It is interesting how we gravitate to familiarity even when we are seeking out something different. In all my travels, my ears have perked up when I hear an American accent.
Of all the people I have spoken with in foreign lands, a large minority have been my own country men and women.
This was how I met an American Christian evangelist in New Zealand. My ears perked up when I heard his American accent in a sea of Kiwi drawl.
I think the same process happened with him because he and my husband and I introduced ourselves as we walked down the streets of Dunedin upon hearing each other’s accents.
We talked about cultural differences between New Zealand and the US, how unbelievably beautiful it is in New Zealand, jobs, and faith.
Conversations with compatriots doesn’t usually include faith, but it turned out that the man with the familiar accent sought to come to New Zealand decades before, because it is a country with a high population of people who do not ascribe to any faith.
He saw an opportunity in the good and kind people of New Zealand to share with them something dear to him.
The Evangelist quoted Jesus as having said:
“I am the way. The truth. And the Life. This is how we know Jesus was divine by nature” as a proof that Jesus was God.
I didn’t disagree with the fact that Jesus said such a thing, but I did disagree with how it has been interpreted. I said:
“This is what all prophets taught. Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jesus, and Muhammad (Peace be upon them all).”
“’I am the way’— this is what all the prophets came to say to their people. They were literally living a path, a way, a deen as we call it in Islam, that leads back to God. But this doesn’t mean the prophets or even one prophet was a god.
‘I am the truth’— all the prophets came with the truth. They were literally sent to their nations to deliver the truth from God. And the truth of their message was always the same—God is One, Indivisible, Creator, not created.
‘I am the life’—this is what every prophet from Adam to Abraham to Jesus to Muhammad, (peace be upon them) taught. If people follow their way (their deen or path), believed in the truth they came with, then they would have eternal life in heaven near God.”
But he respectfully disagreed, saying there was nothing documented in the scripture (the Bible) to prove that the prophets of old had also preached that they were the way, the truth, and the life.
He went on to say that he had studied Islam in his ministry training and he didn’t understand why in Islam there is no guarantee that the followers will go to heaven. He said:
“How will you know if you have been saved?”
Then, he quickly excused himself from the conversation. We wished each other well and went on our separate ways.
But I continued to think about all that he had said.
If this saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life”, was not something Abraham, Jesus, and all the true prophets came to teach, then what was their function? What is the meaning of prophethood in Christianity?
What does Christianity teach about prophets?
When I studied the Christian faith as a child in Catholic school, mass, and after school catechism classes, the job of prophets was often obscured and lies about sins they had committed were highlighted.
These stories seemed disjointed from the message of Christianity and left me very confused about why we were told about these men in the first place.
It was not until I learned about the continuity of the message of all prophets in Islam that God’s message to humankind came into focus and made perfect sense- God is one, the Prophets were sent to show the way back to Him- the way, the truth, the life.
How do you know you are forgiven?
But he was right about not knowing if I am “saved” or not. I don’t know, and if we were all honest with ourselves, even if we tell ourselves we are spared from hell, we don’t really and truly know that.
One test Allah (SWT) tells us about in the Quran is found in at least two different verses:
Say, [O Muhammad], “If the home of the Hereafter with Allah is for you alone and not the [other] people, then wish for death, if you should be truthful.” (Quran 2:94)
Say, “O you who are Jews, if you claim that you are allies of Allah, excluding the [other] people, then wish for death, if you should be truthful.” (Quran 62:6)
To me, these verses address the people who tell themselves they are favored by God over all others and are promised paradise. But if we truly know we will go to heaven, then why do we wish to live longer?
Why do we fear death? If we know this world is filled with difficulty and hardship and heaven is filled with pleasure and ease, then why would we not wish for death if we know for certain that we are promised heaven?
While we can’t say who will be entered into paradise, this knowledge is with God alone, we can trust in God’s mercy, do our best, and leave it to the Most Just of Judges.
And this trust is fundamental to our relationship with God, the Most High. Trust is foundational to any deep and committed relationship.
God asks us to trust in Him and to strive to be near Him.
And He will provide him from [sources] he could never imagine. And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He will suffice him.
Verily, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Indeed, Allah has set a measure for all things. (Quran 65:3)
The perfection of not knowing
But let’s say we really do know where we are going after death. What then?
If we knew for certain that we were going to heaven, would most of us still work to be close to God? Most of us, including myself, probably wouldn’t. We would act like the student, who knows he or she is getting an A, we would stop learning.
Then we would miss out on the greatest gift of life—the peace and serenity of seeking a path to, feeling near, and trusting in God. God has created us, our path, and the knowledge we have all for a reason.
There are very, very few people who can handle this kind of knowledge and still strive in their path, seeking nearness to God.
The best we can do in lieu of deluding ourselves into thinking we are “saved” is to do the work to seek God’s mercy and trust that God is the ultimately Merciful.