"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh, Those Sinful Prophets of God!

Recently a commenter and I were talking about the prophets of the Old Testament. I already knew from past discussions with Muslim friends that most Muslims were quite stunned to realize how bad (sinful!) many prophets and kings were made out to be in the Bible. Since the Quran only tells a small portion of any of their stories with the possible exceptions of Joseph and Moses, they don't know the fuller, richer stories that Jewish and Christian readers of the Bible have grown up hearing and accepting as truth.

I still remember Muslim Friend who explained that this making prophets into sinful humans was part of the corrupting and changing of the Bible. Remember Muslims don't believe the Bible of today is the same one that Allah told them to refer back to. For shame! You'd think if God instructed you to refer back to the Bible - since He acknowledged the Quran was merely a reminder - that He would preserve the book you are supposed to look back on for further reference! Rats!

Muslim Friend told me the Jews made their prophets into sinners so they could excuse themselves when they sinned. I guess it's like this: Jewish reader sees that King David committed adultery so he is more likely to justify his own adulterous relationships. "See here, God, even King David did this! So what do you expect from little ol' me?"

The thing is the Bible doesn't glorify David's sin. It's not like watching Desperate Housewives and nearly any other television show or movie that makes immorality beautiful and good. On the contrary the Bible shows David confronted by Nathan for his sin and records the awful consequences. Not a mere slap on the wrist either! I'm talking death of the baby, one daughter raped by her half brother, one son killing the other son for raping the aforementioned daughter, another son trying to take over David's kingdom and getting killed in the process. Heartbreaking consequences that should be a strong deterrent to anyone contemplating an adulterous relationship.

So I find the "Jews corrupted their own Scripture so they could get away with their sins" argument rather hard to fathom.

Now one young Muslim lady did make a good point. She said prophets should be role models because if they came with a message of turning back to God yet their lives were sinful - especially involving the "big sins" like adultery and murder - who would take them seriously? While it's true that our testimonies - the way we live before people - are important and we should be good examples, we should never think God's message can't stand in spite of the fallibility of people. Do we judge God and His message on the basis of priests or imams or bishops or evangelists who maybe don't live with the utmost integrity? Sure some will judge the message by those who say they follow it, yet in the end is God's message dependent on faulty, weak humans or can it stand on its own?

When Nathan confronted David with his sin, one charge was that David had caused the enemies of God to show utter contempt. So I for sure am not arguing for us living however we want. As my friend said we should be good examples, good role models and remember we are representing the messages we say we are following. If someone knows that I try to follow Jesus yet they see me doing immoral and selfish and cruel things, they would be right to question me on my hypocrisy. I believe this is why David's sin was so bad. Here was the King of Israel - a man who was "after God's own heart" - doing such detestable things! God doesn't take this lightly!

So my points are these:

Just because a fallible person sins - even greatly - it doesn't mean God's message is null and void. David sinned and David repented. God restored David, yet the consequences of his sins were still there. In my view God is The Standard. Even the Quran declared God "the Reality" which means to me that we cannot wrongly elevate any biblical or quranic character to perfect or even near-perfect status. We must realize all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's holiness and perfection. So if God is the Standard, the Reality, this means Moses, Elijah, David, Muhammad...not even good old Abraham can measure up - not even close. This is why a prophet or favorite king can do wrong things, yet his message - God's message - won't fail. Yes, we are weak. Yes, we do wrong. But God is greater. God is Perfection.

The Bible isn't sanitized. It tells how real people lived: they did right, they also did wrong. This gives me hope because it shows how God can use people in spite of their wrongdoings. How God can redeem broken lives to bring Himself glory! How He can bring beauty from ashes.

These tales of sin don't detract from the message of God. Rather they show me the reality of people - how frail we are to resist human nature, the inclinations of our hearts and bodies and how we are prone to follow our own ways. This teaches me to yield daily to God and walk closely in fellowship with Him so I can draw from His strength when tempting situations come.

I read this earlier in the week. It, along with my recent conversation with Sarira, inspired me to write this post. I think the author nicely summarized the goodness of God as He works in us even though we are sinful creatures.

"'Where you are today is exactly where God planned for you to be, even if you go there through your own disobedience. God weaves our sins into His plans to draw us to Himself and to accomplish His plans for our lives.' God's mercies, which never come to an end and are in new supply every morning, mean that sins - even grievous ones - don't doom us to failure for the rest of our lives. God's plans for us will be accomplished! Sometimes the beauty that results from the working of our sins into the weave of our life, sometimes that beauty has a few flaws. In fact, we could accurately say that it always has flaws, since no human life has been lived perfectly. Every life is the life of a sinner, but in the life of the repentant sinner the final result is good. Not perfect, but good. And the imperfections can be wonderful reminders of God's mercy and grace in taking a terrible thing and making it beautiful, making it all work out right! The converse side of this? A failure to see our sin robs us of the ability to see the amazing grace and kindness of God." (Marti Barkman in June 2010 Beacon Beam)

I spoke recently of the apostle Paul and how he knew he was a sinner and, therefore, seemed to especially enjoy the kindness and compassion of God. When we fail to realize we are sinners or think we are just "little sinners" compared to those who do reallllllllllllly bad things, we diminish the awesome grace and compassion of our Lord. When we inflate the Bible and Quranic characters to nearly-perfect people, we miss out on a whole lot of God's amazing mercy and love! What a shame when our God has given us wonderful examples of His ability to use us despite our weaknesses and imperfections!

So are the prophets perfect? I don't think so. Does that mean God's message is weak and we must throw it out? No. It just means only God is perfect. As for the rest of us: we need to remember our daily dependence upon Him so we can walk in goodness and life.



Wafa' said...

the more i think about it the more i realize how high we place our prophets. See , in Islam we are told that all these prophets are sinless people or close to before so when they became prophets whatever there left of their sinns are gone. I like that because i need to know that "you are practicing what you are preaching" so you can not tell me not to backstab-e.g.- while you are.

But maybe we need to stop believeing that, maybe it's not an Islamic notion that there are "free of sins" people. Maybe we were told so to follow easily.

Still, i don't like -like all Muslims- the way the prophets were portraid in the Bible. It seems some as if they are bandits-excuse my word- . Yet, Jesus was put in highly position and was almost a sinless one. Maybe it's his book after all. The way the Quran is all about prophet Muhammad.

It's complicated , is not it ?
But i am happy that you are making me think and dare and ask and depend on my realtion with Allah only to question and know. Thanks again :)

Suroor said...

Susanne, the Quran calls only Jesus as sinless (the word best translates as 'faultless'). It is true that the faults of others are not mentioned like in the Bible but they are not called sinless either.

I think it has to do with two things (I'm speaking as a neutral person; let me step outside the box where I have feelings for Abrahamic religions and comment as someone *non-Abrahamic* – if that is a word and if that’s at all possible for me!):

1. The Bible and the Torah have more than one writer whereas Quran has only one. It is far more difficult to get everyone to agree on something when you have more than one writer. People who had been hearing tales about the older prophets (David, Solomon, Noah, Abraham) must have heard several hundred tales; they must have gotten twisted, diluted and changed. Someone must have said "alright, I'm going to talk about what David did" and it all started from there with the Torah which became the OT and so those tales became parts of the Bible.

It was easier to control what went into the Quran if you don't believe it is the word of God and one man wrote it.

2) Culture also plays a part. After spending more than a decade living amongst the Arabs of the GCC (not ME) I have learned one important lesson: Arabs don't like to talk about their faults. That is a huge impediment in their reformation and improvement but it is something you can't take out of an Arab. So while they will point fingers at each other, they will not accept their faults and if confronted will try to justify them. This is hard for some people to understand this especially Catholics who lay so much emphasis on confession.

This is why when there are ahadith that show men and women going to the Prophet and owning their sins and DEMANDING punishment, those ahadith talk a lot about how important Muhammad was for these people.

In Islam a person is encouraged not to flaunt or even mention sins s/he has committed. "He who conceals his sins does not prosper" does not occur there because if you mention your sins you sort of encourage others to do the same.

In the khutbah just this Friday the imam was saying something I don't wish to write on a public forum but it was to the effect that the community should not accept publicly that homosexuality exists in the society as a social evil brought on by strict segregation of the genders. So the message was ignore this evil, turn the sin into something acceptable (like say that the youth today suffers from psychological problems and influences of the ugly West) but don’t mention your own faults. So something that Muslims consider as sin – homosexuality – is turned into a mental illness and thus not a sin any longer. This happens all too often.
It may be a reason why in Islam no prophet, great or small, is considered to have ever sinned. Another reason may have been that if you show EVERY human being, even the prophets, to be sinner then the only ONE man who never sinned stands out and you consider him divine. This is what happened in Trinity; it is a real fear.

Excellent post, Susie! So much to think about here.

Stacy aka Fahiima said...

Hi Susanne! I haven't commented in a long time b/c of my broken keyboard, but I have been reading.

This issue of sinlessness is a huge issue and point of contention between Muslims and Jesus-followers. I like the point that Suroor brought up about Arabs not considering it appropriate to discuss one's sins or faults. The portrayal of the prophets in the Quran may have some basis in this cultural understanding. Even if oral accounts of the prophets existed that discussed their sins, they didn't make it into the Quran because of their distateful nature.
Even though there are a lof of similarities between Arab and ancient Israelite culture, this seems to be a place where they differ greatly. I can't think of a single prophet in the Old Testament who is presented without any sins.

Susanne said...

Wow, you ladies' comments are so wonderful and thought-provoking! I absolutely loved what all three of you shared. I only now had a chance to read them fully and woooooooooooooow! Thank you so much for what you took the time to share!

I read this post to an Arab friend earlier and I made another observation while talking to him. I think most Jews held King David is very high regard. I read recently that after Moses, likely David was the hero of the Jewish people. So why if the Jews changed their own Scripture - to justify their sins perhaps or maybe not - would they not make their hero into a true hero...with no moral flaws? Make him more like Jesus or Muhammad who have very few if any sins recorded? So this is another argument I'd use to say that the Israelites, in fact, did NOT change their Scripture, but recorded the legends as they were told by oral tradition. Does this thought have some merit?

Anyway, Wafa', what do you think about Suroor and Stacy's comments concerning the Quran being silent on the major faults of the prophets because the Arab culture doesn't like to admit to their sins? This makes some sense to me since your culture is honor/shame based and bringing up faults is shameful to families and communities. I'm not picking on y'all at all, but I thought it made some sense. What do you think?

Also, I do understand what you mean about this --

""you are practicing what you are preaching" so you can not tell me not to backstab-e.g.- while you are. "

For me the most heinous sins (if I'm going to weigh sins as some worse than others) were committed by King David. I can understand Moses losing his temper and hitting the rock when God told him to speak to it and I can understand Abraham lying out of fear. Not saying those are not faults (sins), however, they are what most of us would consider minor compared to adultery and murder of which the Bible accuses David. So I totally agree with what you are saying. However, there is one key thing for me. David wasn't trying to persuade his people to worship the one true God so much. He wasn't a prophet in the sense of telling the people to turn back to God in order to avoid His judgment like men such as Elijah, Hosea, Isaiah, Amos and Micah. David was the second King of Israel. He had a different role in Israel's history. Not as a prophet, but a political leader. Yes, there are some prophetic statements by David, but he wasn't what most of the Israelites considered a prophet or one of the judges who urged the people to turn back to God or else they would be punished. The same with Solomon who was Israel's third king. Not that this makes David's sins easier to imagine, but it is helpful perhaps in knowing he wasn't out there saying "Turn back to the Lord. Repent! Repent!" like the true Jewish PROPHETS and JUDGES were. Does that make sense?

"Yet, Jesus was put in highly position and was almost a sinless one. Maybe it's his book after all. The way the Quran is all about prophet Muhammad."

Ha, ha! Loved that! It's a wonderful way to look at it. Well, you know that I consider Jesus God so it's only natural to me that He would be presented as sinless as I just made the case for GOD being the Standard of Perfection! :-D So yeah the Bible is Jesus' book, in my opinion, and since I revere Jesus as God, He'd better be perfect in it! :-D

I loooooooooove your comment! So thought-provoking. I am really happy to hear your perspective on this so thanks much for sharing what you did!

Susanne said...

Suroor, I really have nothing to add to your comment as it made SO MUCH SENSE to me. Like a key to unlocking a mystery. Wow. Yes, that's so true. I remember when a friend of mine had a situation come up in his family and he told me basically the same thing about how Muslims were urged to keep sins between them and God and NOT make it known. I didn't think of this in connection to the Quran, but you made an excellent point.

Also the thing about the Bible having many authors and being unable to control what goes into it makes tons of sense as well. For sure if I were authoring a book, I could control what went into it as far as sharing people's faults and accomplishments. MUCH harder to co-author a book with several other authors and keep that control.

Wow, thank you incredibly much. You don't know how helpful that comment was to me!

Susanne said...

Stacy, I've missed you, but figured you were so busy with life and all your work! Not to mention Layla! :-D How nice to read your comments. I always enjoyed what you had to add to conversations including this one. I'm glad you could confirm what Suroor said. It was so "easy," yet something that alluded me and it's like a mystery solved in a way. :)

Thank you so much for taking time to comment despite the broken keyboard! I really appreciated what you added!

Thank you all, Ladies! Great thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Your last para spoke the truth about everything that
Only God is Perfect! And only thru' his Grace and Mercy that we humans can think and act good.Without Him, we are "Nothing out Nothingness" :) This is from Rumi,of course!

Really enjoyed the fantastic comments above as well!

Anonymous said...

Ooops,should be
"Nothing out of Nothingness" :)

Suroor said...

Susie, I'm glad the argument made sense to you. I have thought about this often. If you ever visit the UAE or Oman you can't miss the photos of their presidents/sultan pasted EVERYWHERE. It is Islamically wrong to revere humans like they do and no one, absolutely no one will say a single word against the leaders. They are sinless.

The internet is full of stuff about the Sultan Qaboos of Oman and about the sons of the late president of the UAE but you can't mention anything about them and are encouraged to even justify those faults. One shiekh was recently trialled fro brutally torturing a man. What happened? We were told the sheikh was purposefully drugged by his enemies and made to torture the man which was recorded on tape. Does it sound unbelievable? It is, but you can't oppose it. It is something you just have to grit your teeth about and swallow like a bitter pill.

In Oman people are still humble but try pointing out faults in ALL other GCC countries and you will be told that YOU are a liar.

Susanne said...

Lat, I really loved this that you said:

"Your last para spoke the truth about everything that
Only God is Perfect! And only thru' his Grace and Mercy that we humans can think and act good"


I'm glad you enjoyed the wonderful comments above as well. I'm still ooohing and ahhhing over them this morning! :-D

Susanne said...

Suroor, how interesting!

" It is something you just have to grit your teeth about and swallow like a bitter pill. "

Yes, that's so sad! I know in Syria they have the President's photo everywhere and it's really an embarrassment to many of my religious Muslim friends. They don't care for their President, but they cannot speak out against him or the dictatorial regime there or they could disappear. It's really heartbreaking how they are kept in fear. :( Are the rulers in the GCC supposed to be Islamic? The ones in control in Syria are Alawaites so basically secular to most religious Muslims there.

Susanne said...

I was reading your comments to a friend just a few minutes ago to get his Arab thoughts on what you all shared yesterday and he agreed that the honor/shame, hush-hush about sins things made a lot of cultural sense.

I personally think the Quran (at least the English translation that I have) points out clues to the prophets' sins. They aren't spelled out in detail like the Bible's version, however, even as I mentioned in my post about David the other day (sura 38 notes) there are connections. That sura mentions a story about ewes and God admonished David not to follow his lust. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but FOR ME knowing the Bible's story about David's adultery plus the Nathan confronting David story with a talk of ewe (lambs) then it was like "Ahhh" a little bit.

Also as I was thinking of Stacy's comment and reading it to my friend, I wondered if maybe it wasn't so much that ancient Israelite culture wanted to portray their famous king as sinful. After all if I were telling you of my hero and favorite President, I'd likely hit all the accomplishments and conveniently gloss over the not-so-great parts of his/her life. Granted I know I'm saying this as one who believes the Bible was inspired by God to be a message for us about Himself and His dealing with people in the world He created, but what came to my mind is that when the Bible was being written by human authors, they were compelled by God to be honest in telling the good and bad points about their national heroes. The chroniclers and scribes may have desired to gloss over Abraham, Moses, David's errors (sins, mistakes, faults) however, in the spirit of Truth (and God is Truth) they were compelled/inspired by Him to tell it all for an example to us. That was just something else that came to mind.

Also I couldn't help but think of what both Wafa' said about Jesus in the Bible and Suroor's ending note about only one man being perfect and made out to be divine and the "fear" of something like the Trinity... that could be a whole 'nother post, but for me these were super-interesting thoughts from both of you.

Suroor said...

Oh yes, the rulers are very much Islamic. Strictly so.

I found an article for you that I'm certain you will like a lot:


So tell me how you like it.

Susanne said...

Suroor, wow on so many levels. Lots to think about concerning that article. I'm glad you brought it to my attention.

I read a book by a guy who used to be part of the PLO. He even met Yasser Arafat if I remember correctly. He left Gaza to work in America and God changed his life drastically. He now ministers to his people (the Palestinians) in the West Bank and prior to the blockade on Gaza, he went back to his home to minister to his people. There was something in his book that really stood out to me. I can't remember the exact words, but it was along the lines of rejection and longing. Ishmael was "rejected" and Isaac was the child of the promise. He said that Islam came from this form of rejection and when I read this article about Muhammad's longing for belonging it reminded me of what I read.

Oh, here is where I mentioned that book in 2008.


I have to get ready for church now or I'll be late!

Talk to you later and thanks much for the article. I really connect more with Muhammad on a human level, the humble side. Everything I typically reject about him is the POWER side because to me it's so anti-Jesus. I like the servant attitude of the Christ and this is what I expect of Muhammad. So this article actually softened my view of Muhammad and makes me think (some) Muslims are to blame for wrongly exalting this mere man to sometimes being over God.

Durriyyah said...

"You'd think if God instructed you to refer back to the Bible - since He acknowledged the Quran was merely a reminder - that He would preserve the book you are supposed to look back on for further reference! Rats!" - Ah, but it's still there to the point that we can realize that we have the same original author, even if it has been tampered since then. We know that Abraham (pbuh) had a book as well, but this is no longer with us, and we are not told to refer back to this. Instead, we are told about previous revelation and the errors that have occurred along the way. Take for instance if there was a flood or fire in my home and you were going through the rubble. You find a couple books, but they are all in pieces. You look through them and based on a number of reasons, you determine that various pieces of paper scattered about are parts of one of my journals. The Bible is piecing these pieces together through ancient manuscripts, and with the same logic and reason, we can see the connection between that and the Qur'an.

The biggest proponent to my husband's conversion was realizing this IS the same message, and this came from knowledge of the Bible. Also, check out Dr. Jerald Dirks. He received a degree from Harvard Divinity school and will tell people that was caused him to be a Muslim, in short, was a good seminary education. :)

Interesting your Muslim friend understood it this way. The theories (and of course they are theories because we are discussing people's intention long ago) I've heard are that between the tribes of Israel, they would defame one Prophet as they believed theirs to be "better" and so forth. I don't have a lot of information on this, but it is something interesting to think about… if we believe that it has been changed to slander someone, WHY would they do that? I'm sure we can come up with numerous political and social reasons. Another reason we could reasonably come up with is that these stories were added as the Bible was hidden from common hands in order to raise Jesus up to be the only one to even come close to being a good person. Again, theories.

"Sure some will judge the message by those who say they follow it, yet in the end is God's message dependent on faulty, weak humans or can it stand on its own?" - Ah, but then why the arguments against Muhammed (pbuh) and his life, if God's message can stand on its own? (Rhetorical question) I understand that Muslims believe that he is a model of character, but if we are using the same measuring stick, then why the use of character in terms of Paul to state his obedience to the Message? If character does not come into play, then the change in Paul's behavior should not be a point of discussion to justify using his books and teachings. And if God's message can stand on its own, why not reveal the Message without the Prophets?

"Just because a fallible person sins - even greatly - it doesn't mean God's message is null and void." Very true! We don't take the previous scriptures as null and void. Heck, we could get in the realm of atheism at that point. **danger** The idea is moreover that it raises a question on the validity of the scripture we have in our hands today.

"This gives me hope because it shows how God can use people in spite of their wrongdoings. How God can redeem broken lives to bring Himself glory! How He can bring beauty from ashes." - I love this!! We find so many stories of people who come to God and their lives change, no matter their previous circumstance. Hadiths are brimming with these type of examples of common people walking in the path of God. None of us can ever lose hope knowing how Merciful God really is!


Durriyyah said...

"When we inflate the Bible and Quranic characters to nearly-perfect people, we miss out on a whole lot of God's amazing mercy and love!" - Ah, but this is a Mercy from God… to see an example of a regular human being… who eats, gets tired, has a family, works, etc. living their life in the path God has shown them. And by walking in the footsteps of the prophets, we too can achieve the sweetness of faith that only a close relationship with God can bring.

Susanne said...

Durriyyah, thanks for your thoughts on this post. I can understand your confusion especially as it relates to the change in Paul. :)

I think most prophets were fine people, but they were sinners. Not perfect. The ones who were the biggest sinners (if we want to say it like that) were the kings like David or Solomon. And they weren't prophets preaching for people to repent. They were political leaders of Israel.

Enjoyed your thoughts! Thank you!