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Volume 99, Number 2

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Lecture on The Kite Runner challenges students' reaction to faith differences (continued)

Well, some would say that faith differences are inevitable.  We live in an incredibly diverse world, a world that is growing even more diverse with the passing of time.  And so meeting people who are different than us, who have different understandings of their faith, is inevitable.  And so we will engage them only when we have to.  We will try to avoid it as much as possible, avoid those conversations. But some of them are inevitable, so we just endure it. 

I want to suggest to you tonight that when you and I encounter people who hold their faith differently than us, whether that would be another Christian or whether that would be a Muslim or a Buddhist or a practitioner of any other faith, when you and I encounter someone who holds faith differently than us, this provides a tremendous opportunity for us to enlarge and enrich our own faith by allowing us to explore our faith in new and different and fresh ways. 

So tonight I want to talk with you about three historical Christian teachings, that come to us from Scripture, and from the Christian tradition, that I think are incredibly helpful in allowing us to engage religious differences in positive, enlarging, and biblical ways. . . .

"When you and I encounter someone of a different faith, it may very well be that we can learn something from them because God is at work. . . . God is present everywhere, in surprising places, in unlikely places."

One of the first things that’s important, I think, when we learn to encounter religious differences, is that we can — that is it’s possible — to learn from those who are very different from you and I.  It is even possible to learn from those who have a different perspective on faith than you or I. This may be obvious to some of us, but I’d like to move this from a peripheral afterthought to the center of our lives so that we’re intentional about it, so that we think about it, so that it’s something that guides our lives. So that when we meet the other, when we meet someone who is different, we can engage in a positive way, knowing that God, the biblical God, is truly a boundless being.  And God in the Bible was always moving beyond the bounds that humans had established and God was always jumping up surprising people in all kinds of unexpected ways.

When we think about encountering people who have different faiths than you or I, I think we can draw upon the Biblical understanding of God that teaches us that God is everywhere. . . . Do we really believe that God is omnipresent? That means present everywhere, doesn’t it? Yes. Is he truly the boundless God that we are introduced to in creation? In the very opening verses of the Bible. . . one of the things God does in creating the world is to establish boundaries, boundaries of time, that separate day and night, boundaries between water and dry land, boundaries between the earth and the sky, and boundaries between different forms of his creation, different animals and birds and land creatures and sea creatures. 

Notice how God creates by setting boundaries. Who is the only character that is boundless? Who is the only one in that account that is not bound by day or night or water or land or air or earth?  It’s God.  God is introduced from the very beginning of the Bible as this boundless deity, who is not limited by the bounds that you and I experience:  culture, language, religion, economics. God is indeed a God who is everywhere. Wasn’t this the experience of Jonah? Yes. Jonah learned that God was active even among the Ninevites who practiced different faith, even among people that he despised. God was there. This was also the experience of Peter in Acts chapter 10, when God had to convince him to go to the despised Gentiles. God was there, even before Peter could acknowledge it.  So it seems to me that when you and I encounter someone of a different faith, it may very well be that we can learn something from them because God is at work. 

Now hear me, hear me: I didn’t say God approves, I didn’t say God sanctions, I said God is present. God is present everywhere, in surprising places, in unlikely places. We would do well to look for him.  So we must learn from those who are different from us and this will help us engage faith differences in a more positive way. 

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