-Concise Oxford English Dictionary
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, Tanakh, Judaica Press)“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. (Matthew 12:28, HCSB)“Allah - there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of existence.” (Quran, Sura 3:1)
I was having a bit of a debate on Facebook this morning, about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I maintain that Muslims, Christians and Jews do worship the same God, although they disagree on what the exact attributes of God are, and on what constitutes correct worship of that God. The three quotes above are from Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures: they all seem to agree on the fact that there is ONE God. We may all disagree on many of the details in our understanding of that one God, but it seems to me the basic tenet, that there is, in fact, only one God, is shared by these three religions.
Those of a more conservative bent will no doubt tell me that an incorrect understanding of God’s nature is the same as belief in a false God, but I have to disagree. After all, Jews and Muslims both have argued that Christians are polytheists, because of our understanding of the Trinity. Muslims presumably disagree with Jews largely on their views on Muhammad as a prophet. Christians see Muslims as adding to scripture, with their insistence on the Quran as the very words of God, but Jews could make the same argument about Christians “adding” the New Testament. All of these arguments do not deny the basic foundation of monotheism. One God…only one. The rest is ornamentation of sorts. Or so I firmly believe.
I was doing Morning Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer this morning, and one of the Daily Office readings was the 10th chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon. If you’re thinking “I’m not familiar with that book,” it may be because it’s one of the deuterocanonical books (usually called Apocrypha by Protestants). It’s a fascinating chapter because it is a little nutshell history of faith, from Adam to Moses. Throughout the passage, Wisdom is personified as a female presence, leading the faithful through generation after generation. Here’s a little sample:
A holy people and blameless race
wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors.
She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord,
and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs.
She gave to holy people the reward of their labours;
she guided them along a marvellous way,
and became a shelter to them by day,
and a starry flame through the night.
She brought them over the Red Sea,
and led them through deep waters;
but she drowned their enemies,
and cast them up from the depths of the sea. (Wisdom 10:15-19, NRSV)
This is an interesting twist on the “canonical” story of the Exodus: personified Wisdom is leading the children of Israel through the Red Sea, and guiding them with a “starry flame through the night.” It makes me wonder if this is one of the many reasons that Protestants usually eschew any use of the Apocrypha. Do passages like this strike them as too threatening to the traditional patriarchal image of God? Just a thought.
Book of Common Prayer (1979), Morning Prayer, Rite One
“But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either.” Luke 6:27-29, NET Bible
Like most other people in the country, I suspect, I was hoping law enforcement would catch Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and I was relieved when they did. But now that he’s in custody, I can’t help but pray for him. Why? How can I pray for someone who has committed such patently evil deeds? Well, as a Christian, I pray for him because I’m commanded to do so by Jesus. Of course, my prayers are also with the victims of his crimes, and my praying for him does not excuse him in any way for what he chose to do, or lessen my disgust at the results of his acts. Nevertheless, I pray for him.
And as I pray, I wonder…why? What makes a young person, no matter how much he may have looked up to his misguided older brother, believe that wanton violence will solve anything? I strongly disagree with those who would lay the blame at the feet of the religion of Islam. I know plenty of Muslims who are good, hard working, nonviolent people. Besides, Tsarnaev has been a Muslim for almost two decades, living as a friendly young man in America for ten years, and never showed the slightest interest in this kind of violence.
I wonder, now, if he feels any kind of regret or disgust for his own actions. Does he think, “What a fool I’ve been, to think this would make anything better?” As he faces the distinct possibility of lifelong imprisonment, or even death, as he recovers from his wounds, does he feel repentant? Or was he so deep into a life of hatred and anger that he has been too damaged to feel sorry for his crimes? I wonder these things, and I pray that he would come to an understanding of the ramifications of his actions. If he ends up in prison for life, he will have ample time to reflect on what he has done, and perhaps even to seek forgiveness. If he is put to death, that time of reflection will be drastically shortened. May God have mercy on him, and on those whose lives he ended or damaged.