Returning to the church as an adult, I experienced people often invoking biblical terminology and ideas while not at the same time seeming to possess a well-understood notion of what the terminology meant in a biblical sense or a well-thought out picture of how the ideas fit within the larger biblical context and teaching.  Further personal experience coupled with additional anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that my experience represents the experience of many in the church, and that these experiences reveal a potentially frightening level of biblical ignorance in the church today.[1]

I begin with this observation because the topic of forgiveness strikes me as a subject easily impacted by a state of biblical ignorance in the church.  Some conceptions of forgiveness largely fail even to recognize the possibility of a need to distinguish between secular notions of the topic, on the one hand, and a biblical notion of the topic, on the other.[2] To the extent the possibility of such a distinction is recognized, agreement has not been reached regarding whether there is, in fact, a distinction to be made or how one properly makes that distinction.[3] Thus, the idea of forgiveness exists within a state of relative disorder, and such disorder feeds into the tendency of Christians today to customize and personalize their understandings of the Bible to suit their own needs.[4]

Given Jesus’ imperatives on forgiveness (e.g., Mt. 6:14-15), this state of affairs indicates a fundamental need to begin a discussion on the topic of forgiveness by turning first to Scripture.  Accordingly, this paper begins with an examination of the biblical material related to the idea of forgiveness.  Using the insights gained from this examination, the paper then offers an opinion of what the material suggests the biblical notion of forgiveness is and is not.  Finally, the paper explores the implications of forgiveness for the context of abuse.

I. The Biblical Material

Looking to the Old Testament to inform an understanding of the human act of forgiveness at first glance seems unhelpful.  This is because the most common Hebrew root for forgiving, סלח, never appears in the Old Testament with reference to one person forgiving another.[5] God is always the subject.[6] This is also the case with the other Hebrew roots expressing the same semantic range.[7] Perhaps, though, one finds relevant meaning for the biblical idea of forgiveness in the Old Testament in the suggestion that human forgiveness was a concept foreign to its social structure.[8] From a societal point of view based on notions of honor and shame, injury or insult demanded retribution.  In this system, the equivalency requirement of the lex talionis can be regarded in hindsight as a seed for the later New Testament development of the concept of human forgiveness.[9]

Moving into the New Testament, primarily two Greek words – ἀφίημι and χαρίζομαι – communicate the vision of what it means for one person to forgive another.[10] Ἀφίημι most frequently represents the New Testament idea of forgiveness, and it is the term used by Jesus himself to speak of the idea.[11] A comprehensive examination of ἀφίημι within the complete range of contexts in which it is used indicates that the term generally conveys a sense of leaving or removing.[12] Applying this sense to the various contexts relevant to the idea of forgiveness indicates that forgiveness involves a leaving behind or a removing of a person’s sin or moral obligation arising as a result of sin.[13] When Jesus enjoins his followers to forgive, he places the injunctions in the context of God’s offer of forgiveness to humanity, something which by implication also incorporates God’s call to repentance.[14]

The second New Testament term used in contexts relevant to forgiveness, χαρίζομαι, nuances the picture of forgiveness portrayed through the use of ἀφίημι.  It is a nuance which comes to us primarily from the writings of Paul.  Conducting a similarly comprehensive examination of the use of χαρίζομαι in the New Testament indicates that the term generally communicates a notion of giving motivated simply by the desire to benefit another.[15] Specifically in contexts where χαρίζομαι is translated as “forgive,” it emphasizes the relational context of forgiveness and speaks to its benevolent and active natures.[16]

II. The Biblical Notion of Forgiveness

Bringing together the material creates a clearer picture both of what the biblical notion of forgiveness is and what it is not.  Forgiveness in its very essence is a theological matter.  Stated differently, an act of forgiveness constitutes a specific manifestation of a proper biblical theology.  To begin, particularly because ἀφίημι constitutes the strongest voice on the topic in the biblical witness, one sees most clearly the idea that the action of forgiveness takes place within a judicially-oriented context.  That is, the action of forgiveness recognizes in a given situation the reality both of transgression and of guilt.  In this sense, recognizing the issue of justice created by a particular offense becomes a requisite feature of the biblical notion.  At the same time, the idea of forgiveness does not claim to be the means by which the demand for justice is satisfied.

From a secular perspective, the manner in which the idea of forgiveness recognizes transgression and guilt while not at the same time containing its own means of resolving those particular issues creates a crisis.  As discussed further below, the inability of non-biblical notions of forgiveness to resolve this crisis, an inability which encourages approaches like “forgive and forget,” stands as the center of their inadequacies.  Importantly, though, the biblical material does not function in a way that conveys the sense that the issue of justice is somehow forgotten or ignored by an act of forgiveness.[17] Forgiveness in this sense does not approve of the transgression nor does it fail to condemn it.  Instead, the use of ἀφίημι in contexts of forgiveness communicates a result whereby the offense committed, on the one hand, and the people affected by the offense, on the other hand, are separated from one another as part of the act of forgiveness.  Forgiveness in a biblical sense says that they should be handled separately.

This separation frames forgiveness primarily in the eschatological promise of justice articulated by the whole of the biblical witness.[18] In other words, this is a theological separation that removes the anxiety of a personal need to exact vengeance from the situation.  It is an act of faith in a reality controlled in every respect by a God who is just.  Forgiveness in a biblical sense takes the consequences of a transgression (e.g., injustice and broken relationships) and responds to them in a theologically-based manner, a manner revealed in terms both of justice and of grace.

The biblical teaching is clear on this issue.  Justice is a divine matter.[19] Human responsibility is to love neighbor and enemy.[20] In a very basic sense, this responsibility is the responsibility to be in relationship with another to the extent it depends on you, for love depends on the nature of the lover, not that of the beloved.[21] Love for God and love for one’s neighbor cannot be separated.[22] This is the implication of the Jesus’ response to the question of the scribe about the first commandment.  In this light, then, the relational aspect of forgiveness reflected in χαρίζομαι is as equally theologically based as is the separation notion of ἀφίημι.  The two ideas work together within the larger idea of forgiveness in a way which shows forgiveness ultimately as a theologically-based way of relating to others which enables one to live in right relationship with God.  The most wonderful aspect of the biblical notion of forgiveness is thus the way it serves to reorient people from the paradigm of judgment and its associated tensions to the paradigm of God’s relation to humanity and for humanity.  In this later paradigm, even controlled human vengeance in response to transgression does not achieve a good outcome.  Only grace and love suffices.

Significantly, nothing about the idea of forgiveness outlined above limits its applicability to a party who has been offended in a particular situation.  The biblical notion of forgiveness concerns everyone impacted by a transgression, regardless of whether the person is the offender, the offended, or a person derivatively impacted by the situation.  This is because, again, it is about proper theology, and about how that theology works in the context of relationships to remind those involved of the reality that exists outside the walls of constraint erected by the transgression.  This is a reality which offers deliverance, salvation, and restoration to all.

Important differences distinguish the biblical notion of forgiveness from many of the notions of forgiveness alternatively articulated, even ones specifically represented to be Christian versions.[23] One finds the most fundamental difference in the difference of primary orientation.  As argued throughout this paper, the biblical notion of forgiveness is oriented toward God as he reveals himself through the Bible.  Non-biblical notions of forgiveness, in comparison, tend to be psychologically based, oriented toward the individual.[24] Where restoration of relationships (not the least of which are those relationships involving God) constitutes the chief end of biblical forgiveness, pain management constitutes the chief end of such psychologically-based notions of forgiveness.[25] Many more important differences exist in their details, but the significance of these two differences alone reveal the far superiority of the biblical notion over the secular notion, as the application of the two conceptions of forgiveness in the context of abuse will illustrate.

III. Forgiveness and the Context of Abuse[26]

Probably the most difficult aspect of the biblical notion of forgiveness for a context of abuse is the very thing that makes it biblical in the first place – its theological grounding.  Abuse exists within a system of its own creation, and the participants within that system view the world in ways which distort reality as a result of such abuse.  Specifically, this means that participants within an abusive system hold false images of God, themselves, and others.  Because of such distorted understandings, if prematurely rushed into a consideration of the biblical idea of forgiveness, the notion will not compute.  But this is not a weakness of the biblical idea of forgiveness.  Rather, this simply goes to show why forgiveness should not be conceived of as an initial or relatively early step in an individual’s healing process, which is how many other notions of forgiveness understand its role.[27] Instead, the theological grounding of biblical forgiveness not only indicates, but by its very terms, requires that for one to engage the idea, they must understand in a meaningful way the actual reality of God – his justice, his love, and his grace, as well as how those things influence the ways people are to relate to one another.  Healing must begin before forgiveness can occur, and though concepts underlying the notion of forgiveness (i.e., correcting distortions) are important parts of the healing process, framing the healing process in terms of forgiveness is probably not helpful throughout most of the healing process.

It also goes to show why notions of forgiveness rooted in the self really lean more toward sentimentalism rather than toward meaningful reflections of wellness for any of the people involved in the situation.  If a person within an abusive system envisions God, herself or himself, and others in materially distorted ways, what capacity does that person have to heal herself or himself?[28] Additionally, what does such forgiveness suggest to the person?  If the purpose of forgiveness is to reduce negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, a conception of forgiveness often described in terms of “letting go,” then forgiveness either fails to tell the truth about the context of abuse or else it fails to treat the truth with the level of seriousness it demands.[29]

Such ideas of forgiveness address symptoms in hopes of future healing, but by failing to work from beyond the system of abuse, they transform forgiveness into a harmful drug that itself becomes part of and abused by the system.  For example, from the perspective of the one suffering from abuse, a psychological notion of forgiveness that attempts to reduce one’s own negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors tends to encourage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which swing to the opposite end of the spectrum in the form of judgment, superiority, and condemnation vis-à-vis the offender or others within the system of abuse.[30] This is because a successful act of forgiveness in this sense becomes the virtue of the better person.  And while this may produce some base level of satisfaction for the person abused, to the extent it transforms one distorted vision of self into a different distorted vision of self, it is unhealthy.

From the perspective of the abuser in a situation, a psychological notion of forgiveness makes forgiveness into a tool, and one that may be used to coerce and control others within the system.[31] This is because forgiveness in this sense becomes a matter of expectation.  If forgiveness is conceived of as a first step in a healing process, then on what basis could anyone fail to offer it in response to a request for it?  Failing to meet this expectation either turns another in the system into an offender or into a lesser person who lacks the capacity or the will to move forward.  And even if forgiveness is offered, the false sense of finality that comes with such forgiveness allows the abuser to “let go” of whatever motivating forces encouraged him or her to engage the idea of forgiveness in the first place.

In summary, the biblical concept of forgiveness is different than this.  Because it concerns itself first and foremost with truth in all respects, it exists as an attractive force whereby healing necessarily occurs as one moves toward it.  Instead of a first step in a long journey of healing, it is more of the destination of that same journey, even if not explicitly made so.  The biblical notion of forgiveness makes real demands on the basis of specific claims of truth about God, self, and others.  It recognizes both the truth about abuse and its effects at a personal level as well as the truth about the distorted reality it creates at a systemic level.  For one to approach the biblical idea of forgiveness, that person must by definition acknowledge that the reality of the abusive system is a false reality from which God seeks to deliver them.  In the same respect, the biblical idea of forgiveness also reflects the new reality into which the person is being called to enter.  It is a reality where right is right and wrong is wrong, where justice matters and prevails, and where grace and love define relationships instead of distortions and abuse.  The biblical notion of forgiveness is not a tool to be used for healing.  It is rather what it means to be healed, from a proper theological point of view.  Alternative conceptions of forgiveness do not change the cycle of abuse.  They simply function within it.

 

 


[1] Barna Group, “Barna Studies the Research, Offers a Year-in-Review Perspective” (2009), http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/325-barna-studies-the-research-offers-a-year-in-review-perspective?q=biblical+literacy (accessed June 8, 2010).

[2] L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 35-36

[3] Cf. David Augsburger, The New Freedom of Forgiveness (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000) with Louis Smedes, “Keys to Forgiving,” Christianity Today 45 (2001): 73.

[4] Barna Studies the Research.

[5] Joseph Blenkinsopp, “Reconciliation in the Middle East: A Biblical Perspective,” Theology Today 65 (2008): 347.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] P. Ellingworth, “Forgiveness of Sins,” pages 241-43 in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 241.

[11] Ibid.

[12] 143 occurrences in the New Testament examined.

[13] E.g., Mt. 6:12, 6:14-15, 9:2, 9:5-6, 12:31-32, 18:21, 18:35; Mk. 2:5, 2:7, 2:9-10, 3:28, 4:12, 11:25; Lk. 5:20-21, 5:23-24, 7:47-49, 11:4, 12:10, 17:3-4; and Jn. 20:23.  In these contexts, the biblical witness more often connects ἀφίημι with either ἁμαρτία (i.e., “sin” as a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness) or ὀφείλημα (i.e., “debts” as a metaphor for a moral obligation) as the object of the action.  Still, the biblical witness does at times connect ἀφίημι with a person or people as the object of the action, but does so in a context which considers things they have done.  Thus, in these contexts, whether the sin/obligation is the object or whether a person is the object does not change the term’s sense of meaning.

[14] E.g., Mt. 6, 18; Mk. 3-4, 11; Lk. 11-12, 17.

[15] 23 occurrences in the New Testament examined.

[16] 2 Cor. 2:7, 2:10, 2:13; Eph. 4:32; Col. 2:13, 3:13

[17] Cf. Augsburger, The New Freedom of Forgiveness, 36.

[18] Shelly Matthews, “Clemency as Cruelty: Forgiveness and Force in the Dying Prayers of Jesus and Stephen,” Biblical Interpretation 17 (2009): 136-37.

[19] E.g., Prov. 16:5, 29:26; Rom. 12; Heb. 10.

[20] E.g., Mt. 5:43, 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-31; Lk. 6:27, 35; Jn. 13:34-35, 15:12

[21] Augsburger, The New Freedom of Forgiveness, 111; L. Morris, “Love,” pages 492-495 in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 492.

[22] J. R. Michaels, “Commandment,” pages 132-136 in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 134.

[23] Jones, Embodying Forgiveness, 48.

[24] Kathleen A. Lawler-Row, et al., “The Varieties of Forgiveness Experience: Working toward a Comprehensive Definition of Forgiveness,” Journal of Religion and Health 46 (2007): 235-36.

[25] See, e.g., Louis Smedes, “Five Things Everyone Should Know About Forgiving,” The Chicago Sunday Evening Club, http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/smedes_4101.htm (accessed June 5, 2010).

[26] Many of the ideas reflected in this section come from class lectures.  For practical reasons, they have not been individually cited as such.

[27] Smedes, “Five Things Everyone Should Know About Forgiving.”

[28] Cf. ibid.

[29] Lawler-Row, “The Varieties of Forgiveness Experience,” 235; David Augsburger, “The F Word: Forgiveness and it’s (sic) limitations,” The National Association for Christian Recovery, http://www.nacronline.com/emotional-issues/the-f-word-forgiveness-and-its-imitations (accessed May 29, 2010).

[30] Such an attitude can be seen in discussions of such notions of forgiveness where offenders are referred to as “the drunk” or “the lout” or the “wretched man.”  See, e.g., Smedes, “Five Things Everyone Should Know About Forgiving.”

[31] Augsburger, “The F Word.”

I.          Introduction

Islam and Christianity share the belief that Jesus holds a privileged position in relation to God.  Many Muslims and Christians, however, interact with one another, or refuse to interact with one another, generally ignorant of this fact and its implications for dialogue between the two broadly-described communities.  This paper undertakes to identify and explain one reason why Christians should become better educated on what the Qur’an says about Jesus and the Gospel he is understood to have brought to humanity.  Specifically, Christians with at least a basic understanding of what the Qur’an says about Jesus and the Gospel can use these passages to in turn educate Muslims about Jesus, and to thereby invite them to discover more about him and the Gospel in the pages of the Bible.

Christians believe that God continues to speak through his living Word.[1] Christians also believe that it is the Holy Spirit which works to direct the heart, soul, and mind to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.[2] One way, then, that Christians can work together with the Holy Spirit in the context of a Muslim community is by leading their Muslim neighbors across the bridge from the Qur’an to the Bible, a place where we believe the Holy Spirit operates on a normative basis.

II.        The Quranic Jesus

A. Jesus in the Qur’an

As an initial matter, it is necessary to understand that the Qur’an expresses high esteem for Jesus.[3] According to the Qur’an, Jesus is a prophet.[4] But, also according to the Qur’an, not all prophets are equal.[5] Some are exalted above others (Qur’an 2:253; 17:55).[6] Jesus is one such prophet, and the Qur’an exalts him in a unique way.[7] That the Qur’an venerates Jesus in such a manner stands out as particularly significant and provides a window through which Christians can show Muslims the biblical Jesus.  Accordingly, it should be fully understood that the Qur’an bestows upon Jesus a degree of honor which surpasses the honor it gives to any other figure in its past.[8]

Fifteen suras in the Qur’an mention Jesus, as do 93 verses, and the names of three suras reference him.[9] The Qur’an describes Jesus as chosen “above the worlds” (Qur’an 3:30/33), “a sign to all peoples” (Qur’an 19:21; 21:91), and a “mercy” from God (Qur’an 19:21).[10] As to those who follow Jesus, the Qur’an describes them as being in covenant with God and above the unbelievers (Qur’an 3:48/55; 5:17/14).[11] Moreover, the Qur’an claims that God will reward the followers of Jesus on the day of resurrection.[12] This is simply to make the initial points that the Qur’an positively speaks about the person of Jesus, and that what it affirms about Jesus ought to suggest to Muslims that he is a person whose life and teachings should be studied and taken seriously.

A point of greater context for Muslims also suggests why the Qur’an offers such praise to Jesus.  Specifically, the Qur’an identifies Jesus as the precursor prophet who announced the coming of Muhammad (Qur’an 61:6).[13] Jesus’ role of legitimizing Muhammad supports the notion of learning more about the life and teachings of Jesus for at least two additional reasons.  As the prophet chosen to announce the coming of Muhammad, he cannot simply be dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant to the Islamic faith.  Also, the importance of this role to Muslims means that the veracity of Jesus simply must be affirmed by the Muslim community.[14] In other words, because of the unique role assigned to Jesus by the Qur’an, Christians can suggest that the message of Jesus should consequently carry unique significance to Muslims.  Asserting the fact of this significance is thus an important early step in introducing Muslims to Jesus through the Bible.  The hoped-for result is for Muslims to appreciate that for them to consider Jesus more deliberately is not only warranted, but also appropriate.

B.        The mission of Jesus in the Qur’an

In addition to the Qur’an’s praise of the person of Jesus, another reason a Muslim’s more deliberate consideration of Jesus is appropriate is because of the way the Qur’an speaks of the mission he was sent to accomplish.  The Qur’an primarily describes the mission of Jesus in terms of his Gospel.[15] According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the Qur’an equates the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of Islam.[16] In this respect, Christians can emphasize to their Muslim friends that Jesus preached the oneness and unity of God and called upon people to surrender themselves to God (Qur’an 5:116-17; 43:63; 26:108).[17] Stated differently, the essential messages of this Gospel were the Lordship of God and that to worship and serve God is a straight path to be followed (Qur’an 3:51; cf. 5:72, 117; 19:36; 43:64).[18] As such, Ali’s characterization of the Gospel vis-à-vis the teachings of Islam comport well with descriptions of the essential teaching of Muhammad, that is, a call “for radical human obedience (islam) to God (Q. 6:163-66) in the reordering of individual lives in accordance with the will or the law of God (muslim; fem. muslinma; Q. 3:102), and the consequent restructuring of human society (umma) as the believing-obedient or the surrendered community (umma muslima; Q. 3:104; cf. 3:110).”[19] The Qur’an also supports an emphasis on the consistency of the teachings of Jesus with its own by the way it explicitly affirms that the religion of Jesus is the same as was given to Muhammad (Qur’an 42:13).[20]

C.        The Qur’an Points to the Bible

Importantly, the Qur’an does not purport to recount the full story of Jesus and his teachings.[21] Consequently, the Qur’an implicitly points to the Bible for further study regarding Jesus and his teachings.  One way the Qur’an accomplishes this function is through its affirmation and praise of the Gospel.  It characterizes the Gospel as a special message revealed to Jesus by God (Qur’an 3:48; 5:46; 19:30; 57:27).[22] To be found in this message are “guidance and light,” and a confirmation of the admonition of the Law which had come before it (Qur’an 5:46).[23] In connection with this affirmation of the message of Jesus, Ali comments that it offers guidance in terms of conduct, and insight into the higher realms of the spirit.[24] It is in this sense that the Qur’an describes the Gospel as a “right path.”[25] An important connection between the Qur’an and the Bible is how the Qur’an also describes its own message in these same terms.[26]

It must be understood, however, that Muslims do not equate the Gospel of which the Qur’an speaks with the New Testament of the Bible, or with any single or combination of the Gospels found therein.[27] It is instead considered to be a single Gospel revealed to Jesus that he in turn taught.[28] Still, though, Muslims believe the Gospels of the New Testament contain fragments of Jesus’ Gospel and therefore acknowledge and respect the Bible.[29] In other words, that the Gospel of Jesus of which the Qur’an speaks is not the same as the biblical gospel accounts should not stand as an insurmountable obstacle to a Muslim’s venture into the biblical gospel accounts in order to discover more about Jesus and the message he brought.

D.        Limitations

A caveat must be made at this point regarding the possible limitations of using the portrait of Jesus and his teachings found in the Qur’an to invite Muslims to discover more about them in the Bible.  While the Qur’an elevates Jesus by naming him as a prophet in the line of Abraham and his descendants, the Qur’an also assigns to Jesus a particular community.[30] The Qur’an testifies that to every community a messenger is sent (Qur’an 10:48/47; 13:8/7; 22:35/24).[31] It is in this light that the Qur’an purports to frame the role of Jesus as God’s messenger to the people of Israel (Qur’an 3:43/49; 3:46/53; 4:169/171; 5:79/75; 61:6).[32] The Qur’an frames Muhammad’s role, in comparison, as the messenger to the whole of humanity (e.g., Qur’an 7:158) and as the Seal of the Prophets (Qur’an 33:40).[33] Ali explains that, as the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad completed the line of God’s prophets, and brought to completion the fullness of Islam.[34] There has been and will be, according to Muslim belief, no further prophet after him.[35] This notion of completion and fullness associated with Muhammad thus raises questions regarding the extent to which a Muslim might be inclined to learn more about Jesus and his teachings.[36]

The point is this.  Christians in dialogue with Muslims must understand not only the Qur’an’s exaltation of Jesus and his teachings, but also the limitations the Qur’an places on Jesus and his teachings.  Christians must understand these things for the sake of authenticity and to avoid overstating the matter.  The suggestion for Muslims to learn more about Jesus and his teachings is a matter of invitation, not of compulsion, and is supported by the Qur’an’s recognition of Jesus and his teachings within the framework of Islam.

III.       The biblical Jesus

A. The teachings of Jesus in the Bible

Perhaps an appropriate place to begin to introduce Muslims to the teachings of Jesus found within the pages of the Bible is to begin with a teaching that so closely comports with the central teaching of Islam and also introduces the key elements of Jesus’ message.  One such passage is Mark 12:28-30.  The nearest thing to a creed in Islam is the shahāda.[37] The first part of this confession, that “[t]here is no god but God,” also closely relates to the first doctrine of Islamic faith, namely, faith in the absolute unity of God.[38] These elements underscore the centrality and importance of the oneness of God to the Islamic faith.

Showing Muslims that Jesus also taught and emphasized the radical oneness of God can then welcome them as they begin to explore the pages of the Bible.  Mark 12:28-30 tells the story of an encounter between Jesus and a scribe wherein the scribe asked Jesus to reveal the most important commandment.  Jesus’ first response to the question is to emphasize the oneness of God.[39] But this is not the entirety of Jesus’ response, and what Jesus goes on to add to his response offers a nice transition into central themes of Jesus’ teachings to which Muslims may be attracted.  For example, the Qur’an does not offer Muslims a definitive sense of eternal security.[40] It paints a picture of God’s love as strictly conditional.[41] Because of this, Muslims introduced to the Bible tend to take particular note of the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus.[42] The conclusion of Jesus’ response to the scribe’s question in Mark 12:28-30 can then provide an introduction to Jesus’ teachings and their concern for love.[43]

The life and teachings of Jesus revealed a new emphasis on love, a way of being which concerns the nature of the lover rather than that of the beloved.[44] The general tenor of Jesus’ teaching shows how this notion of love begins with God.[45] He taught about a loving God and a life enriched by this love, revealing that a focus on avoiding punishment and meriting reward is misguided.[46] Instead of a life lived in insecurity, Jesus taught about a life lived in the assurance of God’s love.  Though the most direct claim that “God is love” comes from 1 John, its truth runs throughout the teachings of Jesus.[47] These teaching include a call to believe in the love of God and in God’s readiness to transform our lives as a result of this love (e.g., Mt. 5:5:45; 6:25-34).[48]

Jesus also taught the love of God as an example to be practiced by humanity.  People, he taught, are to respond to God’s love with love.[49] The scribe asked for one “first” commandment, but Jesus replied with two.[50] The implication of Jesus’ response is that the two commandments, love for God and love for neighbor, cannot be separated.[51] They cannot be separated because they speak to character, a character which Jesus teaches as being “genuinely poor in spirit, pure in heart, and full of mercy” (Mt. 5:3, 7, 8).[52] For Jesus, service characterizes the essence of his ministry and his teaching about what it means to follow his example of love.[53] Service in this sense is symbolized by the humble household servant, the one who undertakes menial service to fulfill the needs of a master (e.g., Mt. 13:27-30; 18:23-24; 21:34-41; 22:3-13).[54] The mark, then, of those who follow Jesus is their loving service to one another.[55]

As Christians, knowing biblical texts which demonstrate these teachings of Jesus is important for witness to Muslims.  Perhaps more important, however, is an ongoing witness to Muslims through the expression of these teachings in our own lives.  Surveys indicate that Muslims who have come to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior identify their experiences of seeing a living faith in those who follow Jesus as the most important influence to their decision.[56] Closely related to this was their desire to join a fellowship they found to be rooted in love.[57] These influences make perfect sense for Muslims too.  Islam is a religion characterized by its concern for total surrender and right practice.[58] In these ways, Islam rightly emphasizes religion as a way of being.[59] Thus, it should be expected that Muslims would be particularly affected by examples of Christians and Christian communities where the effect of Jesus’ teachings are unmistakable.  This concern for how life is lived, then, provides a paradigm for introducing an overall framework that surrounds Jesus’ teachings about love and service as a way of life, and in turn invites Muslims to consider Jesus in a way which is different than their conception of him through the lens of Islam.

Specifically, the Synoptic Gospels present the teaching ministry of Jesus primarily as the announcement that the kingdom of God was at hand.[60] After hearing Jesus’ response, the scribe in Mark 12 affirms the truth of what Jesus has just said.  Jesus then tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:32-34).  Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God are many and certainly complex.[61] Still, as discussed further below, Christians can use Jesus’ kingdom of God language to ask their Muslim friends to consider the implication of Jesus’ teachings for their own lives.

B. What the Bible says about Jesus

Jesus and his notion of the kingdom of God are inextricably intertwined, as the reality that is the kingdom of God is what the life and teachings of Jesus testify to (Mk 10:41-45).[62] The Bible portrays Jesus as the one anointed by God for the special work of redemption.[63] In this regard, Christians can help their Muslim friends understand that:

Jesus did not so much preach a message as he was a message . . . [I]t was not until Jesus that the notion of selfless, redemptive love was realized in a human life.  This is Jesus’ uniqueness in the history of religions.  God does not tell us what Jesus is; rather, Jesus shows us what God is like.[64]

In this regard, there are two aspects of Jesus’ teaching regarding the kingdom which may be particularly important for Muslims to learn.  First, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark presents a dual motif of a present and future kingdom of God.[65] The three seed parables in Mark 4 illustrate this motif, teaching that “God’s sovereign rule has come into history like a vulnerable seed . . . that grows inexorably until the day of harvest . . .[;] whose beginning is infinitely small but whose ending is magnificently grand.”[66] To Muslims, the idea that the last things have already broken into and are presently working themselves out within the context of history is a novel one and will contrast with their conception of the Last Day.[67]

A second important aspect for Muslims to learn regarding Jesus’ teachings of the kingdom of God is Jesus’ proclamation of how one may ultimately enter into the kingdom.[68] Entrance into the kingdom, he teaches, is not credit for one’s deeds.[69] Rather, entrance into the kingdom depends upon one’s “receiving” the kingdom.[70] Jesus teaches that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mk 10:15).  To Muslims, the idea of receiving the kingdom of God will contrast with their conception of eternity as a just reward or punishment.[71]

A reminder must again be made at this point that whether a Muslim will ultimately confess Jesus as Lord and Savior is a work of the Holy Spirit.  By introducing Muslims to Jesus and to his message of the kingdom of God, one is not engaged in an exercise of convincing Muslims.  Instead, a more appropriate image to have in mind is the image offered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.  By introducing Muslims to Jesus and to his message of the kingdom of God, we plant seeds.  We plant these seeds by inviting Muslims to consider Jesus and his teachings and to contrast these things with the teachings of Islam.  Only God, however, will give growth to this planting.

III.       Where to go from here

Certainly the ultimate hope of Christian ministry to a Muslim friend is the glorification of God through his or her recognition of God in Jesus Christ and all that follows from that.  However, similar to the limitations noted regarding the use of the Quranic portrait of Jesus, there is a certain reality that must also be kept in mind by Christians who undertake such ministry to Muslims.  There exists a particular danger in confusing spiritual identity with cultural identity.[72] Being a Muslim is part of one’s cultural identity, and to suggest that one must give up his or her cultural identity in order to follow Jesus causes an unnecessary crisis of identity.[73] Accordingly, it is important to exhibit an attitude which calls people toward Christ, and not out of Islam per se.[74] Such an attitude reflects the ministry of Jesus and his teachings regarding the kingdom of God.  His approach did not emphasize what the kingdom was not, but instead emphasized what the kingdom was, and he invited those who would follow him to accept it.  With this in mind, the following thought by missionary Virginia Cobb offers a nice conclusion to the ideas contained in this paper:

Jesus didn’t insist on a certain view of himself as a prerequisite to discipleship.  He called [people] to follow him unconditionally, and after two years of living with him, asked what their conclusion was.[75]

 

In the same way, ministry to our Muslims friends cannot push Muslims into a position of having to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior as a prerequisite to discipleship.  Instead, it should serve to introduce Jesus to Muslims, to invite them to consider what the teachings of Jesus mean for their own lives, and, ultimately, to allow them to face the question that only Jesus can put to them.  Who do you say that I am?


[1] Heb. 4:12.

[2] 1 Cor. 12:3.

[3] Chellaian Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet in Christianity and Islam: A Model for Interfaith Dialogue (Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1999), 3.

[4] See, e.g., Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1995), 37.

[5] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 39.

[6] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 136-37.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 16.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 173.

[11] Ibid., 91.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 3, 147-48.

[14] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 3; Neal Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), 37.

[15] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 90.

[16] A.Y. Ali, Commentary to The Holy Qur’an (Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 2002), 1337 n. 4664.

[17] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 136.

[18] Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity, 5.

[19] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 141-42.

[20] Ibid., 142

[21] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 174.

[22] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 136.

[23] Ibid., 136; Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity, 37.

[24] Ali, Commentary to The Holy Qur’an, 256 n. 750; 258 n. 757.

[25] Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity, 37.

[26] Ibid.

[27] E.g., Ali, Commentary to The Holy Qur’an, 286-27.

[28] Ibid., 287.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 135-36.

[31] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, 43.

[32] Ibid., 42-43

[33] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 142.

[34] Ali, Commentary to The Holy Qur’an, 1119 n. 3731; 240 n. 695.

[35] Ali, Commentary to The Holy Qur’an, 1119 n. 3731

[36] Lawrence, Jesus as Prophet, 146.

[37] Frederick M. Denny, An Introduction to Islam (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1985), 92.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Mk 12:29:  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;”

[40] J. Dudley Woodberry et al., “Why Muslims follow Jesus,” Christianity Today (Oct. 2007): 83-84.

[41] Woodberry, “Why Muslims follow Jesus,” 84.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Mk 12:30-31:  “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

[44] Morris, “Love,” 492.

[45] Ibid., 494.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 492-93.

[48] Hurst, “Ethics of Jesus,” 221.

[49] Morris, “Love,” 494.

[50] Michaels, “Commandment,”134.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Hurst, “Ethics of Jesus,” 221; Stanton, “Sermon on the Mount/Plain,” 742.

[53] Paschal, Jr., “Service,” 747.

[54] Ibid., 748.

[55] Ibid., 748-49.

[56] Woodberry, “Why Muslims follow Jesus,” 82.

[57] Woodberry, “Why Muslims follow Jesus,” 85.

[58] Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 98.

[59] Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 98.

[60] Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” 424.

[61] Ibid, 425-26.

[62] Tiede, “Proclaiming the Hidden Kingdom,” 328.

[63] Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity, 9

[64] Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 36.

[65] Guelich, “Mark, Gospel of,” 517-18.

[66] Ibid., 518

[67] Ladd, “The Kingdom of God,” 236-37; Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 95-97.

[68] Gärtner, “The Person of Jesus and the Kingdom of God,” 40.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” 426; Guelich, “Mark, Gospel of,” 517.

[71] Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 96.

[72]Paul-Gordan Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path between Two Faiths (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2007), 104.

[73] Ibid, 120.

[74] Ibid., 111.

[75] Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, 114.

I’ve had a very unexpected experience at Fuller.  I’m just reminded of it as I read through some assigned material on the women of the Reformation.  Fuller is one of, I think, three seminaries in the United States that requires its faculty to sign a commitment to the advancement of women in relation to the church.  Inclusive language is a huge priority here.  I wouldn’t dare write in a paper speaking about “man” instead of “humanity” or something of the like for fear of how it would affect my grade.

Over the last year, my view has changed on this issue from an initial “affirmative action”-type view to a full agreement-type view.  For me, it has made me sensitive to something that I perhaps never would have thought about otherwise.  It never would have occurred to me to consider how it makes women and young girls feel when everything is spoken of in masculine terms.  Having the extraordinary privilege of being the father to two lively daughters has helped me grow in this regard I believe.  We recently were able to go to a Dodgers game as a family.  As we watched the players warm up, one of my girls asked me, “Daddy, can girls play baseball?”  In a strange way, that question has really gotten to me.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t know.  What it says to me, is that this little girl sees the world in a way such that there are things that girls can do and that there are things that girls cannot do.  I guess I have just assumed for the most part that such a view on the world was antiquated.  It persists, and this question made me realize that just because I see a world (at least around me) where by and large women are being treated with their due respect doesn’t make it so.  Maybe it is important to be reminded that progress in and of itself isn’t the goal.  Questions like this one, assignments such as reading about the women who played important roles in 16th century Western Europe (something I’ve never, ever heard about before), maybe such things are necessary to make people realize that not everyone sees the world in the same way.

I really don’t think that most of us are out to offend other people.  I think there is some truth to the notion that people are too easily offended these days.  At the same time, however, I think there is some truth to the notion that ignorance tends to produce offense.  Maybe if some made an effort not to be so easily offended, and others made an effort to inform themselves about those who are unlike them, offense wouldn’t be such a problem and we could see the world more like it really is than in some overly positive or negative way.

Wimbledon

July 6, 2009

Sitting on my couch early this Sunday morning, I was really pulling for Roddick against Federer in the Wimbledon final.  My adrenalin was flowing.  I was on the edge of my seat texting my wife in Texas about what was unfolding.   I just felt for the guy.  My sense is that he’s played so hard over his career and yet he seems to come up in the big Grand Slam tournaments just a bit short.  This Wimbledon may have been his best tournament yet.  A great win to get him to the finals, and then the finals.  And what to say about that match?  One for the record books.  One break by Federer in the entire match and it was the game that cost him the tournament – at 16-14 in the fifth set at that.  Add to it that the shadows stretching over the court due to the length of the match seemed, in my opinion, to play something of a role in the end.  Roddick was so close, and yet the headlines today are about Federer.  Roddick’s disappointment immediately after the match could not be missed.  In spite of his disappointment, though, when Roddick came to the on-court interview immediately after the awards presentation, he made a great impression on me.  The interviewer started by giving praise to the competitiveness of the match and then said that the sport of tennis can be cruel sometimes.  Roddick immediately rejected the interviewer’s interpretation of the situation and said that what just happened was not cruel, because he is one of the few who ever get the chance to be in that situation in the first place.  How wise!

Over the last couple of years I’ve been in a strange place.  As I try to make sense of it, I think it comes from the notion of being born again, of being somehow different than I was before.  The fact of the matter is that when the knowledge of God becomes true in one’s mind and heart, life really is not the same.  Reality becomes set, and all truth hinges on that reality.  Paradoxically, one consequence  for me at least has been a sense of isolation.  This is what I’ve felt for a couple of years.  I feel that in significant ways I’ve lost a dimension of relationship with so many people in my life.  One bright side of this is that I think it has drawn me closer and more dependent upon God and upon my wife and children.  At the same time though, it has made me, well, sad to feel like I cannot relate to people in the same way as I could before.  I have often thought, and just the other day had a discussion with another seminary student in my class who felt the same way, that it would just have been easier not to have been called to do what I’m doing.  I’ve never doubted the sense of call.  To the contrary, the call has gotten more intense and specific in the last year.  That, unfortunately, hasn’t made it any easier.

Enter Roddick’s response.  Isn’t is great how reality can be pointed out in such various and diverse ways?  Instead of lamenting the difficulty, I should be rejoicing in the privilege.  Trying to hold back tears after probably the most disappointing tennis match of his life, one that consisted of almost 80 of the most important games in his life, Roddick maintained an amazing perspective.  He considered himself fortuanate to have such disappointment.  He understood that he was priviledged to feel such heartache.

Tradition

May 28, 2009

I’m taking an extremely interesting philosophy class on Christ and Culture taught by the President of Fuller.  The issues discussed in this class alone could provide endless material for posts.  I wish I had more time to write on them, but there are just too many demands at the moment.  This is an easy post, though, because I just want to quote from an October 2004 article by Craig Bartholomew entitled, “Relevance of Neocalvinism for Today.”  There are  no comments I’m adding other than this.  Some of the language is maybe over the top, but I think it is intended to be.  It is interesting material to read and really consider.  I think there is a strong element of truth to the notion that our traditions have broken down and have been/are being replaced with whatever we now find to have in common with each other.  I think too often they are not the best things to build our culture around.

The remainder of this post is Bartholomew’s words:

“All humans are ‘traditioned.’  Part of being human is inhabiting a tradition/s that describes and directs our understanding of life . . . The great myth of the standard narrative of modernity was neutrality and progress . . . The outworking of modernity in postmodernism has however made it clearer that there are fundamental differences between modernity and Christianity so that accommodation is exposed as a futile task.  And for the West, philosophically at least, modernity has splintered into a myriad of fragments, so that the tenuous glue left holding the West together is, perhaps, consumerism.  This is not good social glue, neither for the West nor for the ‘developing world,’ and in this context it is urgent that Christians declare the faith as all encompassing and demonstrate theoretically and practically that the gospel is glue sufficient for individual and communal life . . .

Postmodernism represents a radical questioning of modernity, but culturally we are witnessing, by comparison, the triumph of a sort of global capitalism in the guise of our consumer culture.  Philosophically, I think that postmodernism represents the outworking of historicism that is inherent in modernity . . . (historicism means that everything is adrift, relative to the moment, and that there are no sure guides to how to live . . . historicism has no transcendent norm . . . if there are currents of dissatisfaction evident in a societal practice, they will be treated with great seriousness as signs of the evolution for which the practice is destined) . . . Modernity rejected tradition and religious authority but held on to the hope that reason alone would lead us to truth.  Postmoderns have given up on the illusion that reason alone will lead us to truth, but they have not recovered tradition and authority . . .

If postmodernism represents the triumph of consumer culture, in the absence of any other unifying metanarrative, consumerism fills the vacuum.  As Susan White notes, if there is any overarching metanarrative that purports to explain reality in the late 20th century, it is surely the narrative of economy.  In the beginning of this narrative is the self-made, self-sufficient human being.  At the end of this narrative is the big house, the big car, and the expensive clothes.  In the middle is the struggle for success, the greed, the incessant getting-and-spending.  Most of us have made this so thoroughly our story that we are hardly aware of its influence.  The result is, as Wendell Berry so aptly put is, ‘The truth is that we Americans, all of us, have become a kind of human trash, living our lives in the midst of a ubiquitous mess of which we are at once the victims and the perpetrators.'”

For some unexplainable reason, I have to share this.  I think it may be the result of a class I’m taking now that considers the issue of what relationship, if any, Christians have historically had to the greater culture that surrounds them.  Constantine “Christianized” the world over which he ruled.  The Anabaptists to varying degrees withdrew from their surrounding society.  I don’t know where on this spectrum my day today falls.  It seriously calls into question my own stance toward culture.

Mel watches a MTV “reality” show called “The Hills” set here in LA.  I admit, I used to watch it too, and probably would still if it was more convenient for me.  We don’t have cable so Mel has to watch it on the computer.  Anyway, Heidi and Spencer from that show got married today in Pasadena, not far at all from our apartment.  Of course, it is all a big MTV production.  Mel is in Texas with the girls and has just been beside herself that she could not be in town today.  She wanted me to go by and see if I could get some pictures.  Well, I did.  I drove by this morning on my way to the grocery store and saw the big set up that was taking place.  I went back by around noon and stopped to see if I could get some info.  I heard from one couple standing around that they had heard conflicting stories that it was supposed to start at 2 or at 4.  I got back over there right around 2 with camera in hand.  There was enough activity (paparazzi and fans) that I felt I should stick around.  I at least had the foresight to bring some books with me, though I didn’t get much reading done.  Long story short, I left the area to head back to the apartment about 6:45.

It was crazy.  Photographers on the roof of apartments across the street (not apartments like in the suburbs; apartments like
multifamily houses).  Girls screaming.  Fabulous people.  I was so out of place.  At the same time, though, like I told Mel, I was sucked in.  When “famous” people were around, the crowd went wild.  It was a weirdly attractive energy.  You just had this sense that something was going on and you were some sort of happy to be a part of it.  Forget the hour plus of down time in between the bursts of excitement.  Quite the phenomenon.   Very illustrative of the lure of the world.  I mean, seriously, Heidi and Spencer!

Anyway, of course I have to share some of the photos I took so you can share in it all.

First, an apology.  I had actually written most everything I had intended to say on this topic when I made my first post.  It seemed too long to make it one post, plus I thought I’d change it up some.  Then my computer crashed and I lost it all.  With school demands, I just haven’t had the time and motivation to sit down and try to recreate my thought process from the night I wrote that first post.  But I just caught the last half of an interesting Frontline piece on our national debt entitled “$10 Trillion and Counting” and I found the motivation to offer a followup.  I also apologize because I’m not putting forth a solution as promised (as if I could), just an alternative way of thinking about the issue.

First, as a sort of disclaimer, I want to make clear that I am not a true-blue free market person.  I have considered many of the arguments against a total free market system and I sympathize with the issues they raise.  At the same time, I can confidently say that I far favor the market system over government control; and yes, I do see these options as fundamentally antithetical.  Let me also be clear, though, that I don’t see either as a solution, nor do I see the synthesis of the two as a solution.  Instead, I look at them and consider which one does a better job of pointing to the solution.

The central problem with the market system is that it is financially focused.  The central problem with government control, in comparison, is that it is politically focused.  The initial difference I see here is that, and this is admittedly discussed in very general terms, in the market situation, the individual makes decisions based on his/her own financial objective.  In the government situation, the politician makes decisions basked on his/her own political objective, which always includes the overarching objective of reelection.  In this way, they are both individually focused.  This initial difference leads to the material difference.

The material difference between the two is the promises each system makes.  The market system, to the extent it is a free market system, promises that price will be the result of supply and demand; that risk will correspond to profit/loss potential.  The political system, on the other hand, promises unlimited prosperity.  Try getting elected on the message of failure.  In other words, one system embraces the idea of failure, the other system rejects it.  But failure has to be a reality.

Take the current situation of the US automakers as an example.  They made a mistake.  They bet on SUVs and didn’t hedge that bet.  It was a bad decision.  But that bad decision then became a political issue.  The market said they should fail.  Government said it could make everything better.  It doesn’t look like government can live up to that promise, but even if it does, is that good?  Shouldn’t bad decisions have consequences, even if they are drastic?  If bad decisions do not have consequences, how is that sustainable?  It simply isn’t.  We want to live our lives believing that “everything will be okay,” but that is a false reality unless there is a power that can make it so.

Government tends to promise us lives without suffering.  It is a promise experience tells us the government cannot keep.  The market tends to promise impartiality.  It too is a promise that cannot be kept, but the thing is that people who understand the concept of the market understand that it is a false promise.  The market can be beat.  The market can also beat them.  The market is nothing more than a set of assumptions that no one guarantees are correct.  In this regard, where the government offers a false sense that everything will be okay, the market offers nothing.

Why does this matter so much?  I just finished an assignment on Romans 10.  What I take away from that work is an understanding of the foundational points that Paul makes in Romans, and that the Bible makes as a whole.  These are those points:  Everything that happens happens for the salvation of those who trust in God, and salvation comes only from God.  To the extent we rely on anything but God for our salvation, we are wrong, and there are consequences for being wrong.

I also just completed a paper on the debate in the 1930’s between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth concerning natural theology, the idea that humanity has the natural ability to achieve some level of knowledge of  God.  Brunner argues for the idea.  Barth argues against it.  In my estimation, the crux of Barth’s argument is that any purported knowledge of God that does not include the knowledge of Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures is not a knowledge of God at all.  While I do have some questions regarding Barth’s argument, I took away from the debate an important point.  Barth argued that proponents of natural theology tend to look for a “point of contact” with their audience in order to reason them into faith.  Barth found this terribly objectionable.  He believed one who proclaims the gospel should simply proclaim the gospel, that it contains its own power to overcome and doesn’t need any help.  I have this sense of knowing that Barth’s point is true.  My short experience this past summer in a dialogue partially captured on this page strengthens this knowledge.  My conclusion is that there is something not right about the approach I took then, which was an attempt to engage this person on his own terms.  One of the great points of Scripture is that the ways of God are nonsense to the world.  The counterpart of this is that only the power of God can change this.  I can testify that when this happens, chaos becomes perfect order.  This is the link to what I was saying before about Romans.  It is God who has the power to save and He offers it to all who trust in Him.  So, the purpose of this entire rambling blog is simply to point to God.  I don’t have the answers to today’s problems.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that my role is not to offer suggestions to these problems, but rather to be a reminding voice that the only way that everything will be okay is to trust in God.  That doesn’t mean there will be no suffering.  It does, however, mean salvation, a topic which logically should be the subject of a future post.