Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith. Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.”
– Muslim & Bukhari
Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned, “Works” have no “merit,” though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. (Man) is not saved because he does works of love; he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him; faith bestowed by sheer gift.
– C.S. Lewis
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the (Roman) centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”
– Matthew 8: 10 - 14
MIDDLE EAST, INDIA, December 8 , 2011– This week’s article was prompted by a recent reader’s post to my previous column, where in answer to someone’s pro - faith response, the individual derisively wrote, “…can you stop beating this ridiculous faith not religion drum.”
It’s obvious like many people, he or she doesn’t see the distinction between faith and religion – probably the main reason why religious allegiance has such a grip on most individuals. In fact the adage “so near, yet so far” applies here – the more religious pride people exhibit; the more evidence they provide of a superficial faith.
Mother Teresa was someone who believed we are all equal before God, and she sought to inspire individual spiritual growth in everyone, explaining – “I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.” However if she meant religions could be rewired, that would be unworkable. There is no scope for making any man-made creed better – every religion thinks it is the definitive answer.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt people of all religions are regularly blessed by the Creator who hears the prayers of even those excluded by the self-important religious fundamentalists who arrogate to themselves the exclusive privilege of belonging to the only “true” religion.
Religions are superficially the same but fundamentally different, yet the existence of an incomparable creed is debatable, - it certainly isn’t Christianity!
One can meet people from all persuasions who have a humble, genuine relationship with God and their lives can be studied to observe the authenticity of their faith.
Only such a religion of the heart is credible, manifested with love and humility in action.
One of the most controversial statements made by Jesus was John 4: 22, “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.” One doesn’t have to be a scholar to understand he was referring to salvation and pointing to himself, not to the Jewish religion.
Had he chosen to incarnate in a religion other than Judaism, would that claim have been equally valid? Let the theologians debate that, my point is that God has no religion and the Bible (Galatians 3: 28) tells us, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female.
Ergo, God plays no favourites, even though he may bestow his favour on someone – anyone.
So it’s pretty clear not every Jew has a chosen place in heaven. But neither does anyone else just because they call themselves Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh etc.
You often hear people say at the funeral of a loved one, “If anyone earned a place in heaven, it was …” and they name a friend or relative. God in his mercy can choose anyone, but who can claim to have actually earned the right to a place in heaven? God’s love is unfathomable and eternal life is a privilege only he assigns in his mercy and grace.
Whether one believes in Mohammed as the last prophet, Brahma as Creator or Jesus as the Son of God, ultimately what will count is not our religious certainty, but our hunger and humility to receive the Truth in simple, genuine faith.
Christians tend to pay no attention to Jesus’ own example in honouring the faith of people with other beliefs like the Roman centurion or the Samaritan woman. They would prefer to think God extends his grace exclusively to them.
Perhaps English writer C.S. Lewis had a deeper insight on the matter when he said, “We do know that no [one] can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”
Does the Bible indicate any divine favouritism when it comes to the Incarnation? We learn God chose the Jews because they were the least among the nations, as recorded in Deuteronomy 7: 6-8.
Many of my Muslim friends dismiss this teaching, nauseated by the idea of Israel being chosen in any sense. But I am merely quoting from the Tawrat, (Torah) not making it up, and wouldn’t it be haram (forbidden) to suggest that the Tawrat was in any way corrupted or altered?
Only a few realize that such an allegation is perilous, even if it’s the preferred charge many Muslims bring against the Bible (Injeel).
If mere men could have changed God’s original revelation (Tahrif) over time, then what set it apart as divine in the first place?
The subject of God’s love brings up an interesting point – how did Jesus clearly differentiate between faith and religion?
He exposed the absence of love in the very religion he was born into.
So much so, one Scribe felt compelled to endorse Jesus’ words, admitting: “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And every killing that goes on in the name of God and every debauchery is a confirmation of Jesus’ indictment of corrupt religion.
According to author Gary Wills, “the most striking, resented and dangerous of Jesus’ activities was his opposition to religion.” He opposed formal worship, ritual purifications, sacrifice, external prayer, and fasting norms, the Sabbath and eating codes, priesthoods, the Temple, and the rules of Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes.
He also condemned the clergy for their hardened hearts, declaring, “Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Mathew 23: 24)
In our time we only have to look at the rampant sectarian violence all around us - every religion has been in the fray at one time or another without exception.
For a world engineered to function in the love of a Creator who freely bestows on everyone his life-giving resources, one cannot help wonder how we humans choose to deplete our lives with various forms of passive and aggressive violence instead of sharing God’s unstinted love. But the sad fact is, in our society one is generally more conscious of being encircled by hatred and injury rather than love and harmony in our conflict-ridden society.
1 John 4:12 exhorts us: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
Notice it says ‘IF we love one another’ – in a world bereft of that love, the fundamental question still remains: what is the difference between faith and religion?
The Scriptures point to salvation by grace, through faith, as the gift of God, not by our own efforts (Ephesians 2:9) or by allegiance to an institution.
Religion however is man’s efforts to reach God, and if it is all about doing, not being, it is worthless. Faith is a longing for a vital union with our Creator, defined as the substance of something we hope for, the evidence of something we do not see.
But faith is not gotten; it is given to those who can receive it humbly.
Religion is the corporate belief of individuals belonging to a group of likeminded people. Without love for our fellow man and genuine faith, it is false piety parading with tradition, employing meaningless rituals and engaging in good works with great spiritual pride.
Not surprisingly the Scriptures place little value on the externals, the Bible defines religion as love and compassion for the vulnerable. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep one-self unstained from the world.” (James 1: 26 – 27)
Frank Raj is based in India and the Middle East where he has lived for over three decades. He is the founding editor & publisher of ‘The International Indian’ (www.theinternationalindian.com) the oldest magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since 1992. Frank is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Universal Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at: www.no2christianity.wordpress.com
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