As the adage goes, “when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.” A simple saying, but an accurate one. It is necessary to look at an object’s qualities and traits before determining its identity. If a bird cannot fly, runs 65 kilometers an hour and weighs 120 kilograms, it’s an ostrich, even if someone decides to call it a duck. An ostrich by any other name is still an ostrich.
The above analogy applies to many aspects of our Christian lives. We may profess to be Christians, but if we do not live according to the Word of God, our words are hollow. To be a Christian is not to simply state a belief in Christ, but to follow the words of Jesus, who is the Word made flesh. We must walk the path of faith not as mere wayfarers, but as pilgrims, our faith manifested in the lives that we live. Our actions and deeds must evidence our faith. Our witness must be so strong that it compels others to conclude we are Christians.
However, as we selectively disregard Christ’s teachings and live according to our own prerogatives, our lives may cease to bear the marks of Christianity. Rather than attempting to overcome our fallen nature and ensure that our lives reflect God’s design, we may attempt to recreate God in our own image. If we persist in individually caricaturing the Divine, emphasizing that which we like and minimizing that which we do not, at a certain point we risk presenting an image of God so distorted that what we portray is not the Lord of all, but rather our own personal god.
It is at this juncture, where an individual clearly deviates from scripture in their characterization of the faith, that we must heed Jesus’ admonishment to “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1 – RSV) We are in no position to fully comprehend the context from which one approaches their faith. We are oblivious to how deeply their convictions are held, their ability to understand the scriptures, their influences, etc. Final judgment is reserved to God alone, and His mercy is unfathomable, as St. Faustina tells us in her Diary (1698):
“I often attend upon the dying and through entreaties obtain for them trust in God’s mercy, and I implore God for an abundance of divine grace, which is always victorious. God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things.
Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God.”
Not privy to the intimate workings of the Lord within a person’s heart, we are unable to judge the soul of another. It is for this reason and in this context which Christ warns us not to judge. Yet it is fallacious to contend that Jesus wishes us to refrain from seeking the truth and pronouncing it openly. It is our duty to “[a]lways be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]” as Christians. We must do so with “gentleness and reverence”, but not fear to speak (1 Peter 3:15). Christ has given us our gifts and talents precisely so that we may equip ourselves to speak the truth in love. Not to admonish for its own sake, but to uphold right doctrine and defend the deposit of faith which God has entrusted to His Church. While our words may oppose the beliefs of others, we must speak the truth in the hopes of reuniting all people within the mystical body of Christ:
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16 RSV
Yet, rather than unity, there is currently great division even among the Abrahamic traditions. As books can and have been written on this subject, it is necessary to restrict the discussion. Focusing on Islam, for example, striking doctrinal differences are evident in the qualities and traits ascribed to God. While both assert that the God of Abraham is the One, true God, the Quran rejects the Trinity, the Sonship of Christ and Jesus’ divinity:
The Quran denies the Trinity:
Certainly they disbelieve those who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve (Sura 5:73).
O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son (Sura 4:171).
The Quaran denies the Father and the Son:
The Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them (Sura 9:29-30).
It does not befit GOD that He begets a son, be He glorified (Sura 19:35).
The Quran denies the Deity of Christ:
The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle (Sura 4).
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is Christ the son of Mary (Sura 5:72).
And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right (Sura 5:116).
In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary (Sura 5:17).
Despite these beliefs expressed within the Quran, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, while affirming the Trinity, the Sonship of Christ and Jesus’ divinity, simultaneously expresses the view that we worship the same God:
841 […] “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
Logically, this is a rather puzzling statement. If you asked a Christian and a Muslim if they believed in one God, who is the God of Israel, both would reply in the affirmative. However, if you asked both if Jesus is God, the Christian would reply that Jesus is God whereas the Muslim would deny Jesus’ divinity, stating that “in blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary”. For the Christian and the Muslim, the qualities and traits of God differ, even God’s very essence differs, and to such an extent that one must wonder whether the Catechism’s statement of ordinary, rather than extraordinary, magisterium is correct.
Part two of this post will follow tomorrow. (Read Part 2)
St. Faustina Kowalska, “Divine Mercy in my Soul: The Diary of Sister Faustina Kowalska”
Passages from the Quran – Dr Joseph Mizzi, “Do Catholics and Muslims Worship the Same God?”