Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 81-92 Continue the Discussion about Those Who Follow Former Revelation

I definitely see the value of the pledge being made in verse 81. However, based on what is being said, doesn’t it make sense that Jews and Christians rejected Mohammed and Islam since, as was mentioned last week multiple times, the revelations Mohammed was receiving contradicted some of the stories in the Bible? I even said last week that, “Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse [72] means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories.” In this discussion, it’s necessary to set aside the Muslim belief that the Bible was long-since corrupted, because we have to be in the minds of Jews and Christians of Mohammed’s day to understand what they were thinking – particularly as it relates through verse 81.

They wouldn’t have understood that their text was corrupted, so as they saw it, someone was revealing revelation (that according to Asad they believed in the beginning), but then that person started saying things that no longer “confirmed the truth already in your possession,” and so according to Asad they later rejected Mohammed. This is not in any way my passing judgment on the validity of anyone’s revelation or the connection it has to other revelation, but I’m just trying to get in the head of Jews/Christians at Mohammed’s time from the perspective of Muslims, and it seems to me that there’s a good reason that those people were “turning away:” because of the very reason and pledge they took articulated in verse 81. It hardly seems fair that they should be scorned or punished for their actions based on this logic.

Verses 84-85 sound credo-like in their words. There is nothing in true religion but surrender to God, and all the prophets from Abraham forward knew this.

Verses 86-88 actually seem to stand in sharp contrast to some of the verses that we discussed from The Cow in which everyone who believed in God and some other basic concepts could go to Heaven. I know that we’ve encountered other verses that contradicted those already, but I am beginning to find those original verses particularly overshadowed by the animosity being shown towards Jews and Christians that just aren’t accepting Mohammed. Again, that makes me believe that something was happening in the life of the prophet with the Jews and Christians that was troubling and frustrating. I remember a verse that said that those who are given the ability to know the truth and then deny it will not go to Heaven, which seems to be a reasonable subgroup of the larger Jews and Christians group that could go to Heaven because they submitted to God in their own way. It would seem, however, that such people can’t have been confronted by Mohammed and have denied him or they’re not going up anymore. Verse 90 itself really seems to reflect this attitude by combining the original idea and the sentiment within these verses.

The complementary nature of verses 90 and 91 is rather striking. On the one hand, no amount of money will serve as an acceptable ransom for the souls of nonbelievers. Likewise, however, for believers, no amount of belief will be acceptable if they don’t, in a phrase, put their money where their mouths are, and provide for others’ needs. Very interesting contrast.

What can you add to these verses to help elucidate their meaning better?

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Al-’Imran 81-92

81. AND, LO, God accepted, through the prophets, this solemn pledge [from the followers of earlier revelation]: “If, after all the revelation and the wisdom which I have vouchsafed unto you, there comes to you an apostle confirming the truth already in your possession, you must believe in him and succour him. Do you” – said He – “acknowledge and accept My bond on this condition?” They answered: “We do acknowledge it.” Said He: “Then bear witness [thereto], and I shall be your witness. 82. And, henceforth, all who turn away [from this pledge] – it is they, they who are truly iniquitous!” 83. Do they seek, perchance, a faith other than in God, although it is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return? 84. Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves.” 85. For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost. 86. How would God bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny the truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is true, and [after] all evidence of the truth has come unto them? For, God does not guide such evildoing folk. 87. Their requital shall be rejection by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] men. 88. In this state shall they abide; [and] neither will their suffering be lightened, nor will they be granted respite. 89. But excepted shall be they that afterwards repent and put themselves to rights: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. 90. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. 91. Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and die as deniers of the truth – not all the gold on earth could ever be their ransom. It is they for whom grievous suffering is in store; and they shall have none to succour them. 92. [But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof.

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Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 64-71 Appeal to Jews and Christians to Worship Only God

To all of the wonderful participants and readers of Quran Read-A-Long,

I’m so sorry for the extended hiatus I took. Not only did I move from San Francisco to Atlanta over the past month and a half, both breaking down one life and setting up another anew elsewhere, but I traveled during part of the interim to San Diego and twice to Washington, leaving me very little time to address any facet of this blog, much less something that takes the thought and energy of reading the Quran (fortunately I’d set a few motivational posters to future-post). In any case, I really appreciate your patience and hope that you’re willing to resume reading the Quran with me each Wednesday. Most of the rest of this blog will be ignored for a while, but I think that Quran Read-A-Long is the one thing that is important to me to continue doing each week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input.

Thank you so much for being a part of this project,

Jay

Without further ado, let’s discuss Al-‘Imran 64-71.

Verse 64 seems to be an amicable outreaching towards both Christians and Jews, hoping that neither will recognize or worship any but God. At its most obvious level, this is a dig at Christianity, asking Christians to set aside the notion that a man – however prophetic – could also be divine. Interestingly, Asad’s note from this verse indicated that this was also aimed at the Jews who sometimes attributed a quasi-divine status to Ezra or certain Talmudic scholars.

Though I’ve heard of prophets and even the greatest Talmudic sages being described as shining with the light of God or some other comparable phrase, I’ve never heard or read anything about these people actually holding some kind of divine or even quasi-divine status as a being more than human. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t believe that such a belief amongst Jews could be true. The reverence ascribed to some of these figures and the language used to discuss them could definitely get muddled through the generations and in the right environment (read: a Christian environment where the idea of a human having a touch of the divine is conceptually acceptable) could certainly come out this way. However, having not heard of it, I can only imagine that this occurrence was few and far between (and gone now), making this verse an open invitation to all whose revelation came before and, in its specifics, is aimed primarily at Christians.

Amen to the appeal offered in verse 65. The idea that Abraham (or, in Judaism, the other forefathers like Isaac and Jacob) obeyed the laws of the Torah is absurd. Let’s exercise a little reason. Now, I’ve no doubt that the rabbis sometimes knew they were being silly and fanciful when they suggested that instead of being sacrificed, Isaac went to study Torah with the sages for three years (and other comparable stories), but it gets a little nutty when other people can’t recognize those capricious words for what they are and start insisting that the forefathers did such things and obeyed the Torah. The same goes for the Gospel. Abraham wasn’t an obedient Christian (though some of his behavior, I would agree with parts of Paul’s letters, does provide a model for what a good Christian is supposed to be – namely, Abraham’s faith, particularly as seen through the eyes of Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling) just as he wasn’t a good Jew.

I’m most curious about the note that Asad includes at the end of verse 70. He writes, “Lit., ‘when you [yourselves] bear witness:’ an allusion to the Biblical prophecies relating to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.” I think that we’ve already encountered one or two of these that got brought up, but I’d love to hear about more places in the Bible that are considered to be allusions to Islam and Mohammed. Is there a list of those anywhere online or a book that someone’s written?

Overall there’s a certain frustration evident in these verses. It seems as if Mohammed is getting tired of the back and forth with the local Jews and Christians. Certainly many of them have been and still are hassling him about his new religion and prophetic claims, but I’m wondering if there’s anything particular in history that is ascribed to these verses – a notable argument with a notable Jew or Christian or something. They just seem like they’re uttered in frustration.

That’s it for this week, but I’m so glad to be back and doing Quran Read-A-Long. Please leave your own thoughts and comments below, and as always, please answer any of my questions or pose and answer any of your own.

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Al-’Imran 64-71

64. Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God.” And if they turn away, then say: “Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.” 65. O FOLLOWERS of earlier revelation! Why do you argue about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till [long] after him? Will you not, then, use your reason? 66. Lo! You are the ones who would argue about that which is known to you; but why do you argue about something which is unknown to you? Yet God knows [it], whereas you do not know: 67. Abraham was neither a “Jew” nor a “Christian,” but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. 68. Behold, the people who have the best claim to Abraham are surely those who follow him – as does this Prophet and all who believe [in him] – and God is near unto the believers. 69. Some of the followers of earlier revelation would love to lead you astray: yet none do they lead astray but themselves, and perceive it not. 70. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you deny the truth of God’s messages to which you yourselves bear witness? 71. O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you cloak the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth of which you are [so well] aware?

Quran Read-A-Long: An Attempt to Grapple with the Notion of Faith in Islam

I like this quick tale about Abraham in verse 258. I can’t say I have anything in particular to add to its understanding, but I like it. I think it’s funny that the demonstrative tale in verse 259 would be placed between Abraham’s assertion of God’s greatness and his seeming lack of faith in verse 260.

It seems especially odd to me that someone speaking to God would then question matters that God says are so, like resurrection. It seems somewhat illogical since faith is believing without proof and Abraham already has proof of God since they’re chatting casually. Why would Abraham tell God that he has faith but that he just needs a little proof to lay his mind at ease. Needing proof is the essence of not having faith. As Jesus said, it is a wicked generation that needs signs. Not to go all Jesus quoting on anybody – I think it can be very annoying when people do that to make a point – but I do it to emphasize the notion of faith, which is Jesus’ point. You have to believe in things without being shown that they are so. Otherwise you don’t have faith.

I know it seems silly but it makes me think of the Keanu Reeves movie, Constantine. Reeves’ character, thought that he deserved to go to heaven because he believed in God and hell and damnation and all the stuff, as a Catholic, he was supposed to. The angel Gabriel (in the movie) tells him that he doesn’t believe in these things. He knows them to be true because he died briefly, saw these things, and was then resuscitated (or came back to life, if you prefer the symbolic language).

In any case, the point is that once you know, it’s no longer faith. It’s knowledge. That isn’t to say that faith is without knowledge, but just to say that Abraham’s request in this story, considering the mention of faith, is at odds with what my understanding of faith is (and I’ve worked very hard to understand faith). Perhaps faith in Islam is meant in another way (or the translation is tripping me up and Arabic has an in between word) and I’m failing to understand that (and when I say faith, I’m not using the word as a substitute for the word religion). If you can shed light on this issue, I’d be most appreciative.

Finally, my apologies for the two week hiatus from Quran Read-A-Long. Life became overwhelmingly busy and disappointingly, this and my other blogging “responsiblities” got pushed by the wayside. I felt an absence, not from the rest of it, but from this, and am glad to be doing it again. I hope that in the future I don’t have to skip any weeks. Thanks for your patience.

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The Cow 258-260

258. ART THOU NOT aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: “My Sus’tainer is He who grants life and deals death.” [The king] replied: “I [too] grant life and deal death!” Said Abraham: “Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!” Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong. 259. Or [art thou, O man, of the same mind] as he who passed by a town deserted by its people, with its roofs caved in, [and] said, “How could God bring all this back to life after its death?” Thereupon God caused him to be dead for a hundred years; whereafter He brought him back to life [and] said: “How long hast thou remained thus?” He answered: “I have remained thus a day, or part of a day.” Said [God]: “Nay, but thou hast remained thus for a hundred years! But look at thy food and thy drink, untouched is it by the passing of years – and look at thine ass! And We did all this so that We might make thee a symbol unto men. And look at the bones [of animals and men] – how We put them together and then clothe them with flesh!” And when [all this] became clear to him, he said: “I know [now] that God has the power to will anything!” 260. And, lo, Abraham said: “O my Sustainer! Show me how Thou givest life unto the dead!” Said He: “Hast thou, then, no faith?”(Abraham) answered: “Yea, but [let me see it] so that my heart may be set fully at rest.” Said He: “Take, then, four birds and teach them to obey thee; then place them separately on every hill [around thee]; then summon them: they will come flying to thee. And know that God is almighty, wise.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 130-141 Speaks of Islam’s Relationship to Judaism, Christianity and Their Shared Prophetic History

Verses 130 to 133 affirm the commitment of the ‘forefathers,’ if I can use a particularly Jewish word for referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (is that word used in Islam?) to the one and only God and Abraham’s very language reminds us of the importance of submitting to God – of Islam.

In verse 134 something fascinating happens: we are told that each person is judged by his own merit. Fantastic! In the Bible this is not so. Numbers 14:18 says, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Well that sucks!

We’re responsible for what the people before us did? In the real world this sometimes seems to be the case: future generations will suffer the transgressions of our current (and recent politicians), by having to mend relations with the world, endure the destruction of social security’s false promises and bail ourselves out of a seemingly insurmountable debt – but is God inflicting this punishment on us because of previous generations? The Bible says yes and the Quran says no. Each man is responsible for his own fate, a notion that manifests again at the end of this section.

I also like the call of verse 135, which says, forget the religion (Judaism or Christianity) and emulate the righteous and pious person who came before them both: Abraham. Of course, we are supposed to understand, I’d imagine, that Abraham was the archetype of the good Muslim and being a good Muslim means being like Abraham, but we see that the importance here is the qualities: upright and not an idolater. The Quran follows up by showing reverence for all the prophets to whom God provided revelation and who acted properly, not distinguishing between them.

The continuation and links to the previous religious traditions, I think, is a very special element of Islam. For obvious reasons, Judaism can’t easily link forward, and the development of modern Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is the story of the two traditions trying to differentiate themselves from one another in the early centuries of the Common Era. Islam, however, draws on the strengths of both (their righteous prophets and not their tangential modern results) and gives us, in a sense, a more inclusive religious offering.

What do you think about these verses? What did I miss?

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The Cow 130-141

130. Who will turn away from the creed of Abraham but one dull of soul? We made him the chosen one here in the world, and one of the best in the world to come, 131. (For) when his Lord said to him: “Obey,” he replied: “I submit to the Lord of all the worlds.” 132. And Abraham left this legacy to his sons, and to Jacob, and said: “O my sons, God has chosen this as the faith for you. Do not die but as those who have submitted (to God).” 133. Were you present at the hour of Jacob’s death? “What will you worship after me?” he asked his sons, and they answered: “We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, of Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac, and one and only God; and to Him we submit.” 134. Those were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds. 135. They say: “Become Jews or become Christians, and find the right way.” Say: “No. We follow the way of Abraham the upright, who was not an idolater.” 136. Say: “We believe in God and what has been sent down to us, and what had been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their progeny, and that which was given to Moses and Christ, and to all other prophets by the Lord. We make no distinction among them, and we submit to Him.” 137. If they come to believe as you did, they will find the right path. If they turn away then they will only oppose; but God will suffice you against them, for God hears all and knows everything. 138. “We have taken the coloring of God; and whose shade is better than God’s? Him alone we worship.” 139. Say: “Why do you dispute with us about God when He is equally you Lord and our Lord? To us belong our actions, to you yours; and we are true to Him.” 140. Or do you claim that Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring were Jews or Christians? Say: “Have you more knowledge than God?” Who is more wicked than he who conceals the testimony he received from God? God is not unaware of all you do. 141. They were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 122-129 Introduces us to Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba

Verse 123 is a sad day to imagine, when men stop acting on behalf of one another and no one is willing to stand up for another.

Abraham and Such

The verses about Abraham fascinate me, primarily for their similarities to and differences from the biblical story. According to the Bible Abraham didn’t ask about his progeny – he was simply promised by God that he would be the father of many nations (among a few other things). Biblically, God made no caveats regarding the transgressors among Abraham’s progeny, though once Israel was with Moses in the desert they were reassured that if they were bad they would get kicked out of Cana’an.

So what is the relevance of Abraham here being told that God doesn’t tolerate transgressors or make them leaders among men? Well, for one thing, it adds an element of merit into the story that the Bible lacks. Abraham, in the Bible, is singled out by God for absolutely no reason. Numerous stories about “why Abraham” have been invented but none exist in the Bible itself. That is, no merit is involved with Abraham or his offspring. In the Quran, however, whether or not there is a reason for picking Abraham (I’m not there yet if there is), he is told that God will not honor his progeny who have what seems to be negative merit; that is, who are transgressors. This is a more long-sighted and thoughtful God. The God of Genesis makes an arbitrary promise and seems forced by the honor of His word to follow through for hundreds of years.

The Ka’aba

The connection of Abraham and Ishmael to the Ka’aba is also an interesting element to the understanding of Abraham for those familiar with only the biblical stories. It adds an entirely new dimension to the characters, particularly Ishmael, who plays a backseat role in the Bible. Connecting this revered figures to this spot and its sanctification must truly enhance the spirituality of worship.

The Bible connects Abraham with numerous spots in Canaan (Beer Sheba, Bethel, etc.), and though some people visit them out of reverence none is actually turned into a place of worship. Of course, it is believed that the spot where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice occured at Mount Moriah, which is allegedly the same place that the Temple was eventually located (where the Dome of the Rock now stands), but that is merely speculative (and in Islam the attempted sacrifice wasn’t of Isaac anyway!). All we know is that Abraham walked three days from Be’er Sheba and there is no real connection to the Temple Mount being Mount Moriah, nor does the Bible say it is so. The attempt to draw the connection in Jewish history, however, reinforces the understanding of the significance for Muslims that Abraham was involved with the Ka’aba.

Abraham and Islam

Abraham’s entreaty of God is also fascinating. By asking to be made to submit and by asking for submissive progeny it seems to me that he is literally asking for Islam, which means submission.

Though Jews like to say that Abraham was the first Jew, the Bible doesn’t make this claim and it is relatively unfounded. In the Quran, however, Abraham seems to be asking for, and therefore in a sense founding, Islam. Of course, Islam doesn’t begin until Mohammed’s time, but this lays the foundation for that in the earliest relevant generation.

Is verse 129 meant to be a specific reference to a particular apostle or a general plea for apostles to come and provide guidance? That is to say, is this a reference to Mohammed?

Summary

What do you think of these verses? What can you add that I didn’t mention or correct that I said? Have you ever been to the Ka’aba? Can you share your experience with us?

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The Cow 122-129

122. O Children of Israel, remember the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 123. Fear the day when no man will stand up for man in the least, and no ransom avail nor intercession matter nor help reach. 124. Remember, when his Lord tried Abraham by a number of commands which he fulfilled, God said to him: “I will make you a leader among men.” And when Abraham asked: “From my progeny too?” the Lord said: “My pledge does not include transgressors.” 125. Remember, We made the House (of Ka’bah) a place of congregation and safe reatreat, and said: “Make the spot where Abraham stood the place of worship;” and enjoined upon Abraham and Ishmael to keep Our House immaculate for those who shall walk around it and stay in it for contemplation and prayer, and for bowing in adoration. 126. And when Abraham said: “O Lord, make this a city of peace, and give those of its citizens who believe in God and the Last Day fruits for food,” He answered: “To those will I also give a little who believe not, for a time, then drag them to Hell, a dreadful destination!” 127. And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael (he prayed): Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything; 128. And make us submit, O Lord, to Your will, and our progeny a people submissive to You. Teach us the way of worship and forgive our trespasses, for You are compassionate and merciful; 129. And send to them, O Lord, an apostle from among them to impart Your messages to them, and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and correct them in every way; for indeed You are mighty and wise.”

Fun with the Bible: The Theme of the Second Son in Genesis and How God Does What He Wants

The Nifty Theme of Anti-Primogeniture

One interesting theme to note in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is how it’s all about God changing the way that the natural order plays out. One primary example of the way this happens is who the inheritance goes to in the line of the Israelites ancestors. In each instance, it is the older son that tradition and convention and ‘nature’ tell us should get the inheritance – known as primogeniture – but the second son who actually receives it because that is God’s will.

Abraham’s inheritance should actually go to Ishmael as his first born male son. However, it is actually Isaac who receives Abraham’s inheritance. Similarly, Isaac had two twin sons, Esau, who came out first, and Jacob, who came out second. Esau was meant to get his father’s blessing and inheritance, but it was Jacob who received it.

Why Can’t I Have Babies?

This theme presents itself in the case of the matriarchs as well. In each case, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are all barren and unable to provide children for their husbands, but God reverses the natural order and allows them all to have children because he will affect the way this line goes.

Applying This to the Torah at Large

This notion sits behind the entire experience of the Israelites as they are given the land of Cana’an by God, and is the point that the Five Books of Moses are making (in the story part, not the laws). God, at creation, has partitioned the land of the earth accordingly, but because it was His land, He was entitled to change His mind later on – something He did – and give certain parts to other people. The Torah is the story of him opting to give an already alloted piece of land to the descendants of Abraham.

In a cynical sense, the Torah is, in essence, an Israelite justification for why they had the right to dispossess the local people and take the land for themselves and live there. Their book says, because God told us it was ours when He changed his mind about the people here! The Torah is an old-ass piece of political propaganda, if you look at it this way.

Disclaimers

A. the Torah is A WHOLE lot more than this.

B. this is a cynical view though something to consider

C. Though the attitude may have modern ramifications this understanding is not meant to be applied – nor should it be applied – to the modern circumstances in the state of Israel. That would be foolish and lack consideration for myriad other factors like factual historical circumstances and other purposes of the Torah.

Wrap Up

What do you think of these ideas? What do you find noteworthy around these stories in the book of Genesis?

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Cartman is Ordained by God in “Something You Can Do with Your Finger,” South Park Episode 409

This episode is wonderful for a few reasons. On a religious note, we can’t help but appreciate Cartman’s attitude and approach towards God. Not only does he believe that God has ordained him for what he is to do (start a boy band) but he challenges God, even demonstrating his fright after doing so (he calls God a pussy and then insists he was just kidding).

This episode plays upon a common theme in our thinking: that we think God wants what we do and that he is responsible for our successes and failures. Now, I’m not challenging the notion that there’s anything wrong with thinking that God has a hand in our lives. Lots of people think that and who would I be to tell them that they’re wrong?

However, this notion does bring the fact to light that it hardly makes sense for God to have chosen us for every activity that we want to do – or that he then holds us up as a test. It reminds one an awful lot of Genesis chapter 22, in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, even though he has just given Isaac to him at the most unlikely time in Abraham and his wife, Sarah’s, lives.

Do you like this episode? Why or why not? Do you think God has a hand in everything we do?

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