The Purpose Driven Life, Part I

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Sep 12, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Purpose Driven Life, Part I

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

  The glue that holds Muslims together as a community or umma and brings persons of diverse religions together in a larger umma, as called for in the Constitution of Medina, written by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, is their common purpose in life. Two of contemporary Christianity’s leading lights echo all the teachings of Islam that have constituted the essence of all the world religions but often have been absent in translating their common spirituality into practice.

  Among Protestant Christians, perhaps the most well-known today is Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, who said the prayer during the inaugural ceremony of Barack Obama as President of the United States and has become a household word through his well-known book, The Purpose Driven Life.  He has given keynote talks at the conventions in 2009 of both ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). 

  Rick Warren summarizes the universal wisdom in his statement: “We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn’t going to make sense.  Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.  The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. ... You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems. ... God is more interested in what I am than what I do.  That’s why we’re called human beings, not human doings.”

  Another profound spokesperson for all the world religions, though he understands Christianity much better than he does Islam or other religions, is the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  His great spiritual depths are available in the book of daily contemplative readings, Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI, which I have added this year to my daily readings of the Qur’an.  The Center for Understanding Islam, founded immediately after 9/11 by its president, Ali Chaudry, with me as Chairman, is calling for Muslims to gather the relevant verses of the Qur’an that so beautifully have always indicated the common path of a Common Word to a purpose driven life but are not well-known even in inter-faith circles.

The Purpose Driven Life: Part II
The Logos of Allah

  The concept of Logos is common to both Islam, the kalimatu Allah, and to Christianity, especially to Eastern Christianity.  In Christianity it refers to the person of Jesus Christ, whereas in Islam it refers to the content of the Qur’an.  In his daily meditation for January 23rd, entitled “The Yes of Believing,” Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Believing is not an act of the understanding alone, not simply an act of the will, not just an act of feeling, but an act in which all the spiritual powers of man are at work together.  Still more: man in his own self, and of himself, cannot bring about this believing at all; it has of its nature the character of a dialogue ... that unites us in the Yes of believing. ... When the heart comes into contact with God’s Logos, with the Word who became man ... it is a kind of recognition.  For we have been created in relation to God.

  For June 15th, the Holy Father writes under the title “Law is the Inner Direction of Our Lives”: “For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of [man’s] own being.  Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes - it is a gift. ... The law became a burden the moment it was no longer being lived out from within but was broken down into a series of obligations external in their origin and their nature. ... The true law of God is the inner direction of our lives which speaks to us in our conscience.  The conscience is the inner aspect of the Lord’s presence.” 

  The same wisdom applies at the macro level of human history.  In his meditation on April 9th for Easter, addressing the meaning of the divine law at the macro and historical level, Pope Benedict writes: “History does not go on aimlessly.  Justice, love, truth - these are realities, genuine reality.  God loves us; he comes to meet us.”

  And finally The Holy Father warns in his meditation for February 25th: “The temptation to reduce Christianity to the level of a type of moralism is very great in our own day.  For we are all living in an atmosphere of deism.  It seems that there is no room for God himself to act in human history and in my life. ... What is left? Our action.  And we are the ones who must transform the world.  We are the ones who must generate redemption.  We are the ones who must create the better world, a new world.  And if that is how one thinks, then Christianity is dead.  We are lacking the force of eternal love to respond to the challenges of our lives and of politics.  Love has the capacity to transform the world.  It spurs our love and, in this communion of two wills, one can go on.  Christian holiness and rectitude do not consist in any superhuman greatness or in some superior talent.  Christian faith is properly the religion of ordinary people.  It comes about in a state of obedience that places us at God’s disposition wherever He calls.  It is the same obedience that does not trust to one’s own power or one’s own greatness but is founded on the greatness of the God of Jesus Christ.”
The Purpose Driven Life, Part III:
The Highest Measure of Justice

  The essence of all the world religions is not truth or love or justice, but truth as the source of love, and love as the source of justice.  This is a universal trinity that gives every person and all of humankind both transcendent and immanent life.

  The grand master in this aspect of justice is the Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, who was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 until the beginning of the first great Palestinian national-liberation movement in 1935.  He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves.  The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins. 

  The fundamentalist Gush Emunim make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind.  Abraham Isaac Kook’s entire life spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind.  “For the disposition of the Israelite nation,” he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.”

  This was the exact opposite of “secular Zionism,” which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe, compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith.  As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the “microcosm of humanity.”

  “If individuals cannot summon the world to God,” proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call.  The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being.  This is found only among the Jewish people, whose commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.

The Purpose Driven Life, Part IV:
Turning the Darkness to Light

  Like every prophet, in the Christian sense of the word, Rebbe Abrahim Izaac Kook warned that, “when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height.  In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness.  Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible.  Each person then suffers: The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one’s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment.  In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction.  When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one’s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within.  The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.”

  Rebbe Kook warned that “the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry.  It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.” “Love of the nation,” he taught, “or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations.  This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.”

  “By transgressing the limits,” Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust.  But this will merely precede a revival.  “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.” Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant.  “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God.  It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation.  We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation.  Our people will be rebuilt and established through the divine dimension of its life.  Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ‘Let us go and return to the Lord!’ And this return will be a true return”.

  We cannot know whether the catastrophe that Rebbe Kook foresaw was merely a warning, or whether the true return is already taking place, but he was confident of the end result.  The Rebbe always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, and proclaimed that, “the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion [and turn] the darkness to light.”