Friday, March 27, 2009

We believe...

“We also believe in Jesus,” my Muslim friend’s father explained to me as we let our cheesecake settle into our full stomachs from the comfort of his daughter’s couch.

“Do you?” I asked in genuine interest, having a vague idea of that fact but not of what it actually meant.

“Yes. We believe in his virgin birth, and that Mary is the most blessed of women. We believe in his miracles and his teachings. We believe that he is the promised Messiah. We believe in his resurrection and in his second coming.”

I certainly had not realized all that.

“It seems to me,” he went on, “we are much closer to Christianity than the Jews are. They do not believe in Jesus at all. We often wonder why Christians feel so much affinity for Jews and so much animosity toward Muslims.”

It was a good point. I saw no reason to point out that Christendom’s kindness toward Jews is a historically recent development. The thrust of his point was theological, not historical, and it was valid. Besides, I was more interested in what he had to say than in my own fumbling answers.

“So then, what are some of the important differences between Christianity and Islam?”

“Well,” he answered, evidently staying on the topic of Jesus, “we don’t believe in the crucifixion.”

I had not been ready for that answer. “You don’t? But you do believe in the resurrection?”

“Yes. We believe that Jesus died a natural death, and God raised him from the dead. We believe that they crucified another man, and that God disguised his face. God would not let his great prophet suffer such humiliation.”

It is a completely different distinction than I am accustomed to hearing, but it strikes me as profound. Indeed, I’ve grown up knowing that the holy men and women of God are up for grabs when the suffering is doled out; if anything, they seem to get an extra serving of it. Christ’s passion seems to guarantee that suffering is part of the journey, and his resurrection (somehow) sanctifies it (I think), weaving it into a story that ends in triumph and redemption.

Lent came in full force this year like never before for me, not as a contemplative time of repentance and reflection, but a time of walking beside friends through some abnormally severe suffering. Sometimes I cannot connect with a hope that their pain has an end. Let me at least believe that Christ’s passion sanctifies it.

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