Q & R: A question from Iran

A friend writes this Q:

I am currently in Iran on business, and yesterday was speaking at a conference in Mashhad. The city houses the second largest Shi’ite shrine in the world, the Shrine of Imam Reza, with more than a million square feet of sacred space. Over 30 million Muslims pilgrimage here every year. Our host, a secular and non practising Muslim, nevertheless was very keen to visit the Shrine to show his respects and pray, and invited me and a few other visitors to join him. One of the guys with me is also a practising Christian. While walking through this magnificent building and seeing the fervour of the devotion of the pilgrims, many of whom were in tears as they prayed and venerated the sepulchre of the long dead Imam, a friend asked me: “Is God here? And who are the enemies of God?” The first question is easily answered in the affirmative. But I was very taken with his second question, and could not find an answer. My own conservative evangelical upbringing wanted to immediately provide the stock reply that Muslims must be the enemy of God, but the reality in front of my eyes did not seem to match that response. I might not agree with how the people in that shrine were seeking God, but I could not deny that their commitment to seeking Him and their devotion to who they understand Him to be far exceeds my own. I could not for one minute entertain the thought that they were God’s enemies.
So, Brian, how would you answer the question: “Who are the enemies of God”?

Here’s my R:

The timing of this question is important, since there is a lot of disturbing and irresponsible saber-rattling going on here in the US about Iran … It’s so good to hear a report from “on the ground” that helps to humanize the Iranian people. I have a story about my first Muslim friend – an Iranian boy – in my upcoming book (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, which is to be released on September 11, 2012).
Jesus reveals God as the friend of sinners, meaning the friend of all. No exceptions. God’s good will is universal, and God doesn’t show favoritism. Jesus taught that God generously gives rain and sun to everyone – not distinguishing between friends and enemies, us and them, good guys and bad guys. When we look through the eyes of Christ (which is, in part, what it means to be “in Christ”), we don’t see male/female, slave/free, Christian/Jew/Muslim/Hindu, and so on. We don’t “recognize people according to the flesh,” but invite everyone to be reconciled to God and one another, because God isn’t holding people’s wrongs against them (I have Matt 5-7, James 2-4, Gal. 3, and 2 Cor. 5 in mind here).
But God’s friendship is not totalitarian or colonizing. God doesn’t say, “Be my friend. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” God allows the option of people choosing to be God’s enemies.
The question you’re asking, in that context, is how do we determine who has made that choice?
Here I’m with Alexander Solzhenitsyn on this. Here’s the full quotation of his thoughts on this subject, from Gulag Archipelago:

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there rotting on prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us it oscillates with the years. And even within the hearts overwhelmed with evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an un-uprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions on the world. They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions of history: they destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.
– Alexander Solzhenitsyn

If I were to answer your important question in a single, simple sentence, those who hate the other (the human other, the nonhuman other) fight against God, for God is love.
So the pious who pray with tears, whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, must always take great care that they do not walk out of the temple, mosque, or church and hate the other (who is their neighbor and brother) … and play the role (recalling Jesus’ parable) of the Pharisee who prayed and felt like a superior insider for his piety.
Let us all pray for peace in the Persian Gulf.