Tag Archives: cosmic jihad

How Much Trust Do I Need?

Conversations About God 3:5

Now how much “faith” do we have to have? Must we trust completely, or even perfectly, to be right with God? Couldn’t we get away with a little unfaithfulness now and then? Have you husbands ever said to your wives, “Wife, how much could I cheat on you and this marriage still survive?” Would that make any sense? What if a friend should say to you, “How much could I lie to you or hide the truth—and this friendship still last?” Frankly, that would make no sense at all.

Does God need to leave a little room for unfaithfulness in our relationship? Is a “perfect relationship” asking too much of us? Does it make sense to even ask the question? When we “cheat” on God, and cheat we have, God remains our constant friend. But we may be destroying our side of the friendship. You see, if what God wants is friendship, a loving, trusting relationship; then what He wants is obviously not a requirement demanded, but an absolutely voluntary experience.

This long debate regarding faith, works and obedience has troubled saints through the years, but it could be so readily resolved if we looked at the Biblical word for obedience, which is hupakoē (four syllables, one for each vowel). The first part, “hupa,” means “under.” And the second part, “akoē” (three syllables), means “hearing.” The Greek word literally means “listening under.” It describes a humble willingness to listen. If we truly love and trust God, we’ll be willing to listen. It wouldn’t make sense for us not to listen to one we love, trust and admire.

Now could God’s expectation of our willingness to listen be one hundred percent? Our performance may be weak. We may stumble as we leave our doctor’s office. But a willingness to listen? Is that demanding too much of us? Is it too much to say, “Don’t cheat there. Let that be one hundred percent!” Is it expecting too much of us to ask that we be completely committed to listening humbly to our Friend?

Let’s go back to Hebrews 11, the chapter that opens with a definition of what faith is. It surely is encouraging to read about the heroes and heroines of faith celebrated in that same chapter. Hebrews 11 uses the stories of the Old Testament as illustrations of what faith is and what it is not. Look at Hebrews 11:31-32:

By faith the prostitute Rahab escaped the doom of the unbelievers, because she had given the spies a kindly welcome. Need I say more? Time is too short for me to tell the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets (NEB).

Was Rahab’s life at the time she welcomed the spies in perfect harmony with God’s will? Was Gideon’s trust in God perfect when the angel came to him (remember how he needed at least two miracles before he was willing to listen)? Was Samson’s life an ideal you would teach to your children? Was David’s life a model of Christian perfection? Yet Hebrews 11:39 goes on to say, “These also, one and all are commemorated for their faith” (NEB). Is God too demanding? With all their faults and sins, God holds these people out to us as models of being willing to listen. They were far from perfect, but evidently, at least at some point in their lives, they loved and trusted God and were waiting for Him to heal the damage done. And God puts them in Hebrews eleven for our encouragement.

Surely no Bible story is more encouraging than the story of the thief on the cross. What did he do for Jesus to respond with those wonderful words in Luke 23:42-43? “And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, . . . ‘You will be with me in Paradise'” (RSV). Jesus was hanging on the cross between two thieves (the Greek word tells us they were not just burglers, but violent criminals) who were cursing and swearing, and also mocking Jesus along with the crowds.

Then something happened to one of these thieves. He listened to Jesus say “John, please look after Mother when I’m gone” (John 19:25-27). Perhaps the thief thought of his own mother, and that really touched him. He had heard Jesus saying “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Then he learned from the placard above Jesus’ head that the one saying “Father forgive them” was “The King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). So the thief thought to himself, “If Jesus really has a kingdom, and rules over it with forgiveness, that’s just the kind of kingdom someone like me needs.” I’m a thief. I need to be forgiven. I wouldn’t be safe in any other kingdom than a kingdom where the king says, “I forgive you. I forgive you.”

So he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, if that’s the kind of kingdom you’re going to reign over, I’d like to live in it. Please, could you remember me?” I suspect he was a little tentative in saying that. He didn’t know how Jesus was going to respond. But then he heard the words that confirmed his trust. “Yes, I’d be pleased to remember you.” And then the thief died, with his tithe unpaid, and probably all kinds of unclean things in his stomach. He never made restitution to anyone for his crimes. He was never baptized. He never kept a Sabbath. But he’ll be in the kingdom! The next moment of consciousness after his death will be in the resurrection, and he will come face to face with that same person in the middle. Jesus will say to him, “You have a lot to learn.” And the thief will say, “If you say so, that’s all right with me.”

If anything should happen to any of us tonight, I would hope that we would die God’s trusting friend. Because if we do, we will arise in the next moment of consciousness face to face with God. And we will not be afraid, because we will know the truth about God. We will trust Him, know Him, love Him, and all those other things. We will have been set right. And if He should say to us, “You know, there’s a great deal for you to learn,” we would say in response, “I’d be pleased to listen, because I trust and admire You. I want to be Your friend.”

You see, faith is just a word we use to describe a relationship with God as with a person well known. The better He is known the better this relationship may be. Faith implies an attitude toward God of love, trust, and deepest admiration. It means having enough confidence in God – based on the more than adequate evidence revealed – to be willing to believe what He says, to accept what He offers, and to do what He wishes – without reservation – for the rest of eternity. Anyone who has such faith would be perfectly safe to save. This is why faith is the only requirement for heaven, and for salvation.

Combating Terrorism

Recently I presented on the above topic at the first public health conference since the shootings in San Bernardino (which were perpetrated at a social gathering of public health officials). I spoke alongside a couple of muslim scholars representing biblical scholars who are also interested in the Qur’an and Islam. I suggested that Muslims and I share three core convictions that are pertinent to the issue of combating terrorism. I sense that my Muslim co-panelists agreed with me enthusiastically.

The first conviction is that there is a cosmic conflict, or cosmic jihad as Muslims might call it, between good and evil, God and Satan. In texts like Revelation 12, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Genesis 3 and Job 1 and 2, the Bible draws back the curtain to reveal behind the conflicts of this earth a universe-wide conflict over God’s character and government. Various aspects of this cosmic “jihad” are also clearly expressed in the Qur’an (1:1-4; 7:11-15, 20-22; 15:39; 17:62-65; 25:52; 26:94-98; 30:11-14; 59:19), building on the earlier prophetic revelations in the Bible. This large theme tells me that there is a battle between good and evil at the heart of every religion, including Islam. Every religion has the capacity for good or for evil. To simply say Islam is a religion of peace or Islam is a religion of violence is not an adequate analysis. Islam is part of the battleground in the cosmic conflict or jihad. Any analysis of the history of Christianity will affirm the same there. All religions here on earth are battlegrounds in the cosmic conflict.

Second, God is a God of love and love requires freedom in order to be truly love. So human beings have been created with the freedom to love God and each other or to be rebellious and violent. That means that there is no compulsion in true religion. The religion that has God’s approval is one that values human freedom and does not coerce. And a God of love and freedom does not normally intervene to interrupt the consequences of human rebellion. Hence the terrorists have the freedom to do their work with all of its horrible consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty (Gen 2:17-17; 3:11; Deut 30:19; Josh 24:15; John 8:32-36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13; Qur’an 2:256; 4:115; 16:125-128; 17:62-65). Furthermore, the lack of religious freedom in most muslim countries is the work of the evil one rather a manifestation of true faith.

Third, it is a law of life that we become like the God we worship. If we believe that God is arbitrary, punitive, judgmental and severe, we ourselves will become more and more like that. If we believe that God is loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful, we will become more and more like that. In their actions the terrorists betray a horrific view of God, and since they believe that their theology is right, their actions reveal what they think God is like and what God approves. While there are many texts in both the Bible and the Qur’an that have been used to justify such a violent God, both sacred texts climax with a very different picture. The high point of the Bible on this question is John 14:9. There Jesus affirms, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The life of Jesus, in its love, mercy, kindness and self-sacrifice, is a picture of what the Christian God is truly like. Likewise, in the Qur’an, the high point is in The Opening to the Qur’an (al Fatiha), 1:1-4. The character of Allah is there summarized in two words, merciful and compassionate (compare with Exodus 34:6-7). The God of the Qur’an is not a monster, but is gracious and compassionate toward humanity. In fact, this description of God is at the head of all but one of the suras (chapters) in the Qur’an and the rest of the Qur’an needs to be read with that picture of God in mind. The two high point passages referenced above have many counterparts in both sacred texts. Violent humans have cherry-picked sacred texts for centuries to justify evil actions. But at the core of the Bible and the Qur’an are affirmations of a gracious God. How one reads is a choice, and we become like the God we worship.

Followers of ISIS and al Qaeda might be comfortable in general with the first point. They would see themselves as God’s true warriors, fighting the cosmic jihad for Him on this earth. But the God that they are fighting for is nothing like the God introduced in the opening phrase of the Qur’an. And they certainly do not respect the freedom of any who disagree with them. Their use of sacred texts is selective in the extreme, and the God they worship has all the characteristics of Satan: He is punitive, judgmental, violent, and hates His enemies. In the service of God it is possible to behave like the Enemy (compare Rev 16:2).