April 2011

Late yesterday morning, either a tornado or straight line winds hit Memphis leaving one dead, 48,000 without power, and extensive damage all around. I am sorry to say two large oak trees were toppled in our property, one of them caving in a good portion of our roof and causing quite a leak from the water heater. Insurance says it will likely be a few months until we are back in the house.

So blogging will have to take a backseat for a while. It might be a nice distraction later but there is too much to do right now.

Here’s what I’m thinking at 4am as I type this out on an iPhone: no matter what your religion or lack thereof, how do you handle the hard times alone? I had two neighbors frantically trying to get a hold of me to tell me to get home, then three helped me think straight as we pulled pictures, important papers, and electronics out of the house. Within an hour we had several of my fellow teachers pitching in, and with generous offers of help, support, and storage. Within two hours we had a small army of friends from church in jeans and in suits helping in more ways than I know. I am not sure I have ever been the recipient of such immediate, spontaneous, practical love before. As hard as all that is for a proud and normally self-sufficient man to receive, I know without exaggeration that I would have broken down without them. If you are one of the many who came to our rescue yesterday or who simply prayed for us, I am immensely grateful. Please keep praying; I think the internal spiritual-emotional stuff is going to be the hardest.  Thank you!


Today’s section begins with what can only be seen as another attack on Christianity:

They say, “God has children!  May He be exalted!  He is the Self-Sufficient One; everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him.”  You have no authority to say this.  How dare you say things about God without any knowledge?  Say [Prophet], “Those who invent lies about God will not prosper.”  They may have a little enjoyment in this world, but then they will return to Us.  Then We shall make them taste severe torment for persisting in blasphemy. (10:68-70)

The belief that God has a “son” named Jesus is deemed “unauthorized,” a “lie,” and “blasphemous” (10:70).  It would seem that as long as this is a view that Muslims adopt, it would be hard for Christians and Muslims to find acceptance for each other’s religions.  Of course, that does not preclude civility or even cooperation.

The majority of today’s reading is a further reiteration that disbelievers have been amply warned that to reject Muhammad and his Qur’an will bring punishment.  Back to the apologetic tone earlier in the surah, there have been many signs that point to the One True God.  Even nature testifies to God (10:100).  As Pat commented on this recent post, this sounds a lot like Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

A regrettable fact is asserted in 10:96-97:

Those against whom your Lord’s sentence is passed will not believe, even if every sign comes to them, until they see the agonizing torment.

Show any sign you want or say anything you can to persuade, there are some who will simply not believe until they are on the cusp or punishment and then it will be too late.  According to this passage, this is what Pharaoh did during the Exodus and his seeming penitence was unacceptable to God (10:90-92).

We have all met people like this, haven’t we?  People who seem to be able to refute every argument.  People who can always see a hole in an argument or who will “create” a hole most of us can’t see to begin with.  It is almost as if people of this sort simply do not want to believe.  Sadly, in some cases, that is probably exactly true.

The surah ends with Muhammad being told to wash his hands of the matter (10:108).  His people have been warned.  It is up to them now.

Terry Jones, the infamous pastor from Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, burned a Qur’an last week as he had threatened to do six months ago.  Now, this week seven UN forces and nine protestors died in violent clashes in northern Afghanistan as Muslims decried the desecration of their Holy Scriptures.  A copy of the Qur’an is not be destroyed, let alone burned in disrespect.  Find the details of the story here.   

Hatred only breeds more hatred.  Violence — whether killing a person or destroying what someone deems to be sacred — births more violence.  Destruction brings destruction.  And, as happened here, the response is usually worse than the first offense.   

This is all very sad.  Jones made an ideological stand (or was it a grab for attention?) and people died.  Families in Nepal, Sweden, Norway, Romania, and Afghanistan no longer have a loved one.  And the demonstrations continue.  Will Islamic extremists only use this to enlist further fighters to stop the flow of democracy, dignity and freedom to Afghanistan?  Pathetic.  Is Islam somehow discredited by the burning of a Qur’an?  If anything, one more professed Christian has further discredited the name of Jesus.  Unconscionable.

This blog was actually started in response to Terry Jones, at least in part.  Check out my very first post for more details.  Rather than burning a Qur’an, buying one and reading it sounded like a much more productive (and maybe even Christ-like) response to the growth and radicalization of Islam.  Misconceptions can be corrected by actually reading the Qur’an.  To be heard, it might help to listen first.  Respect is shown, even if in the end I cannot agree. 

I hope Terry Jones sees the ramifications of his actions, though as of Saturday morning he had not.  He was quoted as saying he feels no responsibility for the deaths in Afghanistan, blaming the extremist elements of Islam instead.  I hope his heart melts and sees that he too is acting in the extreme.  I hope others will see this as well and find a better way.  Meanwhile the dead are buried.  And so too, maybe, the possibility that Jesus will ever become attractive to those affected. 

Controversial Florida Pastor Terry Jones

“What happens at the end of time?” 

Two students at two different times today asked that same question.  We are very curious about that, aren’t we?  We want to nail the end down so we can make sure we do what we must.  It is kind of like going on a trip.  We start with the end in mind: we find our desired destination on the map than we work backwards to figure out the best way to get there.  If you believe that there is some sort of afterlife that is better than another, well, you figure out what to do to ensure you get to that better place. 

Yesterday, we saw that a life that rejects Allah, Muhammad, and the Qur’an is dangerous.  Today we come to further specifics about judgment according to the Qur’an.  Two points stand out. 

First, any time people could possibly be punished for the choices they make, it is easy to find fault with the one doing the punishing.  Injustice is an easy claim.  It seems that was in the air at the time this surah was written.  Twice, it states that people are “judged with justice” (10:47, 54).  One can ascribe a hard determinism to Allah as if people are damned without cause, as if He has predestined all to a set decision of faith and one must live that out.  Ayah 44 makes it clear that is not the case:

God does not wrong people at all — it is they who wrong themselves.

Allah’s judgments are based on the decisions of people themselves.  If a person is condemned, it is because of choices they have made.  As we put together a picture of how one is saved (if that is not too Christian a way to say that) in Islam, we must bear this in mind. 

Second, Allah extends grace and mercy to believers (10:58), but it appears the decision to do so is entirely based on the faithful obedience of the person.  Obedient people receive grace; the disobedient do not.  Is this grace?  Yes, in the sense that Allah has the right to punish but chooses not to (or maybe that is mercy).  This would appear to be a merited grace.  It is selective, based on the actions of the believer.  There is a degree to which the one receiving the grace deserves it more than one who does not.  Grace in this context is entirely responsive; it is always the second act.  This is not the grace that initiates obedience.  This is not the grace that comes when it is entirely undeserved.  This is not the grace extended to “enemies.”  This is the grace that waits until it is asked for.  Humans are the initiators of salvation in this equation.  Humans act, then Allah responds. 

That seems quite different from the grace that is found in the gospel of Jesus:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)    


The subtle echoes of the book of Jonah continue in today’s reading.  Maybe this is why this surah is so named.  Idolatry is attacked (10:17-18), as it was in Assyria.  There is a delayed judgment so that repentance might come (10:19); so too in Jonah.  We read of a sea-storm whipped up by God that causes people to fear for their life (10:22), and that is unmistakably similar.  The same people who feared for their life return to sin when they are safely returned to land, as did the prophet Jonah (10:23).  Allah is talked about as a god who brings the dead back to life again (10:34), as was metaphorically done to Jonah.  Interesting connections! 

Today’s section once again attacks idolatry, which is not surprising seeing that this is another Meccan surah.  Idolatry is castigated for two reasons. 

First, idolatry is ludicrous.  Why would we worship created things when we can worship the Creator (10:18)?  Idols are weak imitations of the power that is best found in God (10:18, 31).  They can’t even outwit God: “God schemes even faster” (10:21).  Idols don’t even realize you worship them (10:29), nor can they understand the level of truth God can (10:35).  So why would you even bother? 

Second, idolatry is dangerous.  This is just not going to turn out well.  Is there anyone more wicked than an idolater (10:17)?  The pursuits of disbelievers can flourish one day and be totally destroyed the next (10:24).  They will be paid back equally for what they have done (10:27).  More on this one tomorrow.   

So do you not want the better way?  Why settle for some cheap imitation?  And if you are really going to reject the revelations of Muhammad, make sure you have something better, stronger and wiser. 

Yes, we had better.  That is the only good reason to reject the Qur’an.  If it is superior to whatever worldview we are living by, we would be foolish to continue in our rejection.  The lingering question is whether Jesus (the one whose last faith-inviting sign was the “sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29), mind you) is that someone better.