Ask A Theologian: Same God?

Written By Boston Avenue

Ask A Theologian

Advice from Boston Avenue's Theologian In Residence

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God?

Response:

That is a dynamite question! The conversations and arguments regarding this query are legion, ancient, and modern. So, here are a few perspectives one might consider.

My bottom line: in some ways, yes. In other ways, no. The yeses and the no’s make dialogue interesting, enriching, and absolutely essential. A commentator on pluralistic societies referred to civilization as people “locked together in argument.” I see we three “people of the book,” monotheists with common roots and either our own branches or which became our own ever-intertwined trees, as similarly locked together in argument.

One point of view says tradition is a set of commonly held beliefs and practices. Another proposes traditions are common topics of argument that persist over time. I find the latter proposition more real and engaging. I believe Jews, Christians, and Muslims share some arguments about the nature of God, of creation, of the nature and destiny of human beings. In other words, our traditions intersect.

The nature and importance of Jesus of Nazareth is one locus of argument. Neither Judaism nor Islam views Jesus as orthodox Christianity does. Jews may see him as a brother and Muslims as a prophet, but neither see him as Incarnation, however understood. Can one include that difference within the “same God” category? Depends on how one shapes and bounds the category.

I believe religion cannot be defined or claimed only by a set of propositions and those who establish the “are you in or are you out” circles of orthodoxy. When we speak about religion, we have to include those who claim the religion. It is not fair to say that persons who act violently, or abusively, or in ways that dismiss the “image of God” in others as “not really an adherent.” Terrible things have been done in the name of God within our Abrahamic family. When one claims there is one God who reveals divine truth to chosen persons or communities, that claim may (and has, but not necessarily…) lead to violence in the name of God. The same God?

There are adherents of our three religions who see life as a battle between good and evil. They have been drafted into God’s army to do God’s will. That will can involve taking up arms against God’s enemies. Sometimes the weapons are not physical but are laws to purge/expel/disempower the impure, the heretics, the “cancer,” the “infection.” It is not hard to find examples for the news, domestic and international, are full of “God’s holy armies” at work.

On the other hand, many of us in our three religions believe in a God whose attributes are justice and compassion, who is both revealed and is beyond human comprehension, and whose nature is love. A God who created prayer as a bridge between heaven and earth, a God who insists that how a community cares for the vulnerable is the prerequisite for having the gift of peace. On these God-matters many adherents, including me and many persons in Tulsa’s interfaith community, in our three religions largely agree.

In recent years, as I’ve read more deeply into how Christians have behaved in public in US history, I’ve reached the conclusion that we might do better to speak of Christianities rather than Christianity in the singular. Why? Because one can see different gods being followed. One sees a patriarchal god who punishes wrongdoing as a way of “showing love,” who demands obedience, who blesses AND curses, and who will someday set the world right—violently. Then there is a god of compassion, who shows great tenderness toward the vulnerable, and who plumbs a society by how that society treats the most vulnerable. A god who is love. In my opinion, those are different gods. I feel much more commonality with Jews and Muslims who believe similarly to the latter scenario than I do with Christians who adhere to the former.

When one looks at the photos the Webb telescope is taking of deep space, with all the awesome and beautiful and terrifying and mysterious phenomena, and one is a believer in a creator God, who isn’t inspired to claim “God is so awesome” (I have a renewed appreciation for the hymn “How Great Thou Art”)? Many adherents in our three faiths concur in that exclamation. The same God? Perhaps.

I know I’ve not given a satisfying answer. But I hope I’ve opened up a little more of the ancient-modern, worthy conversation and argument shaped by our three faiths. Honor our differences and seek common ground. We have both.

Our Theologian in Residence

Gary Peluso-Verdend is the President Emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since 1993, he served at Phillips as a program director, the dean, development executive, president, and founding director of the Center for Religion in Public Life. For five years (2000-2005), he was the director of church relations at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. Gary retired from Phillips in February 2023.

Gary is a retired ordained elder in The United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference). He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1991. He attends Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa where he teaches adult church school classes frequently.

Gary serves on the board of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and on working groups for the Braver Angels Alliance in OK and Compassionate Tulsa.

He and his wife live with their daughter in Tulsa, in the fourth (and last) house-in-need-of-updating they have owned. Gary’s three grown children and their families live in the Chicago area.

More Posts