Reflexión: El Camino Más Fácil y Difícil

“Perdona siempre a tus enemigos; nada les molesta tanto”.
– Oscar Wilde

“El débil nunca puede perdonar. El perdón es el atributo de los fuertes.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, todos los hombres son hermanos: reflexiones autobiográficas

“Errar es humano, perdonar es divino.”
– Alexander Pope, Ensayo sobre la crítica

“El perdón no es un acto de vez en cuando, es una actitud constante.”
– Martin Luther King hijo.

“El perdón es el nombre del amor practicado entre las personas que aman el mal. La dura verdad es que todas las personas aman mal. Necesitamos perdonar y ser perdonados todos los días, cada hora y cada vez. Esa es la gran obra de amor entre la comunidad del débil que es la familia humana “.
– Henri Nouwen J. M.

“El odio no cesa por el odio, pero sólo por el amor; esta es la regla eterna “.
– Gautama Buda, El Dhammapada: los dichos de Buda

“Porque si perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, también os perdonará a vosotros vuestro Padre celestial. Pero si no perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, tampoco vuestro Padre os perdonará a vosotros las vuestras.” – Mateo 6:14-15

perdon

Lo más fácil sería olvidarse o vengarse de alguien que te ha hecho daño o que te ha ofendido gravemente, pero aquellas opciones no remedian el dolor que llevamos en las profundidades de nuestro ser. Olvidarse o vengarse no puede remediar nuestras lágrimas negras, no puede quitar nuestra indignación y no puede prevenirnos de guardar rencor. Sin embargo, aunque lográsemos nuestra venganza o se nos olvidara la situación nunca sería suficiente en erradicar los dolorosos sentimientos que están dentro de nuestros corazones.

En la búsqueda de nuestra venganza o en nuestro deseo de olvidar nos encontraremos que siempre querremos más venganza y aprenderemos que olvidarse es un cuento de hadas. Por consecuencias de nuestra incapacidad de vengarnos u olvidarnos, nuestros sentimientos nos hacen esclavos y nos encadenan hasta nuestra muerte. En nuestra esclavitud nos convertimos en personas pesimistas, que odian, egoístas, que no confían, que aman poco, frías, cerradas, solitarias, que disfrutan poco, detestables y sin esperanza.

Entonces, ¿cómo nos podemos desencadenar? Nos desencadenamos por el camino del perdón.

El camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. Aún más, el camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por el rencor, el odio, el dolor, el olvido y la venganza. El camino del perdón no es algo que hacemos porque nos gusta, pero es algo que hacemos para liberarnos de nuestra esclavitud. El perdón nos libra, así que podemos disfrutar, gozar y saborear completamente nuestras relaciones con los demás. El perdón es el comienzo de un largo proceso.

El camino del perdón es la vía difícil porque el perdón no es arraigado en la venganza ni en el olvido. En olvidarnos de nuestros sufrimientos no nos enfrentamos a nuestro dolor profundo sino huimos de los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. En vengarnos no nos enfrentamos con nuestro daño tampoco, más bien, agrandamos nuestra hambre para más y más venganza, o sea, un apetito que nunca será satisfecho. En contraste al camino fácil, el camino difícil nos empuja a enfrentar nuestros sentimientos de rencor, odio, indignación y venganza y nos muestra como recibir nuestra liberación. El camino difícil nos muestra que la liberación debe de venir desde una posición de debilidad (el perdón) en vez de poder (la venganza, el olvido). El camino del perdón es más de dos palabras: “Te perdono”, pero es un esfuerzo de nuestro ser hacia la liberación de nuestra esclavitud. En el camino difícil encontraremos la paz. Sí, este camino es difícil pero no imposible. Este camino es difícil porque tenemos que dejar de ser controlado por nuestro justificado dolor profundo para recibir la paz y la liberación.

Paz,

Following Jesus the Human One

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And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Is Jesus of Nazareth God? Traditionally, many Christian`s have often answered this question in the affirmative suggesting that Jesus is in essence God. However, is it correct to suggest that Jesus in essence is  literally God? In my understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission I do not equate Jesus to God – in the sense that Jesus is literally God, rather Jesus is the archetypal Human One who taught and is teaching us what it means to be human. In suggesting that Jesus is God, the writers of the gospels are making theological statements about their experiences with Jesus the Human One pre-Easter and post-Easter.

In saying that Jesus is God the writers of the gospels are communicating to their readers this truth,namely, that in and through the person of Jesus, God is definitively and decisively revealed and experienced.

According to Jesus, being human is intimately related to God and the way that we live in relation with our neighbors both near and far. The way of God (the kingdom message) that Jesus proclaimed was rooted in peace, justice, compassion, humility and it was this message in a violent, unjust, uncompassionate and arrogant world that Jesus’ disciples trusted and hoped. To put it in another way, it was precisely Jesus’ proclamation of God’s way (kingdom) that permitted Jesus’ disciples to have hope for a present where in which peace, justice, compassion and humility would reign. Nevertheless, in rejecting the presumption that Jesus is God – in God’s essence – I do not reject the reality that the Human One is the revealer of Godself. Thus, speaking about Jesus in my perspective is to speak about how God has revealed Godself in Jesus – the Human One.

What does one make of the God-language applied to Jesus in the gospel of John? Was the writer of the gospel of John equating Jesus with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Was the writer of the gospel of John proposing that Jesus – in his essence – is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Or was the writer of John’s gospel using God-language to highlight something different about the person of Jesus?

It seems to me that the Jewish monotheistic writer of John’s gospel did not assume Jesus’ divinity, rather the writer of John used God-language in order to highlight God’s nearness (immanence) in Jesus’ person. In using the term Word (Logos), the writer seems to be making use of a familiar way to speak about God, precisely, a way that sought to understand Jesus’ mission in terms of a Word/Wisdom dynamic.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[1]

Envisioning Jesus in terms of Wisdom/Word is not uncommon to Judaism. In Judaism, especially in Second Temple Judaism the Wisdom/Word of God were personified concepts that were often used to creatively and figuratively speak about God’s actions in the world. Even more interesting, Wisdom/Word categories were concepts used by Israel to talk about God’s nearness to humanity without infringing upon God’s ‘transcendence’.[2] For example, in Proverbs 1-9 Word/Wisdom is portrayed as an attractive and persuasive woman – particularly “Word/Wisdom claims to have been created at or as the beginning of creation, and to have been the companion of God in his creative acts, ‘like a master worker (or a little child)’ (8:22, 30).” Even more, in the book of Sirach Word/Wisdom also praises herself and is described a fashioner of all things (Sir. 24:1-5).[3] In attributing God-language to concepts, such as, Wisdom/Word, Israel was enabled to figuratively speak about how God interacted (and is interacting) with the creation. As one writer comments,

Israel did not insist that the only way to envisage God’s interaction with his creation and with his people was by was by confessionally affirming the oneness of God. Israel in her language about God was more adventurous and liberal (or liberating) in their poetic and metaphorical God-talk. Their understanding of how God acted gave rise to imagery and symbols that at times may seem grotesque, but that together expressed the diverse reality of Israel’s experience of God’s acting on their behalf…Wisdom was not regarded as a ‘semi-divine’ intermediary, but was a way of speaking of God’s activity in creation and salvation.[4]

Thus, in identifying Jesus with God’s Word/Wisdom, the writer of John’s gospel is not suggesting that Jesus is God, rather the writer is suggesting that in the Human One God has come near.

What about Jesus’ uniqueness? How is Jesus unique if he is not God? Traditionally, Jesus’ uniqueness would be understood in terms of divinity. However, while believing in Jesus’ uniqueness, I do not assume that Jesus is God.

The writers of the gospels seem to suggest Jesus’ uniqueness arises from his function as the Jewish Messiah (Son of God). Thus, in contrast to the viewpoint that supposes  Jesus’ divinity, the writers of the synoptic gospels seem to posit that Jesus’ uniqueness flows from his function as the Christ (the Messiah, Beloved, Son of God, the Anointed One).

The writers of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) appear deeply concerned with ‘re-presenting’ Jesus in light of the broader scheme of Israel’s story.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” – Mark 1:1-3

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. – Luke 1:32-36

According to the gospel writers (and the disciples), Jesus is the realization of Israel’s hopes in God to establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth. Thus, the gospel writers seem to understand Jesus’ uniqueness to flow from his ‘choseness’, namely, his ‘choseness’ as God’s Messiah (God’s Beloved, King, Anointed) through whom God has inaugurated the kingdom of Godself.

How does one participate in this way of God (in the kingdom) proclaimed by Jesus? Participation in the way of Jesus demands conversion. In using the word conversion, I do not mean conversion to a particular religion but I mean converting oneself to the way of God that was lived and proclaimed by Jesus.

The way of God is the way of compassion, love, peace, righteousness (justice), humility, virtue (goodness; blamelessness) and it is rooted trusting God. The way of God is a way that stands in solidarity with poor, hurting, suffering ostracized, marginalized and the dehumanized. The way of God proclaimed in Jesus’ person is a way that seeks the healing and restoration of humanity and it is a way open to all people of all colors, religions, orientations and genders – the way of blessedness proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew and Luke. However, in the same manner that God’s way demands conversion it also demands a continual position of repentance from unjust, violent, arrogant, hateful and uncompassionate ways. In participating in the way of God we become people of God’s kingdom – a reality of justice and peace. Even more, in participating in the way of God we become participators with God bringing the Kingdom of Godself into our present reality.

Understanding Jesus through this lens does not place a gulf between humanity and Jesus, it provides us with one to look to in times of weaknesses, doubt, despair and struggle.

In encountering Jesus, we encounter one who has lived and experienced life just as we have, yet in discovering Jesus we find strength to hope in God as he did throughout his life. In Jesus we are provided with the energy to hope in our acts of compassion, justice, peace, kindness, love, mercy and solidarity towards our neighbors and we are given the stamina to hope in God’s restorative plan for the world – a plan that is brought about through our participation with God.

The peace of God be with you.

—–

[1] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. John 1

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? : The New Testament Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). (Kindle Edition)

[3] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[5] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Matthew 1.

Reflection: The Table and Her Scandalous Embrace

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And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”[1]

As I venture to reflect upon the word table, perhaps some readers of this article may find this topic to be quite odd, for the table in many of our mindsets has little to no importance (at least in the west). Yes, it may be true that most holidays, parties and festivals are celebrated around a table, however, the table in our mindset is often a symbol of nothing more than a mere means to an end. Put more simply, when we gather together at the table eating is merely eating, drinking is simply drinking and remembering is only remembering.

However, as I reflect upon the table amidst my Chinese context, the table becomes much more than eating, drinking, celebrating and remembering, rather the table becomes the powerful instrument of inclusion through which one finds herself brought into intimate familial relationships. To put it more simply, the table in a real and sacramental sense becomes the space where one finds that she is accepted and included into a community of people. Thus, the table in a Chinese sense is the means by which individuals are made aware of the familial relationship they share with sisters and brothers.

Not unlike the Chinese table, in my African-American heritage the table has functioned in much of the same way.  Historically, the African-American table has served as the place where family got together to maintain, nourish and grow  familial bonds. As my father comments: “Our African American table is the place where stories are shared, jokes are told and predecessors are remembered.” Thus, individuals discover that they belong to a family and a precious history at the African-American table.

However, in pondering upon the African-American table, I am reminded of how the table has often functioned as a tool of exclusion over and against an instrument of inclusion throughout American society. Seen from the eyes of my ebony skinned history, the table has often operated as a constant reminder of my inhumanity and lack of worth. Such a view of the table can be found in the words of Langston Hughes as he describes his experience as a black man excluded from the American table:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.[2]

Nevertheless, as I think about the concept of table, I cannot help but be drawn to think about the table from my own Christian standpoint. From a Christian perspective, the table of Jesus challenges our notions of us and them (or who is in and out) by welcoming all. Even more, Jesus’ table practices powerfully exposes all the exclusive tables in our own lives by providing seats for all people.

Perhaps this is the reason why the table of Jesus is so controversial, particularly because it welcomes, embraces and calls all people worthy. As seen in the ministry of Jesus,  the table is the place of transformation, liberation, restoration and reconciliation.  The table is the space where the orphan is given a home, the dehumanized discovers her humanity, the outcasts find their welcome, the poor are made rich, the sick are healed, the weak are made strong, and the tyrants are forgiven.

Thus, at the table of Jesus one is confronted with this challenging truth: ‘that all are welcomed and forgiven in Christ’. The truth discovered at the table of Jesus is a challenging one, for it proclaims that all people – irrespective of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, political or religious bent etc. – have a seat at the transformative, reconciling, liberating, restorative and gracious table of Jesus Christ.

[1] Mark 2:15-17

[2] I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes

Reflection: The Generous Melody of Grace and its Non-Christian Singers

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“I,” she [the Spirit] opened her hands to include Jesus and Papa, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active and moving. I am a being verb. And as my very essence is a verb, I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing, and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless ‘I am’ there are no verbs and verbs are what makes the universe alive”

– Paul Young (The Shack)

Ericka was a devout Christian who had a transformative encounter with God through Jesus firsthand. Such a transformative encounter influenced Ericka so deeply that for her there was no doubt in her mind that the God of Israel was the God of the universe. Nevertheless, while Erika had no doubt of her experience with the Blessed Loving Presence that pervades the universe. Erika could not make sense of those genuine transformative encounters had by non-religious and religious persons (but not Christian). In numerous encounters with many non-Christian persons, Erika could not seem to synthesize her theology and the realities that she faced on a daily basis with genuinely transformed people. From these real encounters with her Muslim friends, Hindu neighbors, Atheist/Agnostic friends and Buddhist students, Ericka discerned something profoundly transformative that drew them away from themselves to a reality beyond themselves – to a reality that propelled them to love their neighbor (even if she is the enemy) at all cost. For these reasons, Erika found herself at a crucial intersection in her Christian faith. Even more, she found herself in a situation that demanded her to make sense of the religious experiences genuinely shared by the religious other. Here then is the question: “How will Ericka make sense of these sincere religious encounters?”

In reflecting upon the story above, I believe that Ericka’s confusion would be clarified by a richer understanding of the Spirit’s ministry (God’s Presence) in the world. Contrary to what is often assumed in Christian preaching and ministry, the work of the Spirit is not limited to any words that we speak nor to any of our actions, rather the Spirit’s touch extends beyond the ministry of Christians in the world offering grace and life to all of creation. Such statements do not deny the ‘particularity’ of Jesus – language that I believe to be fundamental to the Christian identity – rather they seek to highlight the ministry of the Spirit alongside the ministry of Jesus. As Clark Pinnock writes in his book Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit:

Viewing Jesus’ incarnation as an event in the history of the Spirit lets us consider particularity in the context of universality. The mystery of God was uniquely and unsurpassably revealed in Jesus (particularity), but this happened with the aid of the Spirit, who had always been working in creation and history before that time (universality). God sent Jesus in ‘the fullness of time’ to a world being prepared by the Spirit (Gal. 4.4). What God was aiming to reveal in Jesus was long in preparation, and Jesus came as a fulfilment to a process in which the Spirit had been a central player (Pinnock; 197-198)

Consequently, the Spirit’s offer of grace and our participation in this grace is not a reality that was initiated in Jesus, rather the Spirit’s offering of grace is a reality “as broad as history itself” (Pinnock; 197). In the person of Jesus we discover that grace reaches its culmination and high point – but not its beginning (Pinnock; 198). Thus, in turning our attention to the Spirit, we learn of the life-giving ministry through the Spirit that has never ceased to be absent in history. Even more, in light of Spirit’s ministry we should not be surprised to see fruits of the Spirit’s ministry even amidst people whose talk about God is different than our Christian talk about God. “It has always been possible to cast oneself at the mercy of God, even if one’s theology is conceptually incomplete. An incomplete knowing of the Giver of Life does not disqualify one from receiving the gift of life (Pinnock; 198-199).

Do not those holy persons in the Hebrew Scriptures like Enoch, Melchizedek, and Job – persons who experienced salvation/liberation apart from the religion of Israel – critique any of our attempts to confine the Spirit of the living God? Are not those holy individuals assumed to have known God? Do not those holy persons warn us against limiting the Spirit’s ministry to the preaching of the word, giving of the sacraments or a set of theological presuppositions? Such holy persons warn us against putting limits to the life-giving and life-sustaining Spirit of God. More pointedly, these holy persons caution us against trying to possess God, for the God of Israel is not an object to be possessed. Believing in the particular truth of Christianity, namely, that Jesus is the definitive revelation of Godself does not negate the universal ministry of the Spirit who is operative in world (which is inclusive of the sphere of religion) offering liberating grace to persons inside and outside the Christianity community. One writer comments that,

There is grace in general revelation and special revelation, and both are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God reaches out to persons in a multiplicity of ways, thanks to the prevenience of the Spirt. God loves the world, and the Spirit works in the world that it may ultimately align itself with Christ. Granted, such a goal can take time to achieve. Yet instead of saying there is no salvation outside the Christian community, let us simply say there is no salvation outside grace, or only finally outside of Christ (Pinnock; 194).

Consequently, Erika need not turn inwardly – limiting God’s action in the world to the Christian community – nor does she need to relativize the particular claims of her Christian faith. In her encounters with persons whose lives bear the marks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), Ericka is able to discern these transformative movements of the Spirit using her own Christian grammar. Put in another way,

The gospel story helps us discern movements of the Spirit. From this narrative we learn the pattern of God’s ways. So wherever we see the traces of Jesus in the world and people opening up to his ideals, we know we are in the presence of Spirit. Wherever, for example, we find self-sacrificing love, care about community, longings for justice, wherever people love one another, care for the sick, make peace not war, wherever there is beauty and concord, generosity and forgiveness, the cup of water, we know the Spirit of Jesus is present. Other spirits do not promote broken and contrite hearts. Such things tell us where the brothers and sisters of Jesus indwelt by the Spirit are (Pinnock; 208-209)

Thus, I cannot help but welcome the persons embraced by the Spirit (whether Christian or not) as my sisters and brothers when their lives are reflective of the life-giving Spirit. Because of the Spirit, everyone (in whatever context, state of life, religion, etc.) has the possibility of encountering Godself – life is intrinsically sacramental at its core (a means of grace). Consequently, at every moment, humankind finds itself being called beyond themselves to participate in something greater than themselves – a reality that demands conversion and a deeper participation in this beautiful reality at every step of the journey. More pointedly, humankind is called to participate in a reality that is permeated by the generous Spirit who welcomes persons to partake in her radical offer of grace.

Grace and Religion

If it is true that God is gracing the world by way of the Spirit, then it would seem inconsistent to exclude the Spirit from the sphere of religion. Again such an assertion does not diminish faith in Jesus Christ – the decisive revelation of God – but it opens the Christian tradition up, allowing it to be enriched by other religious traditions in dialogue that is mutual, respectful and reciprocal. Nevertheless, the Christian response to the religions should be a both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the present. “On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them. On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error and at the very least see other faiths as insufficient apart from fulfillment in Christ. The key is to hold fast to two truths: the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ” (Pinnock; 202).

However, my provisional ‘yes’ and ‘no’ does not obscure my envisioning of a permanent ‘yes’ in the future. In light of how the God of Israel has been acting in history to restore, renew, reconcile and redeem all creation, namely, every aspect of creation (not fragments). I posit that religion and its systems in the new creation – the goal to which all creation is going – will undergo a reframing in Jesus by the power of the Spirit. However, such a reframing would not force religions to lose their particular distinctiveness. Analogous to the situation of the first followers of Jesus who saw their Jewishness reframed (reinterpreted but not destroyed or made irrelevant) in light of Jesus, I envision a reframing of other religions in light of Jesus as well. As mentioned above, such a reframing does not do away with religious distinctiveness, rather it reframes religious distinctiveness in light of God’s action in Jesus through the power of the Spirit.

In sum, answering Erika’s question in light of the Spirit’s ministry establishes grounds for understanding how Christianity can interact with the religious and non-religious experiences of the religious other – an interaction that does not sacrifice the uniqueness of Christianity and the religious other. Thus, let Christians be fervent in our ministry to the world as we proclaim the kingdom of God in our words and deeds. However, let us be humble to recognize the Spirit of Truth wherever way it may be blowing. As John’s gospel reminds us in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus: “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). Thus, the melody of grace sung by Christians is not solely a tune sung by the Christian chorus, rather it is a melody that many un-Christians sing through the power of the life-giving Spirit.

A Queer Reflection From the Margins: A Love That Dare Not Speak its Name…

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Introduction

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Anyone may come there for there is no cost. Rich man or poor man, bonded or free. The ground was level that day at Calvary.[1]

Currently, the Christian community finds herself at a crucial juncture in the road concerning non-issues/issues arising from the LGBT members within her congregations. While a small amount of Christian communities have provided refuge of inclusion, acceptance and love to LGBT members, historically the Christian community’s attitude towards members of the LGBT community has been one of contingent acceptance, that is, full inclusion on the basis that one does not act upon her desires and vows to a life of celibacy. For these Christian communities, error is not be found in one’s particular orientation (whether a person was born a particular way or not), but error is to be located in the particular act of sex. Thus, practicing LGBT members cannot be included into the life and ministry of the Christian community.

Nevertheless, as I have reflected, prayed and dialogued with sisters and brothers on these particular non-issues/issues I have found myself making a hermeneutical decision (an interpretive choice) contrary to those of my sisters and brothers that support a traditionalist interpretation. In reflecting on the LGBT issues within context of the Christian family, I posit that the predominant attitude of contingent acceptance is flawed and unacceptable. Even more, I suggest that the traditionalist paradigm promotes a double standard towards LGBT members within the body of Christ. Thus, in this brief reflection my chief aim is not to say something new – although what I say may be new and uncomfortable for some – but my intention is to briefly reflect on the LGBT situation in light of the claims made by the traditionalists in my Christian family. Hence, in opposition to my traditionalist sisters and brothers, I posit that the exclusion of LGBT members from the Christian community’s life and ministry as unacceptable.

Sexuality after the ‘Primordial Fall’ in Eden

Often, I feel that discussions concerning homosexuality in the Christian community begin with unchecked presuppositions that frequently (if not always) envision heterosexuality as something innocent while homosexuality and bisexuality is representative of a sexuality that is non-ideal. Nevertheless, I find such assumptions false because human beings live in a non-ideal world where there is no sexuality – whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual – that is innocent. In fact, in a Genesis 3 world (a non-ideal world) all sexuality is not ideal. As ethicist David P. Gushee comments,

Traditionalist often speak as if heterosexual people’s sexuality is innocent while gay and lesbian people’s sexuality is broken/damaged/ sinful. Revisionist often speak as if everyone’s sexuality is innocent. I am suggesting that in Genesis 3 perspective, no one’s sexuality is innocent.[2]

From a Christian perspective, Genesis 3 presents its readers with a striking realism about their present situation, namely, that the world that they inhabit is not God’s ideal. More strikingly, readers of Genesis 3 discover a world where all planetary and human life has undergone a type of primordial fall that has affected the entirety of creation and its ability to be all that God has intended it be.  Hence, if Christians were to take seriously the fact that they live in a non-ideal world, then non-ideal sexuality – heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual –  becomes a natural manifestation of the world’s ‘non-idealness’. Nevertheless, the question that arises from this reasoning is this: How should the Christian ethic respond to all non- ideal humans who have non-ideal sexualities – heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual?

At this point, many traditionalists will answer the question above by suggesting that heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals conform their sexuality to the pattern set forth in the creation stories (Genesis 1-2).  According to the traditionalist reasoning, God established ‘covenanted monogamous heterosexuality’ as the pattern for Christian sexuality in Genesis 1-2. As result of the traditionalist premise, traditionalists conclude that any divergent understanding of sexuality is in conflict with Scripture. However, in contrast to the traditionalist position, I hold all appeals to Genesis 1-2 as suspect due to the fact that human beings inhabit a Genesis 3 context – a context where all sexuality is not ideal. Thus, I posit that ethics from a Genesis 3 situation does a better job at coping with the reality of real human beings in a real messy non-ideal world.

The concept of persons not meeting God’s ideal is a reality present throughout the entire body of Scripture. For example, a non-ideal found in Scripture is polygamy, yet in Scripture our Jewish ancestors openly practiced polygamy in its pages. Should we say that our ancestors and their families were not blessed by God even though the Scriptures says they were? Another example can be gleaned from the practice of divorce and remarriage cautiously approved of by many in the Christian community. From Jesus, we clearly learn that divorce does not follow God’s ideal, yet within the Christian community divorce is permitted in certain serious situations. Are we willing to say that the divorced are not blessed by God? Are we willing to say that remarried persons are not blessed by God? If not, why be so liberal with divorce, remarriage, and polygamy and so conservative towards the full inclusion of covenanted practicing LGBT members within our congregations? If congregations bless divorces, remarried  persons, and polygamy in the Scriptures, what is to stop our communities from creating space for the full inclusion of covenanted practicing LGBT members within the Christian community? It seems to me that the traditionalist reasoning upholds a discriminatory double-standard  in its practice towards its LGBT members. For example,

  • To the divorcees, most Christians say, “Come be pastor, a leader with the youth or lead the music…”
  • To the polygamous in Scripture, most Christians say, “that was back then and not now….”

However,

  • To the lesbian, some Christians say, “Sit in the back row and do not say a word to anyone…”
  • To the gay male, some Christians say change…even though the gay male confesses, “I can’t even if I try…”
  • To the bisexual, some Christians say, “You just want it all don’t you?!?”
  • To the transgender little boy who believes she’s a girl some Christians say, “You are quite a strange thing!!!”
  • To the intersex girl some Christians say, “My Lord, that is quite odd!!!”

Nevertheless, over and against these remarks I find Jesus – the revealer of the God of Israel – welcoming these people with open arms, in the same manner that he has welcomed the tax collector, the destitute, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute and all those who have found themselves on the margins of religious, social, economic and political society. In contrast to the cookie cutter traditionalist paradigm for sexuality, I posit that a Genesis 3 ethic assumes, recognizes the messiness of a non-ideal world. A Genesis 3 ethic recognizes that all sexuality, albeit, homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual is not ideal.  Thus, in reference to LGBT members and heterosexual members, I propose the concept of covenant. “The Christian marital covenantal ethic rules out all non-marital sex, infidelity, abandonment and divorce (with the exception to certain situations), making celibacy the only alternative to management.”[5] In closing, I am reminded of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he comments:

God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.[6]

From a Christian perspective, I find that such a statement profoundly captures a striking realism, namely, that the present world we inhabit is not representative of God´s ideal for creation – nor are human beings representative of God’s ideal. Rather, by God’s grace we can only try to be the best that we can be. Nevertheless, though the world we inhabit fails to meet God’s ideal, the redeeming, reconciling and unfathomable love of God still chooses to embrace the world in all its imperfection. Therefore, in opposition to my traditionalist sisters and brothers, I posit that the exclusion of LGBT members from the Christian community’s life and ministry as unacceptable.


Final Thoughts: I recognize that in writing this reflection some gracious, loving and God-fearing sisters and brothers will disagree with my conclusions on this subject. However, in our disagreements let us always remember Jesus, the one that unites us together in all our Christian differences. As that old Latin phrase once said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things charity.” Also, it should be noted that this reflection is not exhaustive. This approach is representative of one of two approaches that I have taken concerning the LGBT community and their full inclusion into the ministry of the Christian Church.


Prayer: O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may we with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] A Christian hymn entitled “The Ground is Level”

[2] Gushee, David P., Brian D. McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, and Matthew Vines. Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church. Canton, MI: David Crumm Media, LLC, 2014. (Kindle Edition; 1467)

[3] Ibid. 1467 (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. 1397 (Kindle Edition)

[5] Ibid. 1525 (Kindle Edition)

[6]  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York: Macmillan, 1955 p. 84-85

Reflections: The ‘Hijab’ and the ‘Muslim Woman’

hijab

Introduction:

Josefina’s Story

Josefina was a devout Christian and an ordained minister within the Christian Church. At her ordination ceremony, Josefina made a conscious decision to wear the clerical collar as a symbol of her Christian faith and identity but to her surprise many did not support her decision to express her faith in this particular manner for they posited that such an action would offend those who did not belong to her faith. Josefina’s entire problem started when Josefina began wearing her clerical collar to work after her ordination service. As Josefina wore her clerical collar to work every day she began to notice how many people – even her friends – began to look at her in unpleasant ways. These unpleasant stares often accompanied with negative chitter chatter (gossip) concerning her collar lasted for months. Josefina never thought that the gossip would end in her workplace. As she entered her workplace and traveled through the dark and judgmental hallways, it seemed as if Josefina was walking the walk of shame with all eyes on her because she decided to wear the clerical collar to work.

As Josefina traveled through the dreadful hallways at her work it seemed as if the walls negatively whispered of the white band that she put around her neck every morning as a demonstration of her Christian devotion and identity. After these reasonably long months in her workplace, the whispers finally got so loud that the boss of her company finally approached her and said, “Josefina, you are a wonderful woman of great faith but for the sake of your colleagues I must ask that you remove your clerical collar when you come to work!” Perplexed at such a request, Josefina asked her boss, “Why should I take off my clerical collar?” in response to her question her boss responded, “Josefina, wearing the clerical collar is actually disrespectful to those in the workplace who do not share your faith. Also, wearing your clerical collar might make many uncomfortable. Josefina, in this workplace we do not want to mix your private affairs concerning your religious with the workplace.”

After hearing her bosses’ response, Josefina thought herself and responded, “I am sorry but my religious decisions (as you say) is not simply a private matter. You see my faith is a very formative part my identity, that is, to know me is to know that I am first and foremost a Christian – my faith simply cannot be a private matter because it forms part of who I am. Secondly, what makes my decision to wear the clerical collar any different than that Muslim woman who chooses to wear the headscarf in the cubicle across from me? Shouldn’t she take off her headscarf as well?” After listening to Josefina’s question the boss thought to herself…

  Posing the Question

As our world grows smaller and smaller due to globalization – however one may define it – it is crucial for different people from different context to learn the life language of their religious language. This is particularly an important task for the entire world because learning the life language of those who are different (in all aspects of their person) can contribute greatly to a more peaceful world that is inclusive of all persons despite their differences. Like Josefina, many Muslims raise the same question when it comes to wearing the veil in public – especially in non-Muslim countries. Thus, in writing this brief reflection, I plan to address the topic of Muslim headdress from a Christian perspective.

The questions that I will seek to answer by the end of this reflection are these questions: How should Christians respond to laws that set out to ban the Muslim veil in public? Should Christians support such laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the veil in public? Should Christians take a mediating position concerning the use of the veil in public? Or Should Christians support the right of Muslim women to wear the veil in public?

In this reflection, I will seek to positively answer these questions in the affirmative. I will postulate that Christians have a moral responsibility to support Muslim women by rejecting laws that prevent them from wearing the veil in public. In light of all that has been said above, the first portion of this reflection will seek to briefly highlight what the veil means in Islamic thought while the last portion of this reflection I will seek to give a Christian response to the issue.

The Veil and Islam

”Imran bin Husain said: The Prophet said, “Haya’ (pious shyness from committing religious indiscretions) does not bring anything except good.” Thereupon Bashir bin Ka`b said, ‘It is written in the wisdom paper: Haya’ leads to solemnity; Haya’ leads to tranquility (peace of mind).” `Imran said to him, “I am narrating to you the saying of Allah’s Messenger and you are speaking about your paper (wisdom book)?’”[1]

The Veil in the Context of Muslim Modesty  

In order to answer this question concerning the Islamic practice of veiling, we must first set out to place our discussion of the veil within a larger framework that concerns itself with correct dress (or modesty). As Evelyne Reisacher puts it: “The virtue of modesty informs the way Muslims dress, but also how they view life more generally, especially between men and women.”[2] In dialoguing with Muslims about the veil we are indirectly engaging the larger theme of modesty within the Islamic faith, namely, a theme that concerns itself with a modest lifestyle for Muslim men and women.

The profound importance placed on modesty in the Islamic faith can be seen in the many Hadith traditions. For example, in the Hadith collection concerning ‘belief’ the traditionist Bukhari records that the Prophets comments on modesty. Bukhari records, “The Prophet said, ‘Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term “Haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self-respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.’”[3] Another comment recorded by the traditionalist concerning modesty and can be seen in the chapter on manners (Al-Adab) it is commented that: “The Prophet passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya’ (pious shyness from committing religious indiscretions) and was saying, “you are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you.’ On that, Allah’s Messenger said, “Leave him, for Haya’ is (a part) of Faith.’”[4]

From these Hadith collections, as wells as, the Qur’anic text (Surah 28:23-28; 24:31; 33:39) one learns that modesty plays a huge role in the Islamic faith. As shown in the paragraph above, modesty is an ingredient to the Muslim’s understanding of faith. As one hadith comments: Ibn ‘Umar said, “Modesty and belief are together. If one of them is removed, the other is removed.”[5] Consequently, dialoguing with Muslims about the veil belongs to a greater discussion of the term modesty as understood within the Islamic framework. Concerning the veil, there are two texts in the Qur’an that Muslims reference with respects to the veil. However, there is no consensus concerning how these texts should be interpreted within the religious community. The Qur’anic texts are Surah 24:31 and Surah 33:59. Surah 24:31 reads:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.” [6]

Also, in Surah 33:59 we find these words:

“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [7]

While modesty is the general idea driving the texts that have to do with the veiling of women (Surah 24:31 and Surah 33:59), there is no consensus among Muslims about the application of these verses in the present. Strict readings of the Qur’anic verses above take the verses above quite literally. These strict interpretations of the texts above argue that the veil is something  required for all Muslim women. From this perspective (and more stricter interpretation along these lines), when the Qur’an advises women “that they (women) should draw veils over their bosoms and not display the beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…” the Qur’an is speaking to every culture throughout time. More simply, these interpretation of the texts would suggest that the Qur’anic verses above are universal commands given to women of all generations.[8] On the other hand, other Muslim interpreters argue that the passages presented in the Qur’an are culturally bound. These interpreters argue that the texts above need to be presented in light of the larger cultural framework.

By doing so, many Qur’anic interpreters instruct us that the veil was not something invented by Islam, rather veiling of women was already as custom that was being practiced within many regions of the world. From ancient times (before the coming of Islam) many Christians in the first century veiled for the Eastern the practice of veiling was a symbol of respectable dress for Eastern women.[9] Nevertheless while veiling was practiced by many Christians and Jews, “first century Arabian women did not practice wearing the veil until the wives of Prophet Muhammad’s began wearing the veil.”[10] While in some contexts the veil was associated with upper-class privilege and honor, for example “under Assyrian law, low class women, slaves and prostitutes were forbidden to veil as ‘honorable women’ women, and were severely beaten if caught outdoors in a veil.”[11]

In many other contexts like those of the Jewish and Christian contexts, the practice of veiling had everything to do with modesty. According to these interpreters of the Qur’anic texts the above verses concerning veiling (Surah 24:31; 33:59) appear to emerge in a context where women let their head dress flow behind their shoulders leaving their breast on display. “Thus, the overall atmosphere of the Qur’anic verses seek to provide rule for ethics and social conduct.”[12] Commenting on the veil, Muslim commentators of this perspective understand the text to be expounding the general principle of modesty. As Amina Wadud comments, “The principle of modesty is important – not the veiling and seclusion which where manifestations particular to the context. These were culturally and economically determined demonstrations of modesty.”[13]

In summary of the paragraphs above, I conclude that the veil has generally been assumed to be a sign of modesty. In contrast to what some may think concerning the Islamic veil – generally some see the veil as a sign of oppression – the Muslim community understands the veil generally in terms of modesty. While, in daily Muslims affairs these two camps of interpretation have differing implications for the Muslim woman – the stricter interpretation of the veil requires that the Muslim women wear the veil while the more cultural interpretation of the veil does not – the  overarching principle is modest dress. Thus, the practice of   “covering is a form of protection, maintenance of chastity, and aid in the avoidance of negative temptations in society for women and men alike. When women cover, they provide dimensions of moral character and dignity, not only for themselves, but also for society.”[14]

The Veil in Non-Muslim Societies

Europe’s Restricting of the Veil

Recently, the Muslim veil has been a source of great contention particularly between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Europe. The contention over the Muslim veil has given rise to intense debate due to the many laws that have been passed in Europe that ban Muslim women from wearing the veil in public. Currently, countries, such as, France, Belgium, Spain, Britain, Holland, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Russia, and Switzerland prevent Muslim women from wearing the veil in some way or form – some countries are less stricter in their veiling policies than other countries. For example, France a European country that is home to what is thought to be about five million Muslims has banned both the full-face veil and the headscarf (with the exception of French universities).[15] The penalty for violating these bans results in a 150 euro fine as well as instruction classes on citizenship.[16] Even more, “anyone found forcing a woman to cover her face risks a 30,000 euro fine.”[17]

On the other hand, unlike France the country of Spain has no national law banning the use of the veil, however, in some places like Barcelona the full-face veil is banned in some public places.[18] These European countries posit that the banning of the veil is based upon security concerns – they argue that the veil obscures the identity persons. Even more, some opponents of wearing the veil in public argue that it is a symbol of retardation and of women’s backwardness and subjugation.[19]

The Veil: An Assertion of Muslim Identity

In response to the ban (or restrictions) placed on Muslims in these European countries the veil in the context of Islam has taken on a deeper message that stretches beyond its basic meaning within the Muslim matrix of modesty. In more recent times, the practice of veiling has become for many a revolutionary symbol for Muslims who seek to protest against ideologies that run up against Muslims values and the Muslim way of life. This practice of veiling in Muslim communities – along with modesty – is representative of the Muslim assertion of their identities in a society where they feel that Muslim values are being challenged. Many of these restrictive policies have ‘outraged’ the Muslim communities because many Muslim individuals contend that the ‘banning’ laws – laws that seek to unveil Muslim women – are profoundly discriminatory; laws that ban the veil are in direct violation to the religious liberties of Muslim persons. Such policies – as it is argued by Muslims – is a fundamental blow to Muslim identity – despite the lack of consensus concerning the requirements of the veil.

In defense of the veil’s usage, Muslim communities argue that wearing the veil does not represent subjugation or backwardness, rather the Islamic veil “represents the victory of Islamic ideas and the regression of other ideologies. It signifies, among other things, that first, Muslim women should not imitate non-Muslim women, second, that Muslim glory was concomitant with the veiling of women and that therefore Muslim women should be veiled, and finally, that the hijab (the veil) prevents women from mixing with men, thus protecting the sanctity of the family by prohibiting promiscuity.”[20] More simply, the veil (as noted above) for the Muslim woman acts as an identity marker that distinguishes her from the entire non-Muslim world. For example, in a conversation with one of my Muslims friends she commented me:

“Why do I choose to wear a headscarf? I get that question a lot and there are many reasons but the one reason that encompasses all of the reasons I choose to veil myself is simply because I have the desire to please God. This is my way of getting close to God, it gives me strength, it is a part of my identity, it guards me, and last but not least it helps me fulfill one of my duties as a Muslim woman. Like Nuns that choose to dress in a certain way, like pastors that choose to dress in a certain way, like the Rabbis that choose to dress in a certain way, like the Hindus choose to dress in a certain way, and like Buddhist monks that choose to dress in a certain way; this is my way of following my religion and I believe that it is a human right to choose to follow which ever religion that one has deep rooted convictions in. I respect everyone previously mentioned and everyone in general, my hope is that just like I have unrelenting respect and unrelenting tolerance to people of all religions and of all backgrounds that choose to wear certain items of clothing that symbolize the religion that they follow; I expect to be treated in the same way.” [21]

Thus, “to understand the obsession with the hijab (veil) issue one must view dress (in Islam) as a coded message that reflects political and ideological choices.”[22]

Should Christians Support Laws That Ban Veil’s in Public

Josefina’s Conundrum and the Christian Response: A Missional Hermeneutic

Obviously, Josefina’s issue is reflective of the many Muslims who raise these questions concerning the veil in non-Muslim countries. Nevertheless, Josefina’s conundrum illustrates that the question of the veil in many non-Muslim countries is not fundamentally a question veiling, rather it is a question that extends deeper into the heart one’s religious liberty – a freedom that allows for a person to be a religious person. As BBC article reports, “The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to integrate ethnic and religious minorities” without destroying their particularity.[23]

How then should Christians respond to laws that ban the use of the veil in public? I posit that Christians should reject laws that ban the veil in public because these laws are essentially discriminatory laws that are driven by tremendous amounts of fear and ignorance towards the Muslim community. Such laws prohibiting the use of the veil in public are mostly based upon the prejudiced assumption that all Muslims are terrorists – something which is so far from the truth. Even more, our prejudices against Muslims are fueled often by western portrayals of Islam that demonizes Muslims and the Muslim faith – portrayals of Islam that are inherently xenophobic. Often supporters of such laws suggest that these laws exist for security purposes – they ask, “How do we protect our citizens from persons who we cannot identify (in response to the Muslim headdress)” – however, other gendered respectable options can be explored (options that maintain the respect of Muslim persons).  Even more, supporters of the ban argue that laws put in place are to protect citizens, but are not Muslims in these countries citizens as well (do they not need protection under the law)? In a Christian news article one writer comments: “The laws passed across Europe that forbid women from covering their faces in public are said to be based on security concerns. Many Westerners’ reactions to Muslims are heavily influenced by the September 11 attacks and other horrific acts of terrorism. Thus, any symbols relating to Islam arouse our deep fears. But the face veil is neither a symbol of violence nor of terror.”[24]

Christians must seek to defend the religious liberty of Muslims, for defending these liberties of Muslims is deeply interconnected to our own religious liberties as Christian persons. Christian liberty is also rooted in the passage which is commonly known as the golden rule. “Christian commitment to religious liberty is rooted in Jesus’ teaching, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Luke 6:31).”  If we (Christians) desire for our liberties to be respected by the Muslim community then we must seek to respect their religious liberties as well.

Nevertheless, even if there is no reciprocation on the part of the Muslim community “Christians must remember the words that come immediately after the golden rule where it says, ‘Do good… expecting nothing in return (6:35). We must defend liberty for others – in this case the Muslims – whether or not they reciprocate. Christians should set a moral example for the world, not wait for others to lead.’”[25] In supporting Muslim, Christians open the door to greater dialogue, trustworthiness and cooperation between Muslim and Christians persons. Supporting Muslims women, bears testimony to Muslims and to the world that amidst our clear differences there can still emerge an environment of peace, love, equality and justice – things that Christians believe to be essential to our understanding of the Scriptures.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I posit that Christians have a moral responsibility to support Muslim women by rejecting laws that prevent them from wearing the veil in public. Supporting laws that prohibit Muslim religious liberty is profoundly discriminatory and it runs contrary to our Christian belief. As one Christian article comments:

“Jesus showcased love – even love of enemy – as the central virtue of his kingdom, and therefore consistently defended society’s most despised: women, lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Shouldn’t we who claim to follow him do our utmost to build bridges of love and trust with fellow citizens who feel beleaguered today? It seems to me that this call would mean opposing the burqa-ban law. Other solutions may be found to resolve legitimate security issues.”[26]

As followers of Jesus, may we hold fast to the words of Jesus and may his life form the foundation of our Christian ethics in this present society.

[1] Bukhari, book 8, chapter 73, section 138

[2] Albani, book 56, Section 1313

[3] Bukhari, book 2, chapter 2, section 9

[4] Bukhari, book 8, chapter 73, section 139

[5] Bukhari, book 8, chapter 73, section 138

[6] Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Qurʼan Translation. Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qurʼan, 2001. <http://www.credoreference.com/book/quran&gt;. Surah 24:31

[7] Ibid. Surah 33:59.

[8] http://www.al-islam.org/a-new-perspective-women-islam-fatma-saleh-moustafa-al-qazwini/chapter-4-hijab-veiling

[9] Mallouhi, Christine A. Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims: A Christian Woman in a Muslim Land. Oxford: Monarch, 2004. 63-64

[10] Ibid. 63-64

[11] Ibid. 63-64

[12] Kruschwitz, Robert B. Christianity and Islam. Waco, TX: Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2005.

[13] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 10.

[14] http://www.al-islam.org/a-new-perspective-women-islam-fatma-saleh-moustafa-al-qazwini/chapter-4-hijab-veiling

[15] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13038095: The Islamic Veil Across Europe

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sherif, Mostafa Hashem. What Is Ḥijāb? Hartford, Conn: Hartford Seminary, 1987. 151

[20] Ibid. 151-152

[21] Mardini, Najwa.  (I had the opportunity to speak with an American Muslim  about the issue)

[22] Sherif. 153-154

[23] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13038095: The Islamic Veil Across Europe

[24] Henry, Carl F. H. Christianity Today. Carol Stream, Ill. [etc.]: Christianity Today International, 1956. November 2010: Should Christians support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public?

[25] Ibid. November 2010

[26] Ibid. November 2010

The Divine Verb Became A Human Person

Jesus-Christ-Cross-Wallpaper (2)

Introduction: Who Do You Say that I Am?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[1]

This particular day seemed like any other day in my EFL English classroom. The first year EFL students entered the classroom sluggishly but ready to learn. Throughout the class we did our daily classroom activities, and as the class hurried to an end the first year students worked tirelessly and vigorously – not even sparing a second on the clock – because none of them wanted to take work home that evening – all of my students were emerging adults who enjoyed time hanging out with friends, playing video games, sleeping, or indulging themselves in their ‘week’ long moment of passion and romance with their significant other. However, though this particular day seemed a bit like any other day, such a seemingly hum drum day became quite interesting. As the bell rang signaling the end of class, the students leaped out their seats as if someone had scored the game winning goal at the World Cup and they yelled at the top of their lungs as if their team were the victors, “bye teacher see you tomorrow!” marching in a victors stride to the nearby university cafeteria. As all the students exited the class, I began to pack my bags as usual but my normal routine was interrupted by one of my students who stayed after class – it was my Muslim student Ayesha. As I noticed the curious eyes of Ayesha glaring towards me as if she had a question to ask, I asked, “Ayesha, is there anything that I can help you with?” and immediately with her inquisitive sigh and her eyes gazing at the cross around my neck she conjures up a seemingly simple yet complex question, she asks, “What do you believe about Jesus?”

Christology: Learning How to Speak About Jesus

In my perspective, it would seem quite impossible to imagine a Christian community that fails to acknowledge Jesus in some way or another because at the most fundamental level the term “Christian” would seem to assume a particular type of indebtedness to the person of Jesus. Thus, perhaps it should be of no surprise that the charismatic prayers that we pray, the spirit-filled songs that we sing, the transformative testimonies that we hear, the powerful words that we preach, and the profound faith-experiences that we have are in some way or another interconnected to Jesus. More simply, the entire Christian experience appears to be intrinsically interrelated to the person Jesus Christ – because we profess to be people who have encountered the risen Lord. Therefore, when Christians speak of Christology, they speak of something that is the profound outflow of our experience with the risen Lord. Thus, by means of Christology, Christians come to learn how to speak about Jesus; the one in whom Christians place their faith-trust, love and allegiance.

Thus, throughout the course of this paper I will attempt to adequately reflect, and personally answer the question posed by Ayesha – my Muslim EFL student. However, in answering this question I must admit that I do not write without bias (as if anyone could), rather I write as one who has encountered the ‘risen Lord’ – or to put it in another manner I write this paper as a devout Christian. Furthermore, in this personal reflection concerning Jesus, I do not claim to speak for all Christians worldwide – for there are many streams within the Christian community that are representative of the many brushstrokes of the New Testament. Nevertheless, I recognize that my perspective happens to be a perspective among many perspectives within the worldwide Christian community. Thus, in this part of the paper we turn to answer the question posed by my Muslim student Ayesha in the beginning of this paper: “What do you believe about Jesus?”

Jesus, Divinity & the Self-Disclosure of God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. [2]

Jesus as the ‘Word of God’

It is in the first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel that we come to encounter one of the “most elevated statements made about Jesus throughout the entire New Testament. It is only in the texts of Col. 1:15-20 and Heb. 1:1-13 that we come close to the writer in the New Testament approximating the profound view of God’s Son that is presented in John 1:1-18.”[3] Upon hearing the phrase, “In the beginning,” at the inception of John’s Gospel, the careful reader is brought to remember that John’s narrative appears to echo the opening phrase of the Hebrew Scriptures, “In the beginning God (Gen. 1:1).” Such a phrase that we find at the opening of John’s Gospel would not have been entirely uncommon to the Jewish people for “the first book of the Hebrew Bible was named “In the beginning” (from it’s opening words); therefore, the expression, “In the beginning,” would have been something widely known to the Jewish people.”[4] However, “whereas in Genesis the reference is to the beginning of creation, in this Gospel it is to the absolute beginning and sphere of God.”[5] Moreover, in making the statement “In the beginning was the Word,” John is not simply suggesting that the Word existed, rather the phrase “In the beginning” denotes a time encompassing all history and eternity. As Morris comments:

That there never was a time when the Word was not. There never was a thing that did not depend on him for its existence. The verb “was” is most naturally understood of the eternal existence of the Word: ‘the Word continually was.’ We should not press the tense unduly, but certainly the verb denotes neither a completed state nor coming into being. It is appropriate to eternal, unchanging being.[6]

Consequently, it is at the opening of John’s Gospel that we find the writer speaking “about a new beginning, a new creation.”[7] As Lincoln comments: “In Genesis it should be remembered, each stage of creation is portrayed as a consequence of God’s word. Here in v.3 the creation is also seen as coming into existence through the Word. In Genesis God’s word first creates light, and here the first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel, we find the writer describing the Word in relation to the world of humanity in terms of light (vv. 4, 5, 7-9). In addition, in both Genesis and the Fourth Gospel the themes of light and darkness appear in conflict to one another. In Genesis, God speaks and there is light where darkness had previously triumphed; God then splits the light from the darkness, and there is night and day.[8] Thus, while Genesis 1 describes the first creation by which everything is brought into being by the activity of God’s Word. John’s Gospel envisions a new creation that is being brought into fruition through the dynamic activity of the Word. However, in light of all that has been posited concerning the Word, we are left with another question: “What is the significance of God’s Word?”

The Significance of the Word/Wisdom Terminology

God’s Word

Often the strong belief that God speaks – which involves the word of Godself – is often taken for granted.[9]  What do I mean?  Fundamental to the “OT understanding of the word of God is a certain view of God. Israel’s God is a God who speaks. It is not only that God can speak, but that God has spoken. Indeed Israel testifies to a God who is in ongoing conversation with the world. This God had not only spoken in the past, with that word now on pledge, as it were. This God continues to speak in every new present. More the creation will be characterized by intimate divine-human conversation (Is. 58:9; 65:24).”[10] While the term ‘word’ is sometimes used for human speech (Ps. 19:14); more frequently, the term “word” denotes some type of announcement, proclamation, or commandment of God.[11] Thus, the term ‘word of God’ connotes both “a word about God and a word from God. It is a word about God, however, only because it is a word from God, that is, it is a word in and through which God discloses himself.”[12] More precisely, the “word” is not some mere dead “syllable” but the “word” in reference to God is the means through which God discloses Godself – “It refers to a medium of divine communication, a verbal encounter between God and individual(s) whereby the divine will becomes operative in the lives of those concerned.”[13]

In the Hebrew Scriptures God often communicates Godself through means of the Prophets (or inspired prophecy) or sometimes God’s revelation tends to take on an identity (or a life) in and of itself. For example, often in the Hebrew Scriptures we hear of God establishing his word (1 Kings 2:4); the Psalmist praises God’s word (Ps. 56:4-10), trusts (119:42), and hopes in God’s word (119.74, 81, 114); Isaiah speaks of the Lord sending a word against Jacob (Isa. 9:8) and affirms that “the word of God will stand for ever” (40:8); the writer of Isaiah believes that by the word of the Lord the heavens and its host were made (Ps. 33:6); the Psalmist again sees the word as an agent of healing (Ps. 107:20) one who runs swiftly making the wind to blow and the water to flow (Ps. 147:15-18); Isaiah once again talks about the word not returning to God empty and accomplishing its purpose (Isa. 55:10-11); and the Wisdom of Solomon in its description of the all-powerful word (Wisd. 18:14-16).[14]

 God’s Wisdom

Dynamically interrelated to the Word of God is the Wisdom of God.  Such a dynamic interrelation emerges in the writings of Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish Philosopher, where in many cases he speaks of the “Logos” (Greek for the ‘Word’) as though it were a real being distinct from God, acting as an intermediary between God and the world. Thus, the Logos is described as God’s chief messenger, highest in age and honor, which pleads with the immortal as suppliant for afflicted mortality and acts as ambassador of the ruler to the subject. The Logos is the ruler and steersperson of all. It is God’s firstborn son, who shall take upon him its government like some viceroy of a great king, who holds the eldership among the angels, their ruler as it were. The Logos can even be described as “the second God.” [15]

Nevertheless, it should be noted that while Philo describes the Logos (or Word) as a “second God”  such a statement arises from his commitment to platonic philosophy, namely, that within the material world we behold shadows and copies of the ideal or perfect forms in the heavenly world. Ultimately, according to Philo the “Logos is God coming to expression in creation and in prophetic word. The Logos is God in his self-manifestation in creation, in inspiration and in salvation. The Logos is what is knowable of God, God insofar as Godself may be apprehended and experienced. ‘That same word, by Godself made the universe is that by which Godself draws the perfect human from things earthly to Godself.’”[16] In light of all that has been said concerning the Logos (Word), it is important to note the intimate relationship that the concept of the Logos shared with the Jewish understanding of Wisdom.

In Greek philosophy – especially with Heraclitus (sixth century BCE) and the stoics (third century BCE and later) – the Logos is loaded with philosophical importance.[17] The Logos was the principle and pattern that provided the cosmos with its character and coherence – it was related with the human ability to reason, the organization of the cosmos and the power that upheld the cosmos. Thus, within the framework of Hellenistic Judaism Wisdom (the Logos) would have seemed to have been used synonymously in a nuanced manner. While Kostenberger in his commentary is a bit reserved in his assessment on Wisdom noting that the Logos “differs from personified wisdom in several respects, such as, the text lacks the use of the word Wisdom,” I find his assessments not entirely realistic. His particular view assumes to an extent that Jewish language was somehow untouched by Hellenization.[18] From my perspective, it would be more realistic to posit that Judaism was somehow (or in some way) influenced by Hellenism (the culture) – this would have influenced the way Jews read their Scriptures.

As has been demonstrated above, many of the statements concerning God’s Word/Wisdom as a distinct person would not have been uncommon to Jewish thinking. Thus, to hear of Jews speaking of God’s Word/Wisdom in personal terms is not surprising. For example, in Proverbs 1-9 Word/Wisdom is portrayed as an attractive and persuasive woman – particularly “Word/Wisdom claims to have been created at or as the beginning of creation, and to have been the companion of God in his creative acts, ‘like a master worker (or a little child)’ (8:22, 30).”[19] Even more, in the book of Sirach Word/Wisdom praises herself, is described a fashioner of all things (Sir. 24:1-5; 7:22-25).[20] Word/Wisdom terminology was richly apart of Jewish thought and it provided Jews with another way speaking about the God of Israel. In these instances where Word/Wisdom is worshipped, we find the people of Israel ‘taking up’ another way of speaking about God’s activity in creation and salvation – Wisdom/Word speech becomes another way of speaking about God’s ‘nearness’ without diminishing his transcendence.”[21]

Word/Wisdom Terminology & Jesus of Nazareth

The remarkability of John’s gospel does not arise from the association of the Word/Wisdom being God – as mentioned earlier, envisioning the Word/Wisdom as God was not uncommon for the Jew – but the radical statement has everything to do with what the Word/Wisdom has done in Jesus of Nazareth. Although Israel “was adventurous and liberal (liberating) in their poetic and metaphorical God-talk”– describing God’s Word/Wisdom in terms of personal characteristics – such a metaphorical God-talk became literal at the incarnation when the Word/Wisdom of God became manifested/incarnated into the person of Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.[22]

Thus, the remarkable statement in John Gospel is that the Word/Wisdom of God has manifested/incarnated itself in a historical person, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. Even more, it could be said that in coming to meet Jesus Christ we come to meet God in God’s self-disclosure. The Word/Wisdom of God – which is inseparable from God – underwent a literal personification in the very person of Jesus. Thus, Jesus as the embodiment of God’s Word/Wisdom is uniquely and inseparably apart of the being of Godself. In him we come to experience the one God in the self-disclosure of Godself.[23]  The writer (whoever it is) is not simply postulating that Jesus is a god. It should be noted that just because the Greek term “Word” has an article and the Greek term for “God” (theos) lacks the article does not mean that the term “God” should be rendered as “a god”. In this linking the noun “God,” is used in a generic or adjectival manner. It does not therefore mean that the Word is “a god” as over against “God” or that the word merely possesses some attributes of the “divine nature”.[24] As Beasley-Murray comments: “there is another Greek word (theios) for that type of divine reference, for instance in 2 Peter 1:4, where believers are said to participate in the “divine nature.”[25] Rather, in this astonishing statement the writer of John’s Gospel suggests powerfully that Jesus is God – notice how I am not saying God is Jesus. Suggesting that God is Jesus would suggest that Jesus exhausts all of God.

Should Christians Worship Jesus?

As mentioned all through this paper, in coming to meet Jesus we come to meet God in the self-disclosure (revelation) of Godself. However, a practical question arises from such a statement, namely, to whom should Christian worship be directed? God? Or Jesus as the revelation of Godself?  The New Testament identifies Jesus as God (or includes Jesus into the Divine Self) and it also differentiates Jesus from all that God is. In my perspective, the identification and differentiation of Jesus from all that God is impacts the Christian worship of God. What do I mean?  I postulate that while Jesus is included into the Godself, he does not exhaust Godself. More simply, Jesus is the ‘means’ and ‘ends’ by which Christians worship God in the fullness of Godself. Moreover, as Christians worship Jesus we are brought to worship God as Father, Son, and Spirit. In coming to Jesus we come to experience nothing other than God but God as he is revealed in Jesus. Thus from this vantage point, Jesus is a ‘ends’ to worship – because himself is included into the Divine Self –  but he is also the means through which Christians worship the community of Godself – the One God who Christians understand exists as an unity.

Here it must be stressed (as has been throughout the paper) in light of the critiques of both Muslims and Jews that Christianity is a monotheistic religion that professes faith in the One God who is the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob. Nevertheless, our understandings of the nature of this One God differs. What do I mean? For Christians, the oneness of God is not a mathematical unity, “only a little acquaintance with mathematics, from ancient times until the present, will be sufficient to remind us that the concept of the ‘number’ is more complex than at first seems likely, once we move from counting apples and oranges or pennies and cents.”[26] As Dunn comments:

Oneness is not necessarily an entity singular in all the elements that make it one, that form its oneness. Alternatively, a singular entity may be too big or complex (the cosmos) to be fully comprehended in its singularity. All that can be perceived are different aspects, aspects that do not easily cohere into one (in fundamental physics no one has yet been able to produce a unified field theory); but the inadequacies of human conceptualization do not constitute a denial of the singularity of the entity. So too, the oneness of God should not be assumed to be a narrowly defined mathematical unity. From earliest days in Israel’s conceptuality of the oneness of God there was also recognized diversity in the way God has been perceived of has made Godself known.[27]

When speaking about the One God, the Christian understands the Divine Self to be unity (or a community) of diverse equal persons. Thus, in talking about worshiping Jesus, Christians never envision Jesus as another ‘god’ – which would contradict monotheism – but in worshiping Jesus we profess that Jesus is both the ‘means’ by which we worship God in the fullness of the Godself and also the ‘ends’ to worship because he constitutes part of the Godself.

The Early Church & Christological Development: Was There a Process?

Is the high view of Jesus in the New Testament the result of Christological development on the part of the early church? Or is the high Christology found in the New Testament the earliest form of Christology? Perhaps I can propose a mediated position. What do I mean? I do not doubt that the high Christology of the New Testament is representative of the Christology in the early church, yet the high Christology already present in the early church underwent development – the early churches high Christology developed from an underdeveloped high Christology to a developed high Christology. Therefore, within the framework of a high Christological belief Christology underwent development. In my perspective, such an understanding of Christological development is the only result of doing Christology for learning how to speak about Christ implies a process of reflecting, thinking, and rethinking about how we come to understand Jesus – a process not dissimilar from the Christological task in the present. Taking an example from our present context, it would seem that most people in their faith journeys have a developing Christology in many ways, Christian ‘talk’ about Jesus is constantly changing (or in process) as we reflect within boundaries of the various brushstrokes in the New Testament. Thus, when we come to the New Testament not only do we encounter diversity but we also encounter a natural Christological development that is the result of constant theological reflection.

Unity in Diversity: Diverse Brushstrokes One Christological Portrait

Not unlike the brushstrokes of a painter, in encountering the New Testament writings  the readers of the New Testament come to experience very creative and unique brushstrokes that come together to create a beautiful portrait of Jesus. Thus, while each brushstroke is significantly unique engendering purposeful innovation that is rooted in purposeful reflection, these distinctive brushstrokes come together to produce a compelling and unified magnum opus whose primary subject is Jesus of Nazareth. More simply, while each brushstroke uniquely prompts a great deal of innovation and creativity, these creative and innovative brushstrokes are interconnected to the previous brushstrokes produced by other innovative and creative agents. Thus, inherent within the brushstrokes emerges an inner reciprocity (or give and take) that functions to provide diversity and unity to the portrait of Jesus. As the New Testament Frank J. Matera comments:

Several writings of the New Testament do not present Jesus’ relationship to God in the same way, even though most of them identify him as the Son of God. For example, if we only possessed the Synoptic Gospels, it would be difficult to argue that Jesus is the preexistent Son of God. But if we only possessed the Fourth Gospel, we might seriously question Jesus’ humanity. Or, if we only possessed the Pauline writings, we would hardly appreciate the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. The genius of the New Testament canon is its ability to hold the diversity and unity of the New Testament in a creative tension that requires each generation to correct deepen its understanding of Christ.[28]

Thus, in my perspective, it would seem that the different brushstrokes in the New Testament practically provide Christians with different avenues – or diverse ways of communicating Jesus’ uniqueness. However, these brushstrokes simultaneously set boundaries upon how we choose to speak about Jesus among ourselves and with others. More simply, while I may profoundly come to enjoy seeing Jesus as God’s Wisdom my enjoyment of that concept will forever be checked by the brushstrokes of other writers in the New Testament. Thus, in choosing one brushstroke I am simultaneously being given boundaries and freedoms into what I can say about Jesus. More simply, the different brushstrokes come together to engender creativity, freedom and boundaries concerning how we go about talking about Jesus. Lastly, affirming the diversity of each brushstroke propels Christians to examine, reexamine and appreciate each New Testament writing on its own terms while understanding the impact of this particular brushstroke against the entire overall Christological portrait of the New Testament.

Christological Ethic for the Christian Life:

The incarnation of the Godself into the person of Jesus raises a powerful ethic for the Christian life, for it is by way of the incarnation that we powerfully learn how to be human. As Saint Athanasius writes,

“The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering human beings. For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.”[29]

In the incarnation Christians encounter the God human taking upon the plight of humankind. In, the incarnation, “God became man that dehumanized human beings might become truly human.”[30] Thus, we become truly human in the community of the incarnate, the suffering and loving, the human God.”[31] As Bonhoeffer writes,

And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.[32]

Thus, fundamental to the Christian life is ‘incarnational living’ and ‘cross-bearing’. The Christian life is a life that is always disposed to the well-being and care of one’s neighbor. The Christian life is not defined by the accumulation of power but the constant redistribution of power – power that is used to empower. This is what St. Paul meant when he said,

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[33]

Unlike what society tells, “To pursue individual happiness, pleasure, desire at all cost” in the incarnation – as well as the entire life of the God man – we learn from Godself that true happiness, pleasure and eventual exaltation comes by way of living in self-giving relationships with others.

Answering Ayesha’s Compelling Question

As I stood there with Ayesha’s inquisitive eyes gazing into my face, I simply responded, “I believe that Jesus is the beloved of God, that is, I believe that Jesus has a unique, intimate, life-giving relationship with God that no human being has ever shared with God before.” Ayesha thought for a couple seconds with a serious look on her face and she asked another question, “So… you believe like me that Jesus was a great prophet?” in that moment I smiled as I sought to answer Ayesha’s question and I said, “Yes, he was a prophet but at the same time so much more than a prophet.” She thought to herself once more and said, “Professor Howard, what do you mean by saying that Jesus ‘was a prophet but at the same time more than prophet’ and as I paused for a brief moment, I responded, “As a Christian I affirm along with you that Jesus was a prophet in one sense but in another sense he was more than a prophet. As I experience Jesus (as Christian), I come to experience the presence God. In my experience of Jesus (as a Christian) I come to know someone who is more than a prophet or angel but the very transcendent God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael who has come near in the revelation of Godself in the person of Jesus. Consequently, Jesus (for us both) is a point of commonality and difference. Whereas you believe that he is just a prophet, I (as a Christian) affirm that he is a prophet and so much more, namely, that he is God in the revelation of Godself. While, the person of Jesus does not consume all that God is – for he is the revelation of God – he is representative of the closest that one can get to understand the totality of God. For me (as a Christian), Jesus is what is knowable about God in as much as he may be captured and experienced by human beings.[34]” So as I ended my response, the intelligent Ayesha responded and said, “So our beliefs about Jesus are different but only to a degree?” and with a smile I answered, “Correct!”

The question posed by Ayesha is profoundly important for Christians, Jews and Muslims. The question posed by Ayesha is profoundly important because it highlights the commonalities that the Christian faith has with Jews and Muslims along with the differences – particularly when it comes to understanding the person of Jesus. In speaking about Jesus, Christianity has gone to another degree in determining that God has connected the bridge not simply in “scripture and temple, not only through priest and prophet, but in a particular individual through who God revealed Godself and who constitutes the bridge into Godself.” That belief remains a belief far too radical for Jews and Muslims.[35] “Christians make the claim that the character of God has never been revealed so profoundly in Jesus – in his mission, in his cruel death on the cross, in his resurrection and exaltation.”[36] Consequently, the notion of how the gulf is bridged has proven to be controversial for other religions to embrace. But it is the contribution that Christianity proposes to the “resolution of existential angst and conundrum that lie at the root of all religions.”[37]

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that Jesus is one who possess a unique, intimate, life-giving relationship with God – he is the beloved of God. However, to speak about Jesus solely as God’s beloved is not adequate for not only is he the beloved of God but he is God, that is, God in the self-disclosure of Godself. As the writer of Hebrews so beautifully puts it:  “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”[38]

[1] Attridge, Harold W., Wayne A. Meeks, Jouette M. Bassler, Werner E. Lemke, Susan Niditch, and Eileen M. Schuller. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books with Concordance. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. See Matt. 16:13-17

[2] Ibid. Jn 1:1-2

[3] Gerald L. Borchert, John 1-11 ([Nashville]: Broadman & Holman, 1996). 2489 (Kindle Edition)

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John; the English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971). 1800 (Kindle Edition)

[5] Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John ([Peabody, Mass.]; London; New York: Hendrickson Publishers ; Continuum, 2005). John 1:1-5 (Logos Edition)

[6] Morris. 1817 (Kindle Edition)

[7] Ibid. 1800 (Kindle Edition)

[8] Lincoln. Jn 1:1-5 (Logos Edition)

[9] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? : The New Testament Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). 1826 (Kindle Edition)

[10] David Noel Herion Gary A. Graf David Frank Pleins J. David Logos Research Systems Inc Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary on Cd-Rom (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems], 2008). See Word of God

[11] Mark Allan Bandstra Barry L. HarperCollins Powell, The Harpercollins Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011). 48917 (Kindle Edition)

[12] Freedman. See Word of God (Logos Edition)

[13] Ibid. See Word of God (Logos Edition)

[14] Dunn. 1826-1865 (Kindle Edition)

[15] Ibid. 1865 (Kindle Edition)

[16] Ibid. 1904 (Kindle Edition)

[17] Powell. 25091 (Kindle Edition)

[18] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004). 969 (Kindle Edition)

[19] Dunn. 74 (Kindle Edition)

[20] Ibid. 75 (Kindle Edition)

[21] Ibid. 78 (Kindle Edition)

[22]  Attridge Jn. 1:14-18

[23] Dunn. 82-84 (Kindle Edition)

[24] Ibid. 2552 (Kindle Edition)

[25] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, World Biblical Commentary Orge R. Beasley-Murray. 36, 36 (Waco: Word Books, 1987).

[26] Dunn. 3469 (Kindle Edition)

[27] Ibid. 3469 (Kindle Edition)

[28] Frank J. Matera, New Testament Christology (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999). 255 (Kindle Edition)

[29] Athanasius, and Archibald Robertson. St. Athanasius on The incarnation. London: D. Nutt, 1891.

[30] Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1959.

[33] Attridge. Phil. 2:1-13

[34] Dunn. 82 (Kindle Edition)

[35] Ibid. 3469-3485

[36] Ibid. 3469-3485

[37] Ibid. 3469-3485

[38] Attridge. Heb.1:3-4