Attributes of God
It is often pointed out that the list of Gods attributes in both religions is nearly identical. Both acknowledge His Judaic background and understand God to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and morally perfect creator of all that is, eternal alpha and omega, first and last, greatest conceivable being abounding with grace, mercy and compassion, most holy and righteous who alone by his very definition is worthy of worship. Except for a few disagreements, many of these above mentioned major characteristics of what is referred to be God are astoundingly corresponding. At this point however it is important to ask what do Muslims and Christians mean when they use these labels? It is the case that the same terms are being applied but are they also embodying the same concepts and ideas? In the ensuing section I will analyze several of these notions.
When it is being said that God can do all things and there is nothing He cannot do, Islam and Christianity differ in their philosophic conclusions. While Muslims perceive Allah’ omnipotence in the absolute sense of the word, Christian understanding maintains a certain qualification – God can do all things (that are logically possible) and there is nothing (logically possible) He cannot do. In Hebrews 6:18 we read that “…it is impossible for God to lie”. Since God is morally perfect Christians hold that it would be in the direct contrast with His nature, as if He lied, He could not be morally perfect anymore. Likewise He cannot create a stone He would not be able to lift or make a married bachelor as these are logical contradictions. Similarly God cannot learn anything new or be wrong due to His omniscience and He cannot sin due to his holiness. Consequently there are number of things Christian God cannot do, while being considered almighty within the logical framework. Now, the generous Muslim view of omnipotence raises at least one disturbing possibility. Craig writes: “[on] Islamic view of God’s power that trumps everything, even His own nature… God is so powerful that he could say to faithful Muslims on the Day of Judgment, “Ha, ha! I tricked you! I’m sending all of you to eternal hell for believing in me and my Prophet!” On this view God is not constrained even by His own goodness.”
The implication springing from previous paragraph is thus unavoidable. Because God of the Bible is limited by His nature, for instance his righteousness, holiness and love, we can expect Him to act consistently with it while having confidence in his Word and redemptive plan of the cross. Yet then total unlimitedness of Allah makes Him and his word untrustworthy due to his unbound capricious will.
Love & Mercy
Even though both concepts make claims of Gods moral perfection it appears that the way for measuring it is not cohesive either. In order for an entity to be morally perfect it must be a loving and gracious being. As a consequence the perfect being, God, must be all-loving. We can read about this feature in the Bible:
“…God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
At last we read about Gods unconditional love for sinners extending even to enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Altogether Bible portrays Gods love to be all-embracing and unconditional. Yet while Quran calls Allah the “al-Rahman al-Rahim” – the Compassionate, the Merciful; his love stretches only to those who believe in Him and live virtuously. “Surely (as for) those who believe and do good deeds for them will Allah bring about love.” For everyone else Quran is expressly delimiting the exclusiveness of His love.
“”God loves not the unbelievers” (III. 33)
“God loves not the impious and sinners” (II. 277)
“God loves not evildoers” (III. 58)
“God loves not the proud” (IV. 37)
“God loves not transgressors” (V. 88)
“God loves not the prodigal” (VI. 142)
“God loves not the treacherous” (VIII. 59)
“God is an enemy to unbelievers” (II. 99)”
After this exposition Allah clearly is not all-loving and his attributes of mercy and compassion appear to be oriented merely towards those who first seek Him and live up to His standard.
Out of reading Volf’ interview justice is too seen as a common attribute of the God of Christianity and Islam. Yet its way of dealing with this issue is once again apart from each other. Islam in its essence adopts a certain scale system based on good works a free agent performs until the Day of Judgment.
“ And the measuring out on that day will be just; then as for him whose measure (of good deeds) is heavy, those are they who shall be successful;  And as for him whose measure (of good deeds) is light those are they who have made their souls suffer loss because they disbelieved in Our communications. ”
Yet let us be reminded what the Quran says about the unbound will and power of Allah’ from the first point: “ And whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Allah’s; He forgives whom He pleases and chastises whom He pleases; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” Thus even if one devotes his entire life to Allah and performs good deeds he still cannot be sure of eternal life and vice versa, one who lived in indifference and wrongfulness can simply “luck out” Allah’ favor as “He forgives whom He pleases”. Even if granted that Allah would act according to his word, look at person’s works being forgiving and merciful, this system of justice simply pardons sins of a transgressor and then rewards his positives.
Even though Bible asserts similar sovereignty to God, His mercy is not arbitrary but is closely tied together with Gods justice. In the context of biblical Christianity no offence remains unpunished since Christ took upon himself the sin of the whole world. In him Gods righteousness finds fulfillment and through him Gods mercy is distributed to everyone who makes a free decision to receive it. In any case the conception of Gods righteousness is essentially differing.
For more material on this topic surely listen to the podcast of prof. William Lane Craig on Reasonable faith called “The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity“.
- Wycliffe review panel misfires on Allah as a name of God (vineoflife.net)