Question: I have a Christian friend. He has asked me this question. I need your help so that I could reply to him. It would be grateful if you reply as soon as you can. Here’s the question:
I know that many of the beliefs that I hold as truth, you will find as strange. Specifically, Jesus’ role and how he enables us to have a personal relationship with God. Our sins are a barrier between us and God (I don’t know if you agree with that or not). But God is without sin and cannot abide in sin. In order to have a relationship with God, sin must be dealt with and removed. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God… the price of that sin is eternal separation from God. Although we ask forgiveness for sin and have the best intentions not to repeat our mistakes, we still sin… it constantly occurs. So, how do we ultimately deal with sin? For Christians, the answer is Jesus. As a follower of Christ, my first belief is that Jesus is the Son of God (fully God and fully man), that he suffered a physical and spiritual death to bring us back into a relationship with God, and that by believing by faith in him, I am redeemed and will be with God in eternity. There are many passages in the New Testament that I could quote to you that repeatedly say that it is by God’s grace that we are saved: through grace he sent Jesus to pay for my sins, and by believing by faith in Jesus, I am saved. It is not by our deeds or works that we are saved. However, by believing in Jesus and following his example, I believe that a person will want to do good works as a result of faith in Jesus. Good works are not a substitute for faith. Only through Jesus can I have a relationship with God and worship him personally. I could still worship God without Jesus, but then it wouldn’t be personal… I would have no way of KNOWING God. I find it difficult to understand how a person can have a relationship with God and truly know the Lord if sin still exists in him, without someone to deal with that sin first. Obviously we can’t deal with sin on our own, so God must have a way to deal with it himself. What do you think? Maybe you can explain how you have a relationship with God.
I have tried to tell him that Prophet Muhammad’s (sws) advent had been predicted by prophets, which may be found in the Old as well as the New Testament. I had asked him to read your articles. He was critical that while you have used the verses from the New Testament to explain your view on Prophet Muhammad (sws), you are also saying that the New and Old Testament have been distorted. What he means is that you should either accept all of it, in order to use verses to answer any question, or you should reject it completely. So I believe it won’t be of much help if you say that the Prophet Muhammad’s advent had been foretold. Please give me some other hints to tackle the question of this Christian friend of mine.
Answer: I would request your Christian friend to consider the following points:
I can understand that he has been brought up believing in a certain view, and therefore he is attached to it emotionally. He should not forget that likewise people belonging to many other religious groups were brought up believing in other creeds which are very different from his. In many cases these beliefs are conflicting. For instance, the Islamic view on Jesus Christ is in some cases the very opposite of the one held by the Christians. It is therefore very important that when we are in the pursuit of knowing the truth, we should try to ignore, as much as is possible, our religious attachments and make an attempt to see which of the contesting views makes more sense. This approach is as difficult as it is important. Otherwise, exchange of arguments between people belonging to different religious groups would be a futile exercise of defending resolutely the respective religious views of the debating parties.
As Muslims, we believe that although man sins, when he realizes he has sinned, he gets embarrassed and is inclined to repent. When he does so, God cleanses his sin, without the intervention of anyone else. That’s the struggle man is involved in: To fight evil as best as he can. If at times he fails to avoid it because of his weakness, he is expected to repent as soon as he realizes that he has wronged his soul. I don’t find any justifiable reason why an external solution to the problem is needed when the solution lies within us. What has Jesus’ sacrifice done to sin? How has it eliminated sin? Do Christians who believe him to be the son of God not sin? If your friend says they don’t, then I have many examples to quote to prove him wrong. If he says that they do, then my question is what then has Jesus’ sacrifice done to eliminate sin?
Probably the answer your friend might have in mind is the one that was given to me by some Born-Again Christian friends in Britain. They told me that they had a spiritual experience at some point in their lives when they were visited by the Holy Spirit which cleansed their souls completely of all elements of sin. What they claimed was that as a consequence of that experience, they didn’t feel inclined to sin any more thereafter. If that is your friend’s claim also, then I again have a few objections to it. A vast majority of Christians who believe in Jesus’ sacrifice never had that experience. There are some Muslim sufis as indeed there are people amongst Hindus (and may be Buddhists as well) who make very similar claims of complete lack of inclination towards sinning although they don’t share the view of Christians on Jesus Christ.
I personally believe that many of these claims of apparent immunity from sin are correct. I don’t doubt the honesty of those who make such claims. However, I believe that Satan has involved them in a greater sin by ridding them of the inclination of some apparent forms of sin on the one hand and involving them in the greatest sin of all in the bargain: ascribing partners to God. Why would Satan incline people towards committing lesser sins when he has been able to achieve the success of inclining them towards the greatest one?
The fact of the matter is that sin is a very important component of God’s master plan. He wants to pick people from the trial of this world who would deserve to enter the beautiful world of Paradise. This selection cannot be done unless man is given freedom to choose the path of his liking. Had man been forced to follow the path of righteousness, there wouldn’t have been any trial and therefore any real achievement of getting selected for Paradise. Sin is a natural consequence of the freedom God has given to man. Despite the fact that it is bad, it has to be tolerated for the overall plan of the Almighty or else the trial of this life would not be possible. God Almighty is therefore in no need to deal with the question sin in this world in a hurry through any artificial, unexplainable means. As for the possibility of coming in contact with the perfect God, we can always repent and attain purity to be able to get in touch with Him spiritually. The best thing about that contact is that it is achieved by the individual’s own deeds. He doesn’t get any outside, undeserved help from anyone.
Another difficulty in understanding your friend’s view is that Jesus was sent to deal with the question of sin when a large part of the humanity had already gone through the experience of life before Jesus. How could they be cleansed through the solution your friend is suggesting?
Yet another problem with understanding your friend’s concept is that despite the efforts of Christian missionaries, there are a large number of people who haven’t been introduced to the concept at all while there are others who haven’t been conveyed the message properly. When the God-sent solution doesn’t help all peoples of the world even after two thousand years have passed since the arrival of Jesus Christ, what purpose is it serving then?
Yet another problem with this understanding is that, if believed, it would mean that God is imperfect. It would mean that the original plan of God, may He forgive me for stating that, went wrong. He was unable to let people avoid sin before Jesus. Then He realized, forgive me God for saying it, His mistake and went for the “Jesus Amendment” in His plan. To us Muslims, God is perfect and Flawless and therefore He doesn’t need any modifications in His plans.
My understanding is that only a part of the Bible is corrupted, not the whole of it. Given that belief, my claim is perfectly legitimate. It is not necessary that we consider the Bible completely correct or completely otherwise. The truth about the Bible is somewhere between the two extremes. The case of Qur’an is different because it is a fully preserved Book of God. When I have that understanding about the Bible, I have a right to ask people to read certain parts of the book, which I believe to be correct, for supporting my view. I hope your friend appreciates that I don’t need to follow his instructions in forming opinion about the Bible. If he wants me to give him my reasons for why I accept only a part of the Bible to be true, I can do so.
Even if your Christian friend disagrees with me, he himself believes in the entire Bible to be the authentic word of God. How does he then explain that the Gospel of John tells us that there is another prophet that was to come at the time when Jesus arrived?