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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Doctor Is In (Part 2) - A Divine Resumé

Objective: Physician seeking employment for a company of believers who will accept Him alone as Lord and God, in addition to utilize his healing services.

Well, that's how God's resumé for being God might look like. Not that He really needs one. In the reality of His kingdom, there's no real competition, even though for us, who live in a world cut off from His presence, there's plenty of competition to be had. But the god I worship is perfectly suited to being the greatest and only doctor skilled enough to cure Existential Dread (E.D.)Empathy for His creatures is what makes the Jewish/Christian god different from the Islamic god, while the willingness and ability to help is what makes Him different from the gods of various polytheisms. 

(Note: The following are all, of course, simplifications reflecting the basic and most general beliefs of each religious system. They're meant only to whet the appetite of those who may have interest in a general comparative study. Only religions that in some way can be seen to incorporate personal deities which interact with humanity in meaningful ways have been included. A link to Wikipedia summaries of each faith is provided.)

Judaism: Yahweh (which means, I AM) is the Creator of and ruler over the whole world, yet He is specifically the god of Israel, having chosen to love them as His own people. Every action is known to this god, whose Mind permeates the Universe and sees all, even people's thoughts. He calls Himself both Judge and Comforter and identifies Himself with the suffering of His people, often vowing to protect them and bring them freedom from their oppressors. 

In Judaism, God is monotheistic in the strictest way: He is a single person/entity, rather than a plurality, as He is in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (whereby Jesus is Yahweh, the Holy Spirit is Yahweh, and the Father is Yahweh; three distinct personalities, though one God: who is Yahweh.) In Jewish texts, there are only hints at this metaphysical possibility. In the book of Genesis, God descends to Earth to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He first comes to his servant Abraham in human form. The text describes three men visiting the old man and hints that two are actually angels accompanying Yahweh. After speaking to Abraham, "The [two] men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before Yahweh. Then Abraham approached him and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" (Genesis 18:22-23) In another example, a Jewish prophet declares that God will send a ruler for Israel, and that the human child born to them would be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) There are many more such anomalies in the Hebrew scriptures where Yahweh takes on some kind of physical/human form. It was simply assumed that God could do what He wanted. If He wanted to exist and appear in different forms, He could. No questions asked. Still, despite these divine appearances in the Old Testament, the Jews have continued to maintain their strict view of monotheism.

Christianity: In the Christian revelation, Yahweh takes on a new name, Jesus (which means, Yahweh saves), and permanently takes on a human nature, through which He would rule over not only His people but the whole world. It differs from other monotheisms by including this human/divine mediator in its theology. Before this mediator is crowned ruler, however, He's assailed by the very darkness that took root in His own Creation, tempted and tormented by God's greatest enemy, the Devil, and by wicked men. He's also confronted by the suffering of His own people and is given the chance to speak to that very suffering. Ultimately, Jesus is killed by those He made and loved, crucified by the Jews outside the city of Jerusalem. But the story doesn't end there, and Yahweh raises Jesus from the dead, declaring Him to be Lord, not only over life but over death as well. In Jesus, Yahweh becomes the ultimate empathizer: God, who knew no weakness, becomes weakness for our sake. In doing this, He achieves a union with humanity no other god of any other religion can claim. Yahweh steps into a world of evil, becoming "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief," and suffers alongside us, ultimately succumbing to and then defeating the greatest evil: death. Those who come to Yahweh through Jesus, who is now alive and seated on the Judge's throne, are able to receive empathy and mercy, seen primarily through the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of a new and better life.

Islam: The god of Islam, named Allah (the Arabic word for God), though claiming to be the same god as the one revealed to the Jews, brings humanity a completely different message. Like Judaism, there is a strict monotheism and an even more transcendent notion of God. The concept of empathy (manifested in unconditional love, grace, and divine fatherhood) is absolutely foreign to the teachings of Mohammed, his prophet. God will not unite Himself with sinful humanity, therefore making the concept of a Divine Son blasphemous. God is primarily an impartial judge, who desires submission and worship from humans, whether voluntary or compelled, rewarding and punishing based solely on good or bad deeds. The Koran contradicts the Old and New Testaments particularly when characterizing God's heart toward humanity and by omitting any plan of redemption. Muslims explain these contradictions away by saying the testaments were altered; Jesus was really a Muslim before the Christians got to Him. In this way, they dismiss any kind of comparative study or argument. For now, it's enough to say that the god presented in the testaments we now know is significantly different from the Allah of Islam. (See Bahai for a more recent addition to Islamic monotheism. For a now rare form monotheism, completely distinct from the three Abrahamic faiths, see Zoroastrianism.)

Polytheism: On the other hand are the polytheists, both ancient and modern, who present their belief in multiple gods. The divine beings they worship can and do often empathize with humanity. Many of the gods were once humans who were deified by the various universal powers that dictate such things. This is especially true of classical Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods. Modern forms of polytheism exist in various American and African tribal folk religions, Japanese Shintoism, and Neo-paganism. Some religious teachers might disagree with including Buddhism in a section on polytheism. Originally it was not primarily a polytheistic belief system and was rather agnostic in its approach to spiritual beings, focusing more on the universal principles which govern the natural world and by which humans should live. But in many areas of the world, thanks in part to syncretism, Buddhist teachings are often combined with belief in local deities and form a religious system that can be considered polytheistic. The Buddhist Universe is filled with various buddhas (enlightened humans) who have climbed the ladder of reincarnation to a type of deified existence and to whom worshipers may pray in order to receive help. This in no way adequately sums up the various forms or foundations of Buddhist thought, but the buddhas worshiped by adherents often act like the gods of polytheism, and so are mentioned here. The religion evolved out of Hinduism (a complex and by no means unified religious system in which can be found hints of monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and monism). Though the concept of a supreme personal God exists in some Hindu sects, in its simplest polytheistic form, the millions of gods worshiped in Hinduism are believed to be revelations or extensions of Brahman, the great impersonal "Supreme Reality" that permeates the Universe and is one with all things. When the impersonal Brahman becomes personal in the form of these gods, they often end up reflecting the same capricious nature as their divine cousins found in other strictly polytheistic religions. 

In these various belief systems, the gods are limited in power and human-like in their nature and moral shortcomings. For example, they demand sacrifice and appeasement; war with one another; deceive gods and people to get their way; fall in love with, seduce, and sometimes rape humans; and help only those who please and serve them. In the end, only their own self-interest matters to the gods. While they know what it's like to be us, they usually have a very limited desire to help. And even when they want to, since no one god has absolute power over the others, they can't fully control the destiny of one human, never mind the whole human race.

In Jesus, however, Yahweh claims this ability alone. He is the only god who both knows what it's like to be human and has the power to destine the human race towards a final end. This gives Him apt credentials, especially compared to His competition. He may not be the only doctor around that we can turn to with our E.D. (and other matters that plague the human heart), but He's the best and most qualified. 

There's no money-back guarantee, but there is a guarantee: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

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