Forgiveness, and Why I am not a Muslim
I have already spoken on the subject of love and how Islam, by it’s own admission (or more precisely, by the ramifications of its philosophy), generally considers Allah himself unworthy of the highest and most supreme form of love. Indeed it encourages a type of subpar worship towards God on the part of the Muslim and, in praising, absolutely denigrates God. Yet enough of that, this post has to do with the matter of forgiveness in Islam (and Christianity by relation). A common charge levied against Christianity by Muslims is that Islam paints a superior picture of God seeing as Allah does not require sacrifice but will rather simply forgive sins. I must admit that at face value Islam does seem to be the superior religion on this count yet can this belief be sustained after one has worked through the implications inherent in the concepts of sin, forgiveness, and the divine nature?
Before we turn our attention to the issues that divide the religion of Islam from that of Christianity, let us first state the common ground between the two (as it relates to our task for this post). As a Christian, I join my fellow brothers-in-humanity when they affirm that God is loving, all-powerful, and wholly compassionate. I also join them in affirming that through sincerity and God’s loving-mercies, one can obtain forgiveness of sins. In this respect, the process advocated in Islam and Christianity is virtually identical—both stress that forgiveness comes solely from God, apart from works. At this time, it would prove helpful for us to delve just a little bit deeper into these preliminary things and try to define what it is that we actually mean when we speak of God and sin in relation to forgiveness.
God: More than simply being the entity who sustains everything in existence, adherents of both the aforementioned Abrahamic faiths maintain that God is life itself (John 1:4). Furthermore, his will is as such that we should live and to do so in full (John 10:10), hence why he has decreed certain commandments to our benefit. If God wishes that we should live and makes provisions for us to truly live then it follows that each commandment is the pathway to life itself (Deut. 30:19). This particular belief is attested to by the fact that both Christianity and Islam teach that if the only unrepented sin one ever had was choosing not to believe in the truth of their respective religion (and thus fail to live up to merely one commandment), they still would not see heaven.
We must not forget to mention that both Muslims and Christians believe that God is the possessor of attributes such as power, knowledge, holiness etc. Now given that God is infinite, it follows that his very attributes are infinite as well such that he not only possess power but all power (Jer. 16:21), not only knowledge but all knowledge (Romans 11:33), he is not moderately holy but all-holy (Ezek. 39:7). Furthermore, the quality of being infinite is as such that there can be no moment at all where his divine attributes are not exhibited in his self. By this I mean that, as he is in himself, at no point can he fail to know all things, or fail to be omnipotent, nor to be infinitely just or infinitely merciful etc. He is always and completely the measure of his attributes at all times without ceasing to be one in order to exhibit the other.
Sin: In just a few words, sin is the breaking of God’s sovereign law. Yet more than that, if the commandments are the pathway to life itself, then the going against them can only mean and most certainly be, death. I will speak a bit further of sin seeing as having a deeper appreciation of sin is absolutely crucial to this discussion. As the commandments are life, sin is death. Sin is the complete reversal of the decrees of God, it is the imposition of the human will above that of the divine and it is an affront to God’s wisdom, love, and goodness. In fact, it is the opposition to God’s very purpose for us and life cannot truly be had outside of the design which God has implemented. As such sin not only merits punishment (hell) but demands it—this is the inevitable outcome. It is not that God is bad—rather, God is good and we are bad and being goodness itself, God upholds good and this is why he has to punish evil. The punishment of evil, no matter how we may particularly feel about it, is good. I stress this over and over again because it is imperative that the outcome of sin be not reduced to the mere arbitrary will of God but rather that its result be understood as a logical conclusion. Once more, logic and justice are as such that sin inevitably and always, leads to death. If God is life, and sin is the disconnect to that life, how could the decision to sin not be consummated in death?
Having thus delved deeper into these concepts, it is time for me to move on with my point. Purely from a visual viewpoint, the Christian and Muslims go through the same motions when they ask to be forgiven of sin and on this subject no faith can be called the superior of the other. Yet one comes to a point of divergence when observing the respective Christian and Muslim rationale for why forgiveness of sin can be had. Seeing as I’ve already written on why the Christian understanding of the cross is wholly logical and a display of the highest justice, love, and mercy I will not speak of it here save to say that according to Christianity, God forgives sin without contradicting his quality of being infinitely just. Christianity portrays God as acting in complete harmony with all his divine attributes such that he does not have to cease displaying one attribute (such as infinite justice) in order to exhibit another (such as infinite mercy). Through Christ’s death on the cross, every single sin, that in this case, a believer commits, is consistently punished by the full force of the rightfully deserved wrath of God that is reserved for all manner of ungodliness. The Christian understanding is as such that sin is always—and I mean always—punished with it’s inevitable result, death. The Christian God never fails to exemplify his attributes of holiness and justice to the full, there is never an instance where he fails to be just in order to be merciful yet thanks to the cross, neither is there ever an instance where God fails to be merciful in order to be just. Rather, the cross enables God to consistently be both simultaneously. Sin is always justly punished and undeserved mercy is always given to fallible man. The concept of sacrifice, inherent in the concept of death and punishment, is imperative to justice. Sin has to be punished, therefore sacrifice is always required yet thanks to the death of Christ, sacrifice is consistently dealt (rather, a sacrifice of infinite worth was dealt once and for all) and thus enabling God to display his mercy to fallible man without compromising his justice. Therefore, Christians believe in a God who is consistent with his self and escapes the trap of pitting one divine attribute against another.
The Muslim God on the other hand displays the tendencies of a schizophrenic wherein he has to set one infinite attribute in opposition to another. I mean, we understand that the proper punishment for sin is death and that justice is not synonymous to mercy. When Allah forgives, he displays mercy, but he does not display justice and vice versa. Where Allah does forgive, there is no provision in Islam that enables sin to always and consistently end in the natural conclusion that is demanded by both logic and justice—death. Hence, Islam presents us with a god who is in contradiction with himself. There is no unison or harmony to his being to the point where he is forced to have one infinite attribute trump another. Not only is Allah’s contradiction one of ontological proportions, but logical as well. To illustrate, it is understood that to have an infinite being who is the possessor of certain attributes signifies that those attributes are exemplified infinitely (part of this concept is the understanding that such attributes have to be present at all times) yet Allah only exemplifies his attributes of infinite justice and mercy (among others) limitedly and at the degradation of the other. (One must ask themselves how it can be that one infinite attribute can at all be pitted against the other and in so doing go so far as trump it’s opposite. If these attributes be infinite, then they cannot be limited much less be cancelled out by the other for that would violate the law of non-contradiction. Seeing as Allah has need to, and in fact does, cease to exhibit one property for the other, it follows that as the fullness of these attributes go, Allah does not possess them in their entirety. This of course puts into question his claims of being infinite in any respect. But I digress.) He is unable to be consistent with his self and is resolved to compromise his own attributes (and as such, his grandeur) in order to be able to deal with his creation. This is quite the scary thought, that justice itself has to stoop down to the level of injustice so that a certain end might be met—if such a prospect weren’t so sad I’d be led to call it the grossest display of pure, unadulterated evil. Evil, because according to the ramifications of the Muslim philosophy, Ultimate Justice is not averse to becoming unjust, for the sake of his worshipers. Where justice, ceases to be just; you only have the most heinous evil.
The God of Islam is helpless when it comes to the manner in which he can reconcile harmony in his being with the punishment and mercy he allots to his creation. The picture we are presented with in Islam is of a God that cannot be true to himself and in fact utterly lacks justice when he forgives, and completely lacks mercy when he deals justly with the reality of sin. His lack of justice is evident in the fact that he will not punish sin as is demanded by logic, his goodness, justice, and his holiness and is wont to sweep a person’s sins under the rug, so to speak. Such that the travesty and deviation of his design and purpose is never put to right but simply ignored. Therefore, in light of everything that has been written, it is clear to see that the Muslim God is spectacularly inferior to the Christian God. Where YHWH is too holy, just and perfect to inherently compromise his divine attributes, Allah finds no qualms with the act of drastically negating his professed attributes (to the point of being unjust where he chooses to forgive). Essentially, the being of God, as he is presented in Islam, is nothing short of a mockery of the only true God—YHWH.