I tricked you. This post isn’t really about Democrats at all. It’s about Muslims. But I couldn’t let that title pass.
Also, FYI, the title could just as easily be “How to Love Republicans.” It’s not about a particular political bias at all. I just happen to know a lot more Republicans than Democrats. So I ask that you not be offended by that, and to take solace in the fact that pretty much everyone will have the chance to be offended by the time this post is over.
I’ve been listening to an audiobook recently called “Dreams and Visions” by Tom Doyle and Greg Webster (in case you don’t know, audiobooks have single-handedly saved my life – because of them I don’t try to read books as I’m driving, keeping me from any number of accidents on the trip home.) It’s a book about the incredible awakening taking place in Islam. This event is not happening only through the efforts of missionaries or organizations: it’s happening because Muslims keep having dreams and visions about Jesus, right in their homes in Egypt and Mecca and Iran. These people experience the living God in their sleep, and after that they are never the same again. They feel what real love is, often for the first time in their lives. And it changes them.
In 2012 the Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani admitted to an alarmed Al-Jazeerah reporter that there are around 667 Muslims being converted to Christianity every hour. (1) Even if that number is over-inflated hyperbole, we’re talking a ton of people. And many of these people are coming to know Jesus through their dreams. But here’s the rub: believing in Jesus doesn’t mean that these wonderful people instantly adopt the title Christian. They become “Isa-followers.” (Isa is Jesus in Arabic.) But they will often still go to the Mosque, still follow Islamic tradition, still wear their hijabs. In other words, you wouldn’t call them “Christian” as we know Christian. There are several reasons for this: first of all, they would get their heads cut off for doing anything else. No, seriously. They would. People who apostatize from Islam to Christianity are worthy of death. Second, Jesus is featured prominently in the Qur’an as a prophet. He was born of the virgin Mary, he said and did some remarkable things, he just didn’t rise from the dead (and He obviously wasn’t the son of God.) Also, the Bible is still respected in Islam, though it is considered inaccurate and secondary to the Qur’an. So the resources are there – albeit limited or restricted – for someone within Islam to learn about and even start believing in Him. Third, and most importantly, many of them see it as their mission to make Jesus known among their fellow Muslims – regardless of the consequences. So they look like a Muslim, they act like a Muslim, they talk like a Muslim. Does that make them Muslim?
Someone acts like a Christian, talks like a Christian, looks like a Christian. Does that make him a Christian?
It is very easy for us to create classes and categories of people, both in society and in our minds. I am a Republican. You are a Democrat. Thus, I am moral and you are immoral. You are enlightened and progressive, I am backwards and superstitious.
I am Charismatic. You are Baptist. I believe the universe is very old. You believe it’s very young. Obviously you are right and I am wrong. I am one of those people – the ones who warp and twist the truth to fit our understanding of life. It is very possible it could cost me my salvation.
How many people say the same thing about you?
What happens when we get up close and see that the lines are much blurrier than we thought they were? What if the lines don’t exist anywhere but in our minds, or were painted there by some questionable characters in our chosen group? And what happens when people keep surprising us? (If we give them the chance to, that is.)
I become more and more convinced every day that the boxes and labels we so wantonly slap on people can and do not define them in the slightest. Labels can’t reach a person’s heart. Fraternities – even religions – can rarely touch a person’s soul. So why do we keep lumping everyone together into their box and calling them those people? We speak derisively of a group that opposes what we believe or think or feel, but in so doing aren’t we sneering, jeering and shaking our fists at the people in that very group? The wonderful, funny, passionate people who Jesus called us to love? What if that Muslim is the next one to have a Jesus dream? What if she didn’t need one after talking to you? Would you be willing to set your prejudice aside to love her?
Or that Democrat? Or that Mormon? Or that homosexual?
What if we set aside what a person stood for and instead cared only about who that person was?
I’m not saying we discard truth or stop defending the veracity of the Bible or any of those things. I’m not saying we all suddenly go universalist. Please understand that. But when you talk to people about Christians, what do they say that we are? Judgmental? Hypocritical? Pompous? Religious?
I think maybe we should be a little more concerned about loving others and a little less concerned about our doctrines.
Okay, but you’re saying, “Where’s the proof? Where is that in the Bible?” Fair enough. Here you go: the one group Jesus constantly derided was the religious leaders who constantly derided everyone else. (2) The story of the good Samaritan is scandalous because the Samaritans were absolutely hated in Jewish culture, but Jesus said the Samaritan was the only person in the story who was worth anything. Blasphemy! (3) A group of people were doing good that weren’t a part of Jesus’ group. Jesus’ disciples tried to stop them, but Jesus said to leave them alone. If they were doing good, who was He to say no to them? (4) I have spent much of my life hearing about Romans 1. But very few ever follow it up with Romans 2. You really should. (5) Or how about the powerful servant who confessed that the God of Israel was the only true god and was then told to go back to his people and be salt for them rather than staying and becoming an honorary Jew? (6) How about the fact that Ruth was not in the Jewish group, but was still given the honor of being a direct descendant of both David and Jesus, despite the warnings to the Jews not to intermarry with people of other ethnicities? (7) How about the fact that, if people had stuck to the idea of groups and boxes, almost none of us would follow Jesus today at all? (8)
At the end of the day, what’s really going to matter? When our lives wind down, what will be left? Will it be our dogmas? Will it be our long-cherished beliefs? Or will it be those we dared to love?
I personally believe that everything else will burn away to ash, and that the only thing left will be Perfect Love. I further believe that, when we meet this Perfect Love, we will find that we are home.
What do you think?
- http://muslimstatistics.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/al-jazeerah-6-million-muslims-convert-to-christianity-in-africa-each-year/; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/why-muslims-are-becoming-best-evangelists.html
2 Kings 5:15-19
Image (c) Can Stock Photo
You touch on something I used to ponder. Namely, what does it mean to “believe in Jesus,” since, according to Acts 16:31, believing in Jesus is the essence of salvation (although this is contradicted by James 2:19, but that’s another matter).
Is it knowing the biblical account of his life? His anglicized name “Jesus,” and what he claimed to do? What if you don’t know the biblical account of his life, but you believe yourself to be flawed and in need of divine help? Is that enough? What if you believe that God is loving and forgiving, but don’t know the New Testament description of God as being trinity? You don’t divide Him into Father and Son, but simply look to him as your help or salvation? Is that belief good enough? Is “Jesus” a person with a story that you need to know, or is He a way of understanding God? I concluded back then that it could only be the latter. That the essence of Jesus must be love and salvation, and to look to God as a loving savior (no matter what name you ascribe to Him, or how you think he’s put together, or how much of his story you think you know) is to believe in Jesus.
It’s definitely a big theological question that needs to be addressed for anyone claiming the title “christian.”
Zach, thank you for your reasoned, thoughtful comments! The problem with these questions is that I don’t think anyone has an exact answer, but most people are absolutely positive they do. I think that, as Christians, it is our duty to learn as much about Jesus and about God as we can, but at the same time I think we need to have a whole bunch of humbleness about how much we actually know and a huge amount of grace towards other people whose understandings differ or aren’t as far along in their journeys as ours. It’s incredibly unpopular to say, but loving people where they’re at will show them Jesus and the God who lives inside us, and it will make them want to strive for something greater in this life and the next. I’ve seen this over and over: much more than telling someone that “Jesus is the only way” or “Turn or burn.” “God would that all would be saved”, and I think He goes to incredible lengths to see that happen – even if those people have never heard about Him and possibly will never hear about Him from another human being and might not even ever know Him by name. (Interestingly enough, this is a position shared by Billy Graham. There’s a video on YouTube where he discusses this.)
I kind of think we will all be very surprised when we get to Heaven and see who’s there. I think we’ll both be surprised by the hyper-spiritual, pious people who never knew Him, and by the ones who were following “the way, the truth and the life” who we never would have guessed were doing so.