From Hannah Bosworth-Daft of King’s School Ely – Do you believe that you are worshipping the same God as believers of other faiths? If so, how is it possible for narratives about God to be in conflict?
These questions from young people really are what we need to be addressing. In fact, I’m getting quite a head of steam up about how we should as church and society be engaging much better with younger people. Tokenism and lip service are easy. It’s easy too to overdo things the other way and assume that just because the voices are young they are sensible – I’m afraid young and old are in the same boat too there! But this question is important and topical too.
If, as Christians do, you believe that there is only one God, then no-one can be worshipping another one. Except of course it’s not that simple, and someone can be worshipping a person or a thing or another entity and calling it God when it isn’t – whether that is your best girl, football, or (and this is where things get difficult) some sort of spiritual being other than God.
My position is that the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are worshipping the same one God. They clearly understand God differently and have different narratives about him, and we must come back to that. But in straightforwardly historic terms they are family; they all started at the same place.
The position is more complex with other faiths. I like to use the old image of a mountain (God) that we are all trying to climb from different sides. My own faith is that Christianity has a viewpoint that sees as far to the top as any human can (God revealed in Christ), but that all people of good will are in all probability looking at the same mountain, but may be mistaking a smaller sub-peak or outcrop for the main summit, or taking a long way round. That may be why some of them acknowledge many Gods, because before the one real one comes into focus, there are many smaller heights along the way. Some faiths do not allow personhood or even reality to any God, and I am glad that they persevere with their good endeavours, but I hope that one day they might lift their eyes and see more.
Just occasionally we encounter, or more usually hear third-hand stories about, faiths and people that seem so upside-down in their morality that we cannot believe that the “God” they acknowledge is even on the road to the one we know. Here we have to be very careful because feelings will probably run high, but a good motto is to proclaim the good and do it as best as you can, and not turn what is a spiritual struggle into a human one. That said, sometimes we do have to face the problem of an “evil” dictator, for instance, and actual armed struggle seems inevitable. Even then, though, it can be dangerous to co-opt the religious element too strongly into the political or military conflict – the “crusade effect” can sometimes obscure Christ.
Now back to the issue of different narratives. If we are all trying to understand and speak about a God who is not just us but bigger, but the ground of all being, then any narrative is going to be imperfect. Since we come at the project from our own point of view our narratives are going to betray our own perspectives, even though many faiths are also going to say that they have some sort of privileged revelation that they can rely on.
My position is that as a Christian I do think that in Christ we have as full and secure a revelation of God as humanity can receive, and that in the Scriptures and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can be supported in that secure salvation because God is also alive and active in them as well. But I also accept that the Scriptures are historical and human attempts to pass on those truths and so show variation and development, and that our attempts to listen to the Spirit can show quite a degree of deafness. A degree of humility is in order!