The Christian Bible is the story of how one people succumbed to corruption, thereby surrendering a privileged relationship with God, and then wandered in a spiritual wilderness until Jesus demonstrated the discipline to surrender himself in caring for the world. In navigating this process, God relies throughout on the law of natural consequences: when the people heed the inner voice that guides them, they prosper; when they disown it, they suffer. For this reason, while history trends steadily upwards, it has its high and low points.
What is true throughout is that God meets us where we are. That’s a source of a lot of confusion when interpreting scripture. For example, in Matthew 5:18, we have:
For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
And then Jesus undermines its authority (Matt. 19:8):
Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.
And in John 8:7, he says:
Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.
So Jesus is saying to teach the law, but set it aside when it suits us? As a child “Do as I say, not as I do” drove me crazy. Or is this “Say as I say, but do as I do?” In either case, hypocrisy seems right around the corner.
The difficulty can be resolved with the understanding that different people are on different stages of the journey. The Law is a code of conduct that seeks to prevent the spread of moral corruption. For people without the tools to heal corruption, that discipline is essential.
Jesus introduced his Apostles to a new stage of the journey, making them healers of the flesh and spirit. As reagrds the Law, his is final teaching to them was [Math: 22:37-40]:
Love your God…and love your neighbor…All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
However, this was not the entire Jewish people – it was only twelve of them. Was the law to be demoted for everyone, or only for those twelve and the others like them? I think only for the twelve and those like them. This does create some difficulty for those teaching Christianity that don’t claim to be able to do the things that the Apostles accomplished in Acts. Where are they on the scale, and how are they to lead their congregations into apostolic faith?
The solution, in the modern age, is that Christians chose the congregation that helps them take their next step on their journey to Christ.
Along the way, though, a stop was made in the Middle East. The Islam teachings of Muhammad (pbuh) came at the people of Mecca out of left field. There was no cultural tradition of Law. The community was at the level of Abraham in their relationship with God.
The Islamic path is therefore “The Middle Way” between the strict legalism of Judaism and the conditional morality of Christianity. It has rules – though far less pervasively than in the Law – that allow people to establish themselves in religious practice. While eliding Hebrew history, it upholds the character of the prophets as exemplars to inspire Muslims to maturity. Finally, it disintermediates the priesthood, upholding a personal relationship with Allah with promises of forgiveness and ultimately salvation.
The principle problem with this program is the divinity of Jesus. If he was the word made flesh, then the overwhelmingly difficult conditional morality of Christ stood as a barrier to Muslim practice. It meant that those that worshipped according to the rules would be second-class citizens in the faith. That the teachings of Jesus were received second-hand would be no obstacle to those interested in manipulating such divisions: there is enough in the Gospels to prey on the fear of those unprepared by experience and education to understand Christian moral philosophy.
To prevent this exclusion from the faith of those that needed it most, Jesus was demoted, being made only a prophet. This was extended to his crucifixion.
Should this make a difference?
The point of faith, as I see it, is to provide us with the strength to do good in the world. Most Christians find great strength in the sacrifice made by Jesus. But there are also those that flee Christianity because Christians cannot act according to that standard. If Muslims find hope that they can do good without failing the standard set by the Son of God, is that a bad thing? Particularly if their tradition holds out the hope that they will ultimately aspire to that standard?
I think not. I think that God meets us where we are, and that all that matters is the degree to which our faith encourages us to open our hearts to him.