As you know, I have not always been among your most faithful servants. We’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship for nearly 50 years. But please indulge me while I think out loud about whom you are, and why you might have set the table for your human creation the way you have.
Monotheists, Christians and Muslims share a belief that there is one God. And they agree that the one God is you – the God of the biblical Abraham. But Christianity’s concept of You and Islam’s concept of You are far from one-and-the-same. Not surprisingly, the two have been fighting over which faith is in possession of your truth for the better part of 13 centuries.
It is officially agreed that you are transcendent. You exist above and beyond the universe. It is also agreed, paradoxically, that you are immanent. You exist within man as you exist within all you have created. For Christians, however, you are capable of relationships with other personal beings. Man can come to know you, even if imperfectly. You are an interactive God. For Muslims, you exist within man, but not actively so. Your transcendence is absolute. You are ultimately an unknowable God. Importantly, Christians believe that you are a trinity of three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who reside within one divine nature. Muslims, on the other hand, firmly assert your absolute oneness.
For reasons only you can know, you chose to reveal yourself to us through sacred scripture written by different authors at different times and in different styles, then you left it to us to try to figure out who you are and why you put us here. The Holy Spirit [You] inspired them, but men wrote the Bible. Because its authors were fallible humans, and because they made frequent use of symbolism, understanding the Bible requires a great deal of interpretation. You wrote the Quran yourself. It contains your actual words as revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. Because its author [You] is divine, it is sacrilegious to debate the meaning of your perfect word.
While many of the same themes can be found in the Bible and the Quran [e.g. love of You and neighbor] they are different texts that are read very differently, and they ultimately yield very different concepts of the one You. That such fundamental differences would have far reaching implications for Christian-Muslim relations should come as no surprise – certainly not to you [who could never be surprised] but even to us [who frequently are].
Both Bible and Quran contain numerous references to the one true You, and each declares that only through You can man find eternal salvation. In the Quran, Allah said: “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers” [3:85]. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” [14:6]. Unless there are multiple truths about the one You, and therefore multiple paths to salvation, the dogmas of Christianity and Islam, like the scriptures upon which they are based, will at some level forever be in conflict. Exclusivists believe that their faith group alone possesses the means for salvation. Muslims will always insist it can come only through faith in Allah, and Christians will always insist it can come only through faith in Christ.
If there is a silver lining in the fight over the one true You, it’s that most thoughtful people have progressed to the point of accepting You, whether an interactive trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an absolutely transcendent Allah, or simply beyond human comprehension, as a just God who would not damn good people to hell simply for choosing [or being born into] the wrong religion.
It might be helpful if religious leaders and their devout followers, particularly those inclined to orthodoxy, could do the same. This would only require accepting a form of limited religious pluralism, one that suggests that while God’s fully revealed truth can be found only in one religion, it might also be evident in other places in sufficient quantity for all good people, regardless of their beliefs [or lack thereof] to achieve salvation. If the belief that all good people can go to heaven were more widely held, violent conflict in your name could be greatly reduced if not eliminated altogether.