This is one of those questions that comes up from time to time. Don’t we actually worship the same God? Isn’t it just that Christians have some funny views about Jesus being God’s Son (from a Muslim perspective). The question goes a bit further than the usual “all religions are the same” line and is something that Muslims and Christians who know that their religions are different wrestle with from time to time.
The basis for saying that we worship the same God is that Muslims, Christians and Jews are monotheists. They believe in one God who created the world. It goes further than that, it’s not just that hypothetically they believe in the abstract concept of one divine being, rather they claim to believe in the one God who sent the Flood, who called Abraham and who spoke through the prophets of Old. Whilst Muslims believe that our copies of scripture have been distorted, they do look to us as “people of the book” so there is in that respect shared scripture.
Part of the challenge arises because Islam did not spring up from no-where from different origins. Rather, it is something that has arisen within and separated out from Christianity in the same way that Mormonism, The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians did at later dates. Indeed, you can see how much of Islamic thought shows a relationship to Arianism and Gnosticism. For those reasons, it would seem counter intuitive to say that they worship a different God.
And yet, it does not work to say that we worship the same God either does it. As others have pointed out, this is quickly realised as soon as you ask a Muslim who they think Jesus is. To them, he is a prophet, an exalted highly favoured one, second only to Mohammed but all the same, a prophet. They do not believe that Jesus died on the Cross, borrowing from a Gnostic tradition that Jesus and another swapped places and so they do not believe in his resurrection either. They have no place for the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Those differences are not just about formal doctrinal structure either. Once you lose the Trinity and once you lose the atonement, you lose some very important things about God. In 1 John 4, John tells us that God IS love. This is not just about something he does but a perspective on who he is. This is an eternal attribute. Yet, this poses the questions
- Who did God love before Creation? If himself, is he a narcissist?
- If he needed to create us in order to have someone to love does that mean he is dependent/contingent upon us for his being?
- If he started to love when he made the world, doesn’t that mean that he must have changed.
So for God to be sovereign, unchanging, eternal and at the same time to be love, then we need the Trinity. Without the atonement, we lose something else concerning his love. We lose the basis for mercy and compassion that is also just. Without the Trinity and the atonement, we cannot call God “father” and we cannot have a God who is just and merciful. Whilst all of those things were not fully known in the Old Testament, the hints and clues were in place so that faith in the promise meant that people were engaging with the one true and living God.
So, we can’t say that we worship the same God. I think that the dilemma we have here is that we are trying to picture the one true God and then alongside him an actual other being, real or imaginary that we can choose to believe in and worship instead of Yahweh. However, that is not what the danger is because God never has had nor could have true rivals, even imaginary ones. Therefore, when humans turn away from the worship of the true and living God, they turn either to images of creatures (most idols) or they turn away by accepting a distorted and diminished likeness of the true and living God. It is helpful at this point to remember that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did both. They accepted a distorted image of the true God by listening to Satan’s lies and by trusting Satan’s words, they followed the words of a creature giving it the honour, worship and obedience that belonged to God alone.
It is perhaps also helpful to consider what we mean when we talk about believing in God. Too often, the question is posed in terms of intellectual assent to some statements. So, we ask Muslims some propositions about God and we ask Christians the same and we tick them off and discover that we believe the same thing on many of them. The question then becomes “How many do we have to agree on to believe in the same God, is it 9 out of 10, 18/20, 70% ….?) This misses the point that we are not just talking about intellectual assent. What matters here is
- Do we listen to and obey the same God?
- Have we believed in by entrusting our lives to the same God?
Have Muslims listened to and obeyed Yahweh? Well, we are told to listen to his beloved son and Muslims do not accept Jesus as The Son. Furthermore, they reject the idea that we entrust our lives to God through Christ alone. On that basis we have to say that Muslims have not believed in or worshipped God as he is revealed in the Bible. Our belief is not in the same God.
Now contemporary pluralism and liberalism does not like me saying that. They think it diminishes respect for others. But in fact, there is greater integrity and respect in this because too often the view that “we worship the same God” is an attempt to appropriate the beliefs of others and force them into our system, our way of thinking. That is to fail to listen to what people are actually saying. Indeed, we might argue that the liberal/pluralist description of God is a third alternative again that neither Muslim nor Christian will recognise.
My prayer for Muslims is that they will get to meet the God who is love and who sent his son to die for them offering them the free gift of eternal life and the certain hope of resurrection.