I am in Anchorage, Alaska, a beautiful beautiful place, attending the Eagle River Institute. I am one of the speakers here, along with Fr. Michael Dahulich, who is the Dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary. And this is sort of a series of study days that begins every year on August the 1st, and runs through August the 5th, and culminates with the feast of the Transfiguration. After that, many people go down to Kodiak to venerate the relics of St. Herman, and if the weather is fortunate, if the weather is agreeable, also to make a pilgrimage to Spruce Island. So we’re hoping that the weather will be with us and that my husband and I will be able to make that pilgrimage as well.
I wanted to talk about something that came up last night in the session at the Eagle River Institute. There was a question about, do Muslims believe in the same god that we do? Are they worshipping the same god? And one of the responses was, well, of course there only is one God, so in that sense they are. Their prayers are being heard by the same God that we worship. And that was an answer that some people found upsetting, because it sounded like it was say that all religions are one, and we all really mean the same thing after all.
I think the problem is in the way the question is phrased, “Are they talking to the same god.” It’s more a question of, what do they understand God to be? Do they think that God is the same as how we think God is? And the answer of course is no. They believe that we don’t understand God correctly. They think that our theology is flawed. They don’t believe in the Trinity. They don’t believe that Christ died and that He rose from the dead. They honor Him, the Muslims especially honor the Mother of God, without agreeing that Christ actually is God in human flesh. And not believing in the death or resurrection, either.
So it’s clear that we don’t believe the same things about God. But as one of the people last night said, really, ultimately, there is only one God. So when we think about other religions we can imagine it sort of like kids writing letters to Santa Claus- these prayers are being offered, but they are not visualizing correctly who the prayers are going to. They’re picturing a different kind of a god. And in some cases, it’s very disturbing, the god that they envision. The gods of central and south America were bloodthirsty and required the sacrifice of many hearts- beating human hearts, extracted from the body as they were continuing to beat- every day. So there are some very evil sorts of gods out there, and it probably is the demonic working through some of these misconceptions of who God is.
So we certainly don’t have to say all religions are the same, we don’t say all religions can save you, we don’t say that all religions are worshipping the same god as far as they understand God to be. But, again, it’s kind of like kids writing letters to Santa Claus. That is, all this worship out there that’s going on, there’s nobody there to receive it. Except the real God. And we know how He was to us when we were sinners, that He came after us, He offered His Son for us, He does everything He can to call us. So when he hears prayers from people in other religions, He loves them as much as He loves us, and He yearns for them to come to know His Son Jesus Christ, and to have saving faith in Our Lord.
And so, these prayers, no matter who people think they’re being sent to, it is only the One God of the universe, is the only one listening. Nobody else is up there. And His Love for them is every bit as strong as His Love for us. And so He might work through their prayers in order to lead them, if possible, perhaps to meeting a Christian, or maybe to having some understanding of Christian Faith.
A very encouraging thing I heard a few years ago: I was giving a speech, and I met a young lady in the audience who said she was a Protestant missionary to Muslims. And I said, “That sounds like a hard job!” And she said, “Well actually, most converts from Islam to Christianity are not converted because of someone preaching to them.” Most, she said, actually 66%, are converted from having either a dream or a vision in which they encountered Jesus Christ. 66%! Wow. But it makes sense, because their faith has had a lot of experience in debating Christians and refuting Christianity, and of course there are severe penalties, sometimes, for Muslims who convert and become Christian or any other faith. So, 66%, dreams and visions. I can empathize with that because I had a miraculous, Damascus Road conversion to Christ myself. A little bit after that, after a couple of years, I was at another speech, and I met another person who had a ministry to Muslims, and I repeated the statistic, 66%. And he said, that’s not accurate. He said, really it would be closer to 75%.
So, really this is wonderful news, isn’t it? We can be bewildered, wondering how we could ever present the Gospel in a way that a Muslim can understand, but God is not bound, as David says in one of the Psalms, “By my God I can leap over a wall.” And you think about the walls around some people’s minds. Like the wall around my mind some thirty-something years ago. God can leap over a wall, though, and he can reach them directly through dreams and visions, bringing them the love of Jesus Christ and revealing the One Whom they have sought. “Here He is. This is Who you were trying to find all along. And all those prayers you’ve been sending up- they didn’t go where you thought they would, but our Lord and God and Father has been hearing and receiving those prayers, and loving you, and hoping to bring you to fulness of faith in Jesus Christ.”
I want to conclude by mentioning a movie that I bought online, and I was very happy with. The title is “More than Dreams”. I got it from a company called Vision Video, visionvideo.com. And it’s a series of five stories all about Muslims who had dramatic experiences of Christ and converted to Christianity. They’re all true stories, and in many of them you get to see the actual person, but the story itself is dramatized and has an actor portraying that person. But often the real guy comes on at the end and talks. But a brilliant touch, I think, is that these stories are not in English. They were filmed in five different languages. One of them is in Arabic, one of them is in Farsi, they’re all appropriate to specific culture, designed to meet them where they are. And of course there are subtitles. And it’s very exciting to see that God is, is, He is not bound. He can leap over a wall, and even today, he is calling Muslims and people of all different religions to himself through Jesus Christ.
So I think that question about, do they worship the same God? are they praying to the same God? I think the problem is actually in the way the question is phrased. Literally, technically, you would say Yes, they don’t know it, but they are praying to the God of the Trinity, to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because that’s the only God there is. That’s not what they think they’re doing, of course, but it’s empty up there except for the God of Christian faith. He’s the one that hears it, and He does not hate them or reject them, and He’s always trying to call them to Himself. So I think that question is almost a trick question because of the way it’s set up. But if you envision that it’s the only God there is, it’s like writing those letters to Santa Claus. Our Father, our Father, hears every prayer.