Note: In this post, Russ Dean responds to some readers who disagree with his assertion in a previous post, "Why Franklin Graham is Wrong", that the Christian God and the Muslim God are actually the same God.
Or course, Muslims do not pray to God, as revealed as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That is a distinctively Christian understanding of God. A distinctive Christian "lens" for understanding God. I believe that God is bigger than any human understanding, however, so though I am still Trinitarian in my views, I do not believe we have a perfect understanding of the Great Mystery we call God. I believe Trinitarianism is the result of human experience with God -- but, no human language could be definitive about who or what God is, precisely.
Do you also believe that Jews do not pray to the same God we do? Of course Jews aren't Trinitarian, either -- yet they were given an eternal covenant, through David. So... if God has not reneged on the eternal covenant God initiated with David, and Jews pray to God (but not as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)... how is that any different from Muslim prayers or the prayers of Baha'is. (Baha'is are also monotheistic, and part of the Abrahamic faith.)
Also, to whom did Jesus pray? I do not believe Jesus prayed to himself. I'm not trying to be coy here, just trying to think logically and carefully and biblically through this. If Jesus prayed to "God" but not to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (and we have no evidence that he prayed in that way)... was he praying to a different God?
I believe there is God. Not multiple gods. Just God. And this is what Muslims and Baha'is and Jews believe. If "God" is what we call that One, ultimate Source or Spirit to whom we devote our lives, I am offering my prayers to that Spirit, as best I can understand that Spirit.
My Jewish and Muslim and Baha'i friends also pray to that Spirit in the same way. Even if you believe people of other religious traditions are wrong about what they believe about God, it makes no sense to me to say that a prayer to "God" is not a prayer to "God." My understanding may be wrong, or impartial, but my intent is pure.
Surely God, who is God, understands and values this from such finite creatures?
Some Christians address their prayers to Jesus, not to God. Other Christians, in following Jesus' examples, pray only to God -- though doing so "in Jesus' name." Are these Christians praying to different gods? Again, I mean no disrespect; I'm just trying to think carefully through this issue.
I am not comfortable presuming to know how other people should pray. One of the first honestly theological conversations I ever had was with a youth counselor in my church, who once heard me pray, and just end my prayer by saying, "Amen." She said that God did not hear my prayer because we are supposed to pray "In Jesus' name." I could not get her to understand that surely God knows that as a Christian, who understands everything I know about God through Jesus, I always pray in Jesus' name -- whether I say those words or not.
Maybe there are plenty of prayers offered "In Jesus' name" which are really not sincerely prayed in the spirit of Jesus' name.. and others which are not said "In Jesus' name" which really are. It seems to me that we are getting lost in the mechanics of words. Legalisms of religion, not the "groanings of the Spirit" of which Paul speaks. Paul also says that sometimes there are prayers that are too deep for words. So... those wordless prayers are not offered to "God" or to "Father Son and Holy Spirit"... but I certainly believe "God" hears them. I believe, as the Bible says, "the letter (of the law) kills... but the spirit gives life."
Finally... as the old saying goes, "there are no atheists in foxholes"... so, what do you do with the atheists who in a "foxhole," in some moment of desperation, maybe on his/her deathbed, lifts up a prayer to "God?" Do you deny that God hears that prayer because they haven't offered the correct liturgical formula... the right words... the right name?
I believe God hears all human prayers -- even from humans whose understanding is limited by our finitude. Maybe that's all of us?
And maybe a touch of humility would do our world of competing religions a world of good.
Thanks for listening and being part of this conversation.
Russ Dean is co-Pastor, along with Amy Jacks Dean, of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. Park Road Baptist Church is a progressive Christian community; encouraging independent thought, community service, social justice, and interfaith understanding.