Jesus, No Justification for Sin
There is much politically correct rhetoric about Islam in this day of suicide bombers. For example, political leaders have proclaimed that “Extremism is not true Islam. True Islam is peace-loving.” Although politically circumspect, it is not all that accurate. Islam cannot incorporate Western values and remain uncompromised and so Muslims must fight those impositions in order to maintain the integrity of their faith. In effect, these Western leaders are challenging Muslims to change their religion and accept Western ideals such as democracy, gender equality and individual rights. People like Irshad Manji, a fully westernized and articulate Muslim woman, agree with this in principle and are seeking to change Islam. They do desire a peaceful Islam.
On the other hand there is Wahhabism, the dominant religious movement in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism resulted from a reformation in Islam that arose in the 18th century as an authentic expression of Islam. It is Islam going back to its conservative, uncompromising, legalistic, and controlling roots.
Fundamentalism vs the way of Christ
If approached by a prostitute what is the correct response of a conservative Muslim man who takes seriously his responsibility within the community? The way of fundamentalist Islam, and the way of all legalistic religions, is to slap her down, to humiliate and destroy, to call the police, and to erect laws and fences to keep her from plying her trade. However, if I am a follower of Christ I will have a different approach: (1) Following the way of wisdom (e.g. Proverbs 5-7), I will teach my son the perils of the prostitute / adulterous woman. Where there are no johns, there are no prostitutes. (2) I will practice the way of Christ in not condemning, but redeeming (John 8:1-11); seeking not to control but to heal and deliver.
As a legalistic religion the heart of Islam is control and enforced conformity because it is a religion of law. In contrast, true Christianity is Christ: redemption that seeks freedom in conformity to life – eternal life – in God. Christianity goes bad as it becomes like conservative Islam and unfortunately, there is a long history of bad Christianity.
Our View of God Shapes our Lives
Another way of viewing this contrast is by recognizing that the way people view God will shape their values and determine their treatment of others. In Hinduism there are four castes: Brahmins, the priestly caste that sprang from the mouth of Brahma, Shatriyas, the soldiers taken from his arm, Vaissyas, the merchants who originated from the thighs, and the Sudras, the laborers who were created from his feet. A fifth caste, the Pariahs, resulted from the unauthorized union of individuals from different castes. “They are not only considered unclean themselves, but they render unclean everything they touch.” (1) This creation myth reflects a belief that determines the relative worth of people in India through the caste system.
In Islam God is the transcendent, all powerful and controlling judge – the ultimate Patriarch. The view of God as Absolute Patriarch whose honor must be kept above reproach is the model used by many Muslims to structure their family life. In the true story found in the book “Not Without My Daughter” (2), a man returns to his Islamic roots which creates incredible tension between him and his American wife. The influence of his religion as promoted by his relatives convinces him that anything less than full submission cannot be tolerated and he seeks to force her to bend to his will. This value is an outworking of a particular belief in God and it is prevalent in many legalistic expressions of religion. It was present in many cultures described in the Bible and is evident in some expressions of Christianity.
The Vision of God in Christ
However, in Christ we encounter a different vision of God. One who is immanent (God with us), vulnerable (he weeps, he bleeds), transforming (he heals), and father (he embraces the hurting). When a leper approaches Judaism, Islam and Hinduism must push the leper aside and keep themselves pure. Jesus, on the other hand, opens his arms and embraces the pain, bringing cleansing, wholeness and healing.
There is a famous photograph in the history of Life magazine I remember seeing as a child. It is a picture of a well-fed Asian storekeeper sitting in front of his store and smiling for the camera. At his feet on the step lay an emaciated beggar who must have died shortly after. Most people, I trust, would be moved by the implications of that image and feel compassion and some level of responsibility for the suffering of a fellow human being. However, in many belief systems there is justification to turn away. In contrast, as a Christian I can only ignore the beggar by ignoring Christ.
Justification from sin
I follow Christ because he takes upon himself all that is wrong and in that act shows us the Father. In Christ there is no justification for sin, as exists in many religious systems, so that the evil remains and is tolerated. Instead, there is inflexible justification from sin: cleansing that comes via the inexorable road of love. Such is my hope, and the reason I am a follower of the one who speaks the impossible command, “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48).
- (1) http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/bulf/bulf36.htm
- (2) Mahmoody, Betty & Hoffer, William. 1987. Not Without My Daughter, NY: St Martin’s Press.