Central to the Christmas story is that Jesus’ visit reveals the depths of God’s good will to all people (Luke 2). It’s no surprise that Jesus’ followers traditionally take Christmas time as a key reminder to, likewise, exercise good will to all. It’s great that Eternity is taking the opportunity to explore just how to do that – particularly among those in our community who don’t always feel that they enjoy the good will of Australians. Muslims are just such people.
What many ordinary Muslims – and very many female Muslims – regularly experience is not good will from their Australian neighbours, so much as fear, suspicion and even abuse.
The contemporary global refugee crisis is so extreme that it is hard to know where to begin to help, even if we do feel good will.
Most Muslims, of course, are incredibly easy to feel and practise good will toward. In my experience, they are overwhelmingly generous, hospitable and affirming of Christians as fellow God-fearers. Many of us have good Muslim friends at work, school and play for whom good will is the norm in their everyday relationships. Some Muslims, however, are much harder to feel and enact good will toward. Some Muslims are so high-need that it can seem overwhelming. The contemporary global refugee crisis – vast numbers of whom are Muslim – is so extreme that it is hard to know where to begin to help, even if we do feel good will.
Other Muslims hold to such a different view of God’s goodness, and what’s good for society, that mutual good will is sometimes hard to establish. I have often experienced Muslims ridiculing the Christmas good will message as ludicrous – as well as untrue – all the while evangelistically promoting a Muslim view of goodness that usually highlights obedience to Sharia law.
Good will is difficult amid such strong disagreement about deep spiritual truth.
…the sort of good will exemplified by Christmas is real, practical and, often, costly or sacrificial.
Yet, other Muslims are clearly “enemies.” Islamists who hold to strict views on jihad, like ISIS, are ideologically and practically opposed to Christians, seeking to either subjugate or eradicate them. This is not simply a distant threat relegated to Africa or the Middle East. I have played soccer with Muslims who would happily have killed me for my Christian beliefs had we not been living in Australia – and told me so. What might “good will to all” look like here? Like so much of the biblical Christmas story, the idea of good will to all has become tame, domesticated. Like the “Olympic spirit,” it has come to describe a mood or sentiment, within which (at least for Christmas holidays) we all try to get along with our crazy families.
The good will to all that Jesus calls his followers to is substantially more disturbing, unsettling and challenging than that. Far more than a mood, the sort of good will exemplified by Christmas is real, practical and, often, costly or sacrificial.
This sort of good will is big enough to cover all Muslims.
So, Jesus speaks of: giving generously to everyone who begs from you; loaning to anyone without any expectation of being paid back; offering the jacket thief your shirt too; and, carrying your oppressors’ load twice as far as they demand. Jesus also speaks of loving enemies, blessing cursers and abusers, and responding to hatred with forgiveness.
This sort of good will is big enough to cover all Muslims. It is sacrificial enough to attempt outrageous acts of welcome to refugees. It is generous enough to withstand heated disputes over belief, with good humour and grace. It is courageous enough to keep loving those that hate you despite the risk that that hatred might play out in violence.
Offer Christmas gifts to Muslim asylum seekers.
So, here are a few ideas for how Christians, both individually and in community, might exercise this sort of generous, sacrificial and courageous good will towards Muslims this Christmas:
- Pray for Muslims, that they might come to see the truth and beauty of the Christmas story, where God came to visit in person.
- Invite any Muslims you know along to a church or family Christmas celebration – Christmas dinner or, perhaps, Carols by Candlelight. Muslims might not believe in the Easter events, but they do believe that Jesus was miraculously born of the virgin Mary and are more than happy to hear stories of angels and fulfilled prophecy.
- Offer Christmas gifts to Muslim asylum seekers. Perhaps through organised Christian responses such as the Syrian Refugee Response.
- Speak boldly to Muslims about why you think the Christmas story shows the extraordinary good will of God toward all people – even to the “ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
- At the risk of turning my column into an advertorial: join me at the “Understanding and Answering Islam” conference, jointly run by Melbourne School of Theology (MST) and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), at MST on April 7 and 8, 2017.
It takes a high degree of good will to put strong effort into understanding someone else’s worldview and beliefs, as well as thinking hard about how to share Christ with them in a way that will touch both their minds and hearts.
…my hunch is that the biggest hurdle to overcome in exercising good will to Muslims is working out whether we really want to.
Some of these suggestions of good things also will take more effort than others. Still, my hunch is that the biggest hurdle to overcome in exercising good will to Muslims (or anyone else for that matter) is not working out what the appropriate thing to do is, but working out whether we really want to. In other words, the bigger good will challenge is not with the “good,” but with the “will.”
I think that’s why Jesus encourages his followers to pray for their enemies (as well as, not instead of, loving them). Genuinely pursuing goodwill for others is extraordinarily hard, and you will need God’s help in passionately pursuing the sort of good will to all that led Jesus to visit our world, at that first Christmas time.
Dr Richard Shumack is a part-time research fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX) and also Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.