"Although you have not seen Him you love him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9
"The goal of faith: the salvation of your souls." What would happen to my soul if I didn't have faith? Well, what kind of life would I lead? Where would I find the hope, peace, joy, and strength to overcome my tendencies to sabotage doing good? Whom would I worship, follow, glorify? I cannot deny my Maker. And I no longer question WHO God is, and what He's done for me.
If God is just the god of eastern religions or neopagan religions or modern quasi-religions, then He is only one among many, or an abstract concept like gravity. There is no hope in that. I'm still on my own to find my way to a life of purpose and meaning.
If God is like the God of the Qu'ran, He's more like a political leader than a loving Father. We already saw this in the Old Testament, and Jesus clarified where this view is incomplete. I've often wondered why Muhammad seems to have reinvented the wheel of Judaism.
I mean no disrespect, but from an outsider, there are very few differences between the lifestyle and moral expectations of Jews and Muslims. There are dietary restrictions. There are dress considerations. There is mandatory male circumcision. There are clearly defined gender roles. There is a focus on marriage and family life for every individual. There are expectations to fast, pray, tithe. To an outsider, it seems like the advent of Islam was a cultural reaction to Judaism.
I am the first to admit that I know next to nothing about the history of the region where Islam was born, but I do know that Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter) was known to the early Muslims. If they took issue with polytheism, they could've become Jewish. If they took issue with the incarnation and divinity of Jesus, they could've become Jewish. But instead, they created what seems to me to be a parallel religion. I don't deny that Muhammad probably felt nudged by God to do something, to improve the quality of life for the people of the time and region. But I do not believe God wanted more of the same.
(If you're wondering why I felt the need to get into a mini comparison between Judaism and Islam here, it's because I discerned conversion to both of these faiths at some point along my journey. So I am not judging either from a disinterested philosophical point of view, but rather explaining my thought process as to why I did not ultimately end up Muslim nor Jewish.)
But the God of Jesus - the God: Jesus - He brings hope. Only He brings hope. The Gospel says that we are loved by our Maker. We are not alone on our journey. We are good enough just as we are. All He asks of us is to repent and believe. Ignore the naysayers. Put our mistakes behind us. Turn to Him. Follow Him.
It sounds too good to be true for many. An approachable God sounds downright blasphemous to some. The idea that we are not the center of the universe is too difficult for a lot of people to admit. So they stay in denial, where it feels familiar, comfortable, even "safe". But it's a perilous false sense of safety. Denying the truth doesn't make it go away. The first step of every recovery program is to step out of denial. Take that risk to meet the unknown. Make yourself vulnerable to God's will. Trust God.
It's the only way to life. It's the only way to truth. It's the only way. That's' why Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6). They may come close, but not quite into God's loving embrace. They may think they've arrived when all they have is a distant wave from God. He is beckoning you to come closer. Only Jesus can take you there.
And this is the goal of our faith in Jesus: that we may be saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Saved from a life of servitude. Saved from a life of hopelessness. Saved from our own mistakes. For without the Spirit of God, we are slaves to this world, Satan, and the flesh. Without the mercy of God, we are here on Earth until our time is up, and then it will have been all for naught. Without Christ living in us, we cannot overcome our frail tendencies of selfishness, self-centeredness, self-consciousness, self-importance. We cannot remove ourselves from the center of our lives without placing Christ in the center instead.
And that's what it takes - removing ourselves from the center of our lives, and living for others. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived in service to their fellow sisters and brothers here on Earth. Imagine the peace and cooperation that would bring! Imagine the joy and celebration of our diversity! Imagine ... paradise on Earth! Because that is God's original design, for us to live in harmony with each other and with Him, forever. No death, no sickness, no pain, no war, no confusion, no ugliness, no chaos, no fear, no disappointment, no anger, no power struggles, no lies. But it takes a critical mass of people to make lasting change. Until we get there, while we are in the minority, we must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) and resign ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God.
And to anyone who would quote statistics here, alluding to the fact that there is already a critical mass of Christ-followers in the world, and it is still in shambles, I say look again. The statistics will tell you religious affiliation and church attendance. They will not show you the heart of the believer. Because sadly (and I was one of them for a long time), many accept the label of Christ without welcoming Him into their lives.
We must not look to the left nor to the right lest we lose focus or begin to doubt (see Proverbs 4:27). I have already experienced life without hope, and I am not tempted to rejoin the empty promises of Satan. I still struggle. Daily. I still doubt. But I know what I stand for now; I know Whom I serve. I have been gifted the grace of faith. And I so wish you would join me on the journey! There's so much truth, goodness, and beauty here!