Atonement in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

For you to learn a lesson, something or someone will have to pay the price and be sacrificed. — Kayo K.

And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.
— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
— Elvina M. Hall, 1865

I’m in the process of writing the above titled article. I think it will go a long way to compare and contrast the concept of atonement in the three main monotheistic religions. In the meantime, I was at a friend’s house two days ago when I observed a decoration that related to a recent discussion with a Muslim friend @Milo Božovich on a YouTube video about the necessity of believing the Trinity as a requirement for salvation.

As a Christian, my take on soteriology is relatively simple: Man is not saved by his understanding of the theological definition of God, nor by what he does or fails to do (not directly at least), but by whether he has a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, which provides the motivation for everything he does.

The Crucifixion of the Messiah

Periodically, my Muslim friends will advocate their position that Jesus was not crucified on a cross in Palestine two millennia ago (see here, here and here). They posit that someone may have been crucified, but it had to have been someone else. As further evidence, they say that if Jesus was crucified on a “tree” he would have been cursed by Allah, based on Deuteronomy 21. This is all based on one passage from the Quran…

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Ethnic Humility

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me
     to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
     and recovering of sight to the blind,
     to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:16–21 ESV

Jesus returns to his home town. He’s been gone for a while having relocated to Cana. Relocated is an exaggeration since in reality Jesus had been wandering around Galilee for months. This was after causing a scene in Jerusalem by chasing out temple vendors with a homemade whip. He had even found time to take his disciples through Samaria where the first town he preached in wasn’t even Jewish, at least by Jerusalem standards. Continue reading

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” — Matthew 23:23–24 ESV

From our enlightened twenty-first century vantage point we can look back on the period of history that Jesus lived and cheerfully take our pick of horrors and injustices perpetrated by a host of groups starting with the Romans, Herodeons, Zealots, unjust tax collectors, and numerous other rapscallions and scalawags. They were known for murdering innocents, enslaving the helpless, brutalizing women, and worse yet — they mistreated defenseless animals! Now one would think, with God walking among us, daily exposed to this repressive and brutish world, we would at the very least, expect stern indignation expressed toward these hellish outrages.

But Jesus never overtly deplored slavery, never publicly decried the plight of women, and much to our surprise, never expressed support for animal rights. Continue reading

My Muslim Friends Don’t Trust Me!

For reasons deeply rooted in Islamic orthodox thinking, my Muslim friends continually say that my online persona “lies” or is a “liar” or even an “inveterate liar”. Here are a few popular ayat that are often used to stoke mistrust between Muslims and Christians:

O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies; some of them are allies of one another. Whoever of you allies himself with them is one of them. Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.— Quran 5:51 ITANI

Those who disbelieve among the People of the Scripture, and the Polytheists, will be in the Fire of Hell, where they will abide forever. These are the worst of creatures.
As for those who believe and lead a righteous life—these are the best of creatures. — Quran 98:6–7 ITANI

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Two Kinds

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” — Luke 7:47 ESV

“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.” — Robert Benchley

OK — maybe it’s convenient to divide the world by our various distinctions of temperaments, talents and even spiritual gifts… I get that — but something about it sticks in my craw. Admittedly, it could be a spoilsport reaction to the categories I keep being slotted into. My problems aside… there’s a scientific argument that explains why we tend to categorize and divide. Continue reading

Will This Be On the Final Exam?

Anyone who’s taught for more than a day will be confronted by this question. Will this be on the test? It’s really a question of whether or not they need to keep listening. Our students have become testologists. They have analyzed their world and figured out that some things can be safely ignored without consequence. What’s crucial is what ends up on that exam. It’s logical when you think about it. The exam is measurable, and what you measure represents a distillation of what you believe to be important.

So what about us? What’s on our final exam? When we stand at the pearly gates, what are we going to be asked? Seems like a logical question. Why spend all our time and energy preparing to answer questions that will never be asked? If we could only know what was on the exam, we could properly prepare. Just as important, we could safely ignore those things that aren’t on the final exam.

Lucky for you I know what’s going to be on the final exam. Continue reading

The Problem of Evil

It is with more than a little trepidation that I even approach the problem of evil. The entire Bible, directly or indirectly, is devoted to the subject, as are all of the world’s major religions. And there are so many types and sources of evil from which to choose! There’s self inflicted evil (“you reap what you sow”), there’s evil that is inflicted upon us by others, and then there is generic “evil” that seems to come along “naturally”. Pain, death, floods, droughts, famines, typhoons, tornadoes, tsunamis, birth defects and diseases (both genetic and acquired), to name a few.

Along the way, I have learned that it is generally unproductive for those currently going through personal pain and suffering to question God’s actions, or, as the case may be, inactions. The inquiry degrades from “How can God allow evil in this hypothetical case?” to “Why me?” There is a barb attached to the inquiry; a bias in the questioning that rejects most valid answers as unacceptable, cold and without compassion, and thus not very “God like”.

But for those seekers/inquirers of God who honestly desire to reconcile the Bible’s description of a holy, compassionate and all-powerful God allowing rampant evil to pervade his creation, let’s open the discussion… Continue reading

Musings on the Great Reversal, First Pass

Almost before my keyboard cooled down after the last post, I had that uncomfortable feeling of incompleteness. While most lawyers would say that the estate manager of the story was well within his rights to independently negotiate each worker’s wage, I was still left with that uneasy, gnawing feeling.

I had an experience recently that struck home. I’m an electronic engineer by profession, and I was getting pricing for an expensive integrated circuit. I got one price from the web site of the distributor ($670). I called the distributor directly and received a lower price over the phone ($530). I then spoke with my account manager, and she quoted a still lower price ($382). These are no small differences! Certainly they have the right to set whatever pricing structure they want, but I was a little miffed at the inconsistency… Continue reading

Is God Fair?

A Cookie, Divided

The short answer: No, and this is a good thing!

When I was a lad growing up with my older brother, fairness was at the forefront of my thinking. A considerable amount of effort was expended by my parents to ensure that we were both treated equally, along with refereeing our disputes when we’d accuse each other of the cardinal sin of “unfairness”. We always had enough to eat, but it seamed that there was always some last bit of food that we’d fight over. The rule at our house was that one person would cut the food item in half, while the other would select the piece he wanted. The “cutter” would go to great effort to ensure that the pieces were exactly equal so he wouldn’t be “cheated”.

Sometime toward the beginning of junior high (AKA middle school), my parents mantra of “life isn’t always fair” sunk in. I can’t remember the moment I became aware of this, but there were many, many incidences that reminded me that life wasn’t fair, and it was always interpreted as a “bad” thing.

Studying the Bible didn’t help either… Continue reading