I had recently lost a dear friend, very suddenly. He had a heart attack while swimming in the sea and drowned as a result.
I'm Christian, he's Muslim. But we got on perfectly fine. We spoke often about our religions. We discussed the concept of God, salvation, heaven, hell. We shared our frustrations with our own religions, dogma, conservatism, and I realised we were not so different after all. We both belonged to a younger generation of Christians and Muslims, educated, middle class, and more exposed to the world beyond our national borders.
Yet, when I went to his funeral, I found myself struggling. How was I to pray for this dear friend of mine if my religion teaches that only believers of Jesus Christ can enter into the kingdom of Heaven? Should I pray that his family would come to know Christ some day? How can I be so presumptuous to think that they are wrong in their faith?
I prayed that God be with his family in the end. And I'm sure he has been. But I've thought long and hard about what all this means.
Can I be a true friend to those of a different faith?
We chose to focus on the similarities of our faith rather than the dogmatic differences. We chose friendship, peace and pluralism over religion, dogma and separatism. Yet, when it came to his last day, I had no peace in my heart. Blame it on my Christian upbringing? Perhaps.
But something another good friend told me is true. I cannot force myself to believe something that my heart doesn't agree to. And for the last decade, since I started thinking seriously about my faith, my heart tells me that going out there to try and convert as many people as I can is absolutely not the way to go.
Jesus didn't approach the gentiles preaching about how they were all going to hell if they didn't believe in him. He first loved them, healed them, fed them and prayed for them. The rest came of itself. They were moved by his life and his words because he lived them, not because he merely spoke them like the pharisees did.
The churches we see today are divided. What does this say about religion? While churches often report how we are in the midst of revival just because XX thousands of people made confessions of faith, but how many have continued in their faith and lived their faith? Do any of these churches keep track of these numbers? I doubt it, and for good reason, because I think they will only be disheartened.
Can we ever divorce God from religion? Can we not just call ourselves followers of God instead of Christian, Muslim or what not. Why are we wasting resources trying to convert people when we should be feeding the poor, protecting the oppressed, standing up against injustice. To say that this body is but temporary, which would be exchanged for a glorious and perfect one in heaven is but an excuse for inaction.
How do you expect someone who lived an entire life of poverty and oppression to die with no bitterness and anger towards God? How do u think such a person can enter into the glorious gates of heaven?