One of the most poignant expressions of utter hopelessness that I’m aware of was written by the Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyam in The Rubaiyat. He lived when the dominant religion in Persia was Zoroastrianism but his father was Islamic and Omar taught in an Islamic school. As a high school student, I loved that poem for its beauty of expression and for what seemed to me to be some broad truth. As part of that poem, he wrote
"The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on:
Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it."
That sounded pretty hopeless, particularly because no one seemed to live up to the best he knows, whether it is by God’s standard or his own. What’s more, neither religion offered Khayyam any answer. In both, God is viewed as impersonal and the only possible way to please him might be to do enough good to overcome the bad. Doing that much good sounds hopeless enough, but then one never knew how much was enough.
Since high school, having spent some time studying the world’s religions, living in a foreign culture, and meeting people of other religions, some things have become clear:
- There is a universal recognition that a God must exist
- No one measures up to the best he knows (i.e. all sin)
- Aside from Christianity:
- The only way to please god is by doing enough
- Because no one can know how much is enough, no one can be assured of a place in heaven
- In any case, god is impersonal and doesn’t care about me as a person
While all of the world’s religions may contain some elements of truth, all are deficient because they all represent man’s attempt to reach God. What’s remarkable, is that God has purposefully made Himself and His plan known through the Bible. And He revealed Himself not through just one prophetic writer but through many men over many centuries. In the Bible, He revealed that He is actually a personal God and His purpose was to send a Savior to reconcile us to Himself, One who would rule eternally with us in His presence.
When I would ask African Muslims why they came to Bible Study Fellowship and stayed, the common answer was 1) it was clear that what was taught was true to what the Bible said and not some group’s particular ideas and 2) since no one twisted my arm to become Christian but relied on the truth of the Bible, I knew that when I was being challenged, it was from God.
For those Muslims who believed and received Christ, the most important effect was being certain that they will go to heaven, because it depends on Jesus and not their own goodness.
None of us measure up and we all know it, no matter how hard we try to cover it up. The truth is that God is a personal God who wants to reconcile us to Himself and He has provided the means to do it. John 3:16 tells us how He expressed His love --- “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is God’s expression of love to all mankind, no matter how badly we have failed to measure up. And it is made effective in us when we consciously put our faith in His Son, Jesus, and His death and resurrection.
This verse is familiar to all of us. Maybe it is too familiar making it is easy to forget its impact. This verse contains the message God has for all mankind. It gives us a confident, secure hope and a future. It’s what we have as believers and what we have to offer others. And it’s the very thing we celebrate this Easter season.
To God be the glory!