What I want to talk about for the next few days has grown out of decades of experience. Our first stop will be the parable of the Good Samaritan.
For 35 years, I’ve been married to a wonderful Arab Muslim man. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were pioneers for y’all. We learned firsthand how to look at people of other faiths through grace-colored glasses.
Every conservative Christian (and every conservative Muslim) needs to have the kind of breakthrough we had.
Maybe you are one of those people – or maybe you can share our story with one of those people.
For us, the process was messy sometimes, and frustrating, and painful – and, as I said, took decades.
But through the magic of the internet, you can learn in a few minutes what took us so very much time and pain. (Disclaimer: in addition to reading, you will be required to do some soul-searching.)
As I mentioned, I am a Christian and my husband is a Muslim.
Not gonna lie, when we got married, each of us had a hidden agenda. I thought, “this is a great, smart man. He believes in God, so I’ll be able to convert him to Christianity in time.” My husband thought (as he told me later), “this is a nice, smart woman. She believes in God, so I’ll be able to convert her to Islam in time.”
We married for love, but we also became each other’s “project.” We tried to figure out how to get each other “saved.” We both stood our ground, thinking the other must conform to our religious standards.
We were on opposing teams, tied for last place.
Almost 30 years into this competition, we had one of those “Aha” experiences. Here’s roughly how it unfolded:
Hubby: We’ve been together for 30 years, and I haven’t convinced you to be a Muslim. Why not?
Me: Christianity is not just my religion – it’s part of who I am. It’s how I connect with God. But why haven’t I convinced you to be a Christian?
Hubby: Because Islam is not just my religion – it’s part of who I am. It’s how I connect with God.
Me: Wait a minute. What if…what if God is pleased with both of us, simply because we seek to connect with him to the best of our ability? (Sound of both of our minds blowing.) What if God doesn’t care that much about people having exactly the right theology? He is a forgiving, loving God, right? What if he really just wants us to be faithful to him in the best way we know how?
Now, conservative friends, hear me out. Because everything you’re thinking right now, I thought it too – with fear and trembling. I know by heart the verses you’re thinking about (here are just a few):
- John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- Acts 4:12 – “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
- Rom. 10:9 – “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
- John 17:3 – “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
But that’s not all the Bible says about eternity, and I never saw it because I never looked. I went to church and Sunday School forever, and attended Christian schools from kindergarten through college, but no one ever taught me what else the Bible says about eternity.
I’ll share one example today, and more next time.
The Good Samaritan
In Luke 10, we find the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know the parable well, but do you remember the context?
Before the parable, someone asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” After the parable, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” – i.e. “and that’s how to inherit eternal life.”
His parable-answer could be summarized as, “Here’s how to inherit eternal life: that guy from the story who practices a different religion from yours – I want you to live like him. Those other guys from the story who practice your religion – they are getting it wrong.”
Another way to say it might be, “Eternal life is not about theology. It’s about love.”
But that’s not what we learned in Sunday School, is it? We heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, and we were told that Jesus wants us to be good neighbors – but ultimately he doesn’t really care about that. Jesus needs us to say a certain series of words (along the lines of, “Please come into my heart and forgive my sins”), and ultimately that’s all that matters.
Am I suggesting that asking Jesus into one’s heart is irrelevant, or that those other verses are wrong, or don’t matter? Nope.
I’m suggesting that faith in God is not a formula.
I’m suggesting that “I’m right and everyone else is wrong” thinking – binary thinking – ignores what God really desires, which is love.
I’m suggesting that sometimes, people of another faith might be closer to the will of God than people of our own faith.
More examples, more discussion next time. (Have you subscribed yet, btw?)