This week’s "thought" will require some thought! It comes to you from Daniel Fuller's very insightful book "The Unity of the Bible." It has to do with the humanity's greatest need (blissful union, communion and fellowship with God) and how Christianity is the only one of the world's religions that promises to satisfy that need.
Fuller starts with the same premise that Blaise Pascal (the great French mathematician and philosopher of 1623-1662) put forth in his "Pensees" (or "Thoughts") where he wrote:
"All men, without exception, seek happiness. They all aim at this goal, however different the means they use to attain it... It is the motivation of the actions of all men, even those who contemplate suicide...
What is it then that this eager desire [for happiness] and this incapacity [to attain it because of sin] cry aloud to us, except that man once possessed true happiness, of which nothing now remains except a faint trace or empty outline which he vainly tries to fill with things from his present environment. Yet they are all incapable [of giving contentment and joy], because the infinite abyss in the human soul can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object; that is, by God Himself."
Pascal is right. No finite object can fill the unquenchable yearning or "infinite abyss" in the human soul except God. It swallows up everything else in its path like a black hole! Only God, being infinite, immutable and inexhaustible, can fill that void left when God's intimate presence vacated the human soul at the time of the Fall. Philosophy can't quench it (because it only talks about such things), nor can possessions or achievements or education or human relationships or any other finite thing. God alone is able to satisfy man's deepest longing.
Yet Pascal's point was more apologetic. Since nothing temporal or worldly can fulfill man's greatest desire, his intent was to move on to see if any of the world's great religions could do so in the way Christianity does. "Let us examine all the religions of the world and see whether there is any other than Christianity which satisfies our need," states Pascal in Thought 249. Daniel Fuller chooses to look to Islam as one example of how other religions cannot.
"On the subject of the ultimate blessings the Christian is to enjoy, the Bible's teaching contrasts sharply with the Koran's message for the faithful. During this life [states the Bible], fellowship with God is the only thing that satisfies. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26). The same great hope is held out for the hereafter...
As with the Koran, the Bible refers to heaven as a place free from the miseries of the world; only the heaven of the Bible, however, includes enjoyment of intimate fellowship with God..."
"The ultimate blessings for the Muslim," says Fuller, "do not go beyond a superabundance of the most pleasurable things to be enjoyed in this life." He lists some of them: "Lounging in gardens through which cool streams flow, being served refreshing drinks by beautiful and diffident maidens."
"There is no indication whatsoever that heaven's joys (for the Muslim) culminate in fellowship with God... Why does the Koran lay no emphasis on the ultimate blessing of having fellowship with God? One plausible explanation is that the blessings of a Muslim heaven are regarded as wages paid by God. They honor the individual as a workperson who has had the skills, strength, and character necessary to meet some need of God the employer. So it would be incongruous in this system to consider fellowship with such a deficient God as a reward for one's praiseworthiness in meeting his needs.
Precisely at this point the uniqueness of the God of the Bible becomes most evident, for he "is not served by human hands as if he needed anything" (Acts 17:25). To the contrary, this God works on behalf of, or for the benefit of, those who trust and hope in him. And he is so complete in himself that in thus working he finds his greatest joy. As Old Testament theologian Walther Eichrodt observed, Israel's religion was the direct opposite of those practiced by the surrounding peoples. In their religion God was the client for whom the people must work in order to get from him certain blessings regarded as wages, something earned. But for Israel it was just the reverse: Israel was to regard itself as the client for whom God was working, as long as the people trustingly obeyed his directives for their welfare.
So when the situation in Islam is exactly reversed in Christianity, and God is the praiseworthy worker who meets the needs of believing people, then having fellowship with such a good God becomes most desirable. We thus can conclude that Islam, in comparison with Christianity, promises a heaven that falls short of being what the human heart craves for most."
This is a warning to us. So long as Christians stress anything other than the immediate and intimate presence of God as the ultimate blessing to be enjoyed by the faithful both here and in heaven, there will appear to be no difference between the final reward of the Muslim and the final reward of the Christian.
Yet the Bible is clear, it is not crowns, nor reunion with saved relatives, nor freedom from this world's ills that constitute what the true believer longs for the most... it is God Himself in all His infinite completeness, beauty, love, majesty, and sufficiency -- His inexhaustible ability to satisfy every human desire or longing with Himself.
The ultimate human yearning is addressed in Psalm 42: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God."
Or again, "O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1). Interestingly, only the Bible promises to satisfy that need!
Blessings in Christ, Pastor Jeff