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Is it easy to fill the God shaped hole at the center of our souls?

Contrary to common Muslim perception, Islamic tradition does not hold a unanimous conception of God; furthermore, being able to believe in an omnipotent, perpetually creative and law giving Deity demands clarity of conception, which is intellectually laborious and demands extraordinary dedication.

The foremost act in religion is the acknowledgment of Him. The perfection of acknowledging Him is believing in Him; the perfection of believing in Him is acknowledging His oneness; the perfection of acknowledging His oneness is pledging loyalty to Him and the perfection of pledging loyalty to Him is denying attributes pertaining to Him, because of the qualities of His creation that could be attributed to humans. Everyone of them is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute. Thus whoever assigns attributes to Allah recognizes His like, and who recognizes His like regards Him as dual, and who regards Him as dual recognizes parts of Him, and who recognizes parts of Him has mistaken Him.

holeThe above statement by Ali ibn abi Talib, recorded in the very first sermon of Nahj al Balagha, is perhaps the earliest recorded pointer towards the problematic of conception of God in Islamic theology at personal as well as academic level. While characterizing the boundaries of this conception for an ordinary believer, this statement carries the historical burden of metaphysical and dialectic issues that are now an important part of Muslim tradition of Kalam. In a subtle way, it also depicts the textual obscurity that has become an inherent part of Muslim discourse regarding essence and attributes of the Divine.

Interestingly, Quran already acknowledged this abstrusity in the seventh verse of the third Chapter when it says that there are clear as well as allegorical verses in it and only those who have deviation in their hearts attempt to interpret the latter; an admonition that at least served well initially and earliest interpreters of Quran after the time of Prophet placed all the statements (may it be Quran or Hadith) regarding essence and attributes of Allah under the ambit of allegorical verses. An often quoted example is of Imam Malik, who when asked about God’s rise above the Throne replied:

God’s rising above the throne is well known but how it occurs is not understandable, the belief in it is obligatory, and asking questions about it is innovation.

Nevertheless, Quran is still a text and had to be accessed by an unbiased reader through usual discursive methods of textual criticism. Hence, with the influx of Greek philosophy and logic, formalization of interpretive disciplines and academic (as well as polemical) exchanges with Christian and Jewish scholars, speculation regarding ultimate nature of God slowly got formalized under the ambit of a separate theological discipline.

According to all well known historical accounts, originators of this speculative tradition – besides raising other theological and eschatological issues – first negated the eternal attributes of God almighty on the pretext that attributes belonging to the creation cannot be ascribed to God as this would lead to negation of God’s unity. In the past, lot of orthodox criticism has been directed against Mutazilites (for their alleged innovation); but many modern scholars – for instance Fazlur Rahman – have asserted that the primary motivation behind Mutazilite discourses was to guard Muslim faith against the onslaught of Christian and Jewish criticism of the time.

Mutazilite conception of God entailed specific stands regarding creativity, nature and will of God which were reacted strongly by Asharites who represented the mainstream orthodoxy of that time. But Asharite doctrine, though momentarily successful in countering naturalism of Mutazilites, eventually resulted in extreme determinism, thereby constructing a belief paradigm in which God, with his absolute will, seemed totally indifferent to individual human morality.

Besides historically less noted opinions of Sufis, orthodox Shi’a and Illuminationists, there were some highly audible solitary voices who tried to bridge gaps between medieval rationalistic trends and orthodox religion. One such individual was Spanish jurist and humanist Ibn Hazm who claimed that foremost sources of all human knowledge are sense perception, faculty of reason and correct understanding of language. Ibn Hazm aptly realized the contemporary trends of his time and differentiated between the methods of accessing revelation between the earliest generation of Muslims and later. The most interesting original observation by him was that the relations between causes and effects as experienced in this world cannot have a direct import in Divine realm. As noted by James Palvin, the synthesis which Ibn Hazm sought to achieve was not realized fully till the time of Ghazali who formalized the principles of Sunni Kalam to full extent.

Iqbal was the first one to comment upon major classical views of medieval times in the light of philosophical and scientific theories of early 20th century. In particular, Iqbal focused on four elements of Quranic conception of God – namely Creativeness, Knowledge, Omnipotence and Eternity – and rendered a reinterpretation within the framework of modern realm of time and space. Iqbal’s primary aim was to frame a set of right questions which can lead towards a coherent understanding of God and the nature of His attributes; an understanding not susceptible to perturbation by modern understanding of the universe. For instance, commenting upon the nature of Divine creativity, he wrote:

The real question which we are called upon to answer is this: Does the universe confront God as His ‘other’, with space intervening between Him and it? The answer is that, from the Divine point of view, there is no creation in the sense of a specific event having a ‘before’ and ‘after’. The universe cannot be regarded as an independent reality standing in opposition to Him.

Despite having profound implications for classical Asharite atomism and traditional discourses of predestination / determinism, Iqbal clearly showed proclivity towards mystic unity of self which he tried to deconstruct afresh. Albeit premature and speculative, he tried to present a road map for future development of Islamic theological discipline and his musings were really illuminating and thought provoking.

In recent times scholars like Karen Armstrong have erroneously observed – perhaps inadvertently – that Muslim conception of God, on the whole, has historically remained symbolic. An indirect import of Armstrong’s thesis – which is primarily focused on Christian and to some extent Jewish discourse – on Muslim theology is that “Unknowing” is an inherent part of Muslim conception of God. Quoting Paul Tillich, a 20th century Prussian military chaplain, she makes her concluding point:

The concept of a ‘Personal God’, interfering with natural events, or being ‘an independent cause of natural events’ makes God a natural object besides others, an object among others, a being among beings, may be the highest, but nevertheless a being. This indeed is not only the destruction of the physical system but even more the destruction of any meaningful idea of God.

One can hurriedly infer similarities among Tillich’s statement, Ali’s sermon and Iqbal’s description of the problem; yet the actual import of Tillich’s argument necessitates realization of God as a distant abstract symbol whose essence or existence cannot be commented upon, a concept which is quite contrary to classical as well as modern Muslim discourse.

The single most important cornerstone is the value of Divine revelation as a common denominator running across various shades of Islamic theology throughout history. The understanding of Quran as a unique metaphysical phenomenon – being authentically originated from the Divine Self – automatically establishes basis to envision an always communicating, guiding God. Therefore, in its incessant endeavor to make sense of God, the intellect must proceed further from this single starting point.

One thought on “Is it easy to fill the God shaped hole at the center of our souls?

  1. Most people think that if heaven exists they will automatically be welcomed in. But many will be disapointed and yet surprised to learn that admission is by invitation only, an invitation that cannot be bought or earned, simply accepted.
    The whole human race falls into two types of people: Sinners going to Heaven and sinners going to hell. When it comes to behaviour we are all the same, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’-that my friend includes you and me! The difference between these two categories is very simple and yet quite profound. The person going to heaven trusts God, whereas the person going to hell refuses to. A failure to trust God separates people from their Creator, beginning with Adam & Eve and continuing with the whole human race. If that’s your position, you will feel it on the inside; a continual feeling of emptiness, a God-shaped hole.

    So what’s the solution? Well, if failure to believe what God says alienates us from Him, believing what He says restores our relationship. A person who trusts God demonstrates that trust by accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour, for God makes it very clear that ”there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved.”

    Trusting God begins by agreeing that what He says is true. Ask Jesus to save you and He will. It’s that simple. God invites you to exercise trust in Him today. If you will, your life will never be the same!

    And that is Food For Thought for you my dear brothers.

    THE SOURCE OF OUR STRENGTH AND JOY AS BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST AND HOW TO HANDLE ADVERSITY

    ——————————————————————————–

    The sudden sting of disappointment — we all know the feeling. Life appears to be going well; then with little or no warning, adversity strikes. Our hearts are challenged to be strong and believe in what seems to be impossible at the moment.
    Shock comes as a protector, numbing us to the immediate impact of reality. We wait for someone to shake us and tell us that what we have heard is a cruel joke or simply not true. Finally, we are forced to face our circumstances and the fact that adversity has struck. We may be tempted to think that God has left us alone to sort through the aftermath of the storm. We wonder: “He is God; couldn’t He have stopped this from happening?”
    Whenever adversity comes, remember God is in it with you. He has promised never to leave or abandon you. (Hebrews 13:5b) When trials impact your life, God is standing beside you. When news of a loved one’s death reaches your ears, God has the foreknowledge of its coming. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
    Adversity was born at the fall of man, and it will remain until God establishes a new heaven and earth. Because of this, it is important for us to understand that God is not the author of pain or suffering. We live with the natural consequences of our fallen state. But it is equally important for us to realize that God has a plan and purpose for the pain we suffer. It is in this very atmosphere that He brings victory over heartache, discouragement, and the deepest depression. Jesus has eternal power over sin, fear, and death. Satan’s poor attempt to disrupt and discourage God’s people becomes a wasted effort when we stand firm in our faith and trust God to do the impossible. In fact, this is the advantage of adversity: learning to trust God to do what we cannot do for ourselves. Therefore, in times of heartache, your greatest challenge is to remain faithfully focused on God and not your circumstances.
    He allows adversity to touch our lives, and Peter tells us it is to refine our faith: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
    The sudden death of a loved one, the disappointment that comes with the loss of a job, an unexpected failure, feelings of rejection, and more, all represent the many faces of adversity. None of us is immune to adversity’s attacks, and no one enjoys its company. However, as believers we are NOT left defenseless and weak. We have a strong Advocate (1 John 2:1) who comes to our aid and stands ready to protect and defend us.
    In Psalm 18, King David exalts God’s ability to provide victorious strength: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. . . . In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice . . . and my cry for help before Him came into His ears” (v. 2-3; 6).

    The moment adversity comes, our vulnerability increases, and we wonder where God is. Pain, disappointment, and trial drive us to the Lord and to the Cross where we discover our personal need for a Savior, not just for our soul’s salvation but for the entire span of life. We are struck with a defining thought: We need God. We need His fellowship and His presence or we will collapse.
    An older saint helps us understand the principle of adversity as he writes, “Sometimes God sends severe blasts of trial upon His children to develop their graces. Just as torches burn most brightly when swung to and fro; just as the juniper plant smells sweetest when flung into the flames; so the richest qualities of a Christian often come out under the north wind of suffering and adversity. Bruised hearts often emit the fragrance that God loveth to smell.”
    What is God’s goal in adversity? His basic objective is to draw us closer to Himself. He does not initiate pain or sorrow, but He uses these to teach us about His love and faithfulness.
    Later, there will be time enough to ask God to show you what you can learn from the pain you have suffered. God always has something in mind when He allows us to face difficulty. He has a plan, a purpose, and a goal not just for this situation alone but for your entire life. In times of difficulty, God is your immovable strength. (Proverbs 18:10)
    What are you to do when adversity strikes? In the book of Hebrews, God encourages us by saying, “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (10:35-36).
    When adversity strikes, the first thing we should do is to turn to God. The second step is to affirm our commitment to Him that we will remain focused on Him and not on our circumstances. We see both of these portrayed in the lives of the men and women of the Bible.
    Joseph’s life is a study of faith, trust, and victory amid adversity. As a young man, he learned how God could take the cruelest act and turn it into a wondrous blessing. Sold into Egyptian bondage by his brothers, Joseph spent years bound and confined to a life of slavery. Even when it appeared that he would gain a reprieve from danger and heartache, adversity struck a second time as he was accused of something he did not do. Back to the dungeon he went, only this time with a stiffer sentence.
    People often ask, “What is the quickest way through seasons of adversity?” Many times there just is not a quick solution to the trials we face. However, there is one sure way through the difficulties of life and that is through obedience and surrender of selfish feelings and desires.
    Adversity has a way of pushing us beyond ourselves where we find God waiting to gather us in His arms. It also stirs us to pray like nothing else can. And it is in prayer that we find shelter from the storms of life. Held under the canopy of God’s presence, we discover a sense of security and hope that we thought had evaded us.
    We tend to think, “Poor Joseph.” But Joseph was rich in God’s presence. He understood the principle involved in adversity and knew that God had something wonderful in mind for his life. Never forget that God knows the future. He understands the advantage of adversity and how it can be used to strengthen your faith, refine your hope, and settle your heart into a place of contentment and trust. Without times of adversity, you would miss the powerful experience of God walking with you through the valley times of life.
    Adversity was a tool in Joseph’s life. God used it to shape his servant for service. Joseph was placed in a key leadership role that ultimately led to the preservation of the nation of Israel. Had he escaped from prison and gone into hiding, the entire nation of Israel would have missed God’s blessing. And without the training that came as a result of severe disappointment, Joseph may have become proud and self-reliant. Instead, God used this young man’s life to change the course of history.
    There is another aspect of adversity that God wants us to understand and that is that all adversity is limited. God will not take you beyond what you can bear. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Even when it seems emotionally and spiritually dark, He will be your very light. You can be sure that God will use the trials you face to shape your life so that you reflect His love and care to others.
    Therefore, be determined to keep the focus of your heart on Jesus. Don’t be swayed by the negative talk of others. Stay close to the Lord in devotion and prayer. Read His Word; He will guide you through the greatest difficulty, and then you will know what it means to live in a broad place of blessing

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    Are you, or someone you love, experiencing hardship at this very moment? As unforeseen trials enter our lives, it is easy to stop and wonder why God does not tell us ahead of time that rough waters are ahead.
    Isaiah 55:8 explains that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and neither are His ways our ways. Therefore, we can presume that in His infinite love and wisdom, God has chosen not to explain to us many of the mysteries of life. Once in a while, He may give us a signal about something that is going to take place, but most of the time He doesn’t.
    It is vitally important that you and I are continually growing in our Christian life so that whenever trials come our way, we’ll be ready for them. Most importantly, when we find ourselves in a situation over which we have no control, we must know where to turn, and that is to our heavenly Father. In Him is the strength we need to endure, survive, and triumph over the most difficult circumstances in life.
    The apostle Paul was intimately familiar with enduring great hardships and being pushed to the limits of his strength. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds his fellow believers of the hurt and suffering he endured. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction . . . that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
    As Paul so wisely points out, each of us will be faced with trials in life that require strength beyond our human capacity. When these situations arise, we have a choice to make: we can turn inward and direct our frustration and anger toward God, or we can reach out to Him for help. How we respond to trying circumstances is a measure of our faith and maturity in Jesus Christ.
    Yet, as you look at your current situation, you may be thinking, “But I just can’t take it anymore.” Perhaps another person has wronged you again and again. Maybe you are in a work environment that is filled with temptation, or a living situation in which you are constantly criticized. Your personal trial may involve something even greater, such as physical illness or the loss of a loved one.
    Should we just check out and run away because we don’t have the strength to endure these things? The answer, my friend, is no. After all, the apostle Paul could have said, “God, everywhere I turn there is conflict. I’m in constant danger. If You want me to preach the Gospel, either correct this situation or I am giving up.”
    There is a basic principle for walking through life’s difficulties. Even though there will be valleys and moments of discouragement, we must relinquish “our way” and submit to God’s way, which is the only way to survive and endure without losing our peace and joy.
    The Giver of Strength
    When you begin to trust God in your times of need, you will soon discover that there is divine strength available to you. It expresses itself intellectually, morally, physically, and spiritually, and arises at the moment it is needed to allow you to face and overcome your obstacles. This is the strength that the apostle Paul experienced over and over again. It is the power that is available to every child of God but only through total reliance upon Him.
    The tragedies of our lives can be transformed into triumphs through the source of this strength–the person of Jesus Christ. When we, by faith, received Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, He came to dwell within us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
    Essentially, all the strength to survive, the power to endure, and the ability to overcome are already abiding in you in the very presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God doesn’t have to send something down from heaven to enable you to face your trials. His greatest gift is already in your possession. Your responsibility is to trust Him, listen to Him, and live in obedience to Him.
    Why did God send the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? Because He understood our weaknesses and frailties. He knew that we could not survive on our own. For example, Jesus knew that the disciples would face great trials and tribulations relating to His death. He even knew that they would deny and betray him. Realizing the things that were to come, He told His devoted followers, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
    Jesus’ promise involved the sending of a Helper, part of Himself, to remain with them so that they would never be alone. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
    And this promise was fulfilled when Jesus ascended to heaven. God sent the Holy Spirit so that from that moment on, every believer could be in constant communion and fellowship with Him. He indwelt in every believer enough strength and power to enable us to face every circumstance of life.
    A Purpose for Our Trials
    While it is comforting to know that we are not alone during our trials, many believers become confused about why we must experience hardships at all. What is their purpose in our lives? The answer can be found in Philippians 4:13, where Paul makes a familiar statement that is often quoted, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
    Do you know how Paul learned the value of this statement? The discovery came through experiencing trials and being thrown into impossible situations. Therefore, we can discern a primary purpose for hardship: not until we have experienced trials firsthand, can we understand the adequacy of Christ in our lives. We can read about tragedies in the lives of others, and we can witness terrible acts on television, yet until we are in need of God’s grace and mercy, we will never understand their worth.
    How can you be assured of God’s strength? Surprisingly, the answer lies in weakness–the opposite of strength. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul shares a great revelation regarding his own weaknesses, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
    What does all this mean? Friend, it means that when we are weak, when you and I are at the end of our ropes, we can exchange our weaknesses for the glory of God’s strength. It means that to the degree you are willing to be weak, to that same degree you are willing to experience strength.
    To the world this makes no sense at all. Why would someone desire to be weak? All of the messages around us say, “be strong, be beautiful, be rich” but God says, “Be poor in spirit, full of weakness and humility.” (Matthew 5:3) He says this so that you will be able to experience and understand the strength that is available to you through Him.
    When you and I learn that it is in our weakest moments–when we cannot help ourselves, when we feel out of control–that God can step in and be free to do His greatest work in empowering and strengthening us, our trust in Him will begin to increase. We will realize that these are the times in which we become the most equipped and enabled to endure the toughest trials and tribulations of our lives.

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