musings on theology

Gerv recently posted an update after his recovery from appendicitis (and we’re glad you’re back!). Many well wishers left comments on his blog, and while he thanked them for their sentiment, he went on to say that most of them were wasting their time, which I thought was more than slightly distasteful (and probably incorrect from a Christian standpoint as well). After all, the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims is the same God. The differences exist only in how the respective religions are practiced.

jesus_X of MozillaNews has posted a somewhat lengthy but insightful blog entry in response to Gerv’s post. While I don’t agree with everything jesus_X says, I think its worth reading, because he raises some interesting and valid points.

20 thoughts on “musings on theology”

  1. “the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims is the same God.”

    It’s certainly not true, in any meaningful sense, that the Muslim God is the same God as the Christian God. One enormous difference is that the Muslim God requires you to work your way to heaven – when you die, all of your good and bad deeds will be weighed up, and only then will you know whether you are good enough for heaven or not.

    By contrast, Christians believe that you can never work your way to heaven. We all rebel against God, and all deserve punishment – that’s why God sent his son, Jesus, the only person ever to live a perfect life, to take that punishment in our place.

    This is a massive difference theologically – so large, that the two concepts of God cannot be called the same.

    The God of the Jews, on the other hand, is in one sense the same as the God of the Christians – but the Jews have rejected Jesus, his Son, through whom all are saved, and so they are, sadly, as mistaken as Muslims are about the true nature of God.

    Gerv

  2. Well, personally I find all this religion stuff a waste of time. But I wouldn’t normally say this to anyone who is religious. I wouldn’t want to run the risk to be disrespectful.

  3. Gerv, I disagree with your analysis of how the Muslim God cannot be the same as the Judeo-Christian God.

    Under Islam, yes, you have to earn your place in heaven. But, what does this really mean? How does one go about earning this place? Minimally, if one merely sincerely believes in God and Islam, then they will go to heaven, regardless of whether or not they have followed each and every aspect of religion. The only exception to this is if such a person repeatedly, unrepentantly and knowingly commits acts that he or she knows to be in contravention to Islamic teachings. But no one who sincerely believed in God would ever do this.

    So yes, you do have to earn your place in heaven. Having said this, you can enter heaven under Islam merely by sincerely believing in God and the Prophet Mohamammed’s message, whether or not you have attended all the prayers, or spent your life in perpetual worship. Earning your way into heaven merely means that you sincerely believe in God and Islam, and sincerely repent for your sins which you may have committed in the past.

    I believe that this is quite close to the Judeo-Christian model of God. I do not believe there to be a significant difference in the understanding of God among these three religions. Certainly in Christianity you also earn your place in heaven by believing in God and attempting to follow the example of Christ. Surely Christians don’t believe that heaven can be had by anybody, irrespective of their beliefs.

    I should make one more distinction: Does all of this mean that people who devote their life to religion are not rewarded? Certainly not. Within Islam, those who closely follow the teachings of Islam are certainly rewarded in the afterlife. All of heaven is not equal, and the more pious you were in your life here, the more lofty your place will be in heaven.

  4. “Certainly in Christianity you also earn your place in heaven by believing in God and attempting to follow the example of Christ.”

    I’m afraid that’s not quite right. In Christianity, you don’t actually _earn_ your place in heaven at all. It’s given to you. The Book of Revelation says that those in heaven are those who have have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. [Rev 7:15] “The Lamb” is Jesus. In other words, it’s completely God’s work. It’s nothing we do.

    “Surely Christians don’t believe that heaven can be had by anybody, irrespective of their beliefs.”

    You’ve switched from talking about works to talking about beliefs here. Sure, Christians don’t believe that heaven can be had by anybody, irrespective of their beliefs. But they _do_ believe that heaven can be had by anybody, irrespective of their _works_. (One clarification: there are some works which characterise all saved Christians, such as loving their Christian brothers, so there won’t be anyone in heaven who hasn’t done that. But still, it’s not the works that get you there.)

    Gerv

  5. some comments about this discussion, if you are not a follower of any religion, or not interested in this subject, you may skip this post.

    gerv: if i did not misinterpret your words, i do not think your abstract interpretation of that verse means that “heaven is not something you earn, but it is given”. what is the criteria then? there must be something you did then you are revarded. how come we can claim God as not in justice?. your logic makes this kind of speech reasonable “well, we are sinners, Jesus was sent for cleaning our filth and will save us, so heck, lets mess around, who knows God’s lottary will hit and i will find myself in heaven..” i am not sure your understanding of “true nature of God” is shared between all Christians either.

    Yet, maybe there is a misunderstanding, no muslim can claim if a person even spends all his life in good deeds will be certailny be accepted by God or revarded with Heaven.

    muslim belief AFAIK is not “working for going to heaven” it is to earn the acceptance of God only. they are ordered to be in the middle, believe God, follow the book, and do not think everything is guaranteed, be between hopefulness and hoplesness no matter what your situation is.
    Heaven, or is merely a result if you end your life in belief and you have worthy of deeds in God’s judge (not in others or your eyes.). that is why once islams prophet said that a particular person’s place will be heaven just because he gave water with his shoe to a dog who was about to die from thirst.
    Muslims also believe, except prophets, human tend to commit sins and there is a continious fight between this nature and morality.

    sorry for my broken english..

  6. Hey, ry πŸ™‚

    “there must be something you did then you are revarded.”

    Nope. Nothing at all. Hard to comprehend, isn’t it? God is so amazing. Like I said, it’s massively different to anything else.

    Paul says: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, [not by] observing the law.”
    [Romans 3:28]

    “your logic makes this kind of speech reasonable”

    You make a very interesting argument, and it’s a question that a lot of people ask. But it was answered by Paul in his letter to the Romans. If you read Romans chapter 6, you’ll see what he has to say about that sort of argument.
    http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible?passage=Romans+6

    He says that once we’ve been set free from the power of sin, it makes no sense to continue living in it.

    “Heaven, or is merely a result if you end your life in belief and you have worthy of deeds in God’s judge”

    That sounds like working your way to heaven to me πŸ™‚ We don’t have to earn God’s acceptance – there’s no way we could do that anyway. God’s standard is perfection, and we can never live up to that. We are helpless – that’s why we need Jesus.

    Gerv

  7. i , or no human can judge (as ability) of God’s fairness, or his will. Because he is not human, or humanley. However, there are books we follow sent by him, and there are certain rules noted that will be liked – or disliked by God. This are as we considered
    God’s words and one follows it by real belief will be revarded. however, as we live, we cannot now if our belief is the real belief we are asked for , or our deeds really counts, but we have hope.

    In this aspect, i still think a concept of God is not much different in those three religion,

    sayin God’s standard is perfection is not a well thougt concept, do not make much sense either. he never says in any book, be perfect as me, instead he warns us not to go extremes, And that is why thousands of prophets has been sent, including Jesus, on of the greatest one.
    becuase He notes that we are the best of the creation, but far from perfect. But we cannot know God’s reasoning too why it is, as even angels cannot.

    “When your Lord said to the angels: β€˜I am placing a caliph on earth,’ they replied: β€˜Will You put there one that will do evil and shed blood, when we have for so long sung Your praises and sanctified Your name?’ He said: β€˜I know what you do not know.’ He taught Adam all the names and then set them before the angels, saying: β€˜Tell me the names of these, if what you say be true.’ β€˜Glory be unto You,’ they replied, β€˜we have no knowledge except that which You have given us. You alone are wise and all-knowing.’ Then said He to Adam: β€˜Tell them their names.’ And when Adam had named them, He said: β€˜Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and all that you hide and all that you reveal?”
    Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow), verses 30-33

  8. ry: The Bible tells us clearly why humans are no longer sinless (i.e. not perfect) – it’s because the first humans chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, and because of that rebellion, sin and evil entered the world.

    There’s no way we can repair that relationship – it requires action on God’s part. Fortunately, he took that action – he sent Jesus to take the punishment we deserve.

    “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” [1 Peter 3:18] It’s like a cosmic swap – Jesus was fully righteous, but suffered for our sins (not his, as he didn’t commit any), and this repaired that relationship with God.

    “we cannot now if our belief is the real belief we are asked for , or our deeds really counts, but we have hope.”

    Wonderfully, there’s no need to live in that state of uncertainty. Those who trust in Jesus can be totally confident that God will save them – because he promises to do so, and God does not break his promises.

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever *believes in Him* may not perish, but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]

    Eternal life is a cast-iron guaranteed promise to those who put their trust in Jesus. How fantastic is that?

    Do you still think there’s not much difference between Christianity and Islam? πŸ™‚

  9. Controversy Squared

    My post-hospital blog entry stirred up rather a commotion, and led aebrahim and jesus_x to write responses. Those who followed the original controversy may be interested in their takes, and the ensuing discussion. And, in case people think things are…

  10. Gerv, I think you’re confusing two different things. There are certainly lots of differences in belief between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and between different sub-groups within each of them.

    However, all three believe that God is one* and infinite, indivisible and incorporeal, just and merciful and creator of the world, and all three also believe in God’s covenant with Abraham and God’s revelations to mankind through the prophets that succeeded Abraham.

    God would of course still be the same if human beings had never sinned, or for that matter if they had never been created, so the different beliefs on humans’ relationship with God in this world and their reward and punishment in the next are really irrelevant to the fact that all three religions worship the same God.

    * on their own terms, that is. Neither Islam nor Judaism would accept the Christian doctrine of the trinity as consistent with God’s unity.

  11. My semi-educated understanding on the topic of whether Christianity’s, Islam’s and Judaism’s God(s) are indeed the same God is this:

    Given that all three religions are decidedly monotheistic, they must all be worshipping the same God. Assuming that there is one God, if three religions claim to be worshipping different Gods, then the followers of at least two of these religions must simply be lying.

    Three religions cannot worship different monotheistic Gods; there can only ever be one monotheistic God (by definition).

    This isn’t to say that each religion understands God in the same way – they clearly don’t – that’s why they’re separate religions. I think the distinguishing feature of a religion is not which God they worship but how they worship Him/Her/It. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer the question of why Catholicism is the same religion as Protestantism, but not Judaism.)

    The religions may (and do) differ on what God has said and done. If these accounts are contradictory, they cannot all be real. Which particular accounts one accepts as real is a matter of personal choice.

    This includes fairly important accounts, such as whether the Messiah has turned up yet and who it was; as well as one’s own accounts of religious experiences. i.e. just because Jews don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah doesn’t mean they worship a different God – they worship a different understanding of God, thus in a different way.

    If that counts as a different God, then God is reduced to an anti-real entity – merely a concept – which I doubt either Christians or Jews would find acceptable.

  12. “Given that all three religions are decidedly monotheistic, they must all be worshipping the same God.”

    That is an incredibly flawed statement. I can create a monotheistic religion and decide to worship Zeus. That doesn’t mean that Zeus and the God of the Bible are the same.

    Judaism and Christianity worship the same God – the God of the Bible – His name is Yahweh.

    Islam worships a different god – Allah. Allah is the name of the god they worship.

    Yahweh and Allah are not the same – they have different names in the same way that you and I have different names.

    If you read the Qur’an and the Bible, you will see that they have two completely different characters associated with them.

  13. Simon said: “However, all three believe… God’s revelations to mankind through the prophets that succeeded Abraham.”

    That rather glosses over an important difference, doesn’t it? Who were “the prophets that succeeded Abraham”? Judaism doesn’t even recognise Jesus as a prophet, and Islam recognises him only as a prophet, but not the Son of God, God Incarnate. Neither Christianity nor Judaism recognises Mohammed.

    “so the different beliefs on [two extremely important topics] are really irrelevant to the fact that all three religions worship the same God.”

    When someone says “this God is not the same as that God”, what they are really saying is “my understanding of God is very different to this other understanding”. If the understandings are incompatible, then at most one of them can be correct. If Islam and Christianity have different understandings of God on such vital matters as the nature of salvation, then it seems perfectly reasonable to say that they are relating to different Gods – one of which is the true one and one of which is false.

    Greg said: “If these accounts are contradictory, they cannot all be real. Which particular accounts one accepts as real is a matter of personal choice.”

    What is real is a matter of personal choice? If that’s true, step in front of a bus and choose that the bus doesn’t exist. See what happens.

    If the accounts are contradictory, at least one is _wrong_. πŸ™‚

  14. Gerv said: ‘When someone says “this God is not the same as that God”, what they are really saying is “my understanding of God is very different to this other understanding”‘.

    That’s exactly where we differ. God is not determined by our understanding. I would even say that God is so far beyond our understanding that contradictory beliefs can *both* be right, as far as they go — like the old story of the elephant in the dark: http://perkunas.vtu.lt/psichologija/elephant.html

    Again, the nature of salvation is only “vital” to us. God is neither diminished by our sins nor reinforced by our repentance.

  15. Simon said: “God is not determined by our understanding.”

    Indeed not. I never said he was. I said that it was possible to have a correct or an incorrect understanding of God, and if you have an incorrect one, that is what people mean when they say “a different God.”

    If I understand an elephant (to take a random example) to be a small, pink, furry rodent with a long tail, I think it’s reasonable to say that I’m thinking about a different elephant to the rest of the world!

    Simon said: “like the old story of the elephant in the dark”

    The thing about the elephant in the dark story is that the thing they are examining is actually an elephant. It’s not a rug and a trumpet and and a pillar, all at the same time. It’s an elephant. So contradictory beliefs are never “both right” as you say, they are (in the case of the story) both wrong.

    Secondly, anyone who tells that story is basically saying “you lot are blind – you can’t see the truth. Only I can see the whole elephant, which puts me in a position to tell you that you are wrong.” Simon – what makes you the person who can see the whole elephant?

  16. Note that what I said was not “both right”, but “both right, as far as they go”.

    To extend the story a bit, suppose some of the king’s wise men had walked straight past the elephant without finding it. One said “There is nothing there”. One said “There’s something there, but it’s impossible for human beings to make any contact with it.” One said “It’s a small, pink, furry rodent with a long tail”.

    Those would all just be wrong, but the ones in the original story were all accurately describing part of the elephant. Their mistake was to think that they had discovered everything there was to know about it and that the others were wrong.

    I’m not saying I’m the person who can see the whole elephant, I’m saying I’m in the dark with you and everybody else. Christians and Muslims are describing a God which is not quite the same as the one I know, but similar enough that it sounds like part of the same elephant.

  17. Mountain Climbing

    Gemma has followed aebrahim and jesus_x with her thoughts on the recent discussions about the nature of God. A must-read. I sometimes think of learning about God by studying the Bible as like climbing a mountain. It’s hard work, but…

  18. “I’m not saying I’m the person who can see the whole elephant, I’m saying I’m in the dark with you and everybody else.”

    No you’re not – because you have to be able to see the whole elephant to tell the story. Otherwise, you can’t tell the difference between an elephant, and a rug plus a trumpet plus a pillar, and so you can’t tell a story which asserts that it’s definitely an elephant.

    If you are in the dark, what makes you so sure it’s actually an elephant, and not a rug, a trumpet and a pillar?

    “Christians and Muslims are describing a God which is not quite the same as the one I know, but similar enough that it sounds like part of the same elephant.”

    Perhaps you’re not listening carefully enough to the Christians πŸ˜‰ Certainly the picture you’ve painted of God in your comments thusfar is not at all the same picture as this one: http://www.ramblinations.com/blog/2004/07/kudos-to-gerv.html

  19. “No you’re not – because you have to be able to see the whole elephant to tell the story. Otherwise, you can’t tell the difference between an elephant, and a rug plus a trumpet plus a pillar, and so you can’t tell a story which asserts that it’s definitely an elephant.”

    This is such a straw man. How could I be asserting that I had seen the whole elephant if the “elephant” is the infinite ineffable God?

    “If you are in the dark, what makes you so sure it’s actually an elephant, and not a rug, a trumpet and a pillar?”

    The strength of my belief in the unity of God and my considered opinion that the differences are trivial compared to the common ground. Again, I’m talking about the concept of God here, not the relationship between God and human.

  20. “The strength of my belief in the unity of God…”

    But what about mkaply’s excellent point above about Zeus worship?

    “…and my considered opinion that the differences are trivial compared to the common ground. Again, I’m talking about the concept of God here, not the relationship between God and human.”

    So you are talking about how humans think about God, not how they relate to him? The two are rather hard to divide, surely?

    Christianity and Islam (for example) differ in matters as key as creation, sin, heaven, hell, and salvation. Not trivial matters. There’s a great poem called “Creed” here (not written by me) which has a verse expanding on this point: http://www.gerv.net/poetry.html

Comments are closed.