The inescapable dominance of Islam on the global scene, and in the media daily, makes it incumbent upon us to stop long enough to have some grasp of not only Islam, but of all of the worlds religions and its quest after spirituality. Westerners can easily be confused by the conflict within Islam between the sunnis and the shia (the conservative and the more moderate branches). At the same time there are those who simply retreat into many forms of agnosticism, which simply escape into a “one can’t know for sure” which can lead into a challenge that anyone who professes any certainty about a religious position is deceived. There are all of the other world’s religions: Hindu, Buddhism, many forms of oriental mysticism, Shinto, etc.

The reality is that Christianity has become the largest religious group in the world, and with a message that is 180 degrees opposite of the rest of the religious groups with a simple principle, i.e., the vast majority of world religions are humanity’s attempt to find and please God and to merit some kind of fulfillment in that ultimate reality. They usually are composed of obedience to (sometimes very strict) rules and traditions (Islam is a case in point), the practice of meditation, compliance with cultural traditions (Hinduism), … many different ways for humanity to achieve acceptance by whatever divine power that may be. Humanity seeking the divine.

But … the Christian faith is totally the opposite. From its seminal historical roots in the ancient middle east with Abraham, … it is the record of God seeking us, i.e., seeking his rebellious, lost human community in order to embrace them within God’s favor and blessing. In the most ancient documents the story is passed down about the dawn of the human community when the first of God’s creatures rebelled and sought autonomy and equality with their creator, … and immediately were faced with the fact that left on their own they were plagued with the reality that on their own they were in trouble, created in them an inner darkness and sense of alienation from the one who had created them. So that when angelic messengers approached Abraham, their word to him was that because he sought to be a true God-fearer, in his seed “all the nations of the earth would be blessed.” God reaching down and seeking the human community which; he loved, but which had sought independence from him. It was in this context of incompleteness that the human community, in so many forms began to create and form those religions and practices by which they hoped to please God and be restored to him. They struggled with their very understanding of who God even was, or if he were even a person they could communicate with.

So it was that there arrived on the human scene, in the midst of history, One so unlikely, a truly human person who was the divine agent of God’s great search and rescue mission. Jesus of Nazareth, One prophesied to Abraham, and then again and again in the writings of Abraham’s heirs (the Jews)—this One appeared on the human scene to not only explain God’s love for his human community, but to live out God’s design perfectly, and to take into himself the tragic consequences of their rebellion. He was God’s explanatory and rescuing word. “The word became flesh and blood, became truly human, and moved into the neighborhood, and we beheld his glory.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and giving to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Jesus “made peace [with God] by the blood of his cross.” 180 degrees: Humankind seeking to please a god and achieve some kind of paradise, on one hand, … or God in love reaching down to embrace and recreate hungry hearts with such infinite kindness, forgiveness, and transforming grace. The Christian faith focuses on the sheer grace and unmerited favor of God in Jesus Christ. Human religions rely on obedience to the law, or on mystical disciplines and experiences that depend on our own efforts. Just for the record.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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