OF FAITH AND DOUBT
believe followers of other religions are doomed?
can Christians accept Christianity as the way to God, and still
give credence to the truth and reality of other religions?
Blowing the Lid off the God-Box
Side Are You On?
by Rabbi Micah Greenstein
God of Moses and Jesus is a big God, whose larger concern is not
that we all believe what is right, but that we do what is right
no matter what we profess to believe….
dear friends, have you ever considered that we are now witness in
this new 21st century to the bleakness and barbarism of the Middle
Ages. We have seen, without a hint of remorse, waves of homicide
bombers vaporize innocent human beings; we read of terrorists and
insurgents who will murder and maim not only outsiders, but their
own defenseless countrymen as well. For Islamic extremists in the
Middle East, hatred of the non-believer permits no exceptions. Finding
truth outside of Islam is for them impossible. Challenging religious
authority is a transgression against God. Absolute certainty leaves
little room for disagreement, broadmindedness, or tolerance.
atrocities we are witnessing in the Islamic world and the Middle
East really are the worst we can imagine. But
forget radical extremists abroad for a moment. What about us? Not
all of us in the Western world are wholly exempt from regimented
thinking and religious arrogance. A mindset has
surfaced here in our own country, where we should know better, and,
more importantly, where we can certainly do better.
wasn’t too long ago when religious officials insisted that
America will prevail, no matter what we do in the world, because
“God is on our side.” That kind of thinking presumes
that only one kind of people in this country possess the truth,
and the rest of us do not. I don’t know about you, but people
who are convinced they always know the will of God scare the daylights
out of me. As the priest says, when Rudy, the dejected Notre Dame
football player, asks him why he didn’t make the team again,
after giving it all he had, “There are two things of which
I’m certain, there is a God, and I’m not Him.”
is the religious virtue seriously lacking in too many faith circles.
By that I don’t mean thinking little of one’s self,
but being aware of a reality greater than one’s self. The
reality of a Big God means that we are all minorities in God’s
eyes, even 2 billion Christians when considering a global village
of over 6 billion. In order for dialogue among different faiths
to ever happen, we must all be willing to concede that none of us
alone can ever know as much as all of us together. We must move
the emphasis from claiming that God is on our side to worrying more
about being on God’s side of compassion, grace, justice, acceptance,
my friends, we need to worry
less about whether God is on our side and worry more about whether
we are on God’s side. When I speak at evangelical
churches where this message is often lost, I usually mention three
things. First, I say that while they may be surprised to see Jewish
people in heaven, I just hope they won’t be disappointed.
Second, I tell them that missionizing among Jews is a bad idea because
there aren’t that many of us and, trust me, the ones they
will get will drive them crazy! Finally,
when the laughter dies down, I urge them to consider that there
is something more important than saving others’ souls. That
is, being worthy yourself of being saved—by the life you lead
and the deeds you do.
while looking at the WWJD bracelets, I posed the question, What
would Jesus do about the most vulnerable members of our society,
the widow, the poor, those hurting in our inner city? What would
Jesus do? Just pray for them and then abandon them? And if Jesus
were to come back tomorrow, what makes you so certain that he would
want you to be way out here in the suburbs near the gun show sign
I just passed? Don’t you think he’d want you to be with
the defenseless in the heart of the city? Isn’t that where
he would be? Instead of a preoccupation with absolute certainty,
what about being absolutely dedicated to transforming the city,
county, and world that is into the city, county, and world that
may someday be?
certainty, the over-enthusiastic fanatical conviction that “God
is on my side,” is the fundamental flaw of religious extremism
of any kind.
Literalism is also impossible, since 400 words in the Old Testament
alone are indecipherable when you study the original Hebrew. This
means that pastors who claim to be reading a literal translation
of the text are really offering their own interpretation or someone
else’s uncertain interpretation of it. The search in Judaism
and Christianity, I would contend, has never been for the literal.
The search has been for the eternal as applied to our own time and
place. Our task as people of faith is to do the most that we can
with the time that we have in the place that we are and leave the
rest to God. We are to pray
as if everything depended on God, but we are called to act as if
everything depended on us.
on God’s side means asserting that God has put us here at
this time and in this place to heal broken hearts and lift up the
fallen because God has no other hands than ours to do just that.
The challenges of yesterday do not exhaust the challenges of today,
which is why being on God’s side means realizing that God’s
language isn’t just about the holy book. Human beings are
God’s language too. We commit bibliolatry by making a God
out of the bible rigidly and wrongly interpreted.
left each generation to apply timeless truths to the here and now.
God, as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan taught, is that aspect of reality
that elicits from us the best that is in us and enables us to bear
the worst that can befall us. Human beings are God’s language,
that is why whatever befalls our city and world, the religious response
is what matters most. Otherwise, if the world is sinking, if the
Titanic is sinking, why rearrange the deck chairs.
Being on God’s side means being God’s healing voice
on earth. The voice of Isaiah’s love and God’s love.
are ministers of the sacred when we demonstrate the moral potential
God has given to human beings. May we be worthy instruments of God’s
will in this world, by remembering that human beings really are
God’s language, and therefore, what we do with our faith…
will determine whether we move the world closer to the Messianic
Age, or backward to the Middle Ages. God wants us to move forward,
not backward. May we all be on God’s side, with all our heart,
with all our soul, and with all our might.
April 30, 2006 at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Memphis Tennessee