God Can

The God Who Can

 

I don’t always have conversations with Muslims about theological topics, but when I do, they are memorable. There are three conversations in particular that come to mind. I would like to share the gist of these conversations with you, because they reveal three weak points of Muslim theology – or, if you are paying attention, only one weak point. There are many reasons why I do not believe Islam to be true, but the theological inadequacy revealed in these conversations is one good reason I would like to share with you today.

Conversation #1: A Muslim Man at a Carnival

I once had a brief conversation with a Muslim intent on demonstrating that the Bible had been corrupted. In support of his position, he offered the following reasoning. First he asserted that Solomon was a prophet. This was news to me, but I was curious to see where his line of argument was headed, so I said nothing and let him continue. Next he correctly stated that the Bible describes Solomon as having had many wives, which is sinful. Then he claimed that we know that prophets can’t sin, and finally concluded that because the Bible describes a prophet (Solomon) as sinning, the Bible must be corrupt.

You’ll probably want to back up and read that claim again. Prophets can’t sin? I hadn’t heard that before either, so I stopped him to ask how he came to that conclusion. He responded that God (Allah) would not use sinful people, only those who were sinless (keep in mind that Islam doesn’t have the doctrine of original sin). To use sinful people would be unbefitting Allah’s mastery of the universe.

I found this idea somewhat jarring. God can’t use sinful people? Where does that put most of humanity? Then a thought occurred to me. I asked if he was a musician, and he responded affirmatively. “It seems to me,” I said, “that a master musician can take a flawed instrument and play it beautifully despite its flaws, and that a flawed instrument is a better test of the musician’s skill. A musician who can play a flawed instrument well is greater than a musician that can only play a perfect instrument. Similarly, a God who can use flawed and sinful creatures to further his ends must be a more masterful and sovereign God than one who can only use perfect people.”

That definitely caught his attention, and he admitted that he hadn’t thought of things that way before, and that what I had said threw a wrench in his thinking. We talked for a minute more and parted ways amicably. I didn’t totally change his mind about Islam, but I did give him something to think about that he wouldn’t be able to easily forget.

Lesson #1 : Allah can’t use imperfect people.

Conversation #2: A Muslim Man on Facebook

I once had a brief interchange with a Muslim about passages in the Qur’an that appear to advocate violence against non-believers. He contended that such passages were taken out of context, but would not explain how this was the case or what the true meaning of the passages was. I was willing to listen if he had an explanation because I tire of others taking passages from the Bible out of context when they talk to me about Christianity. Unfortunately he was somewhat evasive and then finally insisted that the verses were invalid to use anyway, since they were being read in English. The Qur’an must be read in Arabic to be authoritative, he insisted; one could not make a theological case from verses in English.

Again I found the theology I was hearing surprising, even though I was already aware of the connection between the authority of the Qur’an and Arabic. Why can God only communicate in Arabic? If the Quran is from Allah, then why do Allah’s words lose their power outside of Arabic? I asked these questions of him, but he never responded.

Lesson # 2: Allah can’t be understood outside of Arabic.

Conversation 3: A Muslim Woman After Class

In another polite and brief conversation I had with a Muslim woman, I recall asking her about heaven, and what she believed about how to get there. At one point I asked her what she did when she sinned, and she explained that she felt bad and asked Allah to forgive her, then hoped he would. I had heard before that there was no such thing as assurance of salvation in Islam, because to say that Allah would forgive was to impose limits on his sovereignty. In order for Allah’s sovereignty to be preserved, no human action could impose upon his will, such that he was free to decide who went to hell and who went to heaven, regardless of how well one followed Islam. Even though I had heard it before in religion classes, it was still hard to hear coming from a person who actually believed it. She confessed that she had no assurance of her forgiveness and expressed sometimes feeling anxious about her sin. I shared with her the assurance of forgiveness made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and we parted ways agreeably, though I was very sad to see her still trying to earn forgiveness on her own without any help or assurance.

Lesson #3: Allah can’t guarantee your forgiveness or salvation.

Of course, all of these lessons really boil down to just one: Allah can’t.
But there’s good news; I have another lesson for you: God can! 

God can use imperfect people. In fact, he has used and continues to use imperfect people of every shape and size, from every fractured background imaginable, having committed practically every sin imaginable!

God can be understood in every human tongue. The Bible has been translated into most of the languages on earth, but even since the beginning of the church, God has communicated his message in many ways and in the language of those listening.

God can guarantee your forgiveness and salvation. Nothing can separate us from God, and Christ was a sacrifice appropriate for all humans, forgiving all the sins of those who come to him!

I hope these three conversations and the lessons from each of them help you both in your thinking about Islam and in your own Christian walk as you grow to know the God of the Bible, the God Who Can.

3 thoughts on “The God Who Can

  1. Yahnatan

    I enjoyed these three stories. I’m glad you “went there” rhetorically in the first two encounters. That said, I do wonder about the method of argumentation: what determines the direction of the “greater than”? And what about the sovereignty of God? (For example, someone could suggest that a God who can save everyone is greater than a God who can only save some…therefore the universalist God is better than the God who is willing to consign some to eternal judgment.) I think the evasiveness of your second dialogue partner was lame, but it seems to me that Jews and Christians also believe that the authoritative form of the Scriptures is in a particular language. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. jalexander Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Yahnatan! Iron sharpens iron, eh?

      Indeed, I simplified things for the purpose of more easily telling the stories in a blog, and because my target audience is the average Facebook crowd. Regarding the “greater than” discussion, the man seemed to think that God’s sovereignty and power demanded that God work only with perfect people, so I gave the man an alternative way of view God’s sovereignty and power, for the purposes of challenging the idea that God could only use perfect people. However, I do believe that ability to work with flawed creatures is a greater theological concept than a God who is unable to work with flawed creatures. It is possible that this view is susceptible to a counter-example, such as the one you offer.

      However, I would probably respond that it is not exactly the case that God *can* only save some, but that he *will* only save some. I say that not out of Calvinistic leanings, but rather because the limitation in who is being saved is not God’s, but humanity’s. In essence, then, I would appeal to free will to argue that God can’t do everything, only logically possible things, and it would be logically impossible for free will to exist (with respect to salvation), and yet for God to guarantee the salvation of everyone.

      I almost mentioned the issue of the doctrines of scriptural divine inspiration/inerrancy, but since few of the people reading this blog would be aware of the similarities, I decided not to digress from my main point in the post with a discussion of the subtle but crucial differences. I will address that in another comment when I get a chance later today, hopefully!

      Reply
      1. jalexander Post author

        And… I’m back. Sorry for the delay.

        So yes, I believe there are some differences between the Muslim and Christian views of scriptural inspiration, inerrancy, and authority. My understanding of the Christian view of inspiration and inerrancy (as I learned it at Biola from the apologetics professors there) is that we hold that the Bible is inspired and inerrant in the original autographs in the original languages in which they were written. The reason for this is that we don’t have the very first documents, and that occasionally mistakes are introduced in translation from the original languages into English (or languages other than Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The doctrine thus is based on 1) a firm acknowledgement that God really did inspire scripture, but also 2) a healthy sense of humility that acknowledges that we aren’t in a position of knowing fully. Even though we don’t know fully, we know quite a lot using textual criticism, enough that we are not in doubt about any major doctrine of Christianity, or really anything with consequence.

        When we turn to scriptural authority, we see this confidence reflected in how we use scripture. I would not expect a Christian to insist that a scripture was not authoritative because it was not being read, quoted, or understood in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. We hold that we may teach on many topics in English, because the authority of scripture holds in any language – the Word of God isn’t limited to only one of the original languages.

        Contrast the Christian view of these two points (inspiration/inerrancy and authority) with the Muslim view. With respect to the inspiration, Muslims hold to a strict dictation view, meaning that the Qur’an reflects the exact words of Allah as he gave them to Muhammad. This feature helps shape the view of the Qur’an’s authority, since only in Arabic are the words of the Qur’an the exact words spoken by Allah.

        But are they the exact words? While the Bible has a healthy relationship to textual criticism, the Qur’an has a much more difficult time. The third Orthodox Caliph (Caliph Uthman) issued a single authoritative edition of the Qur’an and had the other variant copies burned. This makes textual criticism of early texts impossible, and makes it difficult to check for corruption.

        Reply

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