January 18, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

One God watches over all of us

Cynthia DewesIn religious circles, it is imperative to revere the Scriptures.

Whatever the religion is, even a pagan religion, its holy book is to be respected and preserved. In Islam, that book is the Quran (Koran); in Judaism, the Torah; and in Christianity, the Bible.

If we go back far enough, we find that these holy books often share the same ideas about human origins and behavior. No matter their differences in culture, geography or politics, people seem to be more alike than they are different, then and now. It’s just the nature of the human beast.

Most of these books contain creation stories and spiritual explanations of physical and historical events or human actions. They often point out similar moral imperatives and condemn the same human proclivities, such as selfishness and greed.

Sometimes the various religious stories come in contact and even intertwine with each other. So it becomes apparent that each religion does not exist in a vacuum, but rather belongs in the broader context of human understanding and spiritual yearning over the eons since the creation of our world.

A recent public television program we saw made this clear to me with an example drawn from the story of the Magi. It described the three “kings” we know as the Magi as Persian priests who followed an astrological sign in the heavens. Reading the heavens for them was like reading the Scriptures for us.

This “star” indicated that the Magi would find a newborn Jewish king who would be both human and divine, and who would later suffer and die for the salvation of all people. Thus, they brought the three representative gifts of gold for kingship, frankincense for divinity and myrrh for humanity.

To Christians, the Magi story fulfilled the prophecy that every nation on Earth will do homage to the Christ, verifying his position as God and Savior of all.

Most religions hold that people are answerable to their God for their actions, whether that is God or Allah or whoever. As Christians, we know this is true because as Romans 14:12 says, “Everyone of us will have to give an account of himself before God.”

But problems arise between believers when the ways they measure accountability differ. For instance, a radical Muslim may believe that killing an infidel, meaning any non-Muslim, will send him straight to heaven while a Christian knows that killing anyone will send him straight to hell. And both are certain that they are correct.

What to do? How can we resolve such differences, even when we realize that our basic religious ideas are similar? How can we understand each other without rancor? It seems to me that we need to consider such differences in a wider context of the truths we share.

We must remember that it is the same God watching over all of us—Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist. No matter what “rules” separate us, the God we share is a loving God, who leads us to justice, which leads us to peace. Murder and revenge are never peaceful acts, not to mention just or loving.

Our same God creates in all of us a desire for goodness and happiness based upon trust. It is faith in that true God and God’s loving grace alone that will make it possible for us to retain hope. And we need hope more than ever in this time of spiritual confusion.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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