Grace and Truth
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09. COMAPRISONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM
Comparisosns 3 - The Prayer of the Lost
3.03 - Worship and Requests That Concern the Kingdom of Heaven
3.03.1 - Praise to Allah
The Fatiha begins with a confession and an indirect praise of Allah. The mighty one who rules over all demands all praise and worship for himself alone. He holds every person and incident in his hand. One can only tremble before him. A Muslim will not be so bold as to speak to Allah and praise him personally. The Fatiha does not say, “We praise you, our god“ or “I praise you, my lord.“ “Praise belongs to Allah“ is an indirect call for everybody to worship him. We should realize that Islam is a religion of worship. According to the Qur'an, people are created to worship Allah. In Arabic, the words for worship and worshiper are derivations of the terms for slavery and slave. They reveal that people are not free to decide if they will worship Allah or not; rather, praising Allah is a duty, a must, which obligates each Muslim from the moment of birth. The Muslim lives under his law. He is a slave of Allah, not a child of God. With each prayer, he reaffirms anew his submission to Allah -- a submission birthed out of fear and awe.
In the mosque, there are virtually no songs of thanks or rejoicing; at the most, one can occasionally hear monotone choruses or rhythmical war cries. But everyone in Islamic countries can observe how Muslims, alone or in rows, during their prayer times bow down to Allah up to 34 times daily, touching the ground with their foreheads. This line going along their bent backs all the way down to their feet is a demonstration of the incarnation of Islam in the flesh; it represents a visible interpretation of the word Islam. Translated, the word Islam means surrender, sacrifice and submission to Allah. The mighty lord, the strong, powerful and incomprehensible one has to be worshipped with fear and deep respect.
Earlier, during the age of the caliphs and sultans, even generals occasionally had to kneel down and crawl on all fours to the throne of their ruler. The ruler then placed his foot upon their necks, as a sign of absolute lordship. Through this ceremony, the submitted one declared: “Here I am. I am at your disposal. Do with me what you will!“
Even today, worship in Islam directs a Muslim to lie on the ground before Allah, as if to say: “Set your foot upon my neck. I belong to you. I am yours. I am ready to do what you want: to serve, to sacrifice and to fight. I stand at your service unconditionally.“
Worship in Islam is an ever-renewed submission to the great, unknown Allah.
3.03.2 - The Lord of the Worlds
Unconditional surrender to Allah is heightened in the Fatiha with the mention of the name, “Lord of the Worlds“. The pre-Islamic concept of Allah controlling all people and events surfaces in this title. He is the All-knowing One, the All-powerful and All-wise, who notices, sees, hears and can find a solution for everything. Nothing escapes him. He rules the macro- and microcosms. He controls the vast seas of galaxies. No super-nova explodes, no star is born or dies without his will and knowledge. There is also no electron moving in the invisible orbit of an atom's nucleus that is not controlled by the Creator.
The name, “Lord of the Worlds,“ has an additional meaning. Allah not only controls matter and the things of this visible life but also eternity and the invisible. He is the lord of the spirits. Angels and demons were created by him, and they serve him as slaves. In Islam, even the Holy Spirit is a created angel who serves Allah without reserve. Absolutely nothing happens without the knowledge and will of Allah. He alone is lord.
In the Muslims' concept of Allah's absolute lordship over the visible and invisible, we find the stern belief in double predestination. Allah hardens whom he will and leads whom he will; he saves whom he will and damns whom he will (Sura al-Fatir 35:8; al-Muddaththir 74:31). The personal accountability of the individual dissolves into meaninglessness. In the Qur'an, we find the statement that “man was created weak“ (Sura al-Nisa' 4:29); accordingly, a Muslim can hardly reach a comprehensive awareness of his own sinfulness. A Muslim confesses that he makes mistakes but never agrees that he is a lost and broken sinner.
Occasionally, Muslims in prison write to literature centers: “Allah led me to prison, so that I could establish contact with you.“ With these words, they are expressing: “I am weak, because Allah created me weak. He is ultimately responsible for my error. I am not wholly guilty. I am not corrupt, for I was created this way in the womb.“ Such passive, irresponsible thinking influences Islamic culture in all aspects. Everyday life often carries the stamp of a lazy fatalism. Skilled workers from the West, who have become acquainted with the mentality of Muslims, speak of an Arabic “IBM“ which stands for:
Inshallah: Perhaps something will happen, if Allah permits.
Bukra: Maybe the work will be finished tomorrow or the day after or next week.
Ma'lesh: It does not matter, even if something breaks down.
This spirit penetrates the Muslims way of life more than we can imagine.
A glazier's apprentice needed to install a window and was not cautious; it fell to the floor and broke. The owner of the house became angry and shouted, “Why were you not careful?“ The boy opened his eyes wide and responded with the word, “Maktub.“ With that he meant: “Thus it has been written. It was predetermined that the glass would fall to the ground.“ In other words, he was saying that he was not responsible, because Allah wanted the window to fall and shatter.
All aspects of a Muslim's day to day life are controlled by the determination and greatness of Allah. Here we find a reversal of the words, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him“ (Genesis 1:27). This can mean: “Tell me what your God is like, and I'll tell you why you live as you do.“ The understanding of God on which a culture is based influences the lives of its citizens down to their very thoughts and relationships. The life of a Muslim is determined by the spirit of Allah. The Muslim remains forever his slave and worshiper.
3.03.3 - The Merciful, the Compassionate
It is not astonishing that Muhammad, after acknowledging the slavery of all Muslims, emphasized the certainty of Allah being merciful as well as compassionate. Without this verbal ray of hope, the spiritual prison in which the Muslim finds himself would be unbearable. However, these two characteristics of Allah are somehow empty words that do not grant true freedom, for they only speak of possible help without giving comfort. Hope is awakened here, yet it is not based on God's plan of salvation -- unless one chooses to view the oil billions of the Arabs or the victories achieved in holy wars as the special grace of Allah upon his subjects.
All the 99 names of Allah are only names, not verbs. A name reveals to us a possibility, a potential, a program, a hope but in the end it does not actually produce an action. Only a verb can describe an act that takes place at a particular time, in a definite place, to a specific person. The Qur'an is full of Allah's names, whereas the Gospel reveals the will of God in verbs where he is active and fulfilling his promise.
3.03.4 - Ruler on the Day of Judgment
The Fatiha leads us still deeper to an Islamic understanding of Allah. He is not only the unknown one, strong, powerful and all-ruling, he is also the “Ruler on the Day of Judgment“.
Islam has its own view of history. Everything is like a river that flows onward toward a dreadful end: the Day of Judgment. The literal translation of this expression is “The Day of Religion“. Islam's view of itself climaxes in the final judgment of Allah; all religious yearnings are directed toward this ultimate goal. On this Day, every good act and evil deed, as well as everything hidden and not understood, will be brought to the light, being judged finally.
Islam is a juristically-based religion. It is not grace, mercy and forgiveness that are the governing principles, but the stern demands of the law, which includes the payment of debt and the inflicting of vengeance. The law cannot be bent and must not be broken! This is especially aimed at protecting the clan's honor, defending all privileges, and struggling to uphold one's own position unto the very end.
A large balance will be set up on the Day of Religion (Sura al-Shura 42:17). All the good deeds of mankind will be weighed against the bad deeds. Thereby, the Muslim hopes that his good deeds will outweigh the bad ones (Sura Hud 11:114). He fails to understand that his whole nature is evil and corrupt from birth. The belief in original sin or total depravity, as a result of Adam and Eve's sin being passed down to all their descendants, is rejected by Muslims. Islam is based on justification by works. The religious striving of Muslims is aimed at making recompense for mistakes committed. In the early morning, the muezzin calls from the minaret: “Rise to prayer, rise to success!“ he who prays will be blessed. All those who repeat the Fatiha seventeen times during the course of the day's five prescribed prayer-times hope to erase, by these prayers, several negative entries on the black slate recording their sins.
A Muslim remains captive to his reward-punishment mentality. He hopes to be guided into the Eternal Garden on the Day of Religion, based on his good deeds. There, material pleasures await the thirsty Bedouin. He had suffered the scorching heat of the desert envisioning the scene of a lushly shaded oasis awaiting him. Exquisite delicacies of all kinds, fresh fruits, ever-virginal maidens, and young lads are to be at the disposal of every good Muslim, in addition to his own wives (Suras Ya Sin 36:56, al-Dukhan 44:54, al-Waqi'a 56:11-37 etc.) However, Allah is not necessarily present among his Muslims in Paradise. Even there he remains the great, distant, exalted and unknown god.
Muslims are not certain that they will be granted entrance into Paradise. Only those who die in a holy war, fighting for the sake of Allah, nourish this assurance; they hope to be translated immediately to the everlasting gardens. After having built a mosque on this earth, a wealthy Muslim believes that a palace awaits him in the afterlife as a reward. Other Muslims learn to recite the entire Qur'an by heart, hoping to secure a sure place for themselves and twelve of their relatives in the gardens of eternal delight.
The Qur'an gives much detail about the flames of hell, with its deafening shrieks, as it does about the joys in the cool shade of Paradise. Whoever says that there are other gods besides Allah, or who confesses that Allah has a son, will be roasted on glowing embers while his skin bursts open, peels off and reforms over and over again, thereby sealing his eternal agony and pain (Sura al-Nisa4:56).
Dante's description of hell's “intensive-care unit“ originates from the interpretation of various Qur'anic verses (Suras al-A'raf 7:38, Ibrahim 14:16, al-Hijr 15:34, etc.; especially al-Masad 111:1-5). The paralyzing fear of Allah climaxes in a deep horror of the scorching flames of Hell, prepared first of all for non-Muslims; but it also awaits those Muslims who were not faithful worshippers.
However there is an awful verse in the Qur'an (Sura Maryam 19:69-71), which states that all Muslims, without exception, will enter hell. This was inevitably ordained by Allah and is without discussion. Only later is he able to save those who have been faithful and fearful Muslims. The Muslim scholars do not deny this very fact but claim that hell will be cleansed and without fire while the Muslims are passing through. Others say that Muslims will only enter it in the twinkling of an eye, or stand barefoot in the flames. The depth of the flames will be according to the intensity of there sins. Only good Muslims can hope to be rescued from hell.
Nobody knows what exactly makes a good Muslim, for even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is in an intermediate state, awaiting the Great Day of Religion. He himself is not yet saved. Therefore, all Muslims must say, “Allah pray for him and grant him peace,“ whenever they mention his name. When the founder of the religion is not yet saved, where will his followers end up? Normally the founder of a religion prays for the salvation of his followers. However, after 1,350 years Muslims are still praying that Muhammad will find peace.
Expectations, hope and fear mingle together as a Muslim prays the Fatiha while worshipping Allah. Personal thoughts do not determine the Muslim's prayer: Rather, an Allah-centered liturgy forces him, 34 times a day, to prostrate himself before the great unknown god. He worships Allah with fear and deep respect as his almighty Lord and the Judge that cannot be bribed. The Muslim hopes that by keeping all the instructions and rules of the religious law, he may be able to win some mercy and pity from the Compassionate One. Yet he is never sure whether his deeds and prayers will be enough to help free him from hell.
3.03.5 - Hallowed Be Your Name
Have you ever considered what the first and most important request in the Lord's Prayer means? Only when reaching the second or third request does the one praying actually realize what he is saying. We often overlook the request that Jesus himself put at the top of the list. He leads us to ask, first of all, that the new name of God, which he revealed to us, be hallowed. What is the wonderful characteristic of God in the New Testament that is to be hallowed but his fatherhood? God is not only called Father, he is our Father both legally and spiritually. Whereas the prophets under the old covenant had recognized the Creator of the Universe as the thrice-holy and incomprehensibly Glorious One, before whom every mortal man must fall as though dead when viewing him from afar, Jesus revealed God to his disciples as the Father of light and grace, making him accessible to everyone who approaches him in Jesus' name.
Since the coming of Christ we can say that “God“, in the old sense, no longer exists, as far as the earlier understanding of the word is concerned. He that exists is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a complete unity of love and truth. He who worships the Father also worships the Son and the Holy Spirit simultaneously.
A father is only a father when he has children. The very word implies that a man has begotten or adopted a child. With the first request in the Lord's Prayer, we pray that millions of spiritual children will be born to our Father in heaven. This honors and hallows him. We are not to consider only the legal side of the adoption but also the essential rebirth through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a man. The love of God, his joy, his peace, his patience, his goodness, his self-control, his humility, his meekness, his truth and his holiness are to be visible in the followers of Christ. This is the goal of the first request.
Sometimes in a conversation among friends who have children we can hear the remarks, “He looks like his father!“ or “Exactly like her mother!“ The spiritual equivalent of this rule is written for everyone in the first chapter of the Bible. There we read: “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them“ (Genesis 1:27). This was the original intent of Creation, but it was lost through the fall into sin. It was only restored through Jesus Christ. He alone was able to say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father“ (John 14:9). Jesus is the true picture of our Father in heaven. If you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus, his love, his holiness, his humbleness and his kindness.
In the first request of the prayer of the new covenant, we ask that our Father in heaven will change and sanctify all his children into his image, so that his character will be developed in them and they will cause him no shame, being instead like him in their thoughts, words and deeds. Their new lives are to glorify the Father. Indeed, he is holy in himself and he does not need the holiness of his children. But it was his pleasure to grant us a share in his own holiness, provided that we accept the leading of his Spirit, choosing as our highest calling the honor and glory of his Father's name.
Jesus taught his disciples: “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect“ (Matthew 5:48). This command could drive us to the depths of despair, if the fatherhood of God were not his presupposition and goal. The strength of the Father, his leading, correction, help, care and love, transform us into his image. The Father of Jesus Christ is our hope and strength. He distinguishes the voices of his children, just as a mother hearkens to the voice of her child and recognizes it immediately, even among other competing voices. Our heavenly Father hurries to help his children and does not leave them alone. He comforts them with his Holy Spirit who lives in them.
3.03.6 - Your Kingdom Come
The kingdom of God is one of the main themes in the New Testament. God's kingdom is not underdeveloped but rich in gifts, strength and endowments. However, only the spiritually poor will enter into his kingdom; that is, those who stand before God with empty hands, confessing their sins and accepting his grace, justification and life-power (Matthew 5:3).
According to Semitic word usage, there is an inseparable connection between a king and his kingdom. He is the owner of the entire country. All inhabitants belong to him. It is their duty to obey him without hesitation. In the same way, God is our king. We belong to him since he has created us. All mankind are his possession, whether they realize it or not. Many live in rebellion and animosity toward God. They do not want to submit to their master. But one day, the King will appear as their Judge, and he has the right to annihilate all rebels.
However, our Father in heaven is a God of patience and longsuffering. He is almighty, omniscient, all-wise, the Lord of history, and will again send his son, the Judge who cannot be bribed, on the Great and Final Day. In view of the sovereignty of our Father in heaven, we know and confess that the God of the new covenant is not lacking any attribute, power or authority. Every person belongs to him from head to toe. He waits for our full surrender and obedience. But there is a decisive difference between the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and Allah in Islam: the Almighty is our Father, the Eternal King loves us, the Holy One is personally with us. We need not tremble before a great lord. His existence is the reason for our eternal life, happiness and everlasting hope.
When we pray, “Your kingdom come,“ our first thought is not of splendor, honor or power for ourselves nor for our future pleasure, but we consider the spiritual kingdom of our Father, which has become visible in his Son. Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of God is in you“ (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of our Father is a spiritual kingdom, not of this world. We do not employ trickery or violence in our efforts to further the kingdom of Christ, for the essence of his kingdom is love, sacrifice and patience. Holy war is not a legitimate method to use for establishing the rule of the Eternal One. Jesus did not arm his apostles. He preferred that he himself should die, instead of having his killers extinguished. The Apostles did not attack their enemies but practiced the command of Christ: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven...“ (Matthew 5:44,45).
Whoever prays seriously for the kingdom of our Father to come will soon realize that he himself is challenged to work, with all his might, for the coming of that kingdom. He whose family owns a business or a farm knows that family members must often work hard; overtime is a matter of course! The father works more than all the others. In the same way, the kingdom of our heavenly Father is a family affair. His sons and daughters are called as princes and princesses to employ their lives, time and money in the furthering of the Father-kingdom.
It is Jesus' desire that all who pray for the coming of this kingdom also consistently believe that this kingdom is being irresistibly realized. Each generation in this world is called on to participate heartily in this act of faith. By your faith his kingdom comes (1 John 5:4)!
The kingdom of our heavenly Father could certainly be established without our involvement. But the Father makes us worthy to participate, for he has made us, his children, to be joint possessors, trustees and inheritors of his kingdom. His glory waits for all faithful laborers in his harvest.
When someone does not know exactly how to participate in the furthering of the kingdom of Heaven, he may ask the Father in heaven to show him concretely where his task lies. One is called to testify, another, to serve, a third to pray unceasingly; again, others see their duty in sacrifice of money and personal suffering. Some disciples of Jesus are led through different opportunities for service, whereby the ultimate aim is always the salvation of the lost. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost“ (Matthew 18:11). He who has been accepted into the kingdom of the Father will also want to win his relatives and friends for eternal life. Being saved results in wanting to lead others to salvation. It should be our desire to show many Muslims the way to the kingdom of our Father's love.
Whoever prays, “Your kingdom come,“ does not only think about the saving and sanctifying works of God in the present but anticipates the future excitedly, awaiting the final coming of our Father's kingdom full of grace, ruled by his Son on this earth. The return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the Day of Judgment are stages in the coming of the kingdom of our Father. Therefore, we should always be asking ourselves: What is the goal of our lives? What are we living for? What do we really expect in the future? Are we only striving for good grades and a life of ease and prosperity? Are we paralyzed by fear concerning the nuclear contamination of the planet? Are we trying to prepare for the coming of the Antichrist or to predict the exact timing of Christ's second coming? Have we become uneasy concerning the final verdict on our lives on the Day of Judgment, or are we comforted, even at death, when contemplating our resurrection from the dead? Do we await a paradise of eternal pleasure, or do our faces grow sullen at the thought of eternal damnation? It is necessary that Christians occasionally review their past, draw a balance from it, and seriously consider the hope they have for eternity.
We can perhaps summarize the goal of hope in the Lord's Prayer in other words: “We want to go home! We want to see our Father!“ Neither material enjoyments nor exciting spiritual expectations are the ultimate goal of our hope, but rather the home-coming of lost sons and daughters who can only kneel before their Father, and with a stammering voice, cry: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called Your son or daughter. Do not cast me away from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me“ (Luke 15:21; Psalm 51:11). If this is our prayer, then we will experience the Father embracing and kissing us. He will lay his robe of righteousness upon us and invite us to the feast of his eternal joy.
Neither the Day of Judgment, the flames of hell, sensual delights, nor comfort are the goal of our lives; rather, in Christianity, unbroken fellowship with the Father awaits us! We are wayward wanderers returning home to our Father. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain in his presence. The things of this world will pass away. The new will surely come (Revelation 21:3-7)!
3.03.7 - Your Will be Done on Earth, as it is in Heaven
The third request in the Lord's Prayer is often understood as a prayer of devotion, in light of unavoidable suffering and heavy burden in the lives of believers. But we should remember that we are not dealing with an indifferent Lord. No, we pray to our Father in heaven -- that his will would be done.
A good father wants the best for his children. He seeks to save them from worry, sins, failure and misery. He does what he can to help them. He does not initially demand that they do this or that but is prepared to sacrifice for them. He encourages them to participate in his work within the framework of their talents; he does not overburden them. He leads them and gives them the necessary preparation for carrying out their task. Thus, it is not we ourselves who must fulfill the will of God. He is the One who initiates and blesses.
The will of our Father in heaven is the greatest power on earth. It is his desire that all shall be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
With these first three requests in the Lord's Prayer, the grand theme of world missions is outlined. Christians are not victims of a divine despot, or a higher power tormenting them, or a god seeking to drive them against their will. Jesus does not call us to passive suffering or blind fatalism but leads us to work actively with others as we seek to realize the Father's will. All heaven rejoiced when Jesus became man in order to redeem the world. The angels glorified the Father and the Son as the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the followers of Christ who prayed and waited in expectation to receive the very life of their heavenly Father.
If the will of God is to be done in our cities and villages as it is in heaven, then we are called to fully align our wills with the will of the Father and to participate with him, so that his intentions will be carried out. God's will can certainly come to pass without us, but we are not the slaves of a careless sultan; we are the children of our heavenly Father, and he has called us to share in his own blessed work! We do not tremble before the fluctuating, indiscernible will of an unknown despot. Much more, we implore the Father to be gracious to all -- those whom we know and do not know. It is the Father's good pleasure to bless all who seek his peace.
A Christian's inner attitude and outer conduct during prayer are glaringly different from the manner of worship in Islam. Whereas a Muslim, like a slave, throws himself to the floor before his exalted lord up to 34 times a day, a Christian is not bound to any particular prayer time, prayer position, or prayer direction. Christians are free to pray, whether riding on bicycles, at church, or flying in airplanes. The prayer of a bedridden patient can have more power and authority than that of a bishop in his parish. Christians do not need to touch the floor with their foreheads to express their submission. They are free and do not live under the law. We do not live like the slaves of Allah but are children of our Father who is in heaven. We have a different attitude towards life. For Muslims, prayer and worship are a part of their religious law, an obligation outlined in the Shari'a. To worship the Father is for us a privilege that moves us to eternal gratitude.
God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him“ (1 John 4:16).