Deal or no deal?

INsights 043, Friday 16th June 2023

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Assalamu-alaikum. Peace be upon you.

There is a passage from the Qur’an that I haven’t been able to get out of my head in the last few days. It’s the last five verses of Chapter 61, Solid Lines (as-Saff). Below is the translation of the verses, along with some of my reflections.

10 You who believe, shall I show you an exchange that will save you from painful torment?

From elsewhere in revelation, we know that human beings are said to be “in a deep state of loss” and that they will be returned “to the lowest of the low” except for those who believe and do good works. 

What’s striking about this verse is that although it is those who believe who are being addressed, it’s clear that there are still conditions that need to be met to avoid punishment. 

Just because a person shows an initial commitment to God doesn’t mean they can afford to be complacent. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There is always work to do, which is presented in the form of a divine deal, an exchange that is not to be taken lightly. 

It’s noteworthy that God poses an attention-grabbing question, “…shall I show you…?” rather than make a declaration. Our immediate response can only be to sit up, take notice and say, “Yes, please do show us!”

11 Have faith in God and His Messenger and strive for His cause with your possessions and your persons — that is better for you, if only you knew.

Faith needs constant development. That’s why “you who believe” are being reminded that the first stipulation in the contract with God is to “have faith in God and His Messenger”. 

This seems too obvious to mention, but it isn’t in fact to be taken for granted. When believers are met with constant challenges and tribulations, it’s especially easy to lose faith by becoming hopeless and pessimistic, possibly doubtful and rebellious. 

Rather than shrink, God wants us to shine. He wants us to prove our faith by striving for His cause with everything we have. His agenda calls for ambassadors. You and I must wish, and then work, to be one of them. 

It’s a path that involves sacrifice and a careful ordering of priorities. We may have our duties in relation to wealth and family, but to be consumed by them at the expense of striving for God’s cause would be a grave error. 

Remember, this isn’t an optional extra. It’s being presented as a condition of showing ourselves to be true believers and saving ourselves from the worst of outcomes. Even though the path feels daunting, it is “better for you, if only you knew.”

12 He will forgive your sins, admit you into gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the gardens of eternity. That is the supreme triumph.

Here’s the other side of the deal, “the supreme triumph” of forgiveness and entry into paradise.

The mention of forgiveness is a powerful reminder that even those who rise to the challenge, who fulfil their side of the bargain, will make mistakes along the way. 

If you think you’re not ready to seek ways in which to strive for God’s cause because of your imperfections, this should be a source of encouragement. In fact, embarking sincerely on this journey is likely to be a very effective remedy for your weaknesses and sins. 

After having been forgiven, it’s enjoyment for eternity. Such a grand and everlasting prize should induce a willing and relentless effort on our part… starting now.

13 And He will give you other things that will please you: His help and an imminent breakthrough. Give the faithful the good news.

Although the ultimate victory is in the next life, it is God’s way to reward believers with the fruits of their labour in this life. For those who are striving for God’s cause, that victory is to witness faith flourishing in society.

For them, the sweetest outcome is that people are finding God and joining the caravan of believers in their journey to Him.

God’s name is cherished, His commands are obeyed, and all the prosperity and harmony that flows from a life of faith become widespread. 

In this world, what can be better than that?

14 You who believe, be God’s helpers. As Jesus, son of Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers in God's cause?’ The disciples said, ‘We shall be God’s helpers.’ Some of the Children of Israel believed and some disbelieved: We supported the believers against their enemy and they were the ones who came out on top.

The passage closes with a final rallying call to all of us to “be God’s helpers.” I’ve often spoken about just how remarkable this phrase is.

God doesn’t need help. Even though the words mean for us to help His cause, and of course He could have phrased it as such, He chose very direct and intimate language. It reminds us that our relationship with our Lord is meant to be experienced in a very close and personal way. 

It’s fascinating that the disciples of Jesus, who responded positively to the call to be God’s helpers, are cited as role models for the companions of Muhammad, peace be upon him. 

The battle between faith and denial is an age-old struggle. Each party has had its advocates through the centuries, and that is still the case today. So, by extension, both the disciples and the companions who struggled for the cause of faith remain fine examples for us in our times. 

They did their best to support the mission, being happy to put their possessions and lives on the line if required, and to fulfil their end of the divine deal. As such, they can be hopeful for all that God has promised on His end, since God never breaks His promise.

So ask yourself…

- what are you going to do to follow in their footsteps in a way that is both courageous and appropriate to today’s circumstances? 

- how are you going to be one of God’s helpers? 

- how are you going to strive for His cause?

Deal or no deal? It’s your choice.

Before you go...

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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.

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