After a week of on again off again posturing about whether or not to burn copies of the Qur’an tomorrow, Pastor Terry Jones of Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL is once again praying to God about his plan. I believe Pastor Jones will do what his God tells him to do. I doubt, however that he is praying to my God.
My God is the Tao that can’t be named (Tao te Ching 1:1); the reality embracing all that was, is, and will ever be (Exodus 3:14); the reality in which I live, move, and have my being (Acts 17:28). My God is truth, and though different people call it by different names (Rig Veda) it transcends them all. My God is the one and only reality (la ilaha illa allah) from whom, through whom, and in whom all things, both good and evil, play out (Isaiah 45:7). Not everyone believes in my God.
My God has no wife, yet hundreds of millions of Mormons and Hindus cannot imagine God without one. My God has no son (though I am willing to concede a daughter, Proverbs 8:22), yet over a billion Christians cannot imagine God without one. My God chooses no people over any other, no land over any other, and long before the Internet seemed to certain that print was dead, yet countless peoples believe in God-given covenants, real estate, and holy books. My God doesn’t save or damn, though there are millions upon millions of people who find my God irrelevant for just this reason.
My God is reality, and I love my God without reservation. Can you pray to reality? Of course. Does it do any good? It depends upon what you pray for. If you pray that the universe alter its course and overrule the laws of nature so that a loved one doesn’t die, you are probably going to be disappointed. But if you pray for the ability to navigate the horrors of life and loss with grace and compassion, you are tapping into a deep well of both that will allow you to do just that.
But Pastor Jones isn’t praying to my God. Perhaps he’s praying to the God of Leviticus who says to those not of the true faith, “I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you” (Leviticus 26:30). Or perhaps he’s praying to the God of Numbers who says to those of the true faith, “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52). Or perhaps he is praying to the God of the jihadis, or the Crusaders. Burning books held sacred by others seems right up the alley of each of these Gods.
So if Pastor Jones’ God tells him to burn the Qur’an this Saturday don’t assume he isn’t talking with God. There are lots of Gods who love to hate, and Pastor Jones’ God may simply be one of these. Of course I wish Pastor Jones would pray to my God because my God doesn’t burn books, though She does urge you not to take them too seriously; but failing that I wish he would at least pray to my father’s God who says, “You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3). If your going to burn the Qur’an, Pastor, maybe you should wait until Monday.