The concept of God in Islam and Christianity
Why the concept of God in Christianity fails
What is life but a long trail of broad questions we spend our time trying to find answers for? What is life but purpose? What is life but a long journey of grappling and wrestling with questions, doubts, and ultimately answers? What is life but a harsh road to truth, to light and meaning?
For me, life can only be lived through the value we attribute to it, through the answers we choose to fill in that blank that we call meaning, not to say that all answers are correct, not at all, but our very endeavor to reach the truth is crucial, as wrong as it can be, as unfortunate and failing as it may get, we should all try to find meaning to our lives.
No one can live with the blank forever.
Yet we tend to fill it with all the wrong things, with all the scribble we think of as sensible; but truth can only be reached after a long journey of extensive and sincere searching for answers, and ultimately, having the courage and the willingness to put our egos and selfish desires aside and to humbly submit to it.
For me, faith has always been the only way to meaning… I really believe that nothing can ever make sense if you don’t have sound and unbiased answers to questions like where did we come from? How did we get here? What is our greater purpose? Who made us this perfect? What happens when we die?
It is to questions like these that, I think, we owe our whole existence. It is these questions that owe us a life of genuine interest and a long continual rollercoaster of faith and uncertainty.
We all have a burden of proof, a burden of explaining reality for ourselves in the first place; and it is the answers we assume right and choose among so many to live by and for, that will determine our morals, thoughts, and perceptions about things and ultimately shape what kind of people we will be in this life and hence, our resort and salvation in the afterlife if we accept that it exists.
Why I’m writing these few lines:
Being born and raised as a Muslim, I have been familiar with concepts like God, afterlife, hell, and heaven from a young age. It never made sense to me however how people take too little time and effort to think seriously about their beliefs. It never made sense to me how people simply didn’t care; it freaked me out how they were simply willing to gamble with their souls, how lightly they took these questions, how the idea of burning in hell forever didn’t make them the least curious, moved or stirred.
But it all suddenly made sense when a friend of mine asked me “how can people see all the evidence presented to them and still not believe?” and as tricky and frightening as it may seem, the answer was rather simple to me: “it’s the heart”.
People have many reasons to believe, and they have many reasons not to. It is like a beautiful piece of art, many people would stop and admire its beauty, some won’t even take a second look at it, and others won’t even care to look.
You see, you find a heart surgeon that spends hours looking at how impeccable and amazingly perfected the human body is yet he thinks that it all came from random mutations and blind natural selection. You find an astronaut that sees the amazing skies and stars and the greatness of the huge universe yet he shuns the idea of a Creator and prefers to believe that it all came from none. You find physicists amazed by the mind-blowing order and the finitude of the universe and how nothing would exist if it was just one quark more yet they furrow their brows in disgust, sickened at the idea of a lawmaker. And then, you find an old woman who never studied at Harvard or Cambridge, yet she wholeheartedly believes and worships an all-powerful one God who created heavens and earth.
Yet I truly believe that if you are truly sincere about your intentions and if you look for God with an open mind and heart, he will be the one to find you.
If you sincerely seek God, God will make his existence evident to you.
The answer to these questions could cost me an eternity of punishment, so I wasn’t really ready to take any chances, I had to make sure that I was indeed born into the right belief-system, and I did.
Even though everything about Islam made perfect sense to me, I didn’t want to be a Muslim just because my parents are when the Qur’an itself blames those who blindly follow their forefathers’ religious, social, and ethical legacy.
So I looked in many religions and philosophies, precisely Christianity, but one thing made all the difference to me, it was one particular thing that I found very unique to Islam, and that is the concept of God.
I won’t be talking in this essay about how everything falls apart if there is no God or how the Islamic perception of God is ultimately the only valid explanation to reality, but I chose two points that I’m willing to focus on and they are the trinity and the idea of a maximally loving God in both Islam and Christianity.
The reason why I chose these particular points to talk about is the disagreement about the person of Jesus PBUH and the fact that Christians very often use emotional arguments and the notion of “love” to attack Islam and defend Christianity.
My goal here is not to try to forcefully steer people away from their faith, but rather to push them to think more, to challenge their own ideas, and not to fear questions, because questions are the gate of certainty.
1- Can God be a mortal finite man and an immortal infinite being at the same time?
The trinity is one of the most, if not THE most problematic thing about Christianity. Christians can’t understand it nor soundly explain without appealing to Mystery and falling into contradiction and circular reasoning.
The existence of three co-eternal, co-equal, and co-existent beings is philosophically impossible. How can God be three and one at the same time? How can God be mortal? How can God suffer humiliation and suffering from his own creation?
Christians would probably jump in and say that maybe we are not meant to understand it, but I think that, when it comes to God and his message to us, it should be rather clear and understandable.
The Qur’an debunks this claim, it states that if there were many gods they would limit each other:“ God has not taken to Himself any son, nor is there any god with Him: for then each god would have taken of that which he created and some of them would have risen up over others” (23:91).
“ And why, were there gods in earth and heaven other than God, they (heaven and earth) would surely go to ruin” (21:22).
Christianity contradicts the very definition of what God should be like by suggesting that the infinite immortal God is also finite and a mortal man who makes mistakes, doesn’t have a perfect knowledge of the future, and suffers ignorance, regret, and tiredness.
God is by definition an uncreated absolute, all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing, and infinite being. Saying that Jesus PBUH is God is like saying that the uncreated God can be created at the same time, or like saying that a full glass of water can be full and empty at the same time, which doesn’t make any sense at all.
This idea of God being mortal and immortal at the same time takes us back to an ancient Greek paradox which is the omnipotence paradox, which is basically the question: “Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it”. And although the question may seem puzzling at first, the answer to this is rather simple: what God does can change, but what God is can never change.
When God becomes a human, he ceases to be God.
So again, the objection of “God can make anything” that most Christians use when they are challenged about this, is not valid here, because we have first to understand what a “thing” is.
God can indeed do anything, anything except logically impossible things. It’s like saying: can God create square circles or married bachelors? This may indeed sound like things that God can’t do at first, but square circles and married bachelors aren’t things at all, it’s more like saying: “Can God create blah blah blah”.
So yeah, God can’t create a stone so heavy he can’t lift it, and that’s not because He lacks power, but rather because He is All-Powerful.
I hope you can see the similarity with the Christian claim here. The idea that God can be mortal and immortal at the same time because he can do anything is just as nonsensical as saying God can create square circles and married bachelors.
As Muslims, we rather say that God is capable of doing everything that he wills to do, yet God doesn’t will to do something that will make Him not be who He is. He never wills to die because He is immortal and all-living, He never wills to sleep because He said in his book “no slumber can seize Him nor sleep”, God never wills to be a mortal, weak, and temporal man because He is Immortal, All-Powerful and Everlasting. God only does things that are consistent with his nature and attributes.
On the other hand, we find that Islam is very consistent and coherent about his description of God. Allah is perceived as a being of infinite and inexhaustible power, an indivisible one divine unity that is behind all the coherence and finitude of this world, He is Self-sufficient, He posses intentionality and will, He is genderless, exists without peer, and there is nothing like Him.
Islam rejects characterizing God in any human form or depicting Him in any shape or form and considers it as blasphemy.
The emphasis on the purity of the belief in God and His oneness and not falling into the error of mixing the finite and infinite are the essence of the message of Islam. And therefore, Islam considers “shirk” -which is associating partners with God and attributing to finite and limited things the attributes that only belong to Him- as a deadly sin that God will never forgive, although He may forgive all other sins.
2- Is the biblical God maximally loving?
The second thing I want to talk about is the propaganda of Christianity being the religion of love and how Christians often allege that the Islamic God is cruel, unloving, and unforgiving while presenting their God as a maximally loving one.
Christian apologists, notably William Lane Craig, often push the idea that the biblical God loves the sinner just the way he loves the righteous, but there are many problematic things about this claim.
It seems to me rather audacious and quite naïve to claim that Christianity preaches only love yet history is full of horrible events that the church led when in power.
It never fails to amaze me when today’s Christians refer to Christianity as a religion of peace and love despite all the historical facts like the crusades, the Spanish inquisition, the European colonialism of Africa and Asia, and many massacres that happened in the name of Jesus.
In fact, the bible itself contradicts this claim; the Old Testament contains many passages about violence and cruelty, from dashing children’s heads against rocks to killing babies and donkeys, burning people alive… etc
My point here is not to insinuate that Christianity itself is a religion of violence and terror because of what the church and crusaders did when they took back the city of Jerusalem for example. I genuinely respect that the Christian faith is a source of hope, solace, love, and strength for many. My point is, however, that the claim itself that Christianity has always been a religion of peace and love is a flagrant misreading of history.
Another point to raise here is, the philosophical dimension to this claim. I’ll basically be reforming Hamza Tzortzis’s (public speaker and researcher on Islam) take on the matter.
Let’s first put this into a philosophical argument with two premises and a conclusion:
For God to be maximally loving, he has to be maximally forgiving (because forgiveness is the manifestation of love).
But the biblical God is not maximally forgiving,
Therefore he is not maximally loving.
God’s love in Christianity is deeply rooted in suffering. Christianity teaches that we were born into sin, that we were created distant from God, and that we have to inherit our first father’s sin whereas Islam teaches that we were born with “fitra” -which is an innate disposition to recognize God and do good- and that every soul shall carry its own injustices, and none else shall carry its burden of sin.
God’s forgiveness in Christianity is outside of the personal relationship between the human being and the divine and it’s rather based on someone else’s sacrifice, on some other event that had to happen; and even after a blood sacrifice, you won’t be forgiven until you fully accept that it actually happened which basically devalues the intrinsic nature of the sacrifice.
Islam however teaches that it only takes a sincere human heart, a genuine desire for repentance, and actual change to be forgiven.
Even the claim that God had to sacrifice his only innocent son to forgive us for our sins (that are not actually our sins) is quite problematic to me. How is it forgiving when you have to ask for a full price for it? How can we say that he forgave us when an innocent man had to die on the cross in the most humiliating way for that? Can we say about a judge who sentenced a man to death that he “forgave” him?
In Islam however, God describes himself as “Al Wadoud”, which means the excessively loving. In fact, “al wid” (the root word for Al Wadoud) in Arabic is much stronger than love, it is to love with expression, which indicates that God not only loves His creation, but He actually expresses it with actions. And what I find even more interesting is the fact that this name is mentioned twice in Quran, and it’s associated with forgiveness and mercy in both times:
First: “Seek forgiveness from your Lord, then turn towards Him in repentance. Surely, my Lord is very merciful, most loving.” Surah Hud
And second: “And He is the Most-Forgiving, the Most-Loving.”(14) Surah Al-Burooj
Does it make sense for God to love the sinner and the righteous the same?
To answer this, it is important to ask ourselves some other questions first. Is it really maximal love to love everything the same? Can we claim that we particularly love goodness if we love evil just as equally? Can you say that you love charity work if you love stealing from the poor just the same way? Would it be “loving” from a merciful compassionate God to love evil?
If you love everything then you really don’t love anything at all.
The truth is that if you love something you naturally have to hate its opposite. If you love trees so much then burning forests down must upset you; if you love animals then torturing them must make you feel something; if you love your daughter so much then you wouldn’t say that you love her rapist just the same.
And then, how can we reconcile moral duties with this claim? How can judgment make sense if God loves us all the same whether we give charity or burn people alive? Why would God express his love for all people in a way that basically undermines the whole point of his creation and judgment? How can we reconcile this with his very teachings that order us to do good and stay away from evil?
Where is the motivation for us to give charity to that old man instead of raping his little girl in front of him? Why would I help a stranger instead of robbing them and taking all they have? Why would I choose to be the good guy if God loves me just the way he loves Hitler, Mao, and Stalin?
Unlike Christianity that presents the biblical God as maximally loving using vacuous terms like “love” without giving a proper understanding of what that “love” is and hence, playing on the emotions of millions of people; Islam teaches that God’s love is universal, unconditional, impartial, and it manifests through the different blessings he gives us even when we reject Him, and through His mercy that encompasses everything, not everyone, but literally everything.
Allah indeed says that he hates the arrogant, the boastful, the transgressors, the wrongdoers, the treacherous, those who waste by extravagance, the mischief-making, the publicity of evil, the obscene words and acts, the betrayer, and the ungrateful. But when we say that God doesn’t love the sinner, it doesn’t mean that, as non-Muslims make it out to seem, God hates the intrinsic value of that particular human being, not at all, but it rather means that God hates the sinner being in the state they are, He hates their doing, their sin and not them as human beings.
As Hamza Tzortzis beautifully puts it: “God doesn’t like the way that human beings have identified themselves by virtue of their state of being, which means the way we relate to God, to ourselves and others.”
Even when Allah says that he hates the disbeliever or the sinner for instance, even then, it is a way of expressing love and mercy I would argue. God motivates us to leave that state and get closer to Him. even at our worst, God tells us that we still can have a relationship of special love with him if we repent and do good deeds. He calls us back, He tells us to change for His sake, to love and worship Him, to correct our mistakes. He tells us that he will always take us back if we are willing to return to Him.
To conclude with:
I struggled to find a proper conclusion to what I intended to be a humble and friendly attempt to challenge some ideas and convictions.
My intent again was never to convert people per se, but rather to put forward some issues to those who are willing to change their minds in the presence of evidence.
My goal from this essay is if I can put it like this, to unusually shed light on the damnable differences instead of superficial similarities, for then, and only then, I believe, we will be able to tolerate.
My goal is to encourage discussion and communication on a global scale, to lovingly engage with the humans, to choose to openly talk about the abrupt, frank differences over the awkward, anxious attempts to embrace similarity.
I strongly believe that we need to talk more about our differences, not to necessarily reach common ground, not to resolve them, not to blur them, but to accept and respect them, as irreconcilable and mutually exclusive as they are.
And I do this precisely because of the temptation to raise bright slogans of one global religion; I do this precisely in resistance to the claims of many versions of the truth. I do this because I’m completely convinced that nothing is more tolerant and more powerful than looking our differences in the eye and accepting them as they are and that, any attempt to ignore them is a mere implicit admission that we can’t live with difference.
I wrote this and I have absolute faith in our ubiquitous, wild, and unquenchable human need to search for the truth, the uppercase T Truth that can’t afford to please everybody or bend to our expectations and desires, and can only be sought through a hard and thorny road of choosing humility over the arrogance of closed-minded allegiance to falsehood and light over overweening pride and blind stubbornness.
Don’t forget that there are answers. They are just waiting for us to care, to ask, and to dare to start the hard yet amazing journey of sincere belief.