In our previous article we showed how Allah takes on human form when his Ruh [Spirit] visits Mary “in the form of a man in all respects” (Sura 19:17, Hilali Khan). So if Muslims want to use the objection that a God who takes on human form cannot be God, they need to realise it applies to Allah as well. Even if they they concede that God could become a man, the next question is often – why would he need to?
Right from the beginning in Genesis, it’s clear God has a special affection for human beings. He makes men and women uniquely in His image (Genesis 1:27) and walks and talks with Adam and Eve in perfect relationship (Genesis 3:8). Instead of asking why God became man, ask rather – why ever would God make human beings like God, capable of personally relating with him? Why does He invest us with such dignity and honour? (The Qur’an never says we’re made in God’s image – this is an important point.)
Disaster strikes when Adam and Eve think they can live independently of their Maker (Genesis 3:6), so God’s image in them becomes tainted. Worse still, as a result of their disobedience, sin and death enter the world. As their descendants we are all tainted image-bearers, born in sin and subject to death: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, so we too are excluded from His presence . Sin is catastrophic: it is so much more serious than the Islamic understanding of sin as just mistakes and weakness- it is a deadly disease no human wisdom can cure. Don’t miss the strong language of Scripture: in our natural state we are “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) and “objects of wrath” Ephesians 2:3. We are cut off from God and powerless to change our natural state.
And crucially, sin is unique to humanity. A lion doesn’t sin when it eats an antelope. A lion’s taste for antelope may be a consequence of man’s sin, but it was man who fell, not the lion. So it’s man, not the lion, who is deserving of punishment. And yet, God in his extraordinary mercy, decides that it’s men and women, his image-bearers, who in spite of our depravity and rebellion, that He considers pre-eminently worthy of redemption.
How did God redeem his people in the Old Testament? Through the blood of a lamb. At the Passover, the Israelites were commanded to smear the tops and sides of their doors with a lamb’s blood to spare them from the destroying angel. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6) Forgiveness through blood continued via the sacrificial system under Mosaic law. But none of these sacrifices could provide perfect redemption. Hebrews 10:1-4
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
Why was it never going to be enough for a human to be redeemed by an animal? In Genesis 3:15, God hints that the redeemer would be an offspring of the woman – a human – and male. To Satan he says:
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
But it is no ordinary human male; it’s a male who can crush the head of Satan, something only God can do. A God-Man. To re-iterate: the Bible anticipates a God-Man, not a God-Lion or a God-Beetle -because it is mankind who needs redemption, so a like-for-like sacrifice is required. Note how carefully this is explained in Hebrews 2:11-18
“Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.[a] 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”[b]
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”[c]
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”[d]
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fearof death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[e] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18″
Now let’s turn back to the Qur’an. But why did Allah visit Mary “in the form of a man in all respects”? Why is it only birth of Jesus – not Muhammad – that warrants a visit from Allah in person? The well-explained (Sura 12:111), clear and detailed Qur’an (16:89) doesn’t tell us.
The Bible doesn’t leave us hanging: it teaches that Jesus needed to be fully human, as well as fully God, to be the perfect sacrifice to redeem mankind. He does this because he loves us so much, He would rather die in our place than let us carry on “dead in our sins.” And not only that, but through Jesus’ redeeming work, not just human beings, but one day the whole of creation will be made new:
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
Freedom, forgiveness, redemption, peace; adopted as sons and daughters and ushers of the new creation. John is spot-on when he writes “see what great love the Father has lavished on us!” – and at what cost. Muslims repent and believe in Jesus, our “righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Cor 1:30) and stop worshipping a confusing and unknowable counterfeit.
Next time: Is Jesus the Messiah of the Old Testament?