Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 7:  From Whence Comes God’s Greatness?

We continue looking into Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question with chapter 7. This chapter begins Part Three entitled Islam or the Gospel:  Which Tells Us About God’s Greatness? How is God great? This is Islam’s Grand Central Question; for Islam is centered on the Takbir - the phrase “Allahu Akbar” which means God is greater. The Muslim, like the Christian, believes God is the Greatest Possible Being. Yet the Islamic version of monotheism diverts from other forms of monotheism in Tawhid or God’s oneness. Murray writes:

He is absolute unity, utterly without any differentiation within himself. To have any differentiation within God would be to diminish his greatness.1

In Islam, ascribing differentiation to God is called shirk; the greatest possible blasphemy.

The importance of Takbir can be understood in light of the historical context out of which Islam originated. Islam came out of a seventh-century pagan culture. Judaism and Christianity were also well established. In this, what Murray calls, “state of competition”, Islam was offering a God who was better than all the others. Murray quotes Winfried Corduan to describe what the result of this was:

Islam did not so much define itself internally as externally against the other existing options.2

This wholly other nature of God leaves him unknowable to the Muslim. He is a personal being yet personal interaction with him is impossible. Thus God is to be obeyed and served as a master. In light of this overwhelming conception of God, Murray recalls his struggle to answer the question, “How is God great?” while a Muslim:

I  wanted to express adoration to the personal Supreme Being, yet I could not help but believe that such a thing was beyond me. I so desired to tell of God’s infinite mercy, yet also wanted to proclaim his uncompromising justice.  The dilemmas that emerged from that struggle seemed inescapable from the Islamic perspective. So I was forced to retreat to escapist answers that really were no answers at all. To avoid the dilemma, I had to believe that attributes like justice, love and compassion are not remotely the same for God as they are for humanity. I hoped that this retreat would solve the issue for me. But it did not.

Chalking the dilemma up to a mystery was not enough for me, and from the writings I have read and the looks in the eyes of Muslims I have talked with, I know that it is not enough for them either. Like all who sincerely want to believe in one God, Muslims yearn to acknowledge God’s greatness. They do not pretend to fully understand it, nor should they expect to. But there is something about us, in our experience of personal relationships, that senses a tug for divine relationship.  Something within us knows that although we cannot fully comprehend God’s ways and how his mercy interacts with his justice, there must be a way to reconcile them if God is truly great.  We must be able to do so without sacrificing reason on the altar of mysterious reverence. Though God’s greatness might transcend our reason, it must not defy it.  On this Muslims and Christians can agree.3

Perhaps the answer to Islam’s Grand Central Question is found in the very worldview Islam rejected as lesser during its origin; the gospel? This question Murray will examine in the remaining chapters of Part Three.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 166
2. Page 167
3. Pages 169 - 170

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