From my Inbox….if you want to know about one of the consequences of the attack on Fatherhood, look no further than the rise of Islam which has filled the void of a distorted view of God and therefore fatherhood. Check out this revealing exchange….
I got a call from a friend of mine in central Pennsylvania. He worked campus ministry at Penn State. And he asked me over the phone: “Scott would you be willing to debate a Muslim next year on the subject of the Trinity?”
And I said, “No, Bill.”
He said, “But you’ve been studying this more than anybody!”
I’m like, “Can’t you find some local talent, some home-grown scholars?”
He said, “I’ve asked all around and I haven’t found anybody willing.” And he said, “You have a year to prepare.”
I said what’s his name? And he gave me the name and told me he was from the Saudi Arabian royal family. He was getting a doctorate. He was actually going to end up getting a second one.
I said yes, although I felt somewhat terrified. I had never done that kind of thing.
Well, about six months later I’m driving through State College in central Pennsylvania. I pay my friend a visit. In fact I spent the night. And when I arrived he said, “You know after I got your call you’ll never guess who else called me and happened to be going through State College this weekend?” And it was Mohammed Abdul (this long name).
I did not recognize it. He said, “That is the scholar you’re debating in six months.” And I said “Okay.” He said, “I hope you don’t mind but I set up breakfast tomorrow.” Some vacation rest this is, you know!
Alright, we got up early. We drove down. We said a quick prayer in his car. We got out. We walked in. Nobody else was there. We got seated. We ordered some coffee. And right after the coffee arrived this tall dark man in a turban walks in with a younger man behind him. We stand up and shake hands, exchange greetings. We sat down at the table. And about three minutes later we’re already in the thick of things. Discussing theology, the Trinity, the debate, when suddenly I referred to God as “Father” and he stopped me abruptly in the middle of my sentence.
He pounded his fist on the table and he said, “Don’t blaspheme in my presence!” Really caught me off guard. I didn’t think I did blaspheme? I don’t like blasphemy with breakfast any more than the next guy!
And I said, “When did I blaspheme?” He said, “You called God ‘Father.’ That is blasphemy. Fatherhood is human, not divine. Allah is master, we are slaves. We are not children!”
Okay, well I’ll try harder. And so we proceeded back into the conversation and about four or five minutes later I slipped. We were talking about Jesus and I called Him “the Son of God” and once again, even more emphatically, he interrupted me. And he said, “I’ve asked you once, a second time, and no more! Do not utter blasphemy in my presence!”
“How did I?”
“Jesus is not the Son! God has no sons! That is human, not divine!”
And at this point I am beginning to wonder how are we going to debate the Trinity if I can’t call God “Father” or “Son”? But I didn’t say anything, you know. Instead I kind of turned it back around and said, “Wait a second. Now let’s reason together about this by way of analogy. Because you would agree that Allah is all-powerful, but humans have power though its finite. You’d also agree that Allah is all-knowing, and that humans have knowledge even though its limited. You’d also agree that Allah is all good, and that humans sometimes show goodness but it is finite and limited. And that Allah is loving, that God is love, and human’s show love though it’s not perfect.” I said, “Why not just tie it all together and call it ‘Father’?”
And he stared intently back into my eyes and said, “Because Allah does not love like a father.” And he could tell I wasn’t getting it.
And so he said, “Let me explain.” He said, “I am finishing up a graduate program in Philadelphia where I’ve lived. And I have an apartment and I have a pet. It’s a dog. And I love my dog. It’s my dog. And when I move up to Syracuse to begin another doctoral program I’m moving into an apartment where I’ve signed a lease that allows no pets. So when I move I will take my dog – it’s my dog – and I will probably kill it.”
And at first I though he was kidding. And I said, “With love like that who needs hate?” And he didn’t smile. He just stared intently back. And I realized he was dead serious. And I’m like, “Okay, I can see why you wouldn’t want to call that kind of god, ‘Father.’”
He said, “No, Master. We’re property. We’re slaves.”
Later on I realized he was being completely faithful to his own Islamic tradition and theological scholarship. I had just never encountered if face-to-face but only in the books I had been reading from Muslims.
So a little more awkwardly we went on and proceeded with the conversation. But about three minutes later – to this day I do not know what it is I said the third time but it was more than enough! Down came the fist! He pounded even harder this time. He stood up. Bolt upright. He’s like, “I’ve asked you once, twice, now a third time you’ve blasphemed!” and he stormed out of the restaurant with the silent partner following, who had not said a single word.
Dead silence. Bill’s looking at me. I’m looking at him. “Sorry, what could I do?”
The waitress comes over, “Do you want to order breakfast?” Not anymore! We took another sip from our coffee, we walked outside after paying the bill. We just sat in his little Honda for about five minutes in silence. And then he looked at me and goes, “Scott, I don’t think I have ever really appreciated what it means to say, ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven.’”
And I said, “And I believe in God, the Father almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son.” And he said, “And Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!” you know. And Bill was a Baptist and I was a Catholic, though we shared that in common!
He started the car, drove me back home. And I’ve never looked at this doctrine the same.
The mystery of the Holy Trinity was the greatest revolution Jesus launched in the history of world religion. He didn’t just call God “Father,” He revealed to us “Abba”, which in first century Palestine is what Jews called their daddy, “Papa.” And He’s the one that made it possible. Never before, not even Moses, addressed God as “Abba.” Not even David, a man after God’s own heart, and yet David predicted that Jesus would come. And Jesus put “Abba” on our lips in the family prayer He that He gave us.
But do we really appreciate what we have received? What we have to share and what others don’t have? And I am not talking about winning arguments. I’m talking about winning potential brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Because that’s what we as Christians owe our Muslim brothers and sisters: the full truth that God is not only a creator, a lawgiver and a judge. He is Father. From all eternity He sends the Son to give us this Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of sonship who causes us to cry out from our hearts, “Abba, Father,” as Saint Paul writes in Romans 8 and Galatians 4.
You know we have been sitting on Fort Knox but living in relative poverty, spiritually speaking. We’ve been given a goldmine and a treasure but not much appreciation or awareness, yet. I feel as though I am still coming awake and coming alive to the inexhaustible truth of what it means for us to say, “I believe in God the Father.”
These events, at the end of the year, have a way of kind of working on you. And so I remember going back and thinking more about what it was like when I heard the Mass begin, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” And then I reflected on that conversation with the Muslim, who one week later cancelled our debate.
When I called Bill to get the explanation he said, “He thinks that you’re being too popular.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He said, “He prefers true scholars who will stick to philosophical abstractions like ‘essence,’ ‘nature,’ and ‘substance,’ and ‘subsistence;’ not ‘father,’ ‘son,’ and all that family language.”
“Like, well that’s what the Church teaches.”
And he said, “He’s cancelled anyway,”
You know I realize that some theologians really focus on the mystery and use only abstract propositions – like ‘nature’ and ‘essence’ and ‘substance’ and subsistence – all of which have their place and value. But we’ve got to come back to the reality that we are God’s children because God the Father, from all eternity, decreed to send His Son, in the fullness of time, and gave us the Spirit of sonship when we were reborn in the waters of Baptism and adopted into God’s family.
In fact, the more I dwell on this, the more I reflect, the more I realize that even for Christians we won’t really understand what God did when He created, redeemed and sanctified us until we look at it in the light of Who He is. Look at what God does in the light of Who He is and only then will you truly understand what He is doing in our lives today.