith only is all that is needed to be saved, then there is no need to preach the incarnate blood of Jesus Christ dripping from the cross of Calvary. When the obsession of our preaching is a catechism to define our church heritage, then the foundation of our faith moves from Christ to church.

We would assume that Christendom has moved closer to the era of Muhammad by promoting a churchianity that is sterile of the cross, but organize according to the laws of heritage. If one does not believe this, then he should take note of all the “miracle meetings” that are conducted throughout the misguided religious world of Christendom. People are drawn to the “miracle meetings” in hope of healing. Churches are thus filled with narcissistic attendees who come weekly and weakly for some “healing.” They are “me churches” that seek something for self. They are not drawn into assembly because of what Jesus did for us through the cross. This certainly seems to be contrary to what Jesus said would draw people unto Him. “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me” (Jn 12:32). It is the cross that draws true repentant believers to Jesus, not miracles.

Please keep in mind that the digression from the preaching of the gospel and simple Christianity to an institutional churchianity identified by its organization took less than five centuries to developfully. This is the “christianity” that Muhammad encountered and rejected. In the middle of the first century, Paul started everything right during his three-year ministry in Arabia (Gl 17,18).   Though Christianity was started right, it ended up wrong when people left the direction of the word of God.   Digression from the gospel message is slow, but it eventually comes. Our task is to determine at what stage we are presently in concerning the digression of Christianity to being just another religion.

To think that Christianity without the Bible is static and uninfluenced and unchanging everywhere in the world, is certainly being naive as a historian. It is the duty of every disciple to check his Bible, and then look around and determine the state of the religious world in which he lives.   Most of the time all one must do is simply look at those who are sitting beside him on Sunday morning. He should thus first check himself lest he become a part of that institutional religiosity which Muhammad encountered, and rejected. The “Christianity” of his day was so false that even he admonished the “Christians” to follow the teachings of Jesus (See Surah 3:161-166). We know that we have strayed a long way from Jesus when it takes an unbeliever to call us hypocrites in reference to the faith that we profess.

 VI.  God is not three, but one:

Surah 4:171 states:

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion, and do not say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, is the Messenger of Allah, and His Word that He conveyed to Mary, and a Spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and do not say, “Three.” Refrain—it is better for you. Allah is only one.

Muhammad did not consider Jesus to be the manifestation of God on earth, and thus, not the Son of God. Jesus was simply a prophet/messenger from God. He was a prophet just as Muhammad claimed to be.   When Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), He stated a teaching that was totally contrary to the concept that Muhammad had of Jesus.

 VII.  Jesus not God, nor Son of God:

Muhammad denied the sonship of Jesus. To him, Jesus was, as he, only a messenger from Allah. In fact, Jesus was created by Allah, and thus could not be as Allah himself (Surah 3:59).

In blasphemy are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary (Surah 5:17; see 5:72)

Christ the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him (Surah 5:75).

Muhammad taught that since Jesus was a created being, and thus not one with God, as the Bible teaches, then it would be wrong for one to believe and teach that Jesus was the Son of God (Surah 9:31). On this basis, he denied the deity of the Son of God. Of the twenty-five times that reference is made to Jesus in the Qur’an, twenty-three times reference is made to Him as only the “son of Mary.”

Under no circumstances did Muhammad want people to think of Jesus as the Son of God. If such were believed, then the teachings of Jesus would be elevated above the teachings of Muhammad. Jesus would thus not have been just another prophet of God, as Muhammad so claimed He was.   If in any way Jesus was accepted to be more than a prophet, then Muhammad’s teachings would not have been accepted as teachings in a succession of prophets, of which Muhammad claimed to be the last.

 VIII.  Legal salvation by works:

Surah 23:101-103 state:

When the Horn is blown, no relations between them will exist on that Day, and they will not ask after one another.   Those whose scales are heavy—those are the successful. But those whose scales are light—those are they who have lost their souls; in Hell they will dwell forever. (Also see surah 34:3-5).

One’s salvation, according to Muhammad, depends on the number of good works he has accumulated for the day of judgment. Now because the Qur’an taught this legal system of salvation, there was no guaranteed way that one would go to heaven, for one would never know if his works were sufficient to give him a pass into the presence of the many virgins that awaited him. Even if one did make it into heaven, there was no guarantee that he would stay there. So Muhammad came up with an ingenious way of encouraging his recruits for war, and at the same time, give them peace of mind that they would enter into the presence of all these virgins, and stay there. If one died a martyr for Allah, he was guaranteed heaven. The suicide bomber, therefore, is guaranteed entrance into the presence of the virgins if he commits his murderous act of suicide.   If one would commandeer an airplane and fly it into a skyscraper, killing hundreds of infidels, then he would go straight to heaven.

 VIX.  Polygamy:

Surah 4:3 states:

If you fear you cannot act fairly towards the orphans—then marry the women you like—two, or three, or four ….

Muhammad’s teaching on polygamy rose out of an era of wars when fathers were killed in battle. The returning men from battle were given the responsibility of caring for the wives and children of those husbands and fathers who were killed in battle.

 X.  Believe in Jesus:

Surah 3:79 state:

No person to whom Allah has given the Scripture, and wisdom, and prophethood would ever say to the people, “Be my worshipers rather than Allah’s.” Rather, “Be people of the Lord, according to the Scripture you [Christians] teach, and the teachings you learn.”

In a mandate to his followers, Muhammad wrote in Surah 4:161-166:

We have inspired you, as We had inspired Noah and the prophets after him. And We inspired Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Patriarchs, and Jesus, and Job, and Jonah, and Aaron, and Solomon. … Some messengers We have already told you about, while some messengers We have not told you about. … Messengers delivering good news, and bringing warnings; so that people may have no excuse before Allah after the coming of the messengers. …   But Allah bears witness to what He revealed to you. He revealed it with His knowledge. And the angels bear witness. Though Allah is a sufficient witness.

And then in a contradictory statement, Muhammad wrote in Surah 3:17:

Verily, the true religion in Allah’s sight is Islam.

In other words, the Christian is to believe in Jesus Christ, and thus be Christian. But then Muhammad affirms that there is only one religion, Islam. Then consider the fact that the Bible teaches that God does not deliver to man “religion,” but principles by which His people conduct themselves in the world and with one another. If one must follow Jesus in his “religion,” then how can Islam be the only religion in the sight of God?

 XI.  Disrespect for women:

Muhammad viewed women as property and a means to satisfy sexual urges and pleasures.   This thinking is brought out in Surah 33:51:

You may defer any of them [women] you wish, and receive any of them you wish. Should you desire any of those you had deferred, there is no blame on you.

 XII.  Hope of a carnal heaven:

In the statements of Surah 56:10-35, Muhammad described his concept of the reward of obedient Muslim men. We do not presume that Muhammad was speaking metaphorically when he gave this description of hope for his followers. Since he surely did not, then the hope of heaven that is presented by the Qur’an is certainly carnal.

And the forerunners, the forerunners.   Those are the nearest. In the Gardens of Bliss. A throng from the ancients. And a small band from the latecomers. On luxurious furnishings. Reclining on them, facing one another. Serving them will be immortalized youth. With cups, pitchers, and sparkling drinks. Causing them neither headache, nor intoxication. And fruits of their choice. And meat of birds that they may desire. And lovely companions. The likenesses of treasured pearls. As a reward for what they used to do. Therein they will hear no nonsense, and no accusations. But only the greeting: “Peace, peace.” And those on the Right—what of those on the Right? In lush orchards. And sweet-smelling plants. And extended shade. And outpouring water. And abundant fruit. Neither withheld, nor forbidden. And uplifted mattresses. We have created them of special creation. (See also Surah 3:11; 4:60).

While he was still alive and attacking caravans across the desert, Muhammad made some very carnal promises to his men in order to guarantee their loyalty and die for his cause. If they would fight with him, he promised that they could have the women they captured in order to satisfy their sexual desires. And then some of his men began questioning that if they were killed in battle, then they would have no women. So another revelation was squeezed out of Muhammad that said there would be virgins waiting for them in heaven (See surah 56:34-36).

There are many legal mandates and exhortations imposed on Muslims by the Qur’an. The religion is based on a legalistic system of behavior and salvation, and thus, emphasis for salvation is based on one’s performance of those laws that Muhammad enjoined on his followers. It is a system of religiosity wherein there can be little grace, for grace cannot be the focus of a religious system that is based on legal perfection in obedience to law by those who teach the system.

Though there are many good principles that are taught in the Qur’an, the confusion it leaves with the reader would suggest that moderate Muslims probably spend little time in studying its text because of the nature of its legal system for salvation. The same could be said of many of those who profess to be Christian concerning their knowledge and study of the Bible. But at least by reading the Bible and the Qur’an, one would be encouraged to read the Bible simply because there is a literary flow of the text without all the rambling thoughts that seem to be characteristic with some parts of the text of the Qur’an.

We would encourage every Christian to be very familiar with the teachings of the Qur’an, especially those teachings where the Qur’an makes God a liar and a deity who has changed His mind from what He first said in the Bible.   The Qur’an is filled with justification for lying, deception, slavery, women as property, the right to selfishly kill for the reward of heaven, military dominance of all nations, and a host of other teachings that are contrary to Bible teaching. If the Qur’an is from God, then God sure changed His mind on a great deal of moral issues that He revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.

We are certain that most moderate Muslims today are entirely unaware of many teachings of the Qur’an that are contrary to Bible teaching, and in many cases, contrary to the constitutional law of secular states. It is for this reason that Christians should be familiar with the teachings of the Qur’an in order to teach Muslims. This is being done by many Christians in Africa, and as a result thousands of African Muslims are being converted to Jesus. The day may come when we in Africa will need to send African evangelists to America in order to teach American Christians how to convert Muslims. Just keep in mind that the moderate Muslim’s ignorance of his own source of authority is an open door to bring moral truth to those who are walking in ignorance.

 

January 10: A Blueprint For The Future

A BLUEPRINT FOR THE FUTURE

 The way of the natural world is order because all life was created by a God of order. Natural laws were created to guarantee that our world would not come apart, but would function orderly even at the microscopic level of neutrons.   When looking at the smallest particles of the organic world, there is order. There is order in our galaxy and order in the organic environment in which we live. Order is simply the physics of all created things, whether material or organic or social.

Now this brings us to mankind. Among the inhabitants of this world, order is the norm.   In times of social chaos, we must never forget this. Whenever we witness societies in chaos, social physics is struggling on the stage life to give birth to a new social order. Chaos may prevail for decades, but we must be assured that order will eventually prevail over social chaos. Just ask the historians of Germany or Japan. Decades of chaos resulted in order that has taken both societies past world wars to a new order of society that never wants to return to the decades of social chaos.

We see social chaos in the Middle East. But we would never base our judgments for the future of the Middle East on the social chaos that presently prevails. We will not because we understand that social chaos is not permanent.   It is society groaning through the chaos of turmoil in order to give birth to a new order. Eventually, social chaos finds order. In our lifetime, social chaos may not find social order in the Middle East, but order will eventually prevail. We have hope that the present turmoil in the Middle East will eventually find some social order. And thus, we see a glimmer of hope in what is called the movement of the Rojava in the Middle East. Herein is a small movement of people who are bringing together into order all the parties that have historically caused the chaos of the past. We acknowledge this group here for the sake of the West that seems to think that the entire Middle East is about to get out of control.   But we must be careful not to stereotype people by what we see on the news media of the West. Please keep in mind that the news media is trying to make a profit by focusing our attention on chaos, not order. There are not to many news reports made of peaceful societies.   So for the sake of those who are obsessed with Middle East chaos, we would present a few facts here about what is happening among the Rojava.

The Rojava is a small enclave of primarily Kurdish people of all religious faiths within the borders of Syria, Turkey, and northern Iraq. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the Middle East who do not have their own homeland. They have struggled for decades to have such, but have been denied the right by the Turks, Iraqis and Syrians.

In 1916, when the English and French behind closed doors, drew lines on a map to form the Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were left off the map, and thus, they were not given their own homeland. The English and French simply gave the Middle East to lords who eventually established authoritarian regimes by slaughtering leftist thinking people and intellectuals of the region during the 70s and 80s. As a result, the social dynamics of the Middle East was changed to what became dictatorial regimes who have now suffered the vengeance of the Arab Spring.   It was the imperialistic West who propped up the authoritarian regimes for the sake of oil. Every time a citizen of the West fueled up his vehicle in the freedom of his own land, he added fuel to the fire that has now broken out across the Middle East. Therefore, before all of us of the West point fingers at those of the Middle East, we might think on these realities.

During the period before the Arab Spring, those of leftist organizations, trade unions, and student movements were either killed or imprisoned, especially in countries as Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Because of this oppression, particularly of those who were Shi’ite Muslims, jihadist movements began to arise in opposition. The opposition was not only against those within the region, but against those imperialists who propped up those to whom they had assigned power over the people and oil as a result of the Sykes-Ricot agreement. It was for this reason that the Rojava (meaning, “west,” the western Kurdish region of Syria) were labeled terrorists by oppressing regimes, including Turkey, Syria and Iraq. They were labeled terrorists because they simply began to fight for their freedom in order that they too might have their own homeland and the right and freedom for self-determination.

The recent conflicts in the Middle East have brought the Rojava a long way in accomplishing their goal of having their own autonomous homeland. In preparation for such, they have written their own constitution. They have also divided themselves into autonomous cantons (states, provinces) in order to guarantee the freedom of everyone within each canton. They have refused to establish their statehood on the basis of any ethnic demands or interests. They have witnessed in the past one hundred years that nationhood that is built on ethnicity or religion will never bring peace among citizens. So in order to establish a society that is not based on a reaction to another oppressive government that is based on either ethnicity or religion, they have refused to become a part of the civil war in Syria, though many dwell within the borders of Syria. In order to guarantee self-determination among the people, they have established autonomous cantons that make decisions according to the assembly of all the people and faiths within the region of each canton.

The Rojava seek gender equality and to empower women at all levels of society. The seek both political and religious freedom. They are anti-authoritarian, anti-imperialist, and seek to respect life and all living creatures. Their constitution is the most democratic of all the constitutions of the Middle East.   Because of the recent conflicts that are raging in the Middle East, we thought it necessary here to give a translated quote from the first statements of the Rojava constitution in order to give the free world an idea of a blueprint for civil society that the Rojava are trying to write for the future of themselves as part of the Middle East.

[We] the peoples of the democratic self-administration areas; Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens, by our free will, announce this to ensure justice, freedom, democracy, and the rights of women and children in accordance with the principles of ecological balance, freedom of religions and beliefs, and equality without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, doctrine or gender, to achieve the political and moral fabric of a democratic society in order to function with mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity and respect for the principle of self-determination and self-defense of the peoples.

The autonomous areas of the democratic self-administration do not recognize the concept of nation state and the state based on the grounds of military power, religion, and centralism.

It is quite interesting that a document as this would arise out of a broken part of the world where a movement as ISIS is seeking to annihilate this society of people while nations as Turkey stand on the sidelines and watch smoke rise from the Kurdish city of Kobane just a couple miles south of the border with Turkey. There are over 7,500 women in the military of Rojava, fighting beside the men. You have probably seen these brave young women on CNN and BBC, standing with their long black hair blowing in the Arabian winds while firing their guns against a barbaric Islamists aggression of society who believe they are implementing the true Islamic state. Some of the ISIS fighters think that if they are killed by a woman, they will go straight to hell. So we can only imagine that these brave young Rojava women soldiers, some of them “Christian,” get up in the morning, clean and load their guns, and then encourage one another as to how many ISIS men they are going to send to hell during the day.

The next time you see on the news the historic battle that is taking place for Kobane, just remember that there are these brave Rojave women in there who are engaged in street battles from house to house, being led by a woman commander, trying to protect this Kurdish city from falling to a modern-day “Nazi” barbarianism. And then think for a moment when you are trying to get your children to some soccer game on time, that some of your Christian sisters just scurried their children to a bomb shelter after the fall of the first mortar attack.

A CNN reporter interviewed one of the these Rojava women soldiers on the frontline only a short distance from the gunfire of ISIS soldiers. She said,

One of my friends was wounded. She said to me before her death, “Let my blood bring freedom to the people.” As ISIS soldiers crowded around her wounded body, she blew herself up and killed many of them.

This is the world as it is in northern Syria.

January 9: The Perpetual Conflict

THE PERPETUAL CONFLICT

 Muslims have difficulty reconciling the two major groups (Sunnis and Shi’ites) that fall under the Islamic faith today. There is a prevailing conflict between these two sects that is embedded within Islam because of history and interpretation of the Qur’an. Overall, Islam consists of about 90% Sunnis and 10% Shi’ites, with minor groups as the Ibadi scattered throughout the faith. The conflict between the two major groups has existed for centuries.   The present ISIS movement in the Middle East is composed primarily of Sunnis. The atrocities of this movement have embarrassed most Muslims to the point that where we live in Africa, Muslims do not even want to talk about the matter. They do not because they have for so long assumed that if the whole world were Islamic, then there would be peace on earth among all men. But the reality is that embedded within Islam is conflict between the different sects that will never be resolved. The Muslim’s argument that there will be peace once the whole world becomes Islam is simply a fantasy in view of the present conflict between Islamic sects within those nations that are totally Islam.   If peace cannot be realized from within totally Islamic nations today, then certainly Muslims must not think that the rest of the world would have peace if the world was Islam.

Add to this that there is a continued conflict within Islamic societies between moderate Muslims and fundamentalist radicals.   In the Islamic conflicts of the Middle East, by far more deaths result from Muslim against Muslim than Muslim against those of other faiths. Boko Haram of northeastern Nigeria, after the example of their radical brothers in the Middle East, attack other Muslims. In this carnage, men, women and children are ruthlessly murdered in the name of Allah.   In fact, the BCC reported that in 2014 an average of 5,000 people were murdered every month throughout the world by Islamic radicals. Most of those who were killed were Muslims. As long as there are Muslims who seek to modernize their interpretation of the Qur’an according to the reality of a developed world, then there will always be mortal conflict between the moderate Muslim and the fundamental Islamic radical. And since the radical Islamist in underdeveloped countries is intimidated by the developed world, he will always use his religion as an excuse to lash out at the rich infidel in order to justify his poverty.

This conflict will never be resolved because in those Middle East countries where everyone is Muslim, there is a deadly war going on between the Shi’ites and Sunnis. The result of the differences between the radicals of both groups will always be power struggles to determine who will be in control. The radicals of the two groups have little tolerance for one another when it comes to determining who is going to be in control of the state, and subsequently, the riches of the society. This contention between the two sects began soon after the death of Muhammad, and will continue indefinitely into the future.

Muhammad was born around 570. He grew up in Mecca of western Arabia. In 622 he revealed his beliefs, assuming that he had received “word” as divine revelation from Allah. He asserted this claim to those of his Arab tribal group, who eventually accepted him as a prophet of God. All went well during his lifetime in presenting a united front to his believers.   But when he died, things changed.   Division within the ranks of the followers began ten years after his death in 632 and continue unto this day.

The problem was that Muhammad did not name a successor as the leader of the new Islamic ideology. Subsequently, one group of followers believed that the role of the caliph (the viceroy of Allah), should come from the bloodline of Muhammad.   This bloodline should extend through the lineage of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, who was named Ali ibn Bi Talib. But the majority of his followers believed that Muhammad’s religious heritage and leadership should be passed down through the lineage of his friend, Abu Bakr, who had no bloodline connection to Muhammad.

Shortly after the death of Muhammad, Bakr became caliph, though Ali would eventually become the fourth caliph before he was murdered in 661. Upon the death of Ali, the successor of Muhammad was again debated among Muslims.   This dispute eventually led to a formal division between Muslims that exists to this day. The majority of the division backed Mu’awiyah, the governor of Syria, and his son, Yazid. This group is today known as the Sunnis.

The minority group followed the succession of Ali through his son, Hussein. This group was collectively known as Shi’at Ali, meaning those who are aligned with Ali.   This group is known today as the Shi’ites, or Shia. When these two divisions of Islam eventually met on a battlefield near Karbala on October 10, 680, Hussein was killed and decapitated.

Through the Sunnis’ conquest of the Shi’ites at Karbala, the Sunnis sought to terminate the “apostate” Shi’ites. But the contrary happened. The murder of Hussein gave the Shi’ites a martyr, and thus, upon the martyrdom of Hussein, the followers of Hussein eventually consolidated Shi’ite Muslims as a distinctive sect of Islam. The death of Hussein eventually became the most celebrated annual occasion of the Shi’ites because he was revered as one who stood up against the oppression of the Sunni sect.

The Sunnis were loyal to Mu’awiyah and his successors. They eventually became the majority sect of all Muslims and were known for their oppression of all other sects of Islam. The word “Sunni” means those who follow Sunnah, or the Way of the prophet. The Sunnis assumed the belief and practice that the caliph was a political leader, as well as the religious leader of the people.   This belief eventually made the Sunnis the dominant sect among all Muslims, comprising the greater percentage of all Muslims today.

But in opposition to Sunni beliefs and practices, Shi’ite teaching appeals to those Muslims who always feel the oppression of the Sunnis. Their religious leaders are the imams who seek to be the spiritual descendants of Muhammad.   Through the leadership of their spiritual leaders, Shi’ites seek to maintain the spirit of Islam, and at the same time, the imams seek to lead Muslims to refuse the oppression of the Sunnis.

The 12th imam of the Shi’ites, Muhammad al-Mahdi, supposedly disappeared in the ninth century at the Samarra Shrine in Iraq.   Most Shi’ites believe that Muhammad al-Mahdi was mysteriously hidden until a time when he will be revealed at an undetermined date. When he does reappear, it is assumed that he will restore a reign of justice throughout the world by promoting the beliefs of the Shi’ites.

Though the Sunnis and Shi’ites had minor conflicts with one another for centuries, it seems that in the unstable political atmosphere of the Middle East today, their differences have been accentuated and clearly revealed to the rest of the world. Their former tolerance of one another involved intermarriage and business.   However, intervention by the West to deliver the Islamic countries from either Sunni or Shi’ite dictators ignited old differences between the two sects. The opportunity was presented for struggle as to who was going to dominate the government of the supposedly liberated state and claim the riches of oil money. And because there seems to be no deep spirit of compromise among fundamental Islamists on either side of the conflict, too many fathers, mothers, sons and daughters have been and will be murdered by opposing sects. There seems to be no light at the end of this quagmire of religious strife to allow a restoration of peace in those Arabic nations where there is competition for power and oil riches by Sunnis and Shi’ites.

There is thus a perpetual Middle East conflict within Islam that will continue in the years to come. The conflict is not for a religious victory of either sect, but for the right to govern those Middle East nations that are predominately Muslim.   Sunnis and Shi’ites disagree over some matters of interpretation of the Qur’an, but they agree on the fundamentals.   They agree on the requirements of faith and prayer, the infallibility of the Qur’an, and the veneration of the prophet Muhammad. And where we have witnessed great conflicts between Sunnis and Shi’ites, there is no evidence that one group is trying to convert the other to their particular historical lineage of spiritual leaders or brand of Qur’anic interpretations.   They are simply in competition with one another in order to determine who will be victorious in any conflict.

The rise of Islamist movements as ISIS is different. The ISIS movement illustrates a conflict within Islam to restore a radical interpretation of the Qur’an in order to create an Islamic state. All opposition to such movements as ISIS are given three options: (1) convert to the mandates of radical Islam and join in the restoration of a true Islamic state, (2) flee the territory that is claimed by the radicals, or (3) die.   Because of these mandates by the ISIS movement, all forms of Christianity in ISIS controlled territory is now being eradicated. Church buildings that have been in existence for centuries are being emptied as those of Christian faith flee ISIS controlled territory. All Muslims who would disagree and not convert to the ISIS definition of Islam are killed.

What is so glaringly hypocritical about the ISIS movement—and all similar Islamic movements with a similar ideology—is that the money to continue their movement would disappear if they were eventually victorious in their final goal. Revenue from the sale of oil to the imperialistic and infidel enemies is needed to pay their soldiers and to run their vehicles to fight their battles.   But if they succeed in their victory over the infidel, all this would disappear with the disappearance of the infidels. If they would by chance win the war against the infidel, then there would be no one to buy their oil in order to run their state. There would be no more infidel banks to rob and no rich infidel people to kidnap for ransom. The money would be gone and the people would be returned to camels and the sands of the Arabian desert.   It is like the horror of a Mad Max movie.

We wonder if radical Islamists think about these things? The truth still stands that any oppressive government regime is impossible to continue over any length of time, especially those radical Islamic movements whose leadership has deceived the people into believing that there is freedom and peace through bondage and oppression.

The best way for the protestant world to understand the division that exists among the many sects of Islam is to compare Islam with the protestant world of denominationalism. There are numerous denominations (sects) that fall under the label “protestant.” All differ, having different names and being identified by various interpretations of the Bible in reference to their teaching. Islam is in like manner divided from within itself. As the protestant from a particular denomination of the protestant world would say that he is a “Christian,” the Muslim would say he is a Muslim in reference to his allegiance to a particular sect of Islam.   A Muslim still regards himself to be a Muslim, regardless of the particular denomination of Islam with which he is aligned.

The competition between differing sects of Islam is about political dominance of one group over another, particularly with the two major groups of the Sunnis and Shi’ites. The division is accentuated by a particular groups’ interpretation and application of the Qur’an. Both Sunnis and Shi’ites seek political domination over the people in those nations where Islam is the dominant faith. However, what binds the two groups together is not necessarily the fact that they all claim to be Muslims, but the fact that both groups have a common historical background (heritage) and religious authority, the Qur’an.

The Shi’ites consider themselves to be the oppressed and the Sunnis are considered by the Shi’ites to be the oppressors.   In this conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors, the two sects are drawn together into a mutual conflict whenever one particular group is in the majority. If a particular sect enjoys the majority, then there seems to be peace as long as the minority group is allowed to maintain their particular religious heritage, and yet submit to the governance of the dominant sect.   But in those countries of the Middle East where there is national upheaval, then the two groups are in competition with one another as to who will eventually rule the country.

The irony is in the fact that the conflict between the two groups is what draws them together. When either group feels that they are under the threat of being “christianized,” then both are united as Muslims against the threat. When one group eventually succeeds in becoming the dominant group in a Middle Eastern country, then the losers of the conflict must submit, and thus, relinquish to the authority of the majority group, or at least to the sect that controls the military muscle. If they do not submit, as in the case of Shi’ites in the ISIS controlled areas that are primarily Sunni, then they must be killed.

The countries that form the majority of Shi’ites today would be Iraq, Iran, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. However, scattered throughout these countries are also Sunnis.   There are also a number of Shi’ites in the minority in countries as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Pakistan that are predominately Sunni. But historically, the Sunnis have had the upper hand in political power, even in those countries where Shi’ites have had the numerical advantage.

Syria is primarily Sunni, but has been ruled by a Shi’ite minority known as the Alawites. The minority Shi’ites have maintained their power in Syria by marginalizing the majority Sunnis of the country in the military and government.   Assad, the present president of Syria, is Alawite. The rebels of the country are primarily Sunni. The present problem is that the Sunnis feel that it is now their time in history that they should rule the country. And since the West has backed some of the Sunni rebels, the Shi’ites, who are backed by Iranian Shi’ites, now view the West to be on the side of the Sunnis.   Now you can understand why the Iranians are somewhat suspicious of the West in their negotiations with Iran over nuclear power. And one can better understand why the Shi’ite majority of Iran seek nuclear power in order to intimidate the oppressing Sunnis that they not even think about asserting power over a Shi’ite Iran.

To western thinking, the conflict embedded within Islam is often confusing. We must simply keep in mind that in the Middle East, the sectarian conflict is more than a conflict over different religious beliefs among Muslims. It is a struggle for state control by one of the sects of Islam in order to gain riches through oil, bank robbery, extortion and the sale of opium. It is about who controls the government and all the wealth of the country. And since both Sunnis and Shi’ites have been inherently competitive (hostile) toward one another for centuries, depending on who was in control of the state, the present upheaval in the Arab world has heightened their hostilities toward one another. This conflict between these two sects of Islam, therefore, will continue indefinitely in the Islamic nations of the Middle East since the two groups will always exist within any particular Middle East nation.

All this conflict can actually be blamed on the leaders of radical Islamists. Muhammad established Islam as a religion of faith and state, and thus, when it comes to competition between sects within the Islamic faith, it turns into confrontation (war) as to who is going to rule the state. This did not exist during the lifetime of Muhammad. The historical irony is in the fact that what Muhammad established to bring unity among Arabs has actually condemned them to perpetual conflict and division. As outsiders looking on, we see in this conflict evidence that such a faith cannot be from one God who would promote unity. Man-made religions always promote division because they always reflect in their faith a distorted understanding of who their god is. And even as Christianity in its early beginnings, there is always division over loyalty to particular leaders when men seek to follow men rather than Christ (See 1 Co 1:12).

We can never become a brotherhood of believers until we all agree upon a common “dictionary” that we will use to define God.   It is for this reason that there will never be a common understanding of God by Christians and Muslims. Each group has its own “dictionary.” And, each group claims that their dictionary has been given directly from God. Therefore, when in discussions with Muslims concerning faith, quoting scriptures out of the Bible is often to no avail. What converts Muslims is the love of the God in which Christians believe that is manifested in the life of the Christian. Jesus said something about this in John 13:34,35.

Please keep in mind that the former colonial powers of the Middle East region are also partly to be blamed for present conflicts.   After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was divided up by the European victors of the war and assigned to different sheiks. There was little consideration given to the portions where either Sunnis or Shi’ites resided. The colonial powers in Europe simply sat down at a table with a map of the region, and then started drawing lines—as they did with Africa—concerning which areas of the area would be considered a nation.   They then declared the divided segments to be independent “nations,” which concept was somewhat foreign to the nomadic and bedouin people of Arabia.

The present conflicts are an embarrassment to those Muslims who live outside the Arab world, and who, to a great extent, have conformed to democratic political principles and a life of peace and prosperity under democratic systems of governance. It is for this reason that Christians should never judge Islam by what is happening in the Middle East. Though the ideal of the Muslim will always be that the entire world become Islamic, the non-Arab Muslim focuses on those passages of the Qur’an that promote peace among those of differing faiths. As long as Muslims within democratic states submit to the constitutional law of the states, then there will be peace. But we must never forget that the ultimate goal supported by Qur’anic teaching is that the whole world be Islam.

This does not mean that when Muslims are in the majority that they will always seek to implement the sharia law of the Qur’an.   However, true Islam would call for the institution of sharia law as the ultimate goal of the Islamic struggle against the infidel. Christianity, on the other hand, does not have a concept of civil law embedded within the teachings of the New Testament that must be implemented in society in order for one to be a Christian. The Qur’an does. Therefore, when Christians are in the majority, there is freedom of religion. The same cannot be said of Islam.

We must not forget that some of those nations that have historically been governed by either Sunnis or Shi’tes have not allowed “Christians” to function within their borders. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries. Christian faith has existed for centuries in countries as Iraq, Iran and Syria, but it is against the law for a Christian to function within the borders of Saudi Arabia. It has only been since the ISIS movement in the countries where Christians have lived for centuries that they have been driven out of ISIS controlled territory.   The Sunni Ottoman Empire encompassed those of the Christian faith throughout the Empire during the centuries of its existence. As long as the Sunni Ottoman caliphs had control of government, then peace was maintained between all religious groups of the Empire, including Sunnis and Shi’ites.   But when there is a radical interpretation of the Qur’an by radical Islamists, then everyone, including moderate Muslims, are in trouble, for moderate Muslims are always considered to be apostates by Islamists. And so this is the world as it is among the 1.4 billion Muslims that are scattered among the populations of the world, but particularly in the Middle Eastern countries.

It must be added here that the West has a very difficult time understanding why Muslims would be so much in conflict with one another and willing to be a martyr for their particular sect of Islam, or Islam in general. But what the Muslim cannot understand about the West is the willingness of the Western resident to die willingly for his country, but not for his faith. What is confusing to the Muslim, for example, would be an area of the world where there is possible conflict, and yet, the churches that have sent out missionaries to those areas of possible conflict will immediately call their missionaries home upon the sound of the first gun shot.   Muslims cannot understand in their wildest imagination why a Western individual would die for his state, but not for his faith. To the Muslim, to simply die for one’s secular state is absurd, since no state will endure human history. Only faith continues long after every state flag has fallen and turned to dust.

The fact that the Western citizen is willing to die only for his state and not his faith has empowered radical Islamists.   As the West becomes more antagonistic to faith (nonreligious), the Islamist has convinced himself that he most certainly will prevail over a people who have no religious convictions. As the basically nonreligious Millennial Generation establishes the culture of the West in the coming years, the Islamist is probably right. How can one who fights only for the privilege of a Starbucks’ cappuccino win against one who is willing to die for his god.

In the conflict with ISIS in northern Syria, the ISIS soldiers would walk in front of their tanks in order to take the hit of the missile that was launched against the tank by opposing forces.   They sought to protect the tank with their bodies, and thus in martyrdom, be guaranteed heaven. Their victory in the battle was more important than their lives.

But we would remind the envious terrorist who seeks to bring down the “great satan,” that he promotes an ideology of inconsistency. He is like the environmentalist who gets into his vehicle to go down to the local march against the big oil company that is damaging the environment with carbon fuels.   But before he can get to the protest march, he has a memory lapse, and thus stops by the local petrol station to fill up his vehicle with some of those environmentally unfriendly carbons fuels against which he is marching in protest.

The envious terrorists who seeks to bring down the materialistic First World has forgotten that he too is driving around in a vehicle built by the West, using a gun that was made by the West, and probably opening a can of food made by a Western manufacture. If he would accomplish his goal of bringing down the West, then he would eventually be roaming through the deserts of Arabia looking for water for both his camel and himself, for all those blessings that came to him from the great satan would have long vanished away.   Too much social chaos is produced by people who do not think concerning the consequences of their self-destructive ideologies.

January 8: The World of Islam

THE WORLD OF ISLAM

 The story of Muhammad Idn Abdullah—and indeed it is a story—began with a zealous leader of Arabia. He was a trader from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When he was twenty-five years old, he married a woman who was fifteen years older. When he was eventually expelled from his hometown of Mecca because of his teaching, one of his followers brought him his six-year-old daughter to marry, which marriage was not consummated until the child was nine-years-old. Muhammad eventually added more wives as he grew older.   So what would we think a religious leader would do to justify such multiple wives? You guessed it, write some scriptures that justify one’s behavior.   aS Surah 33:50,51 of the Qur’an, Muhammad wrote,

O Prophet! We [Allah and his messenger] have permitted to you your wives to whom you have given their dowries, and those you already have, as granted to you by Allah …. … if the Prophet desires to marry her, exclusively for you, and not for the believers. We know what We have ordained for them regarding their wives and those their right-hands possess. This is to spare you any difficulty. You may defer any of them you wish, and receive any of them you wish. Should you desire any of those you had deferred, there is no blame on you.

The story is told that when Muhammad was forty, he was praying in a cave on Mount Hira, and subsequently had a surreal emotional experience. While in prayer, the angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to him and said that he was now the messenger of God. He was commanded by Gabriel to write, but Muhammad refused. It is said that Gabriel squeezed him to the point that Muhammad thought he would die. Muhammad then began to recite the first verses of what is now called the Qur’an.   Since it is believed that Muhammad could not read or write, he dictated words to a scribe who in turn transcribed his words on any writing material that could be found. Muslims affirm that because Muhammad could not read or write that this is evidence that his words were directly dictated to him by Allah.

The beginnings of Islam thirteen centuries ago was among the Arab tribal groups, who were at that time mostly polytheists.   The Arabs worshipped tribal gods and had no sacred history as the Jews and Christians. They also did not have a sacred text of Scripture. Neither did they have a supposedly common sacred language.   The Jews had Hebrew into which their sacred text came to them from God. The Christians had Koine Greek into which their sacred text was transcribed.   But the Arabs had none of those things that Muhammad considered to be necessary to start and maintain a new faith, and thus be the identifying characteristics of one’s religious faith.

The Jews and Christians believed in one God.   The Jews had holy prophets, and the Christians had holy apostles. But the Arabs had neither one God, a sacred text of Scripture that was written in a specific language, nor a holy city as Jerusalem, Rome and Constantinople.   What Muhammad did was bring to the Arabs all that the Jews and Christians had that he believed gave identity to their faith.

Until his death in 632, Muhammad sought to bring to the scattered Arabs a faith they could claim as their own. He was so successful in this quest that he and his followers united under his teaching, and subsequently, became a strong military force. In one hundred years after his death, so many people and civilizations united under his teaching that at the height of Islamic influence, Islam stretched from north Africa to southern Europe in the west, and to the countries of India and western China in the east. At its zenith, the great Islamic Ottoman Empire was formed in 1258, which extended throughout all the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire lasted until World War I when it was eventually broken up by the victorious Allied powers after the war. Segments of the Empire were subsequently signed over to be governed by prominent Arab leaders.

One of the significant nations that eventually came from the Ottoman Empire was Saudi Arabia. What is unique about this sparsely populated desert nation is its Islamic influence throughout the world today. In the eighteenth century, a Muslim scholar by the name of Wahhab sought to teach a pure form of Islam to the Arabian tribal groups of the Arabian peninsula, which is today modern Saudi Arabia. In the 1930s, the al-Saud family took control of the area, and thus it is called Saudi Arabia today. This nation became the birth place of Wahhabism.

Wahhabism is taught throughout Saudi Arabia, which nation also promotes the building of mosques throughout the world where the same teaching is propagated, especially in America. Those Muslims who promote Wahhabism, therefore, would be considered very strict in their implementation of Qur’anic teaching. They would be pure or orthodox Muslims, or those who are true to the legal dictates of the Qur’an. Subsequently, no other religious faith may be practiced in Saudi Arabia. This form of Islam is very aggressive in establishing mosques and Islamic schools throughout the West today.

 I.  Roots of an Islamic world view:

 We often hear of Muslims being called to jihad (holy war). Jihad is defined as “holy war.” By most Muslims today this is a principle of warfare by which the Islamic faith is to be extended throughout non-Islamic peoples. Some moderate Muslims will often define jihad as one’s personal inner struggle for spiritual growth. But in the historical context of the origin of the word, this definition is far from the thinking of Muslims, especially those in the Middle East. In the Middle East today, jihad is always defined as it was during the military struggles of Islam in the seventh century. It is warfare against the unbelieving nations of the world until the world is totally Islam. Western residents must not forget this point, and subsequently be deceived into thinking that jihad is something personal with the Muslim. It is personal only in the sense that individual Muslims seek to unite together in order to take the world for Islam.

We witness on the news media constant conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts that are usually generated by some brand of Islamic radicals who zealously promote their Islamic denomination. In the last few decades, “terrorism” has been a primary weapon of Islamists who seek to impose either judgment on the “infidels.”   They have also terrorized those they assume to be Muslim apostates. But to be fair and clear, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it seems that all terrorists in the world today are Muslims seeking to impose judgment on the “unbelieving” world of infidels. What all civilizations considered absurd years ago (the suicide bomber) has become a common “weapon” of Islamists in their jihad against the infidels of the world.

For the Islamist, the killing of innocent people justifies the end result of jihad against the infidel. In November 2014, a German reporter made his way into the ranks of the ISIS movement in Syria. He interviewed the ISIS fighters in order to determine the basis of their world view. In a BCC interview with the German reporter, he stated that one jihadist ISIS soldier responded to his questioning, “We will kill as many people as possible in order to accomplish our goal. Whether we kill thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of millions, five hundred million, we will do so to accomplish our goal.”

People wonder if the root of this radicalism is seated in the pages of the Qur’an. We often make judgments concerning the Islamic faith by the conflict that is constantly portrayed on the news. But we would urge viewers to be cautious about making such judgments concerning a particular faith that is based on the radical beliefs and practices of adherents who have hijacked a faith for their own political and economic agendas. Such happened in the history of Christianity during the ages of the Crusades, which political maneuvers by the Catholic Church were used to judge and condemn people who were not Christians according to their definition of Christianity. We would correct ourselves not to do the same in our judgments concerning another faith. Hijackers of faiths must never be consulted in order to determine the true beliefs of any faith.

There are certainly sprinkled throughout the Qur’an verses that incite violence against the unbelievers, as one surah states, “Fight them [unbelievers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame.” However, peace is promised for societies that conform to the teachings of the Qur’an.   The preceding surah of the Qur’an certainly does not say that a Muslim has a right during times of peace to take the initiative to generate a fight with unbelievers. However, it is unfortunate that the radical Islamist feeds on the calls for violent aggression (jihad) regardless of the passive nature of the unbelievers among whom he lives.

But we must not forget that when the Qur’an uses the word “peace,” a different world view is defined for the Muslim than what the Christian would understand the word to mean. The Qur’an would define the word “peace” to mean that when the world becomes Muslim, then there will be peace. All will live under because in obedience to sharia law.

The Qur’an is a book that focuses on prayer and good deeds. There are rules for acceptable prayer and religious rituals to be followed whereby the adherents may focus on a spiritual life. The Qur’an establishes rules for married life, divorce, community relationships, and how to raise children. There is a great deal of wisdom in the Qur’an for daily living since the Qur’an is meant to be the absolute law for an Islamic state.

The common denominator between Christianity, Judaism and Islam is that all three faiths trace their roots back to Abraham.   Abraham was not a Jew, but a Gentile, and thus his identity was not determined by race, but by faith. As both Christians and Jews, Muslims also go beyond Abraham to Adam in their spiritual lineage. Both the Bible and the Qur’an call for faith in one God who is the creator and sustainer of the world. And in reference to salvation, both the Bible and the Qur’an call for repentance on the part of the sinner in view of an impending punishment of the disobedient in a fiery hell, but a reward for the righteous in Paradise or Heaven.

But when reading the text of both the Bible and the Qur’an, there is a vast difference between the world view that is explained in both documents. The Qur’an is like driving onto a California freeway. While driving down this freeway one will often come across an exit to a command of God, and then an exit to an outburst in prayer, then some theological pronouncement, or a story of some early prophet. Throughout the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an there are descriptions of judgment and punishment. There is no single focus on a theme in any surah.

When Muhammad supposedly recited the contents of the surahs, his words were transcribed on various writing materials at different times, and then eventually, over one hundred years later, brought together into one book from the longest surah to the shortest.   There is no chronological order of either the surahs or statements as they were transcribed over a period of time, and eventually collected together as the book of the Qur’an. Since this collection of the surahs took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died, it can be understood why the Qur’an gives the presentation of a collection of sayings, instead of a document that was specifically written to for people to understand clearly. (More later.)

 II.  Bible and Qur’an differences:

In reference to messages from God, the Christian and Muslim view their holy books from different perspectives. The Christian views the Bible from the perspective of what Peter wrote: “For the prophecy did not come in old time by the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt 1:21). God allowed the writers of Scripture to use their own vocabulary and writing styles, as the Hebrew and Greek texts clearly reveal. But He inspired through the Holy Spirit that which was to be communicated and written down. As a result, the Bible is a collection of the writings of about forty men over 1,500 years of history. As the Qur’an, Bible literature was collected together into one book as we have it today. But throughout this “collection” there remains one central world view of the Bible, that is, the salvation of men through the cross of the Son of God.

Muslims regard the Qur’an after the meaning of its name, “The Recitation.” Muslims believe that their scripture came as a direct dictation from Allah to Muhammad.   Muhammad then recited the “word” to a scribe who wrote down the exact words that came from Allah. Muhammad was only a medium through whom Allah communicated his words to man. Since Muhammad was a self-proclaimed messenger of God, it would only be natural for him to make such a claim in order to guard against others adding to his “scriptures.”

For the above reason, the Muslim considers the actual book of the Qur’an sacred in and of itself. It must not be desecrated in any manner. Christians, on the other hand, seek to know the message of Jesus and the God who is beyond the words of the inspired book. One can burn Bibles, but he can never destroy the message that is revealed through the Bible. The actual book of the Bible is not an idol to the Christian. But if the Qur’an would be burned, then it is a desecration to the religion, not just the book.

Muslims do not consider any translation of the Arabic to be regarded greater than the actual Arabic script, the language that Allah ordained to be the language to communicate his dictates to man.   Translations of the Qur’an, therefore, are only interpretations. They are not to be considered God’s original words. When Muhammad gave his supposed divine words to be inscribed in Arabic, he forgot that God had used Hebrew words two thousand years before to do the same for the Jews, and six hundred years before in His use of Greek for the Christians. And when Jesus quoted from the Old Testament during His ministry, as well as when the Holy Spirit quoted from the Old Testament in writing the New Testament, both quoted from the Greek Septuagint, which was a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Translation is accepted by God, and thus, there is no holiness in the “words,” but in the message the words convey. Christians are concerned about accuracy in translation of the biblical text. However, they accept the art of translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts into any local language as sufficient to convey the message of salvation that is the theme of the Bible. This cannot be said of the Muslim’s view of any translation of the Qur’an.

What Muhammad’s claim does reveal is the fact that the Qur’an was culturally seated in the era of his own Arabic time capsule.   By focusing on the Arabic language, the Muslim is trying to keep the Qur’an where it originated, in Arabia.   As stated in a previous chapter, this actually added to the acceptance of the Qur’an by the Arab people, and continues to do so today. However, it continues to be a stumbling block for the propagation of Islam to the rest of the world. If one would be an accepted scholar of Qur’anic teaching, he must be able to study the Qur’an in Arabic.

The claim that the words of the Qur’an are the exact words of God is often confusing to Christians. But compare this to what actually happened when God transcribed directly on stone the ten commandments for Moses to give to Israel.   The actual words were written in Hebrew by the “finger” of God. The writing, therefore, was the oral words that God dictated to Moses who gave them to Israel on tablets of stone. Israel considered the words so sacred that they preserved the two tablets in the ark of the covenant.

If we would compare this to New Testament teaching, it would be somewhat similar to Christ being the revealed “word” that came to man. Christ was the word that was revealed (Jn 1:1-14). After His death and ascension, He is revealed to us today through ink and paper (Jn 1:1-14). He is only revealed to us with words that describe who He was and is as the revealed word of God. But the book of the Qur’an was the revelation of Allah through the Arabic words.   In comparison to the two tablets of stone, the Qur’an is sacred. It is the book of recorded words that are the revelation of Allah himself.   Muhammad was only the medium through whom the words of the book (Allah) were communicated.

This somewhat explains the beautiful Arabic art of Islamic countries. Because Muslims abhor any form of idolatry, they used the written words of the Arabic language to portray the revelation of Allah through Arabic art. The art depicts episodes in the life of Muhammad.   Because Arabic words from the Qur’an depict the presence of Allah, through the use of such words Allah is portrayed through art in order to reveal his presence. Arabic art is the ever present revelation of Allah, for the artistic words are Allah in definition.

The rest of the religious world perceives an inconsistency by Muslims in reference to their vehement teaching against idolatry.   Every definition that is used in any dictionary to define idolatry could be used to explain the Muslim’s reverence toward the book of the Qur’an. They idolize the Qur’an, while at the same time condemn idolatry. The same can be said of the Muslim’s idol reverence for the Kabah of Mecca, to which each Muslim must make at least one Hajj (pilgrimage) in his lifetime in order to march around this stone monument (idol).   The black stone cube of the Kabah is supposedly where the pantheon of past tribal gods of the Arabs is confined.   If this is not idolatry, then we will have to come up with a different definition of idolatry for our dictionaries.   Many in Africa clearly understand this thinking, for many came out of animistic beliefs that spirits dwelt in stones and trees. But when they became Christians, they realized that such inanimate works of creation are not the dwelling place of the spirit world.

In comparison to simple Christianity, the true disciple of Jesus is far less of an idolater than the Muslim. We must not confuse this with the Catholics’ use of the cross as an idol, for the New Testament places absolutely no emphasis on using material things or clothing as symbols of faith.

 III.  The “people of the Book”:

The Qur’an distinguishes “the people of the book” from nonbelievers. Both Jews and Christians are acknowledged as “people of the book.” However, the phrase “the book” is not a direct reference to the Bible, but to a heavenly text of Scripture that was written by God, of which, the Qur’an is called the only final and perfect revelation of this word. Throughout history, God revealed Himself as “the book” to His prophets in order to reveal His will to man.   The Qur’an also claims that the revelation of “the book” of Allah were revealed to other religious people who are not mentioned in the Bible. In other words, Allah revealed himself to other people as he revealed himself to Adam, Abraham and Israel.

The Qur’an affirms that the revelations of “the book” were corrupted by the Jews and Christians, or at least the revelations were greatly misinterpreted. They could not, therefore, gain a clear understanding of Allah through the Bible.   The Qur’an, however, supposedly corrected all these misinterpretations, and thus, only the Qur’an can be trusted as the true revelation of Allah to man.

 IV.  Source of authority:

Muslims have always had an unresolved conflict for establishing authority between secular state and religion. The problem is not in the Qur’an, but in how it is interpreted and applied to civil society. Muhammad envisioned a society wherein everyone was Muslim, and thus, in submission to Qur’anic (sharia) law. In this way, the Qur’an would be the authority for the governance of the state and faith of the people. But throughout history, Muslims have never been able to resolve the conflict between religious authority through the Qur’an and the authority of an Islamic government with democratic principles of function.

When Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, it enveloped many peoples of different civilizations. However, it had great difficulty in bringing all these civilizations under the governance of a common system of Islamic law. As a result, there arose scholars of the Qur’an who in many of the conquered states settled disputes through fatwas (opinions) that were handed down to the people from the religious leaders. But in the Islamic democratic states today, the fatwas of the religious leaders do not have much authority. The result of this lack of Qur’anic authority taught by the imams through fatwas has left the door of interpretation wide open for the speculative interpretations of every Islamic leader who would assert himself to restore obedience to true Qur’anic teaching. The most radical Islamists would lead radicalized groups to establish a supposedly true Islamic state, and by doing such, seek to behead all other Muslims who would not conform to the prominent spiritual leader’s interpretations of the Qur’an. Only in this way could true peace be established among the people.

Radical Muslims (Islamists) do not consider those Muslims who have modernized interpretations of the Qur’an to be true Muslims. And the modern Muslim would be the first to condemn radical interpreters of the Qur’an as Osama bin Laden and the present ISIS movement in the Middle East. The fact is that under the umbrella of Islam there are all sorts of groups of Muslims, from the most modernized to the most radical Islamist.   This assortment of sects that reside under the umbrella of the Qur’an is so vast that it is simply impossible today to define what is true Islam. The problem is that among all these groups, the spiritual leaders have their own unique way of interpreting the Qur’an.

We must not forget that moderate interpreters of the Qur’an have voiced their condemnation of those who would interpret the Qur’an to support their own selfish agendas to gain political dominance and commit genocide. Moderate Muslims condemn terrorist activities and suicide bombers. They condemn the murder of innocent victims by indiscriminate bombing. Muslim scholars of the West have experienced the benefits of democracy, free speech, and human rights since the first Muslims came to America as slaves, and then were freed. They, as South African Muslims, never wanting to go back to any form of bondage or apartheid. The majority of the Islamic scholars who have grown up in free societies believe that the Qur’an is open for interpretation in reference to a pluralistic society of different religious faiths. Even on the subject of women’s rights, the modern Muslim movement seeks to promote the legalization of women’s rights in the environment of democratic governments. The Malay Muslims of South Africa fought so long during the time of struggle against the oppressive apartheid government, that they never want to return to any oppressive form of government of the people.

In many areas of faith, both the Bible and the Qur’an have some common ground. Both teach that there is one God. Both teach the dignity of the human individual who must submit to the revelation that God has given to man. And both teach that the spirit of the humble life is the key to one’s cohabitation with other people that God created to be culturally different. The problem often comes from radicals in the Islamic camp to seek to establish their radical interpretations of the Qur’an. And it is the radicals with hidden political agendas who lead themselves to believe that violence is justified as a means to an end to promote one’s faith. Any means to accomplish the end is justified in the minds of the radical Islamist, and for this reason, the true Islamist is validated by the Qur’an to deceive the infidel in order to accomplish conquest over the infidel.

There have always been radical “Christians” throughout history. However, there is a vast difference between radical Christians who become cults and radical Muslims who become murderers. Radicals as Jim Jones and David Koresh sought to isolate their followers from society. Radical Muslims as Osama bin Laden seek to conquer and control society through violent means. The radicals of both Christianity and Islam manifest the nature of what either group considers divine authority. We would certainly conclude that the radical Islamist to commit murder leads us to believe that his source of authority is from man and not God.

Our plea to the moderate Muslim is that he reconsider the Christians’ source of authority. What we would urge is that Muslims must not judge someone to be “Christian” if he simply calls on Jesus as the Son of God, but behaves after his own agenda. Christians would call such a person a religionist, but not a Christian. Such were the people of the Crusades and the religion that was promoted by the Crusaders. It was a religion of man, not of God, and thus, not Christian.

And we would call on all Christians not to assume that one is following Qur’anic teachings when he straps on a bomb vest in order to murder innocent people. Any religious faith can be hijacked by radicals in order to gain a following for political or personal purposes, and subsequently, cause pain and suffering in the lives of the innocent.   This is exactly what Muhammad did with the invention of his religion. But supposed Christians are not innocent. The supposedly “Christian” liberation theologists of the 60s and 70s carried guns to overthrow Central American governments. Such a theology made its way into South Africa during the days of apartheid struggle. But these were not Christians, even though they carved the name Jesus Christ on their guns. They were religionists with a political agenda who sought to hijack Christianity for their own political means. There are Islamists who do the same today with Islam. But because they have promoted misinterpretations of their holy book does not mean that they are interpreting in their lives the spirit of the Qur’an. In times of peace, the preacher, as well as the Islamic imam, will find it hard to declare “holy war” on the basis of teachings of either the Bible or the Qur’an.

 V.  Influence of Hadith interpretations:

Other than the Qur’an, Muslims also have another source from which they derive information for teaching and interpretation of the Qur’an. After a century of the Islamic faith, the first dynasty of caliphs in Damascus (661–750) sought to draw allegiance to their ranks in the early conflicts between Muslims, as well as conflicts between Muslims and the opposition of Jewish/Christian forces. But primarily because the Islamic leaders sought to acquire as much information as possible of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad, a search was made to collect as much of the oral information as possible concerning Muhammad who lived over one hundred years before. This collection of oral sayings and traditions was collected together into what became know as the Hadith, or “prophetic traditions.”

In the collection of the material, it seemed that there were no scruples about falsifying information concerning the life and teachings of Muhammad. Those who gathered the material did what many “miracle working” preachers do today.   They go about digging up any rumor of a miracle or mysterious event, write a book, and then hope to draw the gullible to their ranks in order to fill church coffers. So from Damascus, “pseudo-researchers” went from village to village in order to find information about the deeds and teachings of Muhammad.   Now keep in mind that this search took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died. By this time in history, the only information that Muslims had of Muhammad came from word-of-mouth stories that were more often fantasy than truth. In fact, the Hadith, according to some Muslim scholars, contains contradictions, some absurd traditions, and according to some, outright blasphemous traditions.

Because the Hadith was used to write commentaries on the Qur’an, and determine interpretations, the Shi’ites and Sunnis accept two different bodies of Hadith. The largest sects of Islam (Sunni, Shi’ite and Ibadi), rely on their compilation of Hadith to determine sharia law, Qur’anic interpretations, and the early history of Muhammad and Islam.

The zeal of the early composers of the Hadith moved them to search beyond the facts concerning the early beginnings of Islam.   They were actually too far removed from the early beginnings of Islam to gather many facts, and thus had to rely on oral traditions. The writings that were brought together were often copies of copies of their original autographs. The facts had already been corrupted through word-of-mouth communication for over a century.

What these eighth and ninth century redactors did do was construct a picture of the past as they believed it should be.   They wanted to present the ideal of what they believed Islam would produce if one were obedient to the mandates of the Qur’an.

This search turned into a business as fanciful stories of Muhammad’s sayings and deeds were collected and sold. And as the gullible person in search of a miracle laps up hearsay concerning some wonder that was worked in some far off country, so gullible Muslims eagerly received any tale about Muhammad and his sayings. As the demands increased for these tales of teachings and deeds of Muhammad, the accumulation of the material of the Hadiths increased.

The early history of the Islamic faith is based in the material of the Hadiths, depending on what sect of Islam one is studying. But as the faith of the “miracle research” of some religionists is based on supposed wonders that were not personally witnessed, so the faith of some Muslims is based on the fanciful stories of the Hadith. Depending on how serious a particular Muslim scholar considers the authority of the Hadith, will determine the foundation for his interpretation of the Qur’an.   In recent years, however, there has been a general rejection of the authority of the Hadith in reference to Qur’anic interpretation. In fact, many recent Muslim scholars have rejected any authority of the Hadith, relying only on the authority of the Qur’an itself.

As with the Damascus caliphs who sought for fanciful stories to gain allegiance to their cause, so it is today with some Muslims who seek justification for unrighteous ways.   We would caution Christians at this point not to underestimate the true nature of even the moderate Muslim who finds justification for barbaric practices in the pages of the Qur’an through the medium of interpretation by the Hadith. We must not forget that the Hadith justifies that Muslim women are subject to polygamist marriages, the right of husbands to beat their wives, female circumcision through genital mutilation, and the justification for “honor killing” (murder) of a daughter who would date a Christian. These are the realities of even “moderate” Muslims within democratic societies. All these moral injustices find their validation in the Hadith.