First Letter

Dear Abdallah,

I write this letter to tell you how glad I am to have met you. It does not seem to happen all that often that a Muslim and a Christian meet in a manner as we did. We discovered a lot of common ground while not pretending that there is no disparity. We are both aware of the differences between our faiths—and the need to think them through. Our pledge that our conversation should take place in a friendly spirit, appropriate for the topic, I consider something quite beautiful. May God be honored by that!

It is good to realize that both of us have very similar hopes and expectations of life. What intrigued me in particular was our perception of an Almighty God. While our understanding of religious dogma may differ, our affinity, affection and intuitive consciousness of God are remarkably similar. To me that means that basically mankind must have an innate knowledge of God, which He planted into our ‘hearts’.

Probably linked to that and highly significant to me is the fact that both of us were acutely aware of our need for a pure heart in the sight of God. This is of special significance as Jesus once said that only those who have a pure heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

This reminds me of the Word, which says:

Be obedient to God,
and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had
when you were still ignorant.
   be holy in all that you do,
   just as God who called you is holy!
(1 Peter 1:14,15)

Pursue holiness,
   because no one will see the Lord without it!
(Hebrews 12:14)

I am sure we are all too conscious of our lack of inward purity. Our thoughts and actions are all too often rather unholy. I suppose deep down in our hearts we are aware of the spiritual lack caused by our imperfection, even if we follow our expected religious rules. Every confrontation with death creates in us troublesome questions, which cause our fear of death—or perhaps rather fear of what comes after death. One might ‘enjoy’ life to a goodly extent in an atmosphere devoid of God, but ultimately the expectation of death spoils it all, for we are all aware that

it is appointed to man once to die,
and after that is the judgment
(Hebrews 9:27),

as the Bible puts it. Ultimately all mankind sits in the same boat. All fall short of God’s standard, be it in thought, word and even deed.

Is it not interesting to note in this context that every religion follows ritual practices, which signify cleansing? They are essentially no more than symbolic tokens and obviously do not really effect anything by themselves. While we may clean our body by such rituals on the outside, we are well aware that water can never wash away sin and by that create a clean heart!

Jesus once made a very remarkable statement when confronted about the ritual washing of hands before meals:

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth
goes into the stomach and then out of the body?
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart,
and these make a man ‘unclean’.
For out of the heart come
   evil thoughts,
   sexual immorality,
   false testimony,
These are what make a man ‘unclean’.
(Matthew 15:16-20)

Rituals are really no more than a reminder of our need for purification—because we know that we are impure.

After having committed a particularly ugly sin, David expressed his longing beautifully in one of his psalms:

Wash away all my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin.
I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only have I sinned...
Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God!
(Psalm 51:1-4, 9-10)

I’m sure we are both in agreement and are touched by this. Yet on many other topics we are not likely to agree. In conversations with spiritual content it is natural to argue according to our respective convictions. Someone rightly said that all too often convictions are worse enemies to the truth than lies. Convictions are really little more than opinions. Discussions on this basis are predictable: Everybody talks and nobody listens. We should not follow such pattern. I suggest the answer is to honestly face contentious issues squarely and with the determination to find out together what is trustworthy and why. After all, it is a matter affecting eternity! Therefore, we should not dare to be superficial in our search. We do not want to risk that one of us will go astray! Unless our faith is based on evident revelation from God, we should be critical. After all, if we do believe and follow God’s truth, what are we afraid of losing? Divine truth must be and is detectable and backed up by evidence.

Knowing each other a little by now, I am sure that together we will, with kindness, understanding and sober judgment, find what concerns us more than anything else in this world!

Yours sincerely,