I struggle into a new surah today, “The Throngs.”  Struggle because I am getting busier and busier.  Struggle because I still feel like I am reading the same thing over and over again.  With just over three months left in this goal to read through the Qur’an before New Year, I am pressing on to finish the goal.

Here is what hit me from this new chapter:

[As for] those who choose other protectors beside Him, saying, “We only worship them because they bring us nearer to God,” . . . (39:3)

It appears at least some pagans saw their gods as part of pantheon of under-gods that ultimately lead to the real God.

If you are ungrateful, remember God has no need of you, yet He is not pleased by ingratitude in His servants; if you are grateful, He is pleased [to see] it in you. (39:7)

God does not need us.  However, he wants us and he shows this desire through His goodness.  When we are ungrateful, we are essentially saying to God, “We do not want you.”  Maybe that is more insulting, than to reject one who needs you.

No soul will bear another’s burden. (39:7)

By my count, a version of this line occurs five times in the Qur’an (6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38).  No one will be punished for the actions of another, that is what I hear this saying.  No wonder Muslims can’t get behind the substitutionary atonement/sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of humanity, the most basic Christian belief.  It transgresses the spirit of this recurring ayah.

When man suffers some affliction, he prays to his Lord and turns to Him, but once he has been granted a favor from God, he forgets the One he had been praying to and sets up rivals to God. (39:8)

I guess every religion has people who use their god to get them out of trouble.  Too bad!

Say, “I fear the torment of a terrible Day if I disobey my Lord.”  Say, “It is God I serve, dedicating my worship entirely to Him — you may serve whatever you please beside Him.”  Say, “The true losers are the ones who will lose themselves and their people on the Day of Resurrection: that is the most obvious loss.  They will have layers of Fire above them and below.”  This is how God puts fear into His servants: My servants, beware of Me.  (39:13-16)

Unless I just don’t understand the last line, this is directed to Allah’s servants, His people, not unbelievers.  It seems a bit harsh.  The Bible talks of a “fear of God” (Proverbs 1:7) that is more like respect or revere.  That is a bit different from fear-what-I-can-do-to-you, fear-the-Fire, do-this-or-else fear.  How does a passage like this play in modern, western societies?  Do American Muslims downplay these kind of prickly depictions of Allah?

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