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The Same God

The Same God June 27, 2021

Andrew E. Larsen: Panel of Muslims, Christians and Jews / flickr

Every so often, someone asks, “Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God”?  If we pay attention, we will find many of them do this, not as an inquiry, but rather as a rhetorical question. They think the answer is obviously no. They state that the Christian belief in the Trinity means Christians do not share God in common with Muslims or Jews because neither Muslims nor Jews accept the teaching of the Trinity. Likewise, because Christians believe in the incarnation, that one person of the Trinity assumed human nature and became one of us, and Muslims and Jews do not, this proves Christians, Muslims and Jews have different gods. Once this has been accomplished, we find the real reason for the question is to promote abuse against Muslims and Jews, that is, to establish and create an anti-Islamic and an Anti-Semitic ideology which justifies denigrating and rejecting the beliefs and practices of Muslims and Jews alike. [1]

When we turn to Paul, it is clear, he believed that believed Christians and Jews worshiped the same God. He did not think he went from being an atheist (someone who denied God) to being a theist when he became a believer in Christ. Rather, he saw it as the logical conclusion of his Jewish background and his belief in God. Christians, followers of Christ, have been enlightened by Christ so as to know more about God than non-Christians. A better understanding of God comes through such enlightenment, so that those who are not enlightened by faith in Christ, still worship God, but in a way the revelation of the Trinity is not understood or appreciated. Their love and zeal for God is real, and what is offered is not to some false God, but to God (as Paul himself worshiped God with that zeal before his encounter with Christ).

Accepting that the Jews worshiped God in common with the Christians, Paul hoped for the best for them, that is, he hoped for their salvation, that they would accept and be enlightened by the revelation about God given to us through Christ:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified (Rom. 10:1-4 RSV).

It is impossible to have a zeal for God if one worships a false God. Paul did not think that those Jews who did not believe what was revealed through Christ did not worship God. He knew they can and did worship God. Their zeal was good. But what they lacked was the greater understanding about God which Christ provides to those who follow him. Revelation of the Trinity comes to us through Christ; before the incarnation, there might have been obscure, implicit indications of the Trinity, but it was not the common faith or understanding of those who believed in God. If explicit belief and understanding of the Trinity was necessary, then Christianity makes no sense in its appeal to Moses and the prophets, because they did not offer such an explicit teaching. Jesus confirmed, throughout his ministry, he was explaining and revealing insights on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that those who followed the Abrahamic faith, despite their lack of understanding of the Trinity, believed in God. Their faith was valid in that regard. Revelations concerning the Trinity are subsequent to, and founded upon, previous revelations about God, such as that God exists, God is one, and God interacts with humanity. The truth of the incarnation is important – as Paul said, it is through Christ we can be justified, for in and through Christ the law is fulfilled. But whether or not someone understands God in light of the revelation of Christ does not determine whether or not  they worship the same God.

Christians, Muslims and Jews all share the same God.  Historically, Christians not only understood that Muslims and Jews share God in common with them, but Christians studied and learned from Muslims and Jews and what they said about God. For example, arguments used to prove the existence of God were shared in common by all three traditions, with Christians taking special consideration and agreement with what they found Muslims and Jews indicated through their proofs. If belief in the Trinity is necessary for any discussion about God to be about the Christian God, then those proofs, which come from those who did not accept the Trinity, must not be seen as proof for the existence of the Christian God, which of course, Christian writers writing them would have thought absurd.

Thus, Paul believed that Christians and Jews worshiped the same God, even if they understood God differently. Jews were right and just in their worship of God. Those who loved God, those who had zeal for God, truly worshiped and loved the same God as the Christians. Their zeal was worthy of respect, even if it followed after and engaged an understanding of God which did not contain the insights given to us by Christ. Paul, indeed, loved the Jews, and so hoped for and prayed for their salvation, believing that God would work with them through their love and devotion to attain it:

Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in,  and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:25-27 RSV).


[1] Catholic teaching, of course, rejects both the premise (that  Christians, Muslims and Jews do not worship the same God), as well as the intended implication. Nostra Aetate not only confirms Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God, but Christians should look to work with and respect their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham.

 

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