Today we finish the third surah, and I hear a Prophet in this section who is discouraged.  As we read closely we can figure out why Muhammad might feel this way.  He has recently fought the Battle of Uhud in which his soldiers abandoned their posts in favor of loot causing others in the army to be killed, not exactly what you want as a leader.  Beyond the army, Muhammad is leading the entire group of early Muslims and they have all been driven from their homes in Mecca (3:195).  Meanwhile, their foes — the polytheists of Mecca — continue to trade to and fro getting richer all the while (3:196).  People mock Muhammad using his own words (3:181).  There is an undercurrent that suggests the Prophet was struggling with the fact that some people who had come to believe were quick to “sell” their faith for the quick satisfaction that comes from wealth (3:177, 187).  He comes to Jews and Christians who in his mind worship the same God who is speaking to him and he shares with them the good news that their same God has spoken again in grand fashion, the Qur’an.  But these “People of the Book” soundly refuse to accept Muhammad’s message (3:176, 184).  That’s a lot for a prophet to take! 

I imagine most of us can relate.  We aren’t prophets.  We don’t have new revelations from God that are being rejected.  We haven’t been chased from our homes, risked death, or had our troops go AWOL.  Still, walking with God isn’t easy.  And some days it doesn’t even seem fair.  Why does he get ahead, the reprobate he is, while I struggle to get by though I am obeying (3:196)?  And discouragement creeps into the heart of all but the Pollyannas among us.

God’s response in this section is helpful. 

  • Don’t think that God is going to be diminished by criticism (3:176).  How many times have I thought I have had to defend God?  A little arrogant, don’t you think? 
  • Repeatedly, he is reminded that God is in control (3:179, 189) and knows what is going on (3:180).  Don’t worry that someone is going to get away with something. 
  • A time of recompense is coming (3:181).  I don’t want to be the kind of person who finds solace in the impending judgment of a person.  But I have never seen my soldiers die, my friends and family chased from their homes, or had someone try to kill me as the Meccans had tried to do to Muhammad.  Maybe I would feel differently if I stood in Muhammad’s sandals. 
  • You are not alone (3:184).  Many other prophets had suffered the same type of rejection.  This sounds like Elijah in 1 Kings 19. 
  • There are things that look good right now but the best things come later (3:185; 197-98).
  • People who really want to see God will find Him (3:190-191).
  • There are people out there who are going to respond favorably and you wouldn’t even expect it (3:199).
  • “If you believe and stay mindful of God, you will have a great reward” (3:179), even if the reward only comes on the “Day of Resurrection” (3:185). 

I have the great privilege to teach religion in a private high school.  Our classes are thoroughly confessional; we are unapologetically Christian and attempt to both teach knowledge of the Bible and help our students form genuine relationships with God.  There are those days when a student moves past the “religion” that has been inherited to discover their own “faith.”  Days when kids boldly testify to the work of an active God in their life.  Days when they manage to put themselves second and the needs of others first.  These are Mt. Carmel days, when you can outrun chariots, when you can take on hen-pecked husbands and blood-thirsty queens. 

But there are other days when those same kids end up in embarrassing situations, when they end up pregnant six months after graduation, when they willingly cast aside the name of Jesus or even God and boldly proclaim on Facebook that they are “spiritual but not religious” or even outright atheists, or when they think the greatest achievements they have made are those that will lead to high salary careers.  It leaves me discouraged too.  I imagine some of you other teachers and ministers and parents who have experienced the same things feel the same way. 

Then I wonder if the problem isn’t that I think I have to do something to change things.  I need to teach better.  I need to invest in more relationships.  I need to have better answers.  I need to be a better example to my sons.  I need to . . . I . . . I . . .

I certainly need to do the best job I can but I am not God.  And when I play God (back to yesterday’s post) who am I really trusting?

That’s when hearing words like God gives Muhammad are helpful.  Better yet, it is good to remember the Parable of the Sower.  We are the sowers of our world.  We are the ones who broadcast the word of God across the soils of the souls in our classrooms, sanctuaries, dining rooms, carpools, and so on.  But that is where our job ends.  We can’t control the quality of the soil.  We don’t often even know the quality of the soil.  Our job is to sow, and to harvest when that time comes.  We can’t make things grow.  But God can, and he is really in control.

If you are steadfast and mindful of God, that is the best course. (3:186)