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The Angel of Yahveh found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.  And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

            “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she answered.

Then the Angel of Yahveh told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”  The Angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

The Angel of Yahveh also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael, for Yahveh has heard of your misery.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to Yahveh who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.”[1]

 

i

Aristotle held that at the center of all things there is a God, that he is the Prime Mover and First Great Cause of all things.  His God, in order to be God, had to be perfect in all ways.  It could not “do” things which would cause it to abandon its perfection.  Nor could it contemplate things lesser than itself, as that would demean the god and would be a rebuke of its godly perfection.  For Aristotle there was nothing higher than mind, therefore he concluded that God can only be Mind Thinking Itself.  How does such a God set the world in motion?  According to Aristotle its motive force is its pure and unassailable perfection:  the universe turns in adoration of the divine perfection.

Aristotle’s God evoked a perfection of form, particularly in the realm of the heavenly bodies.   There was an enduring prejudice in the ancient world that the motion of the planets must be, by definition, circular, not elliptical, as the planets are in the heavens and belong to the divine.  [The circle is perfect motion around a center at rest.  The finite displacement of the center in the ellipse implies unrest and finitude, not characteristics of perfection.]

Aristotle’s God also claimed a perfection of content, as it contemplated only that which is highest, which is Mind, which is Itself.  To contemplate what is other than itself would violate its perfection, and to act on behalf of what is other than itself would be a supreme self-sacrifice.  Aristotle could not have contemplated the possibility of a God that would sacrifice itself on behalf of what is other than itself, as, for instance, in an extraordinary act of  love.  A purely rational God can act only according to what is necessary, and love is not an expression of necessity.  Love is a free gift, an expression of something beyond necessity.  Love is something which comes from a free person, from a consciousness which is able to choose to act in a fashion which is a sacrifice of self.  Such an act would have deconstituted Aristotle’s god.

Akin to Aristotle there have been many philosophies in recent centuries falling under the heading of Deism.  These theories also consider God to be a depersonalized Power or Force.  They may expect that their God is responsible for Creation, but, in their view, this God is disinterested, aloof from history.  For some, this God is like the clockmaker who assembles a mechanism, winds it up, and lets it go.  Such a God has no reason to make a special revelation of itself to an individual man or woman.  Deism takes no part in “revealed religion.”  Deists do not look to any of the Scriptures which portray God as intervening in human history or communing with specific individuals.  The Deist wants a cosmology in which all truth is accessible purely through reason.

The American founding fathers are often labeled Deists, but they were mostly Unitarians, a religion which in the 18th century still envisioned a God who is active in history, who is the source of Providence, and who is also a provider of justice and the hope of an afterlife.  Coming out of the Age of Reason they wanted God to be God [to have a will and to be capable of independent action], but they wanted him to be rational.  They felt that the human soul was not fallen but neutral, neither good nor bad, therefore free to act and due to be judged by its deeds.  Consequently, they were happy to see Christ simply as a moral teacher, not as their Redeemer.  Theologically they were not so far from Islam.

Whether it be Aristotle or the Unitarian or the Muslim, it is not so difficult to imagine that the aloof God is the cause of an order in the universe which is both beautiful and moral.   Therefore their God can be a force for justice in the world, so that ultimately the sheep and the goats will be separated and history will be worthwhile.  But it is not easy for these philosophers to imagine the aloof and rational God entering into history in specific acts where God conducts himself as an individual person, where his will and consciousness intersect with the will and consciousness of specific individual human beings.  Nor can they fathom such a thing as the incarnation of infinite God in the finite body and self-directed will of a human person.

 

 

ii

YHVH is the four letter equivalent of the Hebrew tetragrammaton   יהוה.  This name of God is variously pronounced Yahveh or Yahweh.  In the Hebrew Scriptures it is this God who revealed himself to Abraham and to Hagar.  He is more complex than all other gods.

No one has seen the God of Abraham face to face, yet he penetrates into human history.  He is above all things, yet he is active within space and time.  He has configured history to make possible the knowledge of himself in individual experience.  He is infinite yet makes himself known through the being and finite activity of the Logos.

The Logos translates casually as the “Word.”  However, its root significance in Greek is as “the fountain of all order and ratio in the world.”  It is a massive word with a meaning close to that of the “Tao.”  In the Chinese New Testament, the Logos is translated as the Tao.

John identifies Yeshua as the incarnation of the Logos and tells us clearly that in the beginning the Logos created the world.    The book of John opens with this analysis:

In the beginning was the Logos [the Tao], and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men…

The Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God, but the One and Only Son of God who is at the Father’s side has made him known.”   John 1.1-4,14,18

The God of Israel has revealed himself in past times through his prophets but in this time through his Son.  So says the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, and he continues by saying,

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  Hebrews 1.3

From the earliest days of the history of Israel, Yahveh entered into space time and, in the figure of the Angel of Yahveh, appeared to Abraham, to Hagar, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, and to many others.  The purpose of the shema, asserting, “Hear O Israel, Yahveh our God, Yahveh is One,” is not to reduce Yahveh to a simple monad but to affirm that he who both enters the world and is above all worlds is yet One.  The very name YHVH is an assertion that the actions of God are not an aberration from his character but are the exact expression of his character.

The God of Israel first revealed his eternal name to Moses.  When God spoke to Moses on Mount Horeb and told him that he was to return to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery, Moses asked God to reveal his name.  Moses saw that he was not in the presence of an aloof prime mover: he was in the presence of an in-historical God, a divine Person who entered into human history on the grounds of his own creative desire.  God then spoke his name to Moses, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.” “I am and shall be that which I am.”

And God [Elohim] said unto Moses, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”; and he said, “Thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, ‘EHYEH has sent me unto you.’”  And God said moreover unto Moses: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: “YHVH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me unto you; this is my name forever and this is my memorial unto all generations.  Go and gather together the elders of Israel, and say unto them: YHVH, the God of your fathers, has appeared unto me….”

EHYEH is the first person expression which God says of himself. The phrase, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh,” translates as “I am [now and on into the future] that which I am.”  “YHVH” is the third person expression, which is ours to speak: “He is and shall be that which he is.”  Therefore it is understood that in saying the name YHVH we are saying, “He is, now and forevermore, that which he is.”  Or, more specifically, “He is and ever shall be [in his actions] that which he is [in his essential being.]”

By this name Yahveh affirms the eternity of his essential being and affirms that all his deeds are consistent with his essential being … even as he enters history through the finite actions of Yeshua the incarnation of the Logos and our eternal king.  This meaning of the name YHVH was carried forward when Christ said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” and was echoed by John in the book of Revelation when he wrote,

“Grace be to you and peace from he who is, who was, and who is to come.” Rev. 1.4

In Yeshua the Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  In Yeshua Yahveh became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The being of Yeshua reveals the being of the Father.  In Yeshua it is seen that Yahveh is a free agent who acts rationally and justly and is also free to reach out to his creation in irrational acts of love.  Throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures Yahveh enters history on behalf of his people, healing and instructing those who seek the knowledge of him.  Through Yeshua he has established the grounds upon which the wounds of human rebellion are healed.  In the letter to the Colossians Paul wrote,

“He [Yeshua] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”[2]

 

iii

There is another vision of the world, a vision which claims its origins in the 7th century A.D. as a “new and final revelation” of God to men, ostensibly through Muhammad, a man who considered himself a prophet.  Muhammad claimed to receive revelations from the supreme God through the angel Gabriel.  He called the supreme God by the name Allah, a name which had historically been attached to the chief god of a polytheistic godhead worshiped at the Qa’aba in Mecca.  Companions of Muhammad wrote down the revelations, and these records were compiled shortly after his death to become the Quran.  Muhammad claimed that Allah is the God of Abraham and Moses, and that they were, like himself, prophets of Allah.

However, the followers of Allah do not recognize YHVH as a name of God, nor do they recognize the role of Israel in bringing into the world the ground of human redemption through Yeshua.   Abraham and Moses both saw the coming of a Messiah out of Israel.  The followers of Allah do not recognize either the divinity of Yeshua or the critical role of his sacrifice on the cross, since they believe that the unity of Allah is a unity of form, and that the purity of Allah is partly a function of his abstinence from the mundane.  This does not allow, by their thinking, either the existence of  the Logos or that it be made flesh.  The Dome of the Rock, on the Temple Mount, is covered with slogans declaring that Allah can have no Son.

Muslims claim that the revelations to Muhammad supersede the revelations of Yeshua.  This would seem to be an oblique claim that Yeshua was either ignorant or not telling the truth, since Yeshua clearly presented himself as uniquely begotten of God, as the very presence and agency of God on earth, and made it clear that he had come with the express purpose of going to the cross to redeem mankind from the curse of death.   The actual claim of Muslims is that all the texts of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures have been corrupted.

Muslims, followers of Allah and Muhammad, believe that suspended between two poles, a good life and adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam,[3] hangs the hope [not the guarantee] that they will spend eternity in Paradise.  [There is no evidence that they intend to share in the promise to Abraham, the ancient promise that the people of God will live in the land of promise under the rule of Yeshua the Messiah of  Israel.]

In this way Islam is much like Catholicism.  Catholics are amillennialists.  Amillennialists do not look for Christ to return and rule [for a millennium] in a brick and mortar rule on earth.  Amillenialists like John Calvin thought it would be “beneath” God to have a kingdom on earth, therefore beneath God to fulfill literally his promises to Abraham.

Catholics also believe that salvation is a treasure suspended between two poles, the deeds of a good life and adherence to the Sacraments[4] of the Catholic institution.  In Islam and in Catholicism, decisive power over individual access to Paradise lies in the hands of the institution.

 

 

iv

We see easily that as the perception of God changes, so is altered every possibility of the nature of the encounter between man and God, the most radical variant introducing itself when one abandons the gods which originate in the imagination and seeks the God who truly knows our face.

Entry into the kingdom of Yeshua is not governed by any religious institution or cultural structure.  The individual person comes to Yeshua in absolute independence and stands alone before God.  The one who seeks Yahveh is called to kneel and recognize the sovereignty of Yahveh and acknowledge that Yeshua is Lord, king upon the eternal and heavenly throne.  Implicit in coming before the heavenly throne is the recognition of the Messiah’s work at the cross and our own need of redemption.  A price had to be paid for human rebellion and Yeshua paid that price.  Even more, a way had to be made for the transformation of our rebellious nature into a spiritual nature capable of fealty to the  person and expectations of a spiritual and holy God.

In Yeshua, Yahveh calls mankind to himself, calls us to a spiritual birth, without which we remain mere observers.  Yahveh is not looking for observers.  He is looking for participants, subjects of the realm, warriors ready to stand for the truth, ready to own the light in a world of darkness.  The “belief” which Christians bandy about is far more than a credo.  It is meant to be total immersion and surrender to the Sovereignty of Yeshua.

Many claim to find satisfaction far short of the all-consuming call of Yahveh.  There are certainly those who have convinced themselves that worlds can orbit in perfect motion and eyes can see and tongues can sing, all without the hand of any Creator, men born with no purpose but to perpetuate their species.  But, these aside, most men have felt the world to be unintelligible without the presence of God, and have found it unlivable without the hope of making appeal to God.

The motive to come into the presence of God is strong and amply recorded throughout our history.  We know that the knowledge of God is often limited by the prevalent religious dogmas of the culture into which we are born.  But we seek God, not to satisfy the demands of culture, but to satisfy the demands of the heart.  Therefore the person who truly seeks to be known by God will reach beyond the pleasantries of common dogma and will search to know if there is or is not a God who sees and hears and answers the call of the heart.

Some are certainly more than satisfied by Aristotle’s God.  The appeal of a distant God is that there is no place for divine judgment upon mankind, nor is there reason to think that man is fallen.  We obviously are not considered to be made “in the image” of such a mechanistic God.  We may imagine that our ancestors started as specks in the primeval slime.  Therefore whatever we are at this moment can only be considered as an amazing accomplishment.  There is no room for judgment nor is there any divine being capable of inspecting or judging us.  Nor does this god require fealty of any kind.  This god demands nothing, therefore leaving man autonomous, owner of complete liberty.

Allah, the God of Islam, does not challenge the integrity of man in his natural state.  Allah does not see man as fallen and in need of redemption.  He only expects a man to do his best and to observe the Five Pillars of Islam.  Therefore Allah asks fealty but does not challenge man to recognize a need for spiritual transformation.

Islamic-world.net has a very informative article on Khilafah [the caliphate or vicegerency of man on earth], in which it states:

“Islam does not contribute to any theory of the ‘fall of Adam’ symbolizing the fall of man.  There was no ‘fall’ at all in that sense.  Man was created for the purpose of acting as vicegerent on the earth and he came to the world to fulfill this mission.  It represents the rise of man to a new assignment, his tryst with destiny, and not a fall.  According to the Quran, ‘Satan caused them both to deflect therefrom.’  Both were held responsible for the act, both repented their transgression, and both were forgiven.  They entered the world without any stigma of original sin on their soul.  Human nature is pure and good.  Man has been created in the best of all forms….Man has not been totally protected against error.  This would involve negation of the freedom of choice.  He may commit errors; his redemption lies in his realization of those errors, in seeking repentance and in turning back to the Right Path.”

In the Hebrew Scriptures, to which Islam refers [while claiming that they have been corrupted], there is no record that Adam or Eve ever repented of their rebellion.  Even if they did repent and were forgiven, there is a question of justice yet to be resolved.  Is simple repentance adequate to restore the rebel to the good grace of a holy God?  Is there no punishment for sin?  If not, then let sin begin, that repentance and grace may flow more freely?  Does not the God who created mankind with the greatest expectations — that we should live and act after the manner of God himself — is he not justified in demanding that, in the face of such rebellion, his continued devotion to the prospects of man on earth must be justified by some cover, some antidote to the seed of unbridled liberty now planted in his creation?  Does not the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross reveal to us the gravity of God’s law and the depth of his expectations in us?  Does he not amplify his holiness and the honor of his expectations by sending his unique Messiah into the world to bring to mankind the possibility of spiritual transformation?

It is apparent that for Islam man does not need transformation so much as he needs simple upkeep.  Islam does not have absolute laws.  Its morality is greatly situational.  There are many situations in which the Muslim is allowed to deceive or even kill if it is for the sake of the advancement of Islam.  In this they are very much like the Jesuits who are free to act outside divine law if it is for the sake of the welfare of the Papacy.

It also appears that the righteous life of the Muslim individual is dependent on the context of an Islamic social structure within which he is able to pray regularly, tithe, etc., i.e. a society to which his good deeds have meaning.  Furthermore, the Muslim’s divine mission of vicegerency calls him to establish the rule of Allah over the earth, by force if necessary.  This subject is expanded in the above-quoted article:

“The Khilafa [vicegerency] is a common leadership for all the Muslims in the world.  Its role is to establish the laws of the Islamic Shariah and to carry the Dawa of Islam to the world.  The pathetic situation of the Muslims today, due to the absence of a Khilafa, is proof of the saying of the Prophet: ‘Islam and government are twin brothers.  Neither of the two can be perfect without the other.  Islam is like a great structure and government is its guardian.  A building without a foundation crashes down and without a guardian is pilfered and robbed out.’  The state of the Muslims today cannot be helped unless we work to implement in entirety the systems of Islam.  Only then can the justice of Allah the Exalted be brought to bear on earth.”

Then the one who seeks God in the name of Allah does not necessarily come in repentance or in search of rescue from a fallen nature.  Islam allows that human nature is undamaged.  What is required is a good life and simple fealty to the five pillars of Islam.  1.] to recite the Shahada, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” 2.] regular prayer five times per day 3.] to tithe 4.] to fast during Ramadan 5.] to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Is the petitioner then known by Allah?    It may be of the character ascribed to Allah that he be conscious of individual human beings and even pass ultimate judgment upon them, but Allah, for the Muslim, is unknowable, aloof, and would not enter into communication with the heart of an individual.  According to the Islamic scholar al-Faruqi:

“He [Allah] does not reveal himself to anyone in any way.  Allah reveals only his will.  One of the prophets asked Allah to reveal himself and Allah told him, ‘No, it is not possible for me to reveal myself to anyone.’… This is Allah’s will and that is all we have, and we have it in perfection in the Quran…God does not reveal himself to anyone.  Christians talk about the revelation of God himself –by God of God – but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam.”[5]

Then there is no personal relationship between Allah and the individual, for Allah does not act as person.  Nor is there any expectation that the individual will radically open his heart and person to Allah.  The personality of the petitioner is not of great significance to Allah.  What matters is his submission, which is the meaning of “Islam.”

 

 

 v

Traditional Judaism pursues the God of Israel as he is made known in the revelations to Moses and the prophets.  Traditional Judaism approaches YHVH through the study of the Hebrew Scriptures and through prayer and worship, both public and private.  They hold to the notion that the God who revealed himself through Israel is characteristically the God of the genetic people of Israel, and more recently of the geopolitical nation of Israel.  Modern exponents of Judaism hold that you cannot belong to the God of Israel except through popular inclusion into the people of Israel.

[In this they are like the Catholics and the Muslims, where one enters the faith through the socio-ecclesiastical structure.  Pope Francis claimed quite recently, “It is a dangerous temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.”  This of course is a complete rebuke of all that Christ has said in the New Testament, but Catholics do not consider Scripture to have higher authority than the pronouncements of the church.]

For traditional Rabbinic Judaism, the interventions of YHVH in history are on behalf of the historic people of Israel, not necessarily for anyone else.

Modern Judaism has abandoned most of this traditional faith which centered on the revelations of Yahveh to Moses and the prophets.  Instead there is widespread preoccupation with Qabala.  This is an exaltation of a completely depersonalized god accessible through gnostic insight and through communication with spirits.  It presumes to access the power of God without concern for the person of God as he has made himself known in the history of the people of Israel.  In Qabalistic Judaism neither the person of God nor the persona of him who seeks God is of any relevance.

 

vi

In Yeshua we find the person of Yahveh.  In Yeshua Yahveh  enters history to rescue us from mindless rebellion.  The overwhelming gravity of that intervention is revealed to us at the foot of the cross.  If we cannot meet him there, we cannot meet him.

How do we know that his acts are true?  As Yeshua remarked, Only the true shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand sees the wolf coming and flees.  He, the true shepherd, is the one who knows us:

“I am the good shepherd.  I know my own, and my own know me.”   John 10.14

How does he know us intimately?  This was the concern of the disciples as Yeshua explained to them his crucifixion and coming resurrection.  At that time he explained to them the coming miracle of Pentecost, a plan prepared over centuries, that the Spirit of Yeshua would come to rest in the heart of every person who opens his heart to transformation, to spiritual birth:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you….All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  John 14.15-20,25-27           

What am I to think if God does not know me or see me?  Am I not alone in the world?  Is there not an impenetrable divide between us all?  The bond of unity lies in the definition, but without the intent of God we have no definition.  We are randomness classified into arbitrary categories, our DNA something we can edit without a thought for the meaning of “human excellence.”

Do we know each other?  Is not the only hope of being known and understood that we by birth be patterned after the plan of the One who made us and that he be even now a living God and that he exist beyond the patterns of necessity and that he be of that very character that is beyond the rational, that is irrational, that is love.  That is our only hope of being known, if the one who made us also loves us and seeks us for himself.

This is uniquely the character of YHVH the God of Israel, whom we know in this time through the person of Yeshua our Messiah.  The very few will answer the call of Yeshua:

“Behold I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”  Revelation 3.20

It is a call to transformation.  It is a promise that God through his Spirit will maintain a presence in the heart’s house and heal us and instruct us and bring to us the life and the will and the understanding which he has meant to be our possession since the rebellion of the first generation left a huge tear in the fabric of the world.   Those who open the heart to his life are opening their lives to his sovereignty and his loving claim upon their lives.  We would never accept that claim and would prefer our own alienated autonomy if we did not see that in a state of autonomy we are part of the damage in the world.  We accept his love and his sovereignty knowing that in the deepest interior of the heart’s house we seek to be known and loved by our God.

 

 

Lawrence S. Jones

Chicago  2016

lstewartj@sbcglobal.net

 

 

 

[1] Genesis 16.7-15

[2] Colossians 1. 15-20

[3] Proclamation of faith in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad; establishment of  the five daily prayers [ritual and canonical]; paying tithe to the Islamic state or to a representative of a local mosque; fasting the month of  Ramadan; the pilgrimage to Mecca if able.

[4] Baptism, confirmation, communion, confession, marriage, “holy orders,” and the anointing of the sick

[5][5] I. al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Dawah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Dialogue Consultation, pp. 47-48

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