This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for August 12 2018.
One of the most striking things about comparing different religions is how concepts that are outwardly similar are in fact markedly different once you examine them below a surface level. Furthermore, the contrasts that emerge show us just how important the things we take for granted really are. In the last few weeks, the youth and young adults groups have looked at Islam as part of a ‘world religions’ series. The doctrine of ‘God’ in Islamic thought as it compares with Christian theology has been especially interesting. There are indeed similarities, but nonetheless it is a different deity that is revealed in each faith.
For a start, Allah’s overwhelming power receives particular emphasis. One offshoot of that emphasis is the idea that Allah cannot be bound by his word – he is regarded as being free to do as he chooses when he chooses. He is not constrained by promises he has made in the past. Compare this to the certainty Christians can have with God: what he has promised, he will keep. Far from being constrained by his word, he is faithful to it.
Another accentuated characteristic of Allah is his remoteness. He is far, far above creation, aloof from it, unknowable, and beyond knowing. It is perhaps for this reason that the Koran largely focuses on his laws and on his will for mankind. The Bible, on the other hand, has much more to say about God’s character and acts. It displays a God who is active in the world and amongst his people – not least, of course, in the Incarnation.
Theology matters. It defines and declares who your God is. The knowledge of God is what fuels and steadies the devotion of his people in their song and their service. It is for this reason that ‘loving the Lord your God with all your mind’ (cf. Matt. 22:37) is not only right but also useful. Its purpose is to shape us into his unique people, who gladly reflect the character and example of the one by whose name we are called.