Tag Archives: God

Do Non-Christian Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?

Last night I was listening to some US history lectures from The Teaching Company as I drove home through the night. Here is one thing I learned: Apparently the concept of “Judeo-Christian values/morals” is a relatively recent concept, birthed right here in America.

(Here is more information from Wikipedia that supports this assertion.)

Prior to the time when this term was birthed, a greater separation was usually assumed and promoted between Judaism and Christianity. And apparently (Wikipedia again), some Jews even today find the term “Judeo-Christian” offensive. I’m missing a lot of details, but I’ll let you pursue that history further if you wish.

This discovery relates to all sorts of knotty questions. For example, consider the recent convoluted debate about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. There is legitimate debate about whether that is a helpfully-phrased question. (See, for example, this insightful post.) But, setting that aside for a bit, I’ve noticed that the strongest negative answer that Christians give to this question is to rightly note that Jesus insists that the only way to the Father is through the Son, and that “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Thus a person who does not worship Jesus does not really worship God/the Father, either.

I agree with that observation (despite lots of undeniable overlap between Mulsim and Christian concepts of Allah/God on other points). However, this rebuttal just as surely suggests that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God. That sounds like a radical suggestion to our modern (“post Judeo-Christian”) ears. (In fact, I’ve seen someone make the same observation, then use it as proof that Muslims and Christians must indeed worship the same God—for Jews and Christians surely do, right?)

Yet, as radical as it sounds to suggest that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God (and, again, there may be a more helpful way to frame the issue), somehow it also sounds pretty much like what Jesus might have said. After all, it was to Jews that he insisted on the above-noted relationship between the Father and the Son. And he also said this, which is even more offensive to our ears:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-47, bold added)

There is much to ponder here, and much need to define terms clearly and speak to each other with grace.

But one thing is already very clear: If you want to know and honor God, Jesus is non-negotiable.


What do you think? I’m not sure I have time to host a big discussion about the current events issues I’ve raised. But perhaps you have an observation about how Christ is at the center of true worship of God, or an observation about how we can discuss these matters helpfully in the context of missions and witness. If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Only God’s World [Poem by Mom]

Some months ago a friend asked if I would write about why I am interested in theology. There are a lot of answers to that question. The most important answer is one that leads into this month’s poem from Mom: I am interested in theology because theology is ultimately the study of God, and the better we know God, the better we can trust him.

Yes, I realize this doesn’t always seem true. Sometimes in our walk with God we discover, to use C.S. Lewis’s famous words, that “he isn’t safe.” And it may take longer to learn the rest of the couplet: “But he’s good.”

But listen to these words of Scripture. Isn’t it ultimately true that the better we learn to know God, the better we can trust him? Listen to the testimony of David:

And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Ps. 9:10)

…And the insights into God’s nature that Abraham, the friend of God, possessed:

…The God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist… No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Rom. 4:17, 20-21)

And consider the two-fold confidence of true faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:6, emphasis added)

Only with a firm grasp on the existence and goodness of God can we survive the apparently meaningless suffering of this world. Only when we are confident that God grasps us can we rest in his care. Theology—the rational study of God’s character and actions, past, present and future—can thus be a springboard for a faith that carries us far beyond what our rational minds can understand.

I’ll let Mom continue from here. May God strengthen your faith as you read her words.


God has created us as rational beings, but because we are limited in knowledge and bounded by time and space, the key to peace of mind in this sin-cursed universe is not reason, but faith. Totally senseless accidents occur and tragedy stalks our days on earth. But “God is love” and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” I John 4:8;1:5 That is the only safe foundation for security and sanity.

This poem was written in 1999 after an accident that was not only tragic but full of painful ironies. Parents of 3 die during safety stop read one newspaper headline. Why should two loving parents die while attempting to secure their children’s seat belts, leaving three very young children behind as orphans? Why should God allow the foot of a conscientious father to slip at an intersection with a dangerous incline?

Though we were not closely acquainted with the family, we, like many others in our broader church family and beyond, were deeply moved by the incident. How do we interpret our world and our God at such a time? Only by holding fast to faith in our unchanging God and in His love for us can we find comfort. Only by believing His good intent for His children can we find hope and meaning in an unpredictable and often painful world.

Some of my poems expressing grief are free-verse, apparently as spontaneous and uncontrolled as the tears and confused outpourings of a broken heart. This poem is a sonnet, very structured in form, perhaps an attempt on my part to impose form and pattern and some reason on an unpredictable world. But my ultimate hope rests on God’s promises of a new heaven and new earth where perfection will finally be realized and our anguished questions will be a dim memory.


ONLY GOD’S WORLD

Why trust this God Who labelled His world good,
With perfect seasons carefully designed,
If senseless accidents can still intrude
And rend the closest ties of humankind?
What world but God’s endures loss and survives,
Can bear and beautify, can make grief seem
The awful tragedy it is, in that our lives
Require divine involvement to redeem?

For in a world that claims no God but chance,
There chaos is the norm and trust deceived.
All grief’s a joke where all is happenstance,
All love a waste where none can be believed.
If you would have your sorrow honoured, keep
Your faith in God Who sits with you to weep.

—Elaine Gingrich, December 1999

Note: This poem was printed in The Midwest Focus and later anthologized in Reflections of God’s Grace in Grief (c. 2009) which was written and compiled by Faythelma Bechtel, a dear lady who is closely acquainted with grief.


For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!


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Infinitude [Poem by Mom]

Have you been following the story of NASA’s mission to Pluto? A spacecraft named New Horizons that left earth on January 19, 2006 just reached Pluto this month. Scientists are eagerly devouring new images and data from this ninth rock from the sun. As one writer put it, the trickle of data “has been enough to completely overthrow our theories of what we expected to find at the icy little world and its family of moons.” New information is leading to new questions faster than you can say “To be or not to be a planet? That is the question.”

Pluto
Pluto. Image taken 2015-07-13 20:17:35 UTC. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Something similar happens as we grow in our knowledge of God. Please don’t misunderstand me: God is indeed the supreme “Self-Revelator,” as Mom writes in the poem below. We can indeed know him and his ways meaningfully. And we are fully responsible for that knowledge. But we will never know him completely. And that is good. To imagine otherwise is folly.

Here is Mom’s poem for the month. Read and worship.


INFINITUDE

The farther the telescopes search through the blackness,
The vaster the universe left to explore.
Space endlessly stretches, star-studded and trackless,
As much as we fathom, there always is more.

We dissect life’s building blocks, minute, invisible,
Peer with a microscope, ponder and probe.
Still vainly we seek for the one indivisible—
Particles spinning, each atom a globe.

The longer we gaze at the matchless Creator,
The greater the vistas awaiting our view—
The incomprehensible Self-Revelator
Whose mercies and mysteries each morning are new.

We love Him, the intimate Friend of our spirit,
His rays undetected by human device,
His being unfathomed although we’re so near it:
To know Him—eternity will not suffice.

—Elaine Gingrich, April 1986


For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!


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