After I posted my interest in having Muslims consider the possibility that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God and the Quran not a book from God, a reader responded, "If you wouldn't mind, providing your readers the courtesy of describing why you - as a Lutheran, no? - believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is the Word of God would be most appreciated."
It is common for Muslims to respond with a question to a question. Ask a Muslim about Muhammad, and he'll ask you about Moses. Raise a question about amputated hands flying in the Quran, and she will inquire about stones hurled in Leviticus.
But this was different. It was an honest question that deserves a serious answer. What do I believe, and why?
Before I get into it, let me present a few alibis. First of all I'm a Lutheran because, as I describe here, I made a spur-of-the-moment turn off the highway last year. The label of the church that attracted me was merely incidental (and what Martin Luther wrote about the Jews in his later years was, in my opinion, indicative of a person who had become mentally unstable).
Secondly, have you noticed how much easier it is for people to talk about what they don't believe than what they do? People proudly describe themselves as agnostics, or doubters, or atheists. Ask them what they do believe, rather than proclaiming what they don't, and you get an glazed stare.
One more thing. In religion, as in politics, it is imperative to define the terms you are talking about. What does the reader mean when she uses the terms "word of God" and "son of God"? If she is thinking Islamically, she means that God dictated words to Biblical writers who wrote them down as Muhammad recited verbatim the messages given him from Allah via Gabriel. She also means that a human, Jesus, somehow became God and Christians call this man-god the son of God.
Back to what I believe about the Bible and Jesus. I believe the Bible is a unique book that conveys two powerful messages: the presence and the purpose of God. God is present with us, and our lives have purpose. We are not alone, and the things we do as well as what happens to us is not meaningless.
Tell me about Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, Moses' murder, David's adultery, Samson cavorting with prostitutes, Joshua's plundering, Ezra forcing men to divorce their wives because they did not belong to the right tribe - and these were the good guys! - and my response is, "Yes, that's who people are and what people do. And the incredible message of the Bible is that God uses people like this to accomplish his purposes." People who, in spite of their weaknesses, want to live close to him. People like Martin Luther, and you and me.
So what do I believe about Jesus? Well, I do believe that for the only time in history a young virgin became pregnant without the input of male sperm. God himself impregnated her, and just as my sons carry characteristics of me Jesus carried the supernatural characteristics of his father. God expressed himself uniquely in human form (which is quite different than a man becoming God, and is also quite different than describing someone such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela as being godlike).
I also think that Jesus died and physically came back from the dead, and that somehow his death means that my shortcomings, sins, and failures are forgiven. The most important moment of my week is when the pastor says every Sunday morning, "You are forgiven of all your sins."
Why can't God just forgive sins? Why did he require the blood of a human sacrifice? I don't know, but I believe there was a necessary link between the death of Jesus and the pardon of my trespasses.
I believe one more thing. I think the Golden Rule is really important, but it is a lot harder to do consistently than people imagine and we often get it wrong. It's not just to treat other people the way you want them to treat you, it is to treat them as they want to be treated. When my housekeeper cleans my house, the Golden Rule is not for me to treat her the way I want her to treat me. I want her to clean thoroughly and not steal my valuables, but that's not the point. What is important is that I treat her with the respect and honor that she deserves as a human being, including not trying to get as much from her for as little money as possible.
Well, there you are. In a nutshell, that's what I believe.