Along these same lines, just when I am about to despair, things start to pick up. My post from last Saturday on the incompatibility of Christian faith and Qu'ran burning was published on-line over on the English site of Il Sussidairio, which is always gratifying. As with my initial post on Archbishop Sheehan's challenging pastoral letter, more gratifying still was a conversation sparked by my post on Christian-Muslim relations.
The particular issue addressed was concerning my assertion, which I have made on these pages before, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, which is the meaning of the Arabic word Allah, which word is used in Christian liturgies that precede the advent of Islam by centuries. My first and most direct response would be, after the manner of Jesus, to answer a question with a question: Did Israel of old worship the same God, that is, the God of and who is Jesus Christ? Of course this is what we call a rhetorical question because I assert that we worship the same God, but failing, or even refusing to see Jesus as God, like the Israelites of old and of today, Muslims have not received the invitation to call God "Father". It also bears noting that as Christians we are not a people of the book. We are the people of the resurrected and living Lord, who sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in and among us, thus making us temples in whom God dwells.
Nonetheless, it is easy for me to see how what I wrote can be taken as something that tends towards a certain religious indifference. In defense of Miroslav Volf, whose Christianity Today interview about his new book in which he addresses this question, it is too much to say that he leaves out the fundamental reality that God is love. (1 John 4:8.16) While he certainly does not mention this in his interview, which is very short, I cannot say that he omits this in his recently published book, which I have yet to read. Of course, this will be something for me to pay attention to when I read it. It is fair enough to say that my treatment deals exclusively with the question, what is God, and does not really address the infinitely more important question, who is God? The answer to the latter question, of course, is that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I do not believe for one moment that the quote I employ from Nostra Aetate can be dismissed as political because I think a decree by an ecumenical council, even one that is not dogmatic, cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand. It is worth pointing out that at the time Nostra Aetate was promulgated, the troubles we now experience were not yet realized because even the Islamic world, under the influence Nasser and the rising Ba’athists, was embracing secularism.
What does it mean for a Muslim to revere Jesus as a prophet? It means that the one we revere as our risen and glorified Lord is seen by the Muslim as one who speaks the authentic words of God, even if he does not revere Jesus as the Word made flesh. This is altogether different than how a Communist might revere the man Jesus. Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of God bodily dwells, is, indeed, an "ontological" and "insurmountable difference between our Allah and their Allah." Jesus Christ, in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, makes all the difference in the world! (Col. 2:9) After all, the only answer to the question, why be a Christian, is Jesus Christ!
Living as I do in Utah, God as He is worshiped by Muslims is certainly more recognizable to me than the God of the LDS, who even describe the Father as having "a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22) It was Lorenzo Snow, an LDS prophet, who said of God the Father (who the LDS insist is both separate and distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit): "As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become." They also hold that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob "have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:37) I do not mention this to start an argument, just to note the relative and objective difference with regard to various understandings of God and how well they measure up to the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, which revelation, as Dei Verbum explicitly teaches us, has two modes of transmission- Scripture and Tradition. (par. 10)
I guess the question I pose in my article is what challenge does Christ- Allah made flesh for us- give to us who follow Him with regards to the Muslims, who see God as full of mercy and infinitely just, but not fully as love? To wit, surely not burning the Qu’ran and denouncing them as monsters, people we hate! Indeed, to say that God is love implies the Trinity because love requires an Other and, as St. Thomas Aquinas noted long ago, love is profuse. So, at least in Western Trinitarian theology, we see the Holy Spirit precisely as the love between the Father and His Only Begotten Son, who for us and for our salvation became our Lord, Jesus the Christ born of the Virgin Mary. How does one give faithful witness to the love of God given us freely in Christ? I know that burning the holy books of others who worship God, even if they do not fully know Him, is one way not to give such faithful witness.