Learning Theology From Lilacs – OpEd


Humans have been selectively breeding plants for thousands of years. We call this work “plant breeding” or “hybridizing.” Through hybridizing, humans can create plants with fantastic colors, flower forms, superior pest resistance, or other desirable traits.

The lilacs at Descanso Gardens are special because in the 1950’s and 1960’s Walter Lammerts began breeding a more heat-tolerant hybrid that came to be known as the Descanso Lilacs. Today, Frank Obregon continues to progress the Descanso Lilac into heartier varieties, as the climate shifts to ever warmer and drier, to ensure the lilacs live in the future. For as Henry David Thoreau said: “The very earth itself is a granary and a seminary. Every seed means not only birth but rebirth.” 

God could have created an unchanging world in which perfect genes reproduce perfectly, natural selection would never happen, and humans could never selectively breed plants and animals. Instead of our present twenty million different species we could have only a few thousand unchanging species. But God did not do that. 

Instead, God made an ever changing universe that has been changing for more than 13 billion years. This also applies to humans and their God given religions. “O mankind, We created you from male and female, and made you (into) peoples and tribes, that you may know (respect) one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah Knows and is Acquainted.” (Quran 49:13)

And “Once all humans were but a single community; then they disagreed (formulating different beliefs and rites). Had it not been that your Lord had already so ordained, a decisive judgement would have been made regarding (the truth of) their disagreements.” (Qur’an 10:19) 

In those generations all human communities created different religions of their own with different creeds and ways. Now, if you desire that Allah Himself should uncover the truth and present it to you to enable you to decide which religion is the true one, you should know that this will not be done in this lifetime, because God now requires you to decide this yourself by using your own intelligence and your moral kindness. 

This worldly life is a trial to see whether or not you yourselves recognize truth by competing in doing acts of kindness, toleration and welcoming others who are different into your lands. This is why the Qur’an declares: “Let there be no compulsion in Religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah (one God) has grasped the most trustworthy unbreakable hand hold: Allah hears, and knows all things.” (2:256)

Unlike chemistry, in which every hydrogen atom behaves the same way as every other hydrogen atom, in biology none of the units are independent or replaceable. Whether we look at genes, cells or species, they are all slightly different from each other and related by their ever changing evolutionary history.”

The three Abrahamic religions; Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are closer to each other than each of them is to any non-Abrahamic religion. Yet each of the three religions is unique; and each relates to the other two in its own unique way. 

“And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good; and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.” (Qur’an 4:125) 

There could be no Christians before the birth of Prophet Jesus; and although there have been many hanif muslim monotheists, they could not be members of the Muslim Umma prior to the revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad. 

Judaism is unique because the Jewish People actually preceded the Jewish religion. Thus Qur’an 3.67 states: Abraham (the Hebrew, Genesis 14:13) was not a Jew, nor a Christian; but he was one pure of faith and a muslim (submitting to the one God). He was never of those who associate partners with God.” 

Prophet Abraham could not be a Jew or a Christian, because both the Torah and Gospel were revealed centuries after Prophet Abraham lived. Historically, Judaism and Christianity are the names given to the religions revealed to Prophet Moses and Prophet Jesus, respectively by their faithful followers.  

The Christian community and the Muslim Umma were formed by those individuals who became faithful believers in the Gospel or the Qur’an. But the Banu Israel-the Jewish People only received the Torah after several generations of oppression in Egypt, when the Jewish People escaped and stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah from Prophets Moses and Aaron. 

This is why the history of the People of Israel-Hebrews makes up such a large place in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, the name “Israel” is mentioned 2,319 individual times in the Hebrew Bible because the historical experiences of the nation of Israel (the descendants of Jacob/Israel) is the central focus of most of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures. 

As the Qur’an states: “And We certainty settled the Children of Israel in an agreeable settlement [Israel] and provided them with good things. And they did not differ until [after] knowledge had come to them. Indeed, your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that over which they used to differ. So if you [Muhammad] are in doubt, about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.” (Qur’an 10:93-4)

Always remember: To change is risky; but not to change is dangerous.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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