These types of conversations require the utmost respect and I sincerely appreciate your comments. Making straw man arguments are fruitless. I’d much rather be having a substantive conversation like this.
You made some interesting statements in your last response and I’d like to focus in on two of those (although there are more I’d like to discuss). The first is your comment at the very end that, “I am a father and I forgive my children their transgressions against me without needing blood. It is not reasonable to me that my Creator cannot do the same thing for His chosen creatures.” You take a very interesting position here, one that is fairly common and that I’ve heard Muslims say before. But, it’s a position that, simply put, no religion should ever allow. First there is the matter of authority. You have set your manner of forgiveness up against God’s and declared that God should do like you. Whether you meant to or not, you’ve put yourself in the position of authority over God.
For Christians, we worship an absolutely sovereign God who rules over his creation with absolute authority. Second, the means of how God forgives is not the creation’s right to dictate, but it is God’s sovereign right. So, speaking as a Christian, I have to approve of how my sovereign God chooses to grant forgiveness. If he requires a blood payment then that is his right and any good that I receive I have to give glory to him for.
It is God’s right to set the moral laws of his creation and to punish transgressions as the good, sovereign, and just judge of all the earth. Wayne Grudem, a Christian scholar and author, wrote in his book Systematic Theology: “In a universe created by God, sin ought not to be … It is, in essence, the contradiction of the excellence of his moral character. It contradicts his holiness, and he must hate it.”
For a God who is so holy, sin must be dealt with in the severest way possible. Unlike what you cited from the Qur’an, the Bible teaches that man was not created weak, or restless, or prone to avarice, or unjust and foolish. It stands to reason that what God would create would be reflective of his character. If God was weak then he would create weak creatures. If he was restless he would create restless creatures. If he was prone to avarice he would create such creatures. If he was unjust and foolish his creation would be likewise. But, the Bible teaches that God is good, and therefore so is his creation.
I’d like to share an imperfect illustration with you that gives you the main thrust of how Christians think on this. Since we both have kids I’ll make it something we can relate to. Suppose you have a rule in your house that if someone breaks something because they were disobeying the rules then that person has to pay for it out of their allowance. So, one day one of your children are jumping on the furniture, which is against the rules. They go bouncing from one piece of furniture to the next and break a lamp in the process. As their father, it is right and just for you to punish your children for their disobedience. At the same time, as their father, you can be both just and forgiving. While you withhold their allowance in order to pay for the lamp this does not dictate that you do not forgive them for what they’ve done. In a similar way, God requires the full punishment for sin to be paid because he cannot ignore his justice.
Now, back to the illustration; suppose that you decide to pay for the lamp yourself, on your child’s behalf. What would this act be but an act of mercy? Your child did not earn your mercy; otherwise it would not be mercy but a payment. In this way God demonstrates his mercy. Through Jesus’s atoning, willing, sacrifice for sins the payment was made on our behalf. Mercy is offered through faith in Jesus Christ. In the sacrifice of Christ God’s justice is satisfied, and forgiveness is given.
The second statement I’d like to examine is when you wrote, “The Qur’an clearly states in (2:30-39) that God intended to create a new creature ON EARTH… “ Here is where we’re going to disagree on the interpretation. You’re taking, as I understand it, the approach that God intended for man to live on earth but created them in the Garden of Reward. Through their sin they were able to move on to their intended task of viceregency (khalifah) on the earth. Thus, God’s plan was fulfilled through man’s sin. That last statement in and of itself should be alarming.
Further, this was indeed a punishment. I use the Study Qur’an, which is an incredibly helpful tool in understanding what’s being said in the Qur’an. If you have a copy then look in Surah 7’s commentary section on verses 24-25. It says, “God’s command ‘Get down, each of you an enemy to the other!’ (cf. 2:36; 20:123) is widely considered to be addressed to Adam and Eve and their future progeny as well as to Iblis, or Satan. The command is taken to indicate their banishment from the celestial realm altogether and is thus different from God’s earlier command banishing Iblis from the Garden specifically (Get down from it, v.13).” I do not think you would argue that Satan was following the next logical step in his spiritual development. Neither should you argue that of man. They were being punished, and that punishment was to be banished to earth.
This is what’s so amazing about the Gospel. As Romans 5:15-21 says, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There are many points to discuss here, so I will itemize them so I don’t lose track of the overall conversation.
- These types of conversations require the utmost respect and I sincerely appreciate your comments.
Very true. With dialogue comes understanding, so I am glad we can amicably discuss our beliefs in a non-confrontational way.
- The first is your comment at the very end that, “I am a father and I forgive my children their transgressions against me without needing blood. It is not reasonable to me that my Creator cannot do the same thing for His chosen creatures.” You take a very interesting position here…
It seems we have encountered our first roadblock to understanding. Let me try to explain again, because your interpretation was certainly not my intention. In your previous email, you asked if this seemed reasonable to me. I had stated that honestly it did not, and this follow-up statement was part of my “why.” Obviously, this was not meant to compare myself, or any father, to God. God is absolute in His dominion over His kingdom. We agree to that. Also, it is not for me or any other creature to judge God or dictate how and when the Creator forgives. The Qur’an states in many many places that “God forgives whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases.” So we also agree to that, too.
The difference is how we respond to the question, “Is the Christian understanding of sin and forgiveness reasonable?” My point is that it is not reasonable, where reasonable is defined as: the normative way of assigning a rational evaluation to a given situation. I claim that the reasoning capability of Man (without any presumptions or training) would not come to the logical conclusion that sin and transgression against God must be paid for in the way you described. I argue that the common man, using his common sense, would conclude that this method, “does not make sense.” This is what I mean by the mechanics of sin and salvation as taught by mainstream Christianity not being reasonable. Obviously, if someone has been studying this doctrine for a long time, that person may find it reasonable. But that understanding is “an acquired taste,” if you will.
- It is God’s right to set the moral laws of his creation and to punish transgressions as the good, sovereign, and just judge of all the earth.
In this we agree. However, Islam teaches that God decreed “My mercy supersedes My wrath,” which means that God can cancel the punishment that is due if He sees fit to do so. In contrast, Christianity teaches that God’s mercy can never replace or nullify His punishment. Punishment must be paid, which is why the idea that Jesus’ death satisfies the transgression of Adam is only found in Christian philosophy but is seen as unnecessary in Islamic philosophy.
- For a God who is so holy, sin must be dealt with in the severest way possible.
This is another major departure between the Christian and the Islamic understanding. Islam teaches that God is above and beyond sin; so sin does not “bother” God in any way. More importantly, the free will He gave humans was precisely so God could be known and praised willingly by humans. It is by the process of sinning and seeking forgiveness directly with God that a human being becomes aware of his own shortcomings and the ego and soul are laid bare for the Light of God to forgive and guide to the straight path.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that God, the Almighty has said, “. . . O my servants, you sin by night and day and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness from me and I will forgive you.
O my servants, you will not be able to cause harm to me and you will not be able to cause benefit to me.
O my servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you, to become as pious as the most pious heart of anyone of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything.
O my servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you, to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of anyone of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything. . .”
This is the Islamic concept of God; therefore, sins can be punished or forgiven. Freely. There is no payment that is obligated on God. “He forgives whom He pleases and He punishes whom He pleases.”
- Unlike what you cited from the Quran, the Bible teaches that man was not created weak, or restless, or prone to avarice, or unjust and foolish. Rather, we were made good.
The former do not preclude the latter. We were made good (in general) with potential for evil (in particular).
- It stands to reason that what God would create would be reflective of his character. If God was weak then he would create weak creatures.
This logic does not follow. God’s Names and Attributes are many, and even these only describe a small fraction of God’s essence. God created the snakes and the insects and all sorts of “creepy crawly” things. Many students ask, why would God create such things which are not representative of His grandeur? The answer is simply that God has an overreaching plan and infinite Wisdom and Knowledge. So while to us as mere mortals, these things are despised, to God they are part of His grand tapestry. Even lowly creatures have their place in God’s kingdom; therefore, even lowly desires in humans have a purpose in His grand plan. We cannot claim that our human frailties like greed, envy, lust, and so on do not have a purpose or were not known to God from even before Creation.
- I’d like to share an imperfect illustration with you that gives you the main thrust of how Christians think on this. Since we both have kids I’ll make it something we can relate to. Suppose you have a rule … In a similar way, God requires the full punishment for sin to be paid because he cannot ignore his justice.
This is a common Christian argument. However, this story assumes that God’s mercy cannot supersede His wrath. Again, getting back to the basic axioms of our respective philosophies, the Christian concept of God’s holiness implies that sin must be paid for no matter what, but the Islamic concept of God’s Mercy superseding His Wrath implies that God can just forgive or pardon a transgressor. The analogy with the children breaking the lamp breaks down because real-life fathers have to pay for the lamp no matter whether the money comes from the kids or the father himself. However, If God owns everything, as Islam teaches, then there is no payment or debt that hangs over God, even from Himself.
- Further, this was indeed a punishment… I do not think you would argue that Satan was following the next logical step in his spiritual development. Neither should you argue that of man. They were being punished, and that punishment was to be banished to earth.
Their descent was a consequence, not a punishment. There is a difference. Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified. We, the descendants of Adam, do not belong to this earth; we are here for a temporary time, as is indicated by the words: “for a time.” We belong to the hereafter and are destined to take our place in either Heaven or Hell.
To say that God’s plan was fulfilled through man’s sin does not quite capture the scope of His plan. Adam and Eve’s experience was an essential lesson and demonstrated free will. If Adam and Eve were to live on earth, they needed to be aware of the tricks and schemes of Satan, they also needed to understand the dire consequences of sin, and the infinite Mercy and Forgiveness of God. God knew that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree. He knew that Satan would strip away their innocence.
It is important to understand that, although God knows the outcome of events before they happen and allows them, he does not force things to happen. Adam had free will and bore the consequences of his deeds. Mankind has free will and thus is free to disobey God; but there are consequences. God praises those who obey his commands and promises them great reward, and He condemns those who disobey him and warns them against doing so.
- Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
Again, this is a distinctly Christian concept. The Qur’an states in many many places, “No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.”
Each person will bear responsibility for his or her actions. Deuteronomy 24:16 repeats the point: “The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Finally, I’d like to talk about the Attributes or Names of God. In my experience, this has been a common stumbling block between Christians and Muslims. Discussing God’s Unity especially seems to run into many cross-references of understanding. This is why the classical scholars define tawheed (monotheism) as having three branches: believing that God is one in His Lordship (creation, resurrection, judgement, etc), that God is one in His Divinity (right to be worshiped, praised, and glorified), and that God is one in His Names/Attributes. That last part means that if you deny or leave-out any one of these attributes, then you have misrepresented God and fallen into a type of polytheism. Islam does not claim that “God would not do as He said he would do” like Satan claimed. On the contrary, the Qur’an emphasizes that God is “the Doer of whatever He Wills.”
We agree that God is not divided into parts; rather we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times. So for the repentant, He is Forgiving and Merciful; whereas for the haughty and hard-hearted, He is Vengeful and Strict to Account. God’s justice cannot be overturned or ignored; rather, His Wisdom encompasses the totality of all His creatures. He knows which ones are actually remorseful (like Adam and Eve) and which ones are not (like Pharaoh). The statement “My Mercy supersedes (or prevails over) My Wrath” is not an assault on God’s holiness. It is just another way of saying what you said before: “different attributes of God emphasized at different times. A good example of this comes from Exodus 34:6-7”
So we understand this statement as a promise from God that He will show His Mercy more than He will show His Wrath. This all goes back to our respective axioms. As you said in the previous email, “This is how God has revealed himself to the world.” The point is that Christians believe the Old and New Testaments are accurate representations of God’s Will. In contrast, Muslims believe that those Testaments are not what God originally revealed and the Qur’an is the most accurate representation of God’s Will. Therefore, Muslims reject the idea that Jesus (peace be upon him) came with a new covenant. Muslims believe that Jesus (pbuh) came to “help you get it together,” not to “get it together for you.” The underlying axiom of Islamic belief is that God can forgive anyone directly, so there is no need for a redeemer. “No bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another.”
May peace be with you,