I did do a lot of reading about Islam even though I didn’t attend the class. I learned about its history and why there are so many divisions and factions within the religion of Islam. And that helped me to understand a bit more the ongoing situation in the Middle East and all over the world. One author said that we can’t really speak of Islam but IslamS and that is very true.
However, what struck me even more as I read the history of Islam is how close it is to the history of Christianity. In fact, in many respects, it is almost a direct response or reaction to Christianity. True Christianity is all about God’s grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. We believe that the Bible teaches that if we were left on our own, we could not save ourselves and we’d be in a huge mess from trying. In fact, it is impossible to save ourselves because no matter how much we do or how hard we try, we cannot be good enough to satisfy God’s demands.
Yet it seems that people are always trying to do that anyway! I’ve come to the conclusion that it is people’s default position to try to be good enough to please God. It’s the common theme in all other religions: be good enough and you’ll achieve whatever it is that the religion promises. But the problem is that no one can do it unless they completely redefine what is “good enough,” which is what other religions seem to do. People want to be in control of their own destiny.
I began to wonder if that is part of the answer to why Islam was started. Grace seems so much out of people’s control and people don’t like that. Islam teaches that Allah is indeed merciful but only to those who are good enough to earn that mercy. If a person isn’t good enough then Allah condemns them and encourages others to condemn and eliminate them as well. There is no true grace in this kind of teaching but only pure works based righteousness. And for some, the purer they are to what they believe, the more mercy they receive and the purer they keep the world, the better they will be. It is a recipe for intolerance and violence for those who take it to the extreme and that is bitterly evident in events in the world today.
So what is our response to such beliefs? Well, many want to confront this using similar weapons as extremists: power and control. That was what happened in the middle ages with the crusades and what many want to try to do today. However, it seems to me that we should look at what Jesus taught instead. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus said:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
There is no mention of power or controlling our enemies but in fact we are to be loving them and praying for them! That is what will show that we are children of our Father in heaven. Love and pray! Now I recognize that this is very simple to say and extraordinarily difficult to do. Yet it seems today many Christians don’t even want to try to do what Jesus very clearly says we should be doing. Perhaps it helps to remember that Muslims are very misguided in thinking that God rewards and shows mercy only to those who are good enough. They are striving for something that is impossible to achieve and that deserves our trying to show them love and compassion and so show them what true believers and followers of Jesus are all about. And above all, let’s never forget that we live in grace of God and that is the only way God shows us his mercy.