patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, November 4, 2011

God has made it plain

On Tuesday, my first year students came into class all riled up because of the chapel presentation of my colleague Dave, an archaeologist and Arabic speaking professor from the biblical studies department, to the semester’s series on unlikely biblical heroes. He spoke on Balaam, the guy with the donkey.

“He said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” April told me. I love April. She has this ability, rare in first year students, to get right to the crux.

I hadn’t been in chapel and Dave’s message was probably more nuanced than that, but, it being a Gateway to Christian Higher Education course, a goal of which is to explore the faith-relevance of their studies, I decided to let them duke it out a while before we returned to the theme of our section of the course, writing from faith. In the course of the duking, the same-God question spread from Muslims to Jews to Mormons. Several students got Bibles out of their backpacks and read to us. The gist of what they read was the centrality of Jesus’ divinity to Christians’ notion of who God is.

I mostly refereed—and babbled a little, as I typically do when surrounded by believers defending their views—but I did offer one scriptural passage I’ve always found exciting and comforting in the writings of Paul, where he argues that truth is available to everyone because “because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:19-20 TNIV).

“Looks like you don’t have to know about Jesus to know God,” I told them.

No one seemed much impressed with this promise, maybe because Paul phrases it as a threat: those who reject this readily available truth are thus “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In any case, they kept arguing and pontificating and leafing through their Bibles a while, then we returned to the topic of creative writing.

Yesterday, after a tamer chapel, we got immediately to their current assignment. Quite by accident, I used the word epiphany. I meant it in the literary sense and was pleased when one of my English majors, Nate, was able to explain it.

“Anyone know the religious meaning of that term that James Joyce was referencing when he used it that way?”

Another student, Jewel, surprised me: “Isn’t it the feast day in January, when the Magi visit Jesus?”
So we talked about how the magi were from the East—and not the typical sort of people to seek a Jewish Messiah. Scholars think they were Zoroastrians, a major world religion that predated Islam in Iran. Somehow the magi knew, though, that they would find God’s son where that a star took them.

“The word magi,” I told them, “is the root of our word magic. It’s the same word used in the New Testament account of Simon the Sorcerer that some of you wrote about. Simon was a magus, the plural of which is magi.”

I love how God claims everything, even the crazy tohuwabohu of my courses, and makes things plain to us.


  1. I have a physical reaction when I read and participate in these types of theological discussions: my heart starts beating really fast and I get flushed. It happened just now when I read this post. I think we really do make things way more complicated than they need to be. Recently, I've had the rug pulled out from under me concerning Jesus' divinity, other religions, etc. It's painful. What God has taught me and is teaching me though, is that, beliefs aside, there are 2 or 3 fundamental truths that cannot be threatened. God accepts me. God loves me. And God's reality, God's truth, is too big for any one religion to completely explain and contain. It's freeing to come back to that.

  2. Yes. I know that feeling. I would add one fundamental truth: All God wants from me is to be loved back.

  3. I have an interesting fact if you would like to know...
    The Magi, and all of their mystery, were founded by Daniel. Yes, that is the "Daniel in the Lion's Den" Daniel.
    Based on a few historical texts, the basis for the treasures/gifts, knowledge about the star and the Messiah, and the special wisdom all originated from Daniel, and ultimately from God.

  4. Ua: I've read arguments along these lines, but I never can seem to find support for them in Daniel. I'm too stupid for Daniel, I suspect. And then there are those extra parts of the book that are in the Septuagint but not our Bibles. Is there a Daniel passage that you know of that will help me see it?

  5. Great blog, Patty! I have often considered the possibility that God manifested himself to other cultures in different ways and that the result was the many different religions and pathways to heaven. This idea seemed consistent with my big-hearted God, who wants all people to come to him but left me confused about how I should talk to people in other religions about Him. A bus driver set me straight. He was blasting a radio broadcast of an interview with a Muslim cleric and I was the only passenger on the bus. I confirmed with him that he was Muslim and then asked him if he thought that the God of the Jews and Christians was the same as Allah. He answered with an emphatic "NO!" and told me that Christians believe in Jesus and that Jesus is most definitely NOT the same as Allah. I've since marveled at how God used this man to so clearly and succinctly differentiate my religion from others and clear up my confusion. Jesus is my God and through examples in scripture it seems I am asked to "boldly" speak about Him.

    Ua, I have also accepted that the wise men were more probably the descendants of Daniel that were left behind in Babylon and through study of Daniel's visions were able to understand the significance of the 70 7's and how it could be used to predict the arrival of the Messiah. After some digging, I learned that the same word is used in Daniel 2:48 and Matthew 2:1 - translated as "wise men" - and then in Acts 8:9 and Acts 13:6 - translated as sorcerer. The term is supposed to have become associated with followers of Zoroaster around 300AD or earlier.