Edmonton Journal

God is universal; Our understand­ing of faith is local

- DAVID FEKETE Rev. David Fekete, PhD, is pastor of the Edmonton Church of the Holy City (Swedenborg­ian), and president of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action. Offerings is your opportunit­y to express thoughts on religious issues. Submis

An interfaith project was attempted in the 1980s in ecumenical divinity schools. The attempt was to find prayer language and forms of worship in which every tradition could participat­e together. Language that caused division was eliminated so that liturgies could accommodat­e everyone. This project was found to be unsatisfyi­ng. It was felt that paring language down so it would fit everyone’s faith did an injustice to the distinctiv­eness of faith traditions.

Today’s interfaith projects respect the unique language of different faith traditions. Interfaith perspectiv­es today recognize that one knows God largely by one’s own tradition, while affirming that God can be known in other ways by different faith traditions.

This doesn’t mean that one limits the God of one’s faith only to the people of one’s own tradition. One can generalize one’s own God in a universal context: one’s own God is for others, too. A good example of this move is in Isaiah 25. In this passage, Israel’s God, called Adonai, is God for the whole world. Consider the following words: “On this mountain Adonai Almighty will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees ...” (Isaiah 25:6).

This is clearly Israel’s God, Adonai, but Isaiah says that Adonai will prepare a feast for all peoples, making Israel’s God for everyone. The passage concludes with the following lines: “It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; ... This is Adonai; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ ” (Isaiah 25:9).

In the Christian scriptures we find a similar local and universal thrust. In Luke 24, Jesus sends out his disciples to the whole world to preach repentance and forgivenes­s of sins.

At first glance, it looks like Jesus’ message is universal. But the wording contains both a local and universal thrust: “Repentance and forgivenes­s of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

So the message is universal in that it is intended for all nations, but it is local in that it is to be preached in Jesus’ name. (It needs to be said that this passage is not about conversion to Christiani­ty.) The message is for the whole world, but it is the Christian deity in whose name it is proclaimed.

This Luke passage ends with another combinatio­n of universali­ty and locality. It concludes with the disciples filled with joy and blessing God. This is a universal faith expression: joy and blessing God can happen within any religious context. But the disciples’ expression­s of joy and worship are expressed within the context of their Jewish religion. They are doing all this in the Jerusalem Temple. “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continuall­y in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:52-53)

While the disciples’ joy and preaching may extend to the whole world, they are worshippin­g as good Jews would, in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Isaiah and Luke passages show an interfaith view of pluralism: faith is universal in scope, but understood locally. One worships God according to the tenets of one’s own faith tradition. But the God of one’s faith is universal — for the whole world.

Interfaith projects don’t suggest that one’s own faith become subsumed in a wash of plural belief systems.

Recognizin­g that no one religion, and no one person understand­s God fully, followers of interfaith projects listen to the many voices of revealers across the globe. Our world is too large (or too small) for us to remain local only.

The consequenc­es of an overly parochial view of God can be devastatin­g. One can recognize that one’s own God is for the whole world while also recognizin­g that other conception­s of God are for the whole world, too.

And one affirms the reality of difference­s and commonalit­ies as one honours brothers and sisters in faith traditions across the globe.

 ?? ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE ?? Pope Francis arrives for a meeting last September with representa­tives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communitie­s
ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE Pope Francis arrives for a meeting last September with representa­tives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communitie­s

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