A. THE LOVE OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT.
1. The Love of God in the Qur'an.
In the last chapter we considered the uniqueness of Jesus, not only in the Bible, but also in the Qur'an, as a very useful platform on which to build an effective witness to Muslims. In this chapter we shall consider a few remaining points of contact between the Qur'an and the Bible, where to some extent we find common ground, which Christians can also use profitably as a means of communicating the Gospel to Muslims. We shall begin with a comparative study of the love of God as it is set forth in the Qur'an and the Bible.
The Qur'an appears to say much of God's love for men and the need on the believer's part to love him in return. A typical Qur'anic text which speaks on the one hand of the love of God and on the other exhorts Muslims to respond to him in love in return reads:
Indeed there are a host of passages in the Qur'an which teach that God loves those who earnestly seek to do good. Innallaaha yuhibbul muhsiniin - "For God loveth those who do good" (Surah 2.195) - is the sort of definition we find on many occasions in the book of the terms and circumstances which bring forth the love of God for men. In Surah 2.222 we read that "He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean", in Surah 3.76 that "God loves those who act aright", and in Surah 5.45 that "God loveth those who judge in equity". In each passage the word used for "love" is yuhibbu from the basic Arabic word meaning to love, namely ahabba. On no less than twenty-one occasions in the Qur'an we find similar texts, speaking of God's love for the godfearing, the patient, etc.
On the other hand the Qur'an speaks equally often of those whom God does not love and in each case the negative simply precedes the same Arabic word, namely laa yuhibbu. He does not love transgressors (Surah 7.55), the treacherous (Surah 8.58), arrogant boasters (Surah 31.18), ungrateful traitors (Surah 22.38) and the like. A similar word conveying much the same sentiment in the Qur'an is radiya which also occurs in its particular forms fairly regularly in the book to describe God's pleasure and love on those who are faithful to him, as in Surah 5.122: "God is well-pleased with them". The only other word used in the Qur'an to speak of God's love is twice applied to him directly as one of his attributes, namely Al-Waduud, "the Loving One" (Surah 85.14, so also Surah 11.90). A Muslim writer, summarising some of the texts of the Qur'an which speak of God's love, says:
Nevertheless one will search in vain through the Qur'an to find any text which defines God's love for mankind as something which rises from deep within his own heart, which contains any degree of sympathy or paternal affection, or ultimately which leads him to actually give of himself to show and make his love for men effective. There is nothing of God's love for his enemies, nothing of his willingness to enter into a personal relationship with men based on an expression of mutual love, and nothing of a deliberate manifestation of his love for men to redeem them from their sins. In every one of the quotes that one finds speaking of God's love one can comfortably substitute the word "approves" for "loves" without any change whatsoever in the meaning of the whole clause. God approves of the just, he approves of those who do good, and so disapproves of transgressors, arrogant boasters and the like.
God thus does not feel any degree of affection, sympathy or charity for men, he only approves of those who keep his commandments, and the knowledge and realisation of this approval will also only be known at the Last Day. It is not something a believer can personally experience here and now. Perhaps this is why the Qur'an rarely calls God Al-Waduud, "the Loving One", as we have seen. It is not one of his fore most attributes. A Christian writer emphasizes its infrequently use when he says that the title "occurs only twice in the Koran" (Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, p. 41), whereas many of the other titles occur dozens of times.
One of the great Muslim theologians of history, Al Ghazzali, in his study of the attributes of God entitled Al Maqsad Al-Asna, was quite open in his approach to the teaching of the Qur'an about God's love, saying that "He remains above the feeling of love", while going on to say that such "love and mercy are desired in respect of their objects only for the sake of their fruit and benefit and not because of empathy or feeling" (Stade, Ninety-Nine Names of God in Islam, p. 91).
The love of God for man therefore, as Al-Ghazzali says, is only vested in his interest that they should benefit from his bounties. It is not something which issues out of his heart, particularly as a sentiment that may go contrary to those who benefit from his love. God, it seems from the Qur'an, cannot love those who are opposed to him and despise him. Al-Ghazzali explains this love as consisting solely of objective acts of kindness and expressions of approval. He denies that there is any subjectivity in the love of God, that is, that God feels any love in his own heart towards mankind.
Men therefore cannot have the greatest of privileges - the actual personal knowledge of God's very own love. They can receive things from God as tokens of kindness and approval but God himself cannot be known. There is no possibility of a mutual expression of love between God and men which can develop and grow into a wondrous communion and fellowship between him and the believer. Just as a young man may bestow gifts on a woman he courts yet withhold an offer of marriage, so God only bestows fruits and benefits on those who please him but will in no way commit himself to them.
There will always remain, therefore, a gulf between him and men. He cannot be known personally, indeed it appears from Muslim theology that the further God exalts himself above his creation and holds himself aloof from it, the more he considers himself glorified - unlike the God of the Bible who rejoices to draw near to his creation in love (see pp. 255-258 of the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam).
In a real sense the Muslim awareness of God is an awareness of the unknown. The revelation communicated God's Law. It does not reveal God Himself. He remains inscrutable and inaccessible to knowledge. (Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 55).
The only relationship therefore that can exist between God and men is that of master and servant. The former may express his approval of the latter's good service through increased wages, better facilities and other rewards, while the latter remains obliged at all times nonetheless to render faithful service and obey his commands. The Qur'an makes no allowance for any other kind of relationship between God and men, saying quite emphatically:
An abd (servant) is all a believer can be towards his master, Al-Malik ("the Sovereign"). Just as a servant will generally reside outside the home, be obliged to work for his wages, fear dismissal if he is refractory, and enjoy no direct relationship with his master, so a true believer in the Qur'an cannot come to know God personally, must work for his approval, and will fear rejection if he stumbles so as to fall. A Muslim writer puts it plainly:
Muslims, nevertheless, are not idolaters, pagans or worshippers of heathen gods. They offer their worship to the same God as we do and we can note with pleasure the very fact of the Qur'an's teaching that God does love true believers. For here we have yet another point of common ground which can be used as a means to an effective Christian witness, in this case of the surpassing fulness of God's love as it is revealed to us in the Bible. Against the background of the Qur'an's limited concept of the love of God towards mankind, let us consider how to lead Muslims to the complete knowledge of God's love as it is revealed to us in our Scriptures.
2. The Fatherhood of God in the Bible.
We have seen that although the Qur'an has a very limited sense of God's love it does nevertheless call him Al- Waduud - "the Loving One". This is just one of many names or attributes given to God in the Qur'an. In fact Islam has defined ninety-nine names of God, known as al-asma'ul- husna - "the beautiful names", and in many printed Arabic Qur'ans today one finds these names listed in order at the introduction to the book. The first thirteen occur in order in Surah 59.22-24, such as Ar-Rahman, "the Compassionate"; Ar-Rahim, "the Merciful"; Al-Malik, "the Sovereign"; Al-Quddus, "the Holy", and so on. It is said in the Hadith that Muhammad himself specifically stated that the names of God duly numbered ninety-nine:
In the early days of Sufism it was claimed by the recognised Sufi masters that there were actually one hundred names of God and that they alone knew the hundredth name and were not permitted to disclose it. It was regarded as the supreme name of God. One is reminded of Jesus' parable:
The one sheep which was missing was sought out eagerly until it was found. It is our view that the Muslims are indeed missing the one supreme name of God and will do well to leave his ninety-nine attributes "in the wilderness", as it were, and not be satisfied until they find the one that is above all others. I have often suggested to Muslims that it is not the hundredth name they are missing. If, according to them, Allah has one hundred names, ninety-nine of which have been publicly recorded, is it not possible that the one they lack is not the last name, the hundredth. Is it not rather the first name that is being overlooked in Islam? The ninety-nine names they extol are surely, in Islam, only the remaining attributes of God. The great name is missing, the supreme name, and accordingly the first and foremost attribute of God, the name which appears more commonly in the New Testament for God than any other, so often in fact that it is the proper New Testament name for God, and that name is the Father. A Christian writer duly makes the point in saying:
It is remarkable that the commonest title for God in the Christian Scriptures, that is the Father, is completely lacking in the Qur'an. This is little wonder, however, as we have already seen that the closest relationship that the Qur'an allows between God and men is that of master to servant. There is no capacity in the Qur'an for men to become children of God - indeed the Qur'an states plainly that God has no children: "And they falsely, having no knowledge, attribute to him sons and daughters" (Surah 6.100). In another passage Jews and Christians are berated for saying "we are the sons of God" (Surah 5.20). The Qur'an nowhere allows the least possibility that God can have children and so it accordingly nowhere speaks of him as Father. "Muslims do not call God Father. They say that God has no sons, and men are only His slaves or servants" (Christian Witness Among Muslims, p. 18). Yet, in contrast, this is the commonest and most prominent name of God in the Christian Scriptures.
The omission of this name in the Qur'an has long been a cause of offence to Muslim writers. They make various attempts to explain away the complete oversight in the Qur'an regarding the title Father. A Muslim writer gives two of the commonest arguments raised in defence of this omission. On the one hand he says of Jesus:
This interpretation of Jesus' use of the name Father for God is completely erroneous. Under no circumstances did he teach that all men are children of God or that God's Fatherhood "embraced all humanity". He once plainly told the Jews that their Father was not God but the devil (John 8.44) and it was always only to his own disciples that Jesus spoke of God as their Father (Luke 12.32, Matthew 6. 14-15). As the apostle John put it, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1.12). Throughout the New Testament one finds that it is only those who follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour who become the children of God. No one is naturally a child of God. Even all true Christians, before becoming true believers, "were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2.3). It is nonsense to say that Jesus taught that all men are children of God. In the Qur'an no one is or ever can be a child of God. In the Bible likewise no one is a child of God by nature, but all who turn to the Father by faith in his Son Jesus Christ can become children of God.
In a footnote the same Muslim writer offers a second argument to explain the Qur'anic silence about God as Father:
No documentation or authority is given for this statement which is grossly speculative. The fact is that the Qur'an nowhere even hints that the name Father was "cut out from Islam" for any reason. On the contrary the insistence in the Qur'an that Allah has neither sons or daughters makes the inclusion of such a name in the book an impossibility. The real reason why the Qur'an does not use this title for God is that Muhammad was unaware that God had long beforehand chosen to enter into a far more intimate and personal relationship with men than that of master to servant.
The key issue here is the love of God. We have seen how limited the Qur'an's concept of this love is and the reason for this is quite plain - it denies that true believers can enter into such a close relationship as that between a father and his children which is based on a degree of love not known in other similar relationships.
From an objective point of view the Qur'an's disallowance of a relationship between God and men such as that between a father and his children also prevents any real knowledge of God's deep personality as well. His followers may know much about him, but they cannot know him.
It is in love that God has been pleased to become our Father, indeed we here discover the whole fulness of that love that we do not find in the Qur'an. Masters may approve of faithful servants, but what child is there whom the father does not love deeply in his heart? As John put it:
This means that God is prepared to draw so near to us in love that the intimate communion which will result from this love between him and true believers can only be compared to that which exists between a loving father and his children.
A brief comparison between the status of a child and a servant in a household will bring this out all the more. The child belongs in the house, the servant has his own quarters outside. A child can depend implicitly on the father's love for him, for he will always be his child. A servant, however, can be dismissed at the discretion of his master. Children belong automatically in the home, it is their right, but servants must work to earn their place and do not enjoy the absolute freedom of the household that the children enjoy. Most of all, the child bears his father's image and so must be the permanent object of the father's affection, and he becomes the heir to all things in his father's house. "Like father, like son", a typical proverb, defines the first feature perfectly, while another typical proverb, "One day my son this will all be yours", symbolising the inheritance the son has to all that the father has established, equally well defines the second. Jesus made this very point when he said to his disciples: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12.32).
It is only from servants that masters demand a degree of effort and service before they receive their wage. Children enjoy their portion of food, however, as an inborn right in their father's house. The following brief conversation between Jesus and Peter at Capernaum after the collectors of the half shekel tax had enquired if Jesus paid taxes, brings this fact out very clearly:
A father always loves his own children in a very special way and no matter how well-disposed he may be towards children generally, he will always have a deeper affection for his own children than for others. The reason is simply that he sees something of himself in his own children that he does not see in others. Even though he may have sons very different to each other in looks and temperament, he will in so many ways, as he looks at them both, be able to say, "that is me". So also, if God becomes our Father, we may know that he has a special affection for us, that in some unique way he sees something of himself in us, and for this reason will assuredly never disown us.
Children also love their fathers. There must be few young men who will declare a greater love for any other man than their own fathers. So, if God becomes our Father, it is only natural that we will look on him with the deepest possible affection. There can be no more intimate and personal relationship between God and men. Contrast the first words of the great Muslim prayer, the Fatihah, with those of the Lord's Prayer. The Muslim prays: "Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Reckoning" (Surah 1.2-4), while Jesus taught the Christian to say quite simply, "Our Father" (Matthew 6.9). The latter title, so simple, is yet so much more profound than all those in the Fatihah put together. It tells far more about God and the believer's relationship with him and access to him than all the lofty invocations of the Muslim prayer.
Some Muslims argue that the title Father is too familiar and, by itself, lacks any sense of God's supreme glory. We are accused of bringing him down to our level and making him little more than ourselves. In reply to such arguments I always commend the speaker for discerning that there is not much between God and the true Christian. On the other hand I suggest that he has missed the real point - we do not negate God's glory and majesty, rather we have been raised as children of God to his level. We have, by his grace, become "little less" than him (Psalm 8.5). The gap has been narrowed at his level, not ours. We have not brought him down, he has elevated us to be "children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8.17).
It is only by knowing God as Father that the fulness of his love can truly be discovered. Here Christians have yet another wonderful means of communicating the Gospel to Muslims against the background of their own beliefs, in this case their inadequate experience of his love. Let us press to see how that love has been manifested to us and how we c experience it within our very own hearts.
3. The Revelation of God's Love in Jesus Christ.
It is meaningless to speak of God's love for us and of our relationship with him as children of the heavenly Father unless we can show how that love has been manifested to us. Indeed whenever a Muslim is put on terms to declare what God has done to show his love for him he will immediately reply that God has given him health, possessions, children and the like or that he has answered his prayers. A Muslim can never go so far, however, as to show how God has shown his love for him in a deeply personal way. He especially cannot show how God has in any way given of himself to reveal his love. Al-Ghazzali, speaking of the love of God, said it was only a removing of the veil over the hearts of men so that he should be known to them, nothing more. He declared: "There is no reaching out on the part of God" (MacDonald, Aspects of Islam, p. 201). He makes his point quite plainly.
This is perhaps the most important point where a Christian can make contact with a Muslim. For, by way of contrast, it can so easily be shown that the love of God in the Bible is the greatest there could be. It is summed up perfectly in the following passage:
The striking feature of this passage is the frequent recurrence of the words "God" and "love". The writer is so persuaded of the inseparable link between the two that he sums it up in these words: God is love (1 John 4.8). This means that right in the very heart of God's own personal interest in men rests the deepest possible affection and concern for them. The love of God in this case is clearly not to be found solely outside of himself in "fruit and benefit" as Al-Ghazzali suggests. On the contrary it is that love which exists within the very nature of God and it is the love of God himself that is revealed to men in the Gospel. One can safely say that more is said of God's love in this one short passage in the Bible than in the whole of the Qur'an. What was it that persuaded the Apostle John of the intensity of God's love for mankind? To what does he appeal to prove this magnificent love of God towards men of which he speaks? What has God ever done to manifest his love in such a way that he could be spoken of as the epitome of love itself? It is quite simply this:
Herein lies the proof of the depth of God's love towards us. He has done the greatest thing he possibly could do to reveal his love for us - he gave willingly his very own Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for our sins to redeem us to himself. No greater proof of God's love can be given to mankind than this. It is no wonder that John does not appeal to anything further to make his point. He has given the very best possible proof of God's love towards men.
At this point perhaps the most effective way of showing just how deep this love is is to compare it with the great love of the prophet Abraham when he was willing to give his Son Isaac up as a sacrifice to God. We have already dealt with this at some length in the fourth chapter of this book and need not repeat what has already been said. All we need add here is the fact that in Jesus Christ God has both expressed and shown how deep his love is for us. By the gift of his Son he has made it possible for us to become his children and through the death of his Son he has reconciled us fully to himself. Two of the great early Christian apostles stated the wonder of the expression of God's love for us in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ in these words:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4.9
It is hardly surprising that the Qur'an has so little to say about the love of God when it denies that God gave his Son to redeem us from our sins. It has denied the greatest manifestation of this love that could ever have been given by God to men. As Jesus said:
This is the greatest and most abiding form of love - love that is as strong as death (Song of Solomon 8.6) and cannot be overcome by it. Such love was revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ when he willingly laid down his life:
Here we have proof, not only of God's inestimable love, but also of the fact that we can depend on it forever. The true Christian will never know a whit of God's wrath for he is the eternal object of his immeasurable love. The willing gift of his own Son was perfect proof of the truth of this wonderful promise:
The cross of Jesus Christ was a magnificent proof of the eternal love of both the Father and the Son for mankind. Each was prepared to endure the loss of the other's presence - a circumstance which we cannot possibly estimate in our minds so that we might never be lost. Not only so, but it is little wonder that after the death of Jesus and his resurrection to life again three days later God is only known as Father in the Holy Scriptures. This inexpressible gift shows us more than anything else ever could that God is indeed willing to become our Father. Through the cross he has redeemed all true believers in his Son to himself and has made possible even now the forgiveness of all our offences so that we might be transformed from children of wrath, which we are by nature, into children of God.
All Christians know the parable of the prodigal son. When he left his father's household he squandered his father's wealth in riotous and loose living but, when a famine came upon the land and he began to be in want, he came to his senses and decided to return to his father, content simply to be one of his servants. The father's reaction to him, however, is very significant:
Even after the prodigal son had said his piece and declared his willingness simply to be one of his servants, his father immediately called for a feast, put his best robe on him, and put shoes on his feet and a ring on his hand. The interpretation of the parable is obvious - the God of the Bible loves wayward sinners so much that he will willingly receive them if they will turn to faith in him. The gift of God's Son Jesus Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, assure him of a complete acceptance in the warm, loving arms of the eternal Father.
The Qur'an, on the contrary, boldly declares "God loves not the prodigal" (Surah 6.141, so also Surah 7.31. The word musrifiin, translated by Arberry as "the prodigal", is translated by Yusuf Ali "the wasters"). It is only as we see God's gracious love for all men manifested for us in Jesus Christ that we can see that God will not only welcome the prodigal but will do so with open arms if he will but come to him in faith through his Son Jesus Christ who died that wayward sinners might live.
In the gift of his Son Christians can show Muslims how greatly God has shown and manifested his love for us and how by this means we too can become the children of God.
Let us press on in closing to see how we can actually experience the revelation of that love through the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.
4. Experiencing God's Love Through the Holy Spirit.
We have seen that we can actually know God's love for us through the relationship he has been willing to enter into with us, he as our Father and we as his children. We have also seen that God's love has been manifested through the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. Let us conclude by discovering how we can show Muslims that God's love can also be felt and experienced through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. It has been well put by the Apostle Paul:
What a wonderful statement this is. God's love has actually been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given to every one at that moment that he turns and puts his faith in Jesus, seeking salvation in him alone. Not only do we behold God's love, therefore, for us in the gift of his Son but we can actually experience it within our own souls through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. This principle of our adoption as children of God through Jesus Christ and our living experience of this relationship in the Holy Spirit was summed up by Paul in these words:
Here we have the climax of the revelation of God's love towards us. We have become children of God through the work of Jesus Christ whom God sent into the world to save us from our sins. But now, by sending the Spirit of his Son right into our hearts, he has made us conscious within our own beings of our status before him. Not only are we children of God therefore, we know we are children of God. We have been brought into the very same eternal, intimate communion with the Father that the Son of God himself has shared with him from all eternity. Just as Jesus was able to call on his Father in heaven with an expression of intense intimacy, namely Abba, Father (Mark 14.36), so we have now been brought, by the mercies of God, into this same intimate relationship. The Apostle Paul, in another epistle, once again puts it perfectly when he says:
When we cry, 'Abba! Father!', it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8.15-16.
The Holy Spirit within us has made us particularly aware of the fact that God is now our Father and we, therefore, call on him as such out of the deep knowledge of the love that he has for us. He is our Father in the very closest manner that he could be and through his Spirit he has impressed this fact very surely on us. All this has been done through the redemption which he set forth and accomplished through his Son Jesus Christ. By dying for our sins to cleanse us from all evil Jesus has made it possible for us to fully enjoy this new relationship.
It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that the fulness of God's love towards us is finally sealed in all its perfection. The God of the Christian Bible is accessible to all who truly turn to him in faith through his Son Jesus Christ. He can be known, experienced and enjoyed. Once the Holy Spirit enters a man he enters into a new, living relationship with God. He no longer worships a divine being who can only be approached as a Master, he shares the love of a Father who is willing to receive him into his own kingdom and presence. How different this is from the concept of the Holy Spirit in Islam.
The subject of God's love for men is one of the most fruitful and effective fields of the Christian witness toward Islam. Muslims speak highly of their prophet, glory in the supposed beauties of Islam, but cannot say much about God's love for men. A Christian witness based on the intense personal and living knowledge that we can have of God and his love through the revelation of his Son Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit can only impress and move those whose hearts yearn for a genuine relationship with him.
A Christian writer neatly sums up the whole meaning of the Christian's relationship with the God of the Bible:
In closing let me say that I trust my readers have grasped the great underlying theme of this section and that is the contrast between the unitarian God of Islam whose love for man springs not from his heart but is chiefly an expression of approval of those who serve him well, and the trinitarian God of Christianity whose very nature is love - a Father who loves his children, who manifested that love for them to perfection in the gift of his Son, and who has poured that love right into their hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to them.
There is no better way to explain the Trinity to a Muslim than to explain this threefold revelation of God's love for us, a revelation that stops not a cubit short of perfection itself. A thorough analysis of his love will soon show that it is only in the Triune God of the Bible that it could ever be, and has ever been, shown in all its fulness.
The same writer is likewise persuaded that it is only in the Triune God that all true seekers will ever find the goal of their search for his love, for there are so many signs, he concludes, that show that "the heart of man responds to the revelation of the Father which was brought by the Son and is witnessed by the Spirit" (Weitbricht, op. cit., p. 74). The only true God is the Triune God of the Bible - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and his creatures will never discover the perfection and fulness of the greatest of all virtues until they find it in him.
In fact the more Christians witness to Muslims, the more they become aware of this great fact. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an indefensible dogma which cannot be reconciled with true monotheism, it is the only doctrine which reveals that very monotheism in all its wondrous perfection.
It is not only essential to Christianity but there can be no perfect revelation of his love other than that which is found in this one true world religion. A faithful testimony of the knowledge of God as Father, of the perfect revelation of his love in his Son, and of the personal experience of that love in the Holy Spirit, is one of the most effective instruments of witness Christians can have in their discourses with Muslims.
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