Wouldn’t it be easier if God came down and spoke His words to an unbelieving world Himself?  Or at least sent an angel?  Why send a human with divine words?  Humans are frail, weak, imperfect, and easily intimidated.

This is precisely what the unbelievers of Muhammad’s time said, as we see in today’s reading.

Those who do not fear to meet Us say, “Why are the angels not sent down to us?” or “Why can we not see our Lord?” (25:21)

The answer given is interesting.

No messenger have We sent before you [Muhammad] who did not eat food and walk about in the marketplaces.  But We have made some of you a means of testing others — will you stand fast? (25:20)

Simply put, this is how God works.  God has always used everyday humans as messengers.  Look at Moses, Noah, ‘Ad, Thamud, and Al-Rass (25:35-38).

From today’s reading it would appear that God’s primary reason for appointing human messengers is to create a test for those who hear the message.  The sending of human messengers honors human free will.  How overwhelming would it be to be visited by God Himself in all His glory?  How could one help but believe?  Would that be faith, though?  And would it be choice?  Instead, God has created a situation in which people can deny and even oppose His message.  And the adversity and adversaries have been many down through history (25:31ff).

The test is one of faith.  Will you believe?  This is just another human, just like you.  You weren’t on the mountain with the Prophet.  Will you believe that the God of the Universe is speaking through this bag of flesh and bones?

The last question in the first ayah of today’s reading is what strikes me most.  “Will you stand fast?”  That is the question.  When it comes time to bear God’s message to our neighbors, will we do it?

How much do we push our worldview? 

I’ve struggled with this question.  Some times I have pushed too much, not knowing when to stop, always looking for a way to advance my argument.  The worst is when I am discussing a topic with a person just like me, who tends to push too much also.  Other times I have been guilty of being too passive and not pushing the conversation towards Jesus at all. 

In today’s reading, the Qur’an answers the question of how much to push by saying, “Not too much at all.  Make your message known then leave it with the person.”  Ayah 3 tells Muhammad to speak his message then leave the Meccan idolators to experience life for what it is, good or bad.  Let them chase after their false hopes and maybe they will learn, but don’t force it on them.  (Another indication that conversion by the sword is not Qur’anic Islam.) 

There is good reason we don’t push too much.  What are we saying when we act like the power of our argument is in how persuasive we can be, how well argued or well supported we have made our case?  At times like these, we act like the power is in us and our fine arguments.  We don’t leave any room for the Spirit, and that is where the real power resides, right?

Today’s reading argues that there are even some that if you gave them great miracles like raising them up into the heavens, they would still explain it away as hallucinations (15:14-15).  For example, people like those of the city of Al-Hijr (15:80), for whom this surah is named.  Sadly, we have a sense that is true too in some of the people we know, don’t we?

This is a second reason we have to resist the urge to push too much.  This attitude that conversion depends on us leaves us wide open to discouragement, as was happening to Muhammad (15:97).  We think evangelistic success ultimately depends upon us, so when we do not find the success we desire, well, it must be because of our failures.  We have not been persuasive enough.  We have not answered all the right questions.  We have not tried hard enough, long enough, and in the right ways.  Of course, we want to be skillful in how we share our message, but we must remember the power to change human hearts resides in God alone.       

More tomorrow on this short surah as well.

Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Shu`ayb and Moses.  They can teach us a great deal about what it takes and what will come from a “prophetic” ministry.  Much like those of the Old Testament, a prophet is more so one who speaks God’s corrective words into a situation than one who tells the future.  With this in mind, we realize there are prophets all around.

Prophets are sent to their own people (11:25, 50, 61, 74, 84).  So it is no wonder that a prophet desperately pleads for the welfare of his people, wanting to see them turn, not burn (11:26, 52, 61).  One who longs to see punishment, is no prophet (i.e., Jonah, the anti-prophet).  A message of punishment is always secondary to the message of forgiveness and salvation (11:52, 61, 90).

Prophets speak the same, simple message: worship God and Him alone (11:26, 50, 61, 84).  This is the baseline.  You build on devotion to God.  Morality makes no sense without a covenant with God.  Belief reorders one’s entire life.  Only when one decides to follow God undividedly does life begin to become whole.  The message doesn’t have to be terribly complicated.

Prophets more often must point to evidence for God in the natural world than rely upon miracles (11:52, 61, 64).  God is there to be found, if one is willing to see.  Hud pointed to life-giving rain.  Salih appealed to the creative force of God and to a camel.  The flash and bang of miracles may seem nice and convincing, and they were what the people wanted (11:53), but that does not seem to be God’s way much of the time.

Prophets must walk by faith (11:39, 56, 81, 88).  They speak faith-filled words into a situation.  They hope with confidence, but not with proof that what they say will come to pass.  A prophet cannot operate without trust: “I put my trust in God, my Lord and your Lord” (11:56).  Their faith is not just wishful thinking; prophets know that what God ordains will happen (11:43, 45, 55, 66, 76, 92).

Prophets don’t pin their sense of accomplishment to their audience’s response (11:36, 93).  Simply put, some will not believe.  It is enough to obey God and be satisfied in that (11:51).  Prophets are simply mouthpieces.  They also do not bring judgment, so their job is simply to speak (11:33, 45).

Prophets don’t expect life to be easy (11:27, 38, 53, 62, 91).  The message need not be complicated.  The hard work of changing hearts is God’s work alone.  Success is defined internally through obedience, not externally through people’s response.  Still, though the work of a prophet is very straightforward, it is not easy.  Noah was called a liar and mocked for only having success with the lower class.  They laughed at his preposterous boat.  Hud and Salih were rejected outright because of their lack of proof.  Salih suffers the sting of being told by his people that they had expected more from him.  Shu`ayb was labeled as weak and his own countrymen threaten to kill him for his foolishness.  Life was not easy for Abraham’s family in Sodom.  Moses ran for his life from the murderous Pharaoh.  Prophetic ministry is a high and noble calling, but it will not be a cakewalk.

Is it worth it?  That had to be what was on Muhammad’s mind as he came down the mountain to Mecca.