Rethinking relationships between Christians and Muslims

On Sunday, we just observed the 10 year anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, a wing of the Pentagon, and the plane downed near Shanksville, PA—dastardly deeds which no amount of pleading can excuse.

Having said that, and meaning it, I would like to also say that the attitude many Christians have toward Muslims in general is also pretty inexcusable. It seems like a good time to look back at biblical history and then look forward to a new understanding.

We Need to Rethink Some of Our Interpretation of Biblical Narratives

I am very aware of passages that stress God’s choosing of Isaac (not Ishmael) and Jacob (not Esau) to carry forward the covenant blessings for the world, and I know the prophet summarized this as “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.” This is the same Middle Eastern form of emphasis that the Jesus who said we must honor our father and mother used when he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

But what about the clear claims of the original Genesis narrative that indicate that God blessed Ishmael and Esau richly, and that these two sets of brothers managed to live out a relatively peaceful future with one another?Ishmael was also blessed by God, and he and Isaac found a way to co-exist in relative peace:

“As for Ishmael, I (Yahweh) have heard you; I will bless him (Ishmael) and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”  (Genesis 17:20)

“Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, {10} the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah.” (Genesis 25:9)

– Esau was also blessed by God, and he and Jacob found a way to co-exist in relative peace:

“Esau said to his father, ‘Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!’ And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. {39} Then his father Isaac answered him: ‘See, away from the fatness of the earth shall your home be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. {40} By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.’” (Genesis 27:38-40)

“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and Esau and Jacob wept….But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’”  (Genesis 33:4, 9)

“And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Genesis 35:29)

Could we Christians perhaps model after Isaac and Jacob a bit more in our relationships with the people who are known as the descendants of Ishmael and Esau? Could we at least be honest enough to acknowledge that God chose to bless Ishmael and Esau, whether we choose to follow God in this choice or not?

We Need to Rethink Some of Our Interpretation of Biblical Theology

Although I am certainly no expert in Islamic theology, it seems pretty clear that what many of us would consider the “best” of Muslim theology is also what many Muslims consider the best of Islamic theology. And, this theology is really not very (if any) different than the non-Abrahamic covenant theology of Job and his friends in the book of Job. Nor would it seem to be terribly different from the little we see of the theology of Jethro, or Melchizedek priest of the Most High God, or in some ways even the theology of the writer of Ecclesiastes.

None of these people ever live within the covenant history that flows from God’s promises to Abraham except the writer of Ecclesiastes, who seems to intentionally avoid mentioning it. Most of us would not want to argue that Job and his friends or the writer of Ecclesiastes had a complete theology since neither is rooted in God’s promises to Abraham, Israel, or David, yet they are theological books that are in our Bible.

Could we Christians learn to be at least as accepting of the best of Islamic theology in the same way we are accepting of the theological arguments of Job and his friends, as they wrestle with the same issues from very similar starting places?

Obviously, there is much more to be said, but these might be a couple of good starting points for Christians as we reflect on the events of 9/11/2001.

One Comment On “Rethinking relationships between Christians and Muslims”

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