The twenty-ninth chapter of the Qur’an, the Spider, presents two extraordinary gentiles: Noah and Moses. Noah, like Christ, has a “universal covenant” with all of creation. Abraham had faith in God while able to negotiate “against” him. To the Qur’anic author, these men exemplify how we should write the logos into our lives. In all actions, and in all creation, we properly order the words of of the book of our lives. Only we can do this, and hiding behind mere legalisms or mere intellectual faith is not what God desires.
And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?
A reading, from the Book of Genesis:
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
A Psalm, from the Psalms:
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High.
Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
A reading, from the Revelation to St. John:
“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘
You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”
A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
A Qur’anic Homily
A Sign for All Nations
Like Jesus and Mary, Noah is a sign for all nations. It is through Noah that God created a Covenant with all Creation, including non-Jews and even animals. This sign to all nations would not be replicated against until Christ.
Certainly We went Noah to his people and he remained with them for a thousand-less-fifty years. Then the flood overtook them while they were wrongdoers. Then We will deliver him and those who were in the Ark and made it a sign for all the nations.
Thus God teaches patience — not as an end in itself, but as recognition of the way God mediates Himself and the Logos through time. He has given the Torah and the Psalms to the Jews, those and the Gospel to the Christians, and so on. God is One, and to the Qur’anic author, differing texts or even sacraments are simply evidence of God’s patience, not a sign of polytheism:
Do not argue with the People of the Book except in a manner which is best, except such of them as are wrongdoers, and say, “We believe in what has been sent down to you and in what has been sent down to you; our Go, and your God, is One and to Him do we submit.”
But verbal, or spiritual, belief is only part of what God wants. Purely spiritual religion is not a religion at all, as it would simply be an assent of the same truths that the Devil is well aware of. Rather, God wants a universal response to His universal call to prophecy.
Thus have We sent down the Book to you; those to whom We have given the Book believe in it, and of these there are some who believe in it, and none contents Our signs except the faithless.
If your actions and your words and your faith point to God, then the book of your life reflects the Book. This is you following the logos, following the Way, imitating Christ. The signs you should expect are not magic — though God can make that if He wishes — but the innumerable passages in your book which bring you — and others — closer to God.
God’s time will come in the drama of our lives.
Whoever expects to encounter God — God’s time will indeed come, and He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.
To see an example of this, consider Abraham.
The Drama of Our Lives
The Qur’an elides one of the most famous episodes in Abraham’s life: When the LORD tells Abraham that Sodom would be destroyed, Abraham proceeds to negotiate with God. But this is absent in the Qur’an:
And when Our messengers came to Abraham with the good news, they said “We are going to destroy the people of this town. Its people are indeed wrongdoers.”
He said, “Lot is in it.”
They said, “We know better those who are in it. We will surely deliver him and his family, except his wife: she shall be one of those who remain behind.”
The Qur’anic author views the “negotiation” between Abraham and God as one-sided as Jacob’s wrestling with the angel — the Lord would win a negotiation, or even a wrestling match, if He wished to do so. But He communicates through us by actions by our corporal experience, — God’s relationship with Abraham is incorporated within the negotiation, not because God needs to lose a negotiation, but because that sort of manifest signs in an interactive process is humans know anybody.
You did not use to recite any scripture before it, nor did you write it with your right hand, for then the impugners would have been skeptical. Indeed, it is manifest signs in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge, and none contents Our signs except the wrongdoers.
Abraham had a relationship with God — God in His grace granted Abraham that. The “negotiation” doesn’t address questions of God’s omniscience or omnipotence because God is using that dynamic to reveal Himself. But likewise, mere “Belief” is not the same thing as a relationship. Even the demons believe in God, even the devils “have faith” in the Creator:
Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, “We have faith,” and they will not be tested? Certainly We tested those who were before them. So God shall surely ascertain those who are truthful and He shall surely ascertain the liars.
Abraham did not add anything essential to God — God is complete as He is. But in Abraham’s concern for his nephew Lot, Abraham expressed the caring heart and the righteous deeds that God truly wants. Abraham was not selfishly trying to impress God, but lovingly care for his nephew.
Whoever strives, strives only for his own sake. God has indeed no need of the creatures.
Because God is not simply being righteous works, but building a relationship, He can be unfairly generous to us. For those with faith and works – for those who are allegiant to the Lord — He will reward according to the best of our selves, and not the worst.
As for those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them in Our ways, and God is indeed with the virtuous.
Faith and works are intimately tied up. Neither is sufficient in itself because God ‘needs’ neither of these things — but He wants a relationship with you:
As for those who have faith and do righteous deeds, We will absolve them of their misdeeds and We will surely reward them by the best of what they used to do.
Those who have faith and do righteous deeds, We will settle them in the lofty abodes of Paradise, with streams running in them, to remain in them. How excellent is the reward of the workers!
Qur’an 29:7, 58
The Manifest Signs in Our Lives
The Covenant that God erected through Moses, and the patterns that God revealed through Abraham, are for our lives as well. The ups and downs — tragedies and happy days — of our lives are parables no less than Abraham hosting the LORD, or Abraham negotiating with the LORD to save Lot’s family. God’s mediating use of time allows our lives to be parables.
We draw parables for mankind; but no one grasps them except those who have knowledge.
The commandment to love your parents, and the commandment to not bow down to idols, cannot possibly be at odds. (Even to a Qur’anic author, who would have lamented the inability of the Pre-Nicene Church Fathers to hold off the Rise of Catholic–Orthodox Christianity) They are instances of the same command that transcends language, to rightly order your life to others and to God. The pressures we feel in the moment are the unfolding of the drama of the parable.
We have enjoined man to be good to his parents. But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. To Me will be your return, whereat I will inform you concerning what you used to do. Those who have faith and do righteous deeds, We will surely admit them among the righteous.
We may feel God has abandoned us, or we have cheated God, or whatever. These are literally the thoughts of the characters in the middle of the parable. The feelings themselves do not frustrate God, because the drama of our lives — the Criterion or Book we write by our lives — will ultimately be ordered towards or away from God, whatever events it contains.
He will punish whomever He wishes and have mercy on whomever He wishes, and to Him you will be returned. You cannot frustrate Him on the earth or in the heaven, nor do you have besides God any friend or helper.
When you are distressed, pray. When you are angry at God, give Him your anger in prayer. When you are thankful to God, give him your thanksgiving in prayer. Act rightly, have faith, and pray.
Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and maintain the prayer. The prayer indeed restraints from indecent and wrongful conduct, and the remembrance of God is surely greater. And God knows whatever you do.
The silence you may feel, perhaps even now, is not the lack of a sign — it is itself a sign pointing towards God. Are you doing your part in making your actions also point to God?
They say, “Why has not some sign been set down to him from his Lord?”
Say, “These signs are only from God, and I am only a manifest warner.”
Does it not suffice them that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them? There is indeed in that a mercy and admonition for a people who have faith.
God even provides for the animals, He will provide for you, too
How many an animal there is that does not carry its own provision. God provides them and you and He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.
Pivoting to Anti-Catholicism
Very few Qur’anic chapters are complete without a teaching against the Church in Rome, and this is true here. The worldly and cosmic realms, where every thing is created, is used as a parable for the theological realm as well:
God created the heavens and the earth with consummate wisdom. There is indeed a sign in that for the faithful.
Astrology (following the stars and trusting in them) is not a method for salvation, though it may (from time to time) point the way to God. Similarly, the Qur’anic author rejects the ability for any to bear any meaningful weight for another. Christ could not do so, according to the author, and neither can a priest dispensing sacraments:
The faithless say to the faithful, “Follow our way and we will bear your iniquities.” They will not bear anything of their iniquities. They are indeed liars.
The author sees this as a sign of internal inconsistency. After all, God created the lights in the heavens. So, by extension, does He not create the Light of the World:
If you ask them, “Who created the heavens band the earth, and disposed the sun and the moon? They will surely say, “God.” Then where do they stray?
To the Qur’anic author, believing in a Light that is un-created is like a spider using branches as a foundation: a complicated structure (whether a Christology or a web) not rooted on anything firm:
The parable of those who take protectors instead of God is that of the spider that makes a home, and indeed the frailest of homes is the home of a spider, had they known! God indeed knows whatever thing they invoke besides Him, and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise!
Though in trying to emphasize this point, it feels like the Qur’anic author overreaches. Like the argument “there are no atheists in foxholes,” as the Qur’anic author complains that those who believe in intercession pray to God in crisis. But from St. Anthony to St. Christopher, Catholic practice has long been to pray to saints during a crisis.
When they board the ship, they invoke God putting exclusive faith in Him, but when He delivers them to land, behold, they ascribe partners, being ungrateful for what We have given them! So let them enjoy. Soon they will know!
Have they not seen that We have appointed a safe sanctuary, while the people are despoiled all around them? Would they then believe in falsehood and be ungrateful toward the blessing of God?
Noah was a sign to all nations, proof of the universality of God’s love for us. We see this more intensely, and personally, in the life of Abraham, who struggled against God but in a deep relationship with Him. We are called to the same. It is not enough to strive (if we strive in ourselves) or have faith (if we don’t strive at all), but rather we are called to unite our faith and works to God.