If you’re like me, you probably don’t expect renowned Islamic scholars to be women. But a friend recently told me about one named Rabia, who lived from 717–801AD and is considered one of the foremost Sufi saints.
Rabia said something which has had me thinking since I heard it, “I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”
Whoa! Is that me? You? Should it be?
Would I still follow God (to whatever degree I actually do now!) if I was not concerned about avoiding the horrors of Hell or eagerly hoping to gain the restful joys of Heaven? And in what way, if any, is my honest response to this question indicative of my character and spiritual maturity?
C.S. Lewis reminds us of “the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels,” and wonders if, “ Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”
I certainly don’t want to go to Hell and I definitely look forward to the joys of Heaven. But in my heart, I want to desire God above all, desire God more than avoiding Hell, more than enjoying Heaven, desire God principally because of the greatness and love of God. This is what I appreciate about Rabia’s bold declaration: It moves God to the center, to his proper preeminence. I often need that reminder.
Would you share your thoughts on this? You’ve likely considered ideas and aspects that have not entered my mind yet. Thanks for the challenging thought, Rabia. May Muslims and Christians all over give it fresh consideration.