The God Who Does Not Despise the Sinner

In a previous blog I mentioned Fr. Theodore Pulcini’s A Brief Guide for Christian-Muslim Dialog.    Fr. Pulcini mentions what can be a basis for a discussion between Christians and Muslims but also notes there are significantly different and even contradictory ideas about sin and salvation which cannot be ignored in any real dialog.    For example, he writes:

Because Muslims do not recognize the universal and corruptive power of sin, unleashed as a result of original sin, they see no need for salvation in the Christian sense. What you should do, according to the Islamic view, is simply live a good life, pleasing God in all that you do. Submit to God and follow his directives. Religion, to the Muslim, does not mean salvation from sin; it means following the right path, or the sharii`a, mapped out by Islamic law. … That difference in emphasis is very important. If one recognizes the pervasive power of sin, salvation is not just an option; it is a necessity. Christians lament the fact that an incomplete understanding of original sin led early Islam to “throw out the baby with the bath water” with regard to their understanding of sin. …  they have missed what Christians consider to be the central truth of human existence: that no matter how hard we try to conform to “right practice,” we will fall short of the goal. We cannot live the kind of life that God wants by our own power. And that is why salvation is necessary.

That difference in understanding is reflected in the Christian emphasis on repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness rather than an emphasis on keeping God’s Law (Torah, Quran) and is a major difference between how Christians understand God as versus how Muslims and Jews view God and humanity’s relationship to Him.   For Christians if strictly and perfectly keeping God’s law was possible and all that was needed, then Christ serves no purpose as we do not need God’s forgiveness and salvation, all we need is more strict observance of the Law.  Christians would say the very revelation of God’s love and mercy is that He forgives sinners who repent, and does not base salvation on our perfectly keeping every detail of the Law.  God’s love and mercy trumps His demands for righteousness, or maybe more correctly His righteousness turns out to be forgiveness, mercy and love not judgment as we sometimes incorrectly ascribe to Him (see Job 42:7-8)

The difference in belief, thinking and emphasis seemed very clear to me in the priest’s prayer of the Divine Liturgy before the Trisagion Hymn (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…) when he prays:

Holy God… who does not despise the sinner , but instead has appointed repentance unto salvation…

God is not so rigidly righteous as to condemn His human creatures for their sinful failings, rather in that He is love, He loves us while we are still sinners because He desires our salvation not our condemnation.  He takes into account our weaknesses and provides us a way to the Kingdom of heaven even when we fail to follow or obey His commandments – through forgiveness and love.

2 thoughts on “The God Who Does Not Despise the Sinner

  1. Fr. Ted

    You can read some of my thoughts on my blog

    My general sense of things in the parish is that homosexuality is best dealt with as a pastoral issue rather than a juridical issue. The Good News of Salvation is that we are saved by God’s love, by the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God, not by adherence to a law or by our personal self righteousness.

    Christianity is a way of life that calls us to union with God, to loving God and others, to rejecting self love, and in the pursuit of love for others calling us to self restraint, self denial, self control. This is the life style choice which is open to any who will follow Christ.

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