Tuesday, September 27, 2005

God

I can't call myself a Christian like the majority of the rest of my family, much to their concern, but neither am I completely comfortable calling myself a Muslim like my husband and his family. Not having a single person around you who is comfortable with your beliefs is a very lonely position to be in, but it is important to me that I am true to my heart and what I believe of God, rather than trying to please someone by pretending to believe something I don't. The moment I typed that, it rang false with me, because I'm so afraid of being rejected or given a hard time by K's family that I don't dare tell them how I feel. I suppose it is a lie of omission more than anything else, because I just don't talk about it with them, and let them believe what they will.

Like the Christians and the Muslims both, I believe that there is one true God, and that Jesus is the Messiah who will come back when the time is right. Unlike the Christians, however, I don't believe that Jesus is part of a trinity, making him God. Nor do I believe he is the physical son of God. I believe he is a child of God just as I am. I believe, like the Muslims, that Jesus was a very important prophet and deserving of my respect and attention.


I do not believe in the accuracy of the Bible, as the books were written by various men, and chosen to be a part of the Bible as we know it by men. I can not blindly accept that a book written and assembled by men is necessarily everything that God would have us believe or live by. I accept that much of the Bible may be accurate, perhaps even far more than it may be inaccurate, but I still maintain that inaccuracies exist. I have a problem with the dreams accepted as teachings in the Bible. For example, it is made very clear in Leviticus 11:7-8 that eating pork is forbidden. However, many Christians believe this doesn't apply to them because of a dream supposedly had by Peter (Acts 11:4-10) and related by Luke. It doesn't ring true to me that God would lift a ban on all of mankind in this manner. Jews and Muslims still uphold the ban on pork. I'm not claiming to be perfect, here. I've been known to eat pork on rare occasions, but I also feel guilty about it. I have questions about the Quran, too. While I much prefer the idea of a book whose words come directly from God and not from men, we are again relying on a man who was supposedly given the words to recite and memorize. All Muslims would argue many ways to prove that the Quran is accurate and true, but a shadow of a doubt remains for me. I have not read as much of the Quran as I have of the Bible. I'm discouraged by the fact that any English translation of the Quran will tell the reader that to get the full meaning and truth of the Quran, they must read it in its original Arabic. By relying on translations, I'm also relying on interpretations that I might see differently if I could read the Arabic myself. I'm skeptical of some of the things in the Quran about the baby Jesus (that he spoke at birth, especially, though I have no idea why I have a hard time accepting that but no problem accepting that he could raise the dead.) I'm skeptical of their explanation of what happened when Jesus was witnessed dying on the cross. Overall, though, if I have to choose between the books, I accept the Quran more readily than I accept the Bible, though I still refer to the Bible, too. I just rely on my heart (or the presence of God in my heart) in both cases to see something as truth or to see it as something to be wary of. Most recently, I have been pondering John 14:6. "Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father except through me." I think I can accept this in keeping with my own beliefs.

I find that where Islam is concerned, I am reluctant to trust anyone to teach me and rely heavily on the English translation of the Quran to guide me. I have found that even among Muslims, there are wide variances in beliefs. Many Muslims have their culture and their traditions mixed up in their versions of Islam, altering it from what it was meant to be. I am occasionally told something by someone with the best of intentions that sounds more like hopeful superstition than true Islam. I am confused by the fact that Islam teaches that the Quran is complete and the only book one needs, yet there are many other books, laws, and teachings that Muslims follow as well. I have tried debating these technicalities with my husband, but where Islam is concerned, his mind is closed to debate. He will defend his beliefs no matter what, and my arguments fall on deaf ears.

At least two members of my family, and probably more, are deeply concerned that I will not be admitted to heaven because of my beliefs. No one knows better than God and I do that there is nothing I want more in this world than to be reunited with my beautiful daughters, Mina and Layla, whom I lost in 2003. I would do absolutely anything God required of me to ensure that reunion. I do not believe that the God I know would ban me from heaven and my daughters on the basis of a technicality or two when He knows how earnestly I want to please him and how desperately I want to know the truth about what to believe. I daresay I have sought the truth harder and more earnestly than many Christians or Muslims who were just brought up in their religion, have accepted it from day one, and have never called anything their parents believed into question.

I sound to myself here like a religious fanatic, a do-gooder who reads the holy books day and night in a quest for knowledge. This isn't so, and I'm as guilty of being human and having faults and shortcomings as the next person. If you know me, you know that already. I go through phases of seeking and praying and thinking endlessly about these things, interspersed with phases of going days without giving these things a thought or a prayer. Despite my trust in my heart and the surety of my beliefs in God, I am still plagued by the occasional fear that I could be wrong and the worry that I may never see my girls again or that there might be nothing after this life. These thoughts are generally fleeting, but they exist, nonetheless. I have never questioned the existence of God, because I see God in the development of an unborn child, in the beauty of flowers and sunsets, in the fickle force of Mother Nature, in our perfect distance from the sun, in our very existence. I do believe in coincidence, but I do not believe that just the right set of a million different circumstances coincidentally brought us to where we are today.


I have a dear friend who may very well read this (assuming he makes it this far without tiring of this subject) who is a self-professed agnostic. I won't debate my beliefs with him, nor argue what I see as the many proofs of God with him, because people will believe what they will believe until they are ready to believe something else. He may never be convinced. I don't think God will ban him from heaven just because he has such a logical mind. I do think that when his time comes, he will be shocked and amazed to finally be able to see what he hasn't been able to see before. My biggest concern for him became clear to me the night I lost my girls. In the midst of my shock and grief, I clearly remember thinking about him, and thinking that it was better that I suffer this loss than for him to suffer the loss of his two boys, because I have the hope of seeing my girls again. For my friend, whether he may see them again or not, he wouldn't believe that he would see them again. To him, they would appear to be lost forever, and I know that I could never have survived my loss without my beliefs. I fear for him if he ever suffers a loss like that, because it will be much harder for him to survive it than it has been for me, and it's been nearly impossible at times, even for me.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some food for thought:

Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, by J.P. Moreland;
Jesus Among Other Gods, by Revi Zacharias;
The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel

Happy Seeking.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a comment on the pork/dream thing.

If you read Acts chapter 10 all the way through, Peter is not sleeping and having a dream, but instead is praying (10:9-10, 11:5) when he falls into a trance and sees a vision, which repeats 3 times. He himself at first is not sure of the meaning of the vision (10:17). The Spirit of God then tells him what the message is about: not that it's now okay for Jews to eat pork, but something far more wonderful: that salvation has now come to non-Jews! No longer must a person be circumcised and keep the law to be a child of God. It is the people-- not the animals-- that God is saying must not be called unclean.

Immediately Peter is sent to the house of the Gentile Cornelius (under the Jewish law he would not have considered associating with an uncircumcised person), to teach him the good news of God's deliverance from sin through Jesus. While Peter is there, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles there, further declaring God's intent that all should be saved. Peter then baptizes the new Gentile believers. In chapter 11, he again uses the vision and the gift of the Holy Spirit to explain to circumcised believers (who were upset with him for eating with the uncircumcised): "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

9:10 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

After reading chapter 10, I was prepared to argue the point that Peter was praying when he had the vision, since it sounded to me that although his intent was to pray, he got distracted by his hunger and fell into a trance while thinking about food. I concede, though, that when he related his experience in chapter 11, he did claim to have been praying. While I agree with the lesson learned by Peter that it is not for us to call any man impure or unclean, I'm not sure how he concluded that a vision of being told to eat animals that were considered unclean translated to not calling men impure or unclean. Also, if the vision seemed to Peter to be about the people rather than the food, why do so many Christians use it as justification for eating pork, and is there some other justification they use as well?

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter's experience was made clear to him by four things: 1) the voice (10:15) that said, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider 'unholy;'" 2)the Spirit, who told him to go with Cornelius' men "without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself;" 3) the fact that his vision coincided with Cornelius' vision of an angel that told him to send for Peter (10:4-5); 4) the fact that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles before they were even baptized (10:44-48).

As for Christians eating pork,it's a little more involved than that. The Jews considered many other foods unclean as well. Camel, horse, dog, buzzard, rattlesnake, lizard-- all would have been considered unclean. The reason Christians generally do not concern themselves with what they eat is the same reason they do not keep the rest of the law the Jews were required to follow. (Circumcision was not the only Jewish regulation that was not required of the Gentile Christians.)

The book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish Christians and goes into some explanation of the old covenant (Abraham/Moses) and the new covenant (Jesus). Hebrews 7:19 sums it up pretty well: "for the Law made nothing perfect, and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God." In chapters 7-10 the writer explains how Jesus, as the new high priest, sets up the new covenant. So most Christians would consider things like circumcision, clean/unclean foods, etc, to be part of the old law, along with the sacrifices that were done away with when Jesus fulfilled the old law through his final, ultimate sacrifice.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the point would be, the "kill and eat" vision should be seen in the context of Cornelius' search for God. Here is this uncircumcised Gentile, an officer in the occupying Roman army, who along with all his family is "devout and God-fearing." To the Jews, this man would be considered unclean regardless of his devotion to God or their own respect for him-- it was against their law to associate with Gentiles. Initially, the message of Christ had been preached only to the Jews, and the Jewish Christians were under the impression that Gentiles must first become converts to Judaism (including circumcision) before taking on Christ as their Savior. (Later in Acts, we find that Paul has Timothy circumcised because he will be ministering among the Jews, but this is for the Jews' peace of mind, not for Timothy's spiritual health.)

Back to Cornelius-- it is only after Cornelius sees an angel of God telling him to send for Peter, that Peter then has his own vision with the very shocking invitation to eat unclean animals. God is preparing him for a huge "paradigm shift."

If this message were about being able to eat "whatever," it would be totally out of the blue. The food issue is certainly not discussed at this point by Peter or anyone else. The issue is, Peter visited and ate with a Gentile, and then (gasp!) baptised him into Christ! Seen in the context of Cornelius' conversion, then, the vision becomes clear.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of other thoughts...

It would indeed be impossible to reconcile a belief that Jesus was merely a prophet with a belief in the accuracy of the Bible. The Bible quotes Jesus more than once claiming to be the Son of God (Matt 11, Luke 22), with the power to forgive sins (Luke 7), sent from heaven (John 6, John 17), in the beginning before the creation of the world-- in John 8:58, he says, "before Abraham came into being, I AM"-- using the same "I AM" that God calls himself in Exodus 3:14. The Jews knew eactly what he was saying, and were ready to kill him for such blasphemy. So the only way to understand Jesus via the Bible would be that he is a) telling the truth; b) lying; c) insane; or d) horribly misquoted. D seems the only logical choice for anyone willing to believe Jesus was a prophet but not divine.

I can imagine it would be frustrating to be told that the translation of scripture you are reading is not the "true" one... just as the Bible believers were told when they wanted their scriptures translated from Latin into German or English so many years ago. Why do people think God's truth can only be heard in one language? I have been reading a couplee of books lately about two different Bible translators in Papua New Guinea, who spent 20 years or so each living with a different tribe whose language had never been written down, learning the language, creating a way to write it, teaching the people to read it, and finally, translating the Bible into this language. (titles: In Search of the Source; Mission Possible) Both translators had similar experiences: when they wre having trouble finding a particular word in the new language to explain a crucial concept, something would happen in the village that would make the word clear. Often they would be translating something which seemed unremarkable in English and a light would go on in the villager's eyes, because something about their language or culture made that particular image or story very powerful to them. It was as if God planned for these people to read his word in their own language and put these treasures in just for them.

I can believe that there is one truth, but I have a hard time accepting that God would provide access to that truth in only one language.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I agree with your belief that God would not provide access to the truth in only one language, and that's not the meaning I intended to give, though rereading what I wrote, it did sound that way. I think that what concerns Muslims about translations is that the poetic beauty of the Quran can't be appreciated in any other language than the original Arabic, and that although translators work very hard to be as accurate as possible, there is some room for error when trying to translate into another language, so although translations are provided as a means of learning what the Quran says, if at all possible, it would be best to read it in Arabic if you can.

I find it very confusing that different people of God would have different laws to follow, and part of the appeal of Islam is that it is meant to be one set of instructions for all people at all times.

John 8:58 is a strong argument for the divinity of Jesus, and I looked at countless websites, both Christian and Muslim, to hear both sides of that argument. My conclusion? I have no idea. As I said to K tonight, Muslims will defend their beliefs to the death, as will Christians. I do still question the validity of the Bible because of the numerous authors and the picking and choosing of which books to include and which to leave out, so it makes it hard for me to just accept anything from the Bible at face value. Even though I no longer believe that Jesus was/is divine or that his death redeemed believers, my mind is not completely closed to the possibility. However, the concept of the Trinity seems to be just beyond my grasp. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all part of the One God. If God can do anything, which we all agree that he can, why the need to divide Himself, come down as a human, pray to God the Father (who is esentially also Him), and die for our sins? It seems to me that if God wants to redeem us, save us, or forgive us for our many misdeeds and sins, He can do so at will, without the need to suffer on the cross. Even when I was a Christian, I questioned that. I just don't get it, and never have.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very easy for us to minimize the horror of sin. We are so used to it, living with it every day, we tend to blow off our mistakes and even our intentional sins. "Nobody's perfect," we say. To err is human." Why can’t God just say, “Oh, well. No big deal—I forgive you. Run and play!”

I think that's what separates Christianity from other religions. In other religions you can acquire enough good karma or follow enough of the right rules or become enlightened enough to make up for anything evil that you might do. Some Christians have that idea, of course, but it is not something God ever said. Instead, God's Word as the Christian understands it states very plainly that 1) all have sinned, and 2) the wages of sin is death. Not "if you sin more than you do good, you deserve to die;" not "if you come close to being perfect, you get to go to heaven." Sin is far more serious an issue than most religions acknowledge-- it literally separates us from God. God is life; when we choose him we have life. When we step away from him, we choose death.

God tried very hard to show his creation the enormity of sin-- first, when Adam and Eve were removed from the garden and began to experience death; again, when the world was destroyed through flood. The Jews were given laws to show them just how far from holy they were, and were commanded to make blood sacrifices to pay for their sins. Why? The wages of sin is death.

Our God is a just God-- justice demands punishment for sin. But God is love. Because the beings he created could not be perfect, even when they wanted to serve him, he had a loving and perfect solution. That part of him which we know as the Son emptied himself of his equality with God-- in regards to his power, not his holiness-- and came down to live as the creation and take the creation's punishment. Because he was holy and perfect, his one sacrifice could be made once for all creation.

He pointed it out over and over-- sin is a huge thing-- it is what keeps us from God. But his final statement is, Love is what brings you back. All we have to do is acknowledge his love-- his Christ. To borrow a phrase from a book I read, love trumps karma, every time.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny-- for me, the numerous authors make it far easier for me to believe the Bible. It's not just one man's say-so about what he experienced or knows about God. It is an entire history of people in very different times and very different places experiencing the same God.

As far as the picking and choosing of which books to include and which to leave out, the ones that confirm each other are fairly obvious. Even the disputed texts, such as those that are in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant one, will not deny that Jesus is the son of God and died for our sins.

Of course, there are some texts, said by some to be of God, which clearly do not mesh with the rest of Christian scriptures. For example, a common pair of books around my neighborhood is the Book of Mormon/Doctrine and Covenants. According to these document, we can all grow up to be gods some day, running our own little planets, if we but follow the tenets of the LDS church. I find no teaching remotely similar to or prophetic of such statements in my Bible, so I find it easy to reject the Mormon books. Of course, a Mormon would tell you that the only reason the Bible does not concur with their books is that it is "incorrectly translated." (How convenient!)

1:10 PM  
Blogger Tracee (Meg) said...

I find the discussion of the pork issue very intriguing... I am married to a cultural/religious anthropologist, and so I get a really interesting view on things. The foods that are prohibited by the Torah and Q'uran (please correct me if I misspell anything) are foods that are not native to the area, thus they are not safe to eat. The religious prohibition has a mundane purpose. This does not in any way belittle the prohibition, but from an outsider's perspective, it's intriguing to see where the prohibition comes from. Some could argue that the prohibition then becomes moot or meaningless in other areas, or now that we have the technology to preserve and transport food safely. But the prohibition takes on more meaning than it started with as it becomes entrenched over decades and centuries, and becomes a symbol of faith. It stands to reason that breakaway faiths would want to separate themselves from the parent faith in significant and visible ways... diet is an easy way to do that.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Tracee (Meg) said...

As for the translations of the sacred texts... we had a wonderful guest speaker at our church a couple of weeks ago from a local mosque. He was basically giving an "Islam 101", and one of the things he talked about is the fact that the Islamic texts HAVE to be maintained in the original Arabic *of the tribe of the Prophet Mohammed at the time of the revelations*... all translations must be made from that original language. This is incredible, and truly maintains the integrity of the message. This does not mean that it is never translated, it means that it is ALWAYS translated from the original, so errors don't get compounded.

This is different than the Christian Bible, which only recently has had a significant push to get translations that go back to the original Coptic or Aramaic as the source. Many times the translations have gone through no less than 3 languages before we get ahold of the text in English, and the end result in many cases bears little resemblance to the original message. One of the worst offenders is the one frequently held up in Fundamentalist Christian churches as the gold standard, which rankles me to no end... the KJV.

I encourage everyone to read the works of the Jesus seminar. My husband introduced me to their works, and it's really eye opening. When you take their findings in hand, and then start reading some of the gnostic texts that have come to light, you start really seeing that the Christian churches and religion of today have little in common with the day laborer Jeshua ben Joseph and the wonderful message he brought to the world.

9:54 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home