“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
Somehow the magi knew, though, that they would find God’s son where that a star
took them. Iran
“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.