Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Outrageous Love

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

The Qur’an:

No son did God beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created, and some would have lorded it over others! Glory to God! (He is free) from the (sort of) things they attribute to Him! (23:91 Ali)

Say: "Praise be to God, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion: Nor (needs) He any to protect Him from humiliation: yea, magnify Him for His greatness and glory!" (17:111 Ali)

The Gospels:

And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased."  (Matthew 3:16-17)

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."  He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."  (Matthew 17:1-5)

What are we to make of these two accounts?   One says Allah has no son, and the other declares that Yahweh has a Son.  Remember that the Qur’an declares that the Gospel was authentic and without corruption in the time of Mohammed.

"It was We who revealed the Law to Moses, therein was guidance and light ... and in their footsteps, We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel, therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, a guidance and admonition to those who fear Allah. To thee (Mohammed) We sent the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety." (Sura 5:44-51 Ali).

"'O, People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.' It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy ... those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Sabaeans and the Christians - any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, - on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Sura 5:68-69).

There are many other passages in the Qur’an which affirm the Christian scriptures to be reliable in the time of Mohammed.  Check here.

Based on the truth that the Scriptures are reliable we need to think about the issue of the nature of the son rejected and the nature of the son affirmed and why.   

The Qur’an version of the son  implies that the Father had sex with Mary,  and this does pose problems for our understanding of God. Yahweh is not physical, is not sexual, and does not have a wife.  Such a view of sexual birth of a son would involve a time of beginning for the Son.  This is not a defensible position, nor a desirable one since the son, having a beginning would not be eternal and hence not a person to be worshiped.  Moreover, followers of Jesus have never thought or implied that the Son of God involved reproduction by a divine being. Only Muslims think in these terms.

Naturally, this is not the nature of the Son of God in the Gospels. The Son of God in the Gospels is of the same nature as Yahweh, he is eternal, everlasting, and he became incarnate in the person of Jesus, the Messiah.  The Father is a Father from eternity, and the Son is a Son from eternity.  There is no time lag between Father and Son in the nature of Yahweh as in the human condition in which a father exists before the son.

The concept of the Son of God, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, is important for a number of reasons. 

The first is that this is revelation.  It is not something that people made up on the way.  This revelation is seen in the verses quoted above, that is, Matthew 3:16-17 and Matthew 17:1-5, and also in other verses.

Later, after Jesus had been with his disciples for some time, he talked with his disciples concerning what they thought of him. We have the response in the following passage:

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  "Good for you, Simon son of John!" answered Jesus. "For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:16-17 GNB)

The power of Peter’s confession must be seen in the context of the strict monotheism of Judaism.  The comment of Jesus that this confession by Peter came from “my Father in heaven” underscores the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God as well as a new revelation from the Father to the disciples.

The second is related to what we know and think about God. Consider the following:

Moses wanted to know Yahweh better and the reply from Yahweh was:

"But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live." (Exodus 33:20 RSV)

There is a dilemma here.  If Yahweh does not reveal himself, we don’t really know anything about Him. We don’t know if he cares about us, we don’t know if we have a future with Him, we don’t know whether he is angry with us.  On the other hand, if he reveals Himself so that we can see Him we would die.  The holiness of Yahweh would extinguish us.  In the case of Moses he saw the works of God in motion, but he did not see his face. Moses received instructions from Yahweh but never experienced what he wanted – to see God in person.  In a sense the people of Israel received their understanding of Yahweh second hand, through the servant Moses.  Is there a better way?

Think with me for a minute.  How can the finite understand the Infinite?

It is difficult for a person who has been healthy all of life to understand the person who has gone through enormous pain. Only the person who has suffered is able to understand what another person has gone through. The woman who has been unjustly divorced suffers in a way that the happy wife of a loving husband will never understand.  The child whose father has cursed, slandered, and insulted will never be understood by the child who has been loved by a father who compliments, encourages, and inspires.

The point I seek to make is that fellow sufferers are able to understand and empathize in a way that non-sufferers cannot.  In reality, God is not someone who stands afar off and does not know what we go through.  The point of the Incarnation, God became man, is that the Son of God entered into our experience, our humanity, and endured the same  things we experience.  He knows us.  He knows what it is to be thirsty, hungry, and tired. He experienced death in a cruel way.  Not only does he know us because he created us, he knows us experientially.  This is the outrageous love of Yahweh who created us for fellowship with Himself.

One might think of the analogy of a parent and baby. A baby on the floor looking up at his parent has a distorted view of the father. When a father is willing to come down to the level of the baby, to get down on the floor and look the baby in the eye, let the baby pull his hair, touch his nose, the baby begins to understand what his father is really like.

We have had a new family of geese on our pond.  We have watched the little goslings grow, getting their feathers, learning to flap their wings, and soon making little flights into the water. Often they are on the grass eating. If I walk toward them they are cautious and I can only get so close until they start heading for the water. I can tell them I am a friend, but they only hear sounds from my voice and do not understand. They don’t understand English and I don’t speak “honk”.  I mean them no harm, but they do not know that.  Other geese can join them but nothing else that appears threatening. Ducks are no problem, but a neighbor’s small dog appears to be a threat and they head for the water. We live in two different levels of existence.  I am outside of their existence.  I am a threat to them by my very existence.   I am wholly Other to them. The only way I could communicate with a goose is to become a goose.

The issue is this: how can a finite being understand an Infinite being?

With the above analogy in mind we have a Creator who is Infinite, Eternal, and powerful who is wholly Other.  He does not mean us any harm but we don’t really know that by ourselves. We have an account of this fear when the people of the Old Testament were at Mt. Sinai:

When the people heard the thunder and the trumpet blast and saw the lightning and the smoking mountain, they trembled with fear and stood a long way off.  They said to Moses, "If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die." Moses replied, "Don't be afraid; God has only come to test you and make you keep on obeying him, so that you will not sin."  (Exodus 20:18-20)

The Son of God has come to tell us about the Father. We know the Father in the Son. We have a better understanding of the love of Yahweh as revealed in His Incarnate Son. Our knowledge of God is enhanced in the Incarnate Son of God.

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need."  Jesus replied: Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don't you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father?  Don't you believe that I am one with the Father and that the Father is one with me? What I say isn't said on my own. The Father who lives in me does these things. Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do.  (John 14:8-11)

We have in Jesus the face of Yahweh. We can look upon the Incarnate Son of God and live.  We can know what Yahweh is like by looking at Jesus.  We don’t have a second hand revelation anymore.  In Jesus we have a direct connection to Yahweh because He is God in the flesh. This is the outrageous love of Yahweh in his willingness to condescend to our level to let us know what He is like.  In his outrageous love He has come to save us, forgive us of our sins, and transform us into the image of his Son.

The third relates to our destiny upon leaving this life – dying.  How do we assure ourselves of heaven and not hell?

The fear of encountering God at Sinai seemed life-threatening.  Even today people fear the idea of encountering God.  The infinite God – Yahweh – has taken away the fear by condescending to our level in the person of Jesus, the Son of God.  Since that time, there need be no fear because Yahweh is seeking us, and He welcomes us into his presence. As long as we are alive now we do not need to fear judgment because Jesus as the Son of God offers forgiveness, everlasting life, and the gift of God’s Spirit in our lives.   But there is judgment apart from Jesus.

For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son. This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up. But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God. (John 3:17-21)

Jesus told a parable that relates to the importance of the Son of God.

Then Jesus told the people this parable: "There was once a man who planted a vineyard, rented it out to tenants, and then left home for a long time. When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent a slave to the tenants to receive from them his share of the harvest. But the tenants beat the slave and sent him back without a thing. So he sent another slave; but the tenants beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him back without a thing.   Then he sent a third slave; the tenants wounded him, too, and threw him out.   Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my own dear son; surely they will respect him!'   But when the tenants saw him, they said to one another, 'This is the owner's son. Let's kill him, and his property will be ours!'   So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. "What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to the tenants?" Jesus asked. "He will come and kill those men, and turn the vineyard over to other tenants."  (Luke 20:9-16)

This parable tells the story of Yahweh, who creates, rents the property to tenants, and when the tenants refuse to recognize his ownership, he sends  prophets, and finally his Son. They kill him.  (That is the story of the crucifixion.)  They killed Jesus, the Son of God, but he rises from the dead and becomes the Savior to all who believe in Him.

If you will read the New Testament you will see that the Son of God – Jesus, the Christ – is the message of hope and salvation.  If you reject the Son, you also reject the Father. “For those who reject the Son reject also the Father; those who accept the Son have the Father also.” (1 John 2:23)

The idea of the Son of God may seem difficult for a Muslim to accept.  This is only because Mohammed rejected the truth of the concept and people have been indoctrinated by his teaching ever since. Mohammed did not have any basis for rejecting it.  He did not offer evidence.  He did not appeal to Scripture or even reason.   Mohammed did not really know much about Christianity, nor about the Torah or the Gospel.  Even though the Qur’an affirms the reliability of the Torah and Gospel, Muslims do not know much about them.  Muslim apologists on the web seem to focus on what they perceive as problem passages and ignore the central issues in the Torah and the Gospels.  I would urge Muslims to set aside their prejudices just long enough to read the Gospels to see if these things are so. Remember that the Qur’an affirms the trustworthiness of the Gospels.

"It was We who revealed the Law to Moses, therein was guidance and light ... and in their footsteps, We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel, therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, a guidance and admonition to those who fear Allah. To thee (Mohammed) We sent the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety." (Sura 5:5:44-51 Yusuf Ali).

You will discover in the Son of God all that you long for: a relationship with God, forgiveness of sin, the promise of everlasting life in the presence of God, and the gift of God’s Spirit  in your life right now because in Christ Yahweh has bridged the gap between the Infinite and the finite.