I like school. I know I am weird. If I were to win the lottery and could spend time any way I want, I would be a professional student and study all of my life. I like education and being able to talk about deep topics.
Living in Paris, sometimes this frustrates me. On one hand, Paris is a student city where most people are educated. Some of the best schools in the world in a variety of different disciplines find their home in the city of lights. I enjoy discussions with students about their studies: literature, philosophy, and history are among my favorites. Yet for me it can be difficult to talk to the average Parisian about my education.
My area of specialization is theology. I had a Religion degree from college and a Masters of Divinity from seminary. I spent my time thinking about God. Yet when I bring that up, the conversation often stops there- not because, as would be the case in America, of an awkward avoidance of religion, but because it is a subject that is not thought about any more. One person even asked me if I believed in science at all after learning I studied theology! There is almost a total ignorance of theological issues here. More often than not, the thoughts of the people I meet have not moved past the question of whether God exists or not. As one who believes the existence of God is self-evident, it is frustrating that not many have contemplated what I consider to be a foundational question for all people - What is God like?
Since this question has not been pondered, it is quite normal to conclude that all religions are the same. If the only theological question concerns whether God exists or not, any worldview that responds with a “Oui” is seen as believing the same thing. Judgments are made based on this erroneous thinking; judgments about “religious” people and judgments about this abstract “God” that they worship.
Enter Muslim terrorists with guns. Let them collide with Charlie, a publication that has no filter and seems to think that the things it says have no consequences. One side will not tolerate slander to their prophet; the other side will not tolerate their right to slander being threatened. Death. Outrage. Anger. Blame.
And then I find myself in the middle of it. I am a Christian who finds the things Charlie says highly offensive, yet whose Christianity teaches him that Charlie has a human right to say those things. I relate to the Muslim anger at slander, yet my Christianity demands strong condemnation of the violent action taken on behalf of their (or any) prophet. As a Western Evangelical Christian, either side would judge me as being part of the other. I am either a blind secularist or an intolerant radical.
There is a way to clear these matters up, but most won’t like it. It is our old, ancient friend theology that will help us here. Forgive me if I try to tear down the wall of comfort you have built to keep God out.
If you are like me and believe that atheism is incapable of giving an accurate picture of reality (it doesn’t even allow you to say what the terrorists did is wrong), then it is time for us to grow out of our crèche and ask big boy questions. What is God like? What did He think about the terrorist raid in Paris? Why did He create me? Do I have a responsibility to Him?
Reflection on these questions is long overdue in Paris. We can no longer hide behind an affront of being a “Catholique non-practiquant.” We must consider God again. And, in doing that, we must consider this man named Jesus.
Now, if you don’t mind, I will add a little Jesus theology to conclude. Jesus claimed to be God. He was called Emmanuel by the angel, which means “God with us,” and this is particularly important as we leave the Christmas season. What Jesus teaches about God is very different than what the proud prophet Muhammed teaches. Jesus chose and endured shame and taught Christians to take that same attitude. And, not only did he endure shame, He endured much, much more.
God took on human flesh in Jesus. He was not one “…who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. “ (Hebrews 4:15) This means that the God who exists did not simply spin the world He created and laugh at its suffering. He is Emmanuel, the God who suffered with us.
God, who knew no hunger, became one who was hungry (Matthew 4:1-4), that we might have the bread of life (John 6:35). God, who knew no thirst, became one who was thirsty (John 19:28), that we might have Living Water (John 4:10). God, who knew no loneliness, became one who was alone (Matthew 26:31), that we might have community (Matthew 16:18). God, who knew no sin, was made “…to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus did not present a God who needed his followers to kill in order to defend His honor. Jesus presents a God who humbly took dishonor for the love of God and humanity. For me. For you.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, reject Jesus. But make no mistake: He will one day defend his name with justice and wrath, and He is mercifully delaying this desiring all to come to repentance; desiring you to come to repentance. If Jesus is right, both Charlie and the terrorists are both very, very wrong.
Regardless of what you think about Jesus, Charlie, or the terrorists, one thing should be very clear- these questions are important, as is Jesus’ answers to them. What you believe about God (ie. Theology) is the most important thing about you. It is time to grow up. It is time to ask mature questions. The world is at a boiling point, and God demands decision.