Saturday, April 4, 2015

God's big enough to inspire many stories

A Christian friend and I attended a Book of Mormon seminar. He said, “Weird, don’t you think?” I said, “Yes, but then I imagine those who didn’t grow up learning our stories would also find many of them just as weird.”

Chapter 21 of the Old Testament Book of Numbers, for example, is a preposterous story. Israelites are journeying through the wilderness. People are hungry. They complain to God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water.”

God sends poisonous snakes to bite the people. Many die. Moses intercedes. The Lord says, “Moses, set a bronze serpent on a pole. Everyone who’s bitten shall look at it and live.” Moses makes it happen.

That story’s is a part of the Christian Bible we expropriated from the Jews. For Christians it leads to an understanding of the meaning of looking upon the cross. That story compelled Christianity to the largest religion in the world with 2.1 billion calling it “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

But, it’s not the only story that people of faith find compelling. When Joseph Smith was 21-years-old, the Mormon story goes, the angel Moroni gave him some ancient records. Joseph, with little formal education, was able to translate them because God gave him the gift. The result was the Book of Mormon.

The Bible is written by and about the people in the land of Israel from the creation of the world until shortly after the death of Jesus. Mormons accept the Bible as the word of God. They also have The Book of Mormon, the history of God’s dealings with the people in the Americas between 600 BC and 400 AD.

That may seem weird to you, but it’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” for millions. Missionaries knock on the doors of houses and huts worldwide, testifying to how those stories changed their lives.
Worldwide, there are over 15 million Mormons, slightly more than the numbers of Jews. Mormons constitute the 4th largest U.S. denomination with over 6 million adherents, equal to the number of Muslims, for whom Jesus is a significant part of their “Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Muslims see Jesus’s story compelling. He’s one of five great Muslim prophets along with Moses, Noah, Abraham, and Muhammad. The Quran tells of a group of conspirators seeking to kill Jesus. Allah will not permit that to happen. Allah promised to raise him to heaven. Jesus asked, “Who among you will agree to make yourself look like me and die in my place and be crucified and then go straight to paradise?”  A follower sacrificed himself so that Jesus could live. God changed him into a form resembling Jesus and he, not Jesus, was crucified.

Weird story? Not so far from the Christian story and compelling enough that Islam is the second largest faith on the planet.

It’s idolatrous to worship one story as the only story. God is big enough to inspire more than one story in a world as diverse as ours. Yes, the Book of Mormon is strange. The Quran has “strange” teachings. Native Americans, Hindus, and Buddhists tell stories we find “off-the-wall” but those stories compel millions into a life of faith.

The Christian story of the cross and empty tomb invites us into a relationship with God. But it’s not the only story. Stories are how we all come too see God. We shouldn’t care more for the story than for the relationship. Does it matter which story others tell if it teaches them to love God, to love others?

Any story leading toward God’s love is the word of God whether it’s from our Bible or the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita.

This Easter, let’s not worry about stories others find compelling. Let’s be thankful when their stories bring them into a relationship with God causing them to join in bringing hope to the world.

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