It is central to Christian belief that when anyone in the world, no matter what their circumstances or religion, cries out to God, he hears and responds. It is also true that three of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Judaism (Jews) and Islam (Muslims) – all worship the God whom Abraham worshipped approximately four thousand years ago. In that respect it is absolutely certain that no faithful adherent of any religion has put himself or herself beyond the reach of God.
However, Christians speak about God in ways that make their faith completely unique. The Bible speaks of God as Father, creator of all things. It also speaks of Jesus Christ, the historical figure who lived about two thousand years ago, as God. And it speaks of God as Spirit, active in humans and in the world – the Holy Spirit (known in past centuries as the Holy Ghost). When seen in this complete way, it is clear that not all religions worship that God.
Christians never talk of their three experiences of God as if they were three separate Gods. They always speak of one God. They worship a Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – one God with different characteristics. It is the very great reverence that Christians have for Jesus, not only following his teaching but submitting to him as God, that makes the difference between Christianity and other faiths most clear.
The question of how Christians relate to those of other religions is becoming increasingly pressing. Television and migration have swept away the ignorant assumptions of Christians in former times that those of other faiths were wicked or benighted. More and more evidently there is a willingness of good people of all religions to work together to address racism and poverty. However, it is undeniable that there are groups within all religions (including Christianity) whose extreme opposition to the cultures which have been shaped by other religions has led them to violence. Nothing whatever in mainstream Christian belief suggests that this is acceptable.
Dialogue between people of different faiths is at its best when it seeks understanding, rather than agreement. Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbours in the same way that they love themselves. Most Christians seek to live positively with their neighbours while being true to the most important parts of their faith. But they also want to be open with others about their beliefs, sharing what they have found to be life-enhancing.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all life and breath and everything else … God did this so that [humans] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
Where to find it:
About these words:
They were spoken by Paul, one of the first leaders of the Christian church, to a crowd in Athens about twenty years after the life of Jesus.
And they said…
Richard Coles, clergyman, broadcaster and former rock star:
God is the reality of unimaginable surprise, wonder, love and light that lies beyond the darkest, furthest horizon of human depravity.
Magneto, in Marvel Comics’ X-Men:
Are you a God-fearing man, Senator? That is such a strange phrase. I’ve always thought of God as a teacher — a bringer of light, wisdom, and understanding.
Michael Palin, comedian and broadcaster:
I once gave a talk at a church on the subject, ‘Does God have a sense of humour?’ My obvious answer being that if he created us, then he must have.
Victoria Coren, broadcaster and journalist:
Come on, let’s make this a fair fight, at least. Identify yourselves, thinking believers! Don’t be cowed into silence by the idea that faith is the weakness of a halfwit, like buying your goldfish Christmas presents or watching ITV2. It isn’t. I’ll start. I believe in God and I’m perfectly intelligent and rational. Not that you’d think so if you saw me on Wednesday night!
Carrie Longton, founder of Mumsnet:
I was brought up to believe that God was my Father. That wasn’t a hard image to live with as I had a very loving dad. But the God I know definitely has a mothering side … ‘Mothering’ goes beyond gender, and the God I know through Jesus is both a great father and a great mother.
Tony Jordan, writer of BBC1’s Eastenders, Hustle and The Nativity:
I’d like to be locked in a church with an atheist scientist, so that he or she can explain to me how they can dismiss the notion of God when they can’t even explain what makes up 96 per cent of the universe we see, let alone what’s beyond it. It’s a bit like a three year old sitting in the Sistine Chapel with a sheet of A4 crayon and a chunky wax crayon, trying to explain Michelangelo.
Frank Skinner, comedian:
I have friends who are atheists. There’s this mate of mine. He says, ‘It’s such rubbish. Come back to my flat and I’ll make a cup of tea and we’ll talk the whole thing through.’ So I go back with him and he puts the kettle on. ‘The thing is, Frank, the universe – it just happened. A big bang, an accident, no one made it happen. There’s no great designer, no thought went into it or planning, it just happened – do you get it? … Anyway, that cup of tea won’t make itself.’
I said, ‘Why not?’
Stephen Hawking, physicist, writing in ‘A Brief History of Time’:
The usual approach of science constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe … If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
Maria Mitchell, 1818-1889, astronomer:
Scientific investigations, pushed on and on, will reveal new ways in which God works, and brings us deeper revelations of the wholly unknown.
Woody Allen, film director:
If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.