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The same God?

The same God?

The same God?

5 May 2016

By Grant Sandercock-Brown

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Your reply to that question can matter a great deal. Just ask Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical university in the United States, who answered, “they do”. Wheaton College said, “they don’t”. Her employer is apparently working through proceedings to conclude her tenure at the college.

Perhaps it’s a good question for us as well, living as we do in a multi-faith Australia. Do both religions worship the same God? Of course we know there are shared historic roots. Islam and Christianity are both connected to Abraham. But the God of Islam and the culture and practices of his followers seem so different to us Christians. Is it the same God?

Of course one might point to the differing ideas and practices of Catholics and Protestants, or even Calvinists and Arminians. “It’s the same God nonetheless,” we say, “it’s just that we see him differently, talk about him differently, talk to him differently”. Surely mistaken notions about God or inadequate ways of expressing what we believe about God don’t negate the fact that it is the same God? Perhaps it’s just more obvious with Islam?

I often stand at Parramatta Railway Station next to a bucket with a red shield on it accompanied by a little pile of Warcrys. When I do so, people donate money to the Salvos. For years I was unable to say “God bless you” to those who gave. I tried, but I just couldn’t, mainly because I didn’t know what I meant when I said it. Did I only want God to bless those who donated? Surely I wanted everybody to be blessed? Did you have to be a believer for it to mean something? What was blessing anyway? Would God bless people at my request, as if it had never previously occurred to him to do so?

I say it often now, as a prayer. My prayer is that the living God will be with each person and that they will know him. And that is of course the ultimate blessing. And so I say it to those who wear a cross, to those who are probably Hindus, and yes, to those who wear a hijab. You see, I feel a spiritual affinity with theists, god believers; after all, I’m one also. My “blessings on you” is sincerely meant. But I’m not making that request of Shiva or Allah. No, I’m praying to my God because our gods are just not the same. I

know that some Christians more learned than I would disagree, but for me, while my Muslim friends and I are in some sense spiritual descendants of Abraham, he started neither of our religions. Yes, we have a common ancestor but we do not have a common founder. Islam is built on the teachings and example of Mohammed and guided by the Qur’an as the final revelation of God. Christianity is built on the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ who is himself the ultimate revelation of God; made known in scripture and through his Spirit, alive in our hearts today. Christianity is not a chronological and linear progression from Abraham to now, but a revelation of the eternal and living God that burst into life in Jesus. Yes, we were forewarned of his coming through a story a long time in the making; a story that began with Abraham and his obedience to God’s command. But the heart of the story, and the beginning of the story, is Christianity’s central figure – Jesus.

You see, Jesus was God’s plan all along, not a later development after some hiccups with his previous salvation attempts. It’s why John wanted to remind us that “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). It’s why Paul would say we were chosen “in [Jesus] before the Creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). “Jesus is the founder and finisher of our faith,” said the writer of Hebrews (the first two scripture quotations are from the NIV but the latter is my translation of Hebrews 12:2).

No, we do not worship the same God, but I’m certain my God calls me to pray for those who don’t know him; to earnestly ask for his blessing on them; to understand that all the people of the earth are his children. His love for each of us has never depended on our knowledge of him, it is unconditionally offered to the whole world. I know that for sure. I can see it in Jesus.

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