Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Bringing Hope to Light

Roland Clarke

As I write this, the death toll from the Covid pandemic is more than 400,000 worldwide. In addition, the huge recession triggered by the pandemic will likely kill hundreds of thousands more, especially the poor and marginalized. This was the finding of a recent study in the USA, titled, “Projected Deaths of Despair During the Coronavirus Recession.” The estimated number of “deaths from despair” during the recession in America is about 75,000. Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, sounds a similar warning, “The economic costs we incur now will spill over, in terms of loss of lives, loss of quality of life, and loss of well-being.” (Source

The death-toll expected in America is bad enough, but what about poorer countries like India where the impact of economic recession could be even worse? Singer explains, “it has been reported that the lockdown has forced many of India's 120 million migrant workers to return to their homes, and with public transport shut down, some of them are walking hundreds of kilometers with no food or water other than what kind people along the way give them. When they do get home, many will have no income.”

Summarizing the global impact of this Covid-recession, Isaac Chotiner says, “Every year, nearly a billion people suffer from some form of hunger, brought about by war or climate change or simply a lack of means. But now, according to the United Nations, the number of people who are classified as having acute food insecurity—a level of hunger at which a person’s inability to consume adequate food endangers their life or livelihood—could rise from more than a hundred and thirty million to nearly three hundred million, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought world economies and supply chains to a standstill. And this estimate does not even begin to address the millions of people whose means of achieving a decent living have evaporated.” (Source

We who live in a wealthy nation like Canada find it very difficult to comprehend these realities although we are very concerned about family and friends overseas. Can it really be true that countless thousands of poor people worldwide may die of starvation? Is the situation really hopeless?

I'm reminded of the time when Jesus faced a crowd of over 5,000 people who had followed him for most of the day and now were hungry. Scripture says,

Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said,

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”

But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”

They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” (Mark 6:34-38)

Jesus knew this task was beyond their capacity so why did he ask them to do it? Couldn't he simply have made bread from stones? But he chose to use the little which they had in their hand – a small meal donated by a little boy. And then he miraculously multiplied it!

Feeding a hungry crowd was not the only daunting thing Jesus instructed his followers to do. On another occasion he said, “You are the light of the world.” If feeding the crowd was a tall order so was this! And how do you think Jesus expected his disciples to fulfill this instruction? One way of shining light is by doing good as Jesus explained in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

However, there is another equally essential way of shining light—speaking about the gift of eternal life through Jesus the Messiah as Lord and Saviour. The apostle Paul made a very clear statement in Acts 13:46-47, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (NIV)

Interestingly 700 years earlier God revealed these very words through the prophet Isaiah applying them to the Messiah whose mission was to bring light and salvation worldwide. (Isaiah 49:6) In keeping with this prophecy Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12) Christians who live in union with Jesus (“abide in him”) radiate his light. This is why he told his followers, "you are the light of the world." Of course Jesus displayed light when he miraculously fed the crowd of 5,000 people, but his disciples played a vital part by bringing the bread and fish to Jesus and also by distributing it to the crowd. His light shone through them to the crowd.

How can we let our light shine during the global pandemic?

During this prolonged period of lockdown and dark economic down-turn, I've seen a number of articles talking about “light at the end of the tunnel” or “looking at the bright side” of the pandemic. In fact, some researchers have noted that light from the sun degrades or even destroys coronavirus. Accordingly, people are encouraged to spend at least 15 minutes outside absorbing the sunlight.

Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes 11:7, “Light is sweet, how pleasant to see a new day dawning.” (bold added) This beautiful imagery of light and dawn is highlighted in connection with the coming of Jesus. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, announced the arrival of Messiah saying, “the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” (Luke 1:78-79, NET, bold added)

In his book, Struggle to Dawn, Ugo Betty says, “Every tiny part of us cries out against the idea of dying and hopes to live forever.” This echoes a wise saying of Solomon, “God has set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

The term dawn implies hope, not unlike another proverb of Solomon, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. … along that path is immortality.” (Proverbs 4:18; 12:28, bold added)

The apostle Peter takes up the twin theme of light and salvation as foretold by the prophets. He explains that their message is “completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19, NIV, bold added)

Yes indeed, Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, having destroyed death by rising from the grave, bringing life and immortality to light through the Gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10)

How did Jesus destroy death and bring to light immortality?

Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, God foretold through the prophet Isaiah,

There (in Jerusalem) he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken!

In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings! (Isaiah 25:7-9)

Jesus predicted he would be killed in Jerusalem by the evil men but he also declared he would rise up three days later! Christ's prediction fits hand-in-glove with Isaiah's prophecy. The death and victorious resurrection of Jesus signals the defeat and destruction of death. This is so incredible because we all hate death and fear it. Similarly, the reality of Jesus triumphing over death confirms his promises that anyone who truly follows him will not die! Jesus said this to Martha moments before raising Lazarus from the grave: “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God,” (John 11:26-27) Other Scriptures make similar astonishing promises that eliminate death. (John 8:51; 5:24; compare 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Romans 8:35-39)

Notice, Isaiah's prophecy about death's destruction implies God saves people from death, “In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (bold added)

Throughout his life Jesus was continually seeking and saving lost/ruined people. (Luke 19:10; John 4) Even his name, Jesus, revealed by the angel means "God is salvation." He saved people from terminal illness and even saved people who went beyond the “brink” of death into the grave. Moreover, he spoke comforting words to the repentant criminal who was crucified next to him, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

What about grief and tears?

Twenty five years ago my 68 year old mother died in an accident. We cried at her funeral but the most memorable moments were celebrating a life well lived, knowing we will see her again when we see Jesus. Recalling her funeral makes me think of the thousands of families in the pandemic who've had to grieve the loss of a loved one, without the tangible consolation that comes from embracing family and friends. Can Divine comfort be found in such circumstances? Remember that Isaiah prophesied God will wipe away tears from all faces.

A careful look at Christ's life shows glimpses of Divine compassion on two occasions where Jesus confronted death, once at the graveside of his friend Lazarus and the other time when he encountered a funeral procession involving a widow who lost her only son. Scripture implies that Mary and Martha were consoled after Jesus raised Lazarus, reuniting them with their deceased brother. Similarly, Jesus comforted the grieving widow of Nain, telling her not to weep before raising her son. Imagine the incredible tears of joy as she and her son were reunited!

Clues to discover Divine comfort

King David testified in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” An African proverb contains similar imagery, “However long the night, dawn will come.” Proverbs tend to use the language of metaphor. So how do we expect a hopeful outcome after a long dark night?

Psalm 30 recounts how the Lord was merciful to King David by healing him in a time of deep crisis. David admitted that he had acted in self-reliance and pride which incurred God's discipline. Having a humble heart was crucial to helping David emerge out of a long, dark night of pain and sorrow into the dawn of a glad new day under the sunshine of God's mercy and favor.

Like his father David, King Solomon also penned powerful emotional word pictures as seen in the following wise saying:

A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of one’s death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart. Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad. The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure. It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person than to listen to the song of fools ... (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5, HCSB)

Notice how both of these passages picture starkly contrasting emotions where a joyful outcome follows a dark, painful period. However, the good outcome is a by-product of a wise rebuke. Scripture tells us King David humbled himself under the loving discipline of his heavenly Father. He showed a repentant and teachable attitude. This attitude made the difference. We need to remember how this connects with what God previously revealed through the prophet Nathan, “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him ...” (2 Samuel 7:14-15; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12)

You may recall a familiar quote about mourning by Jesus, the greater son of David, “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” However, we mustn't assume that all mourning comes from heart-felt humility. It is possible to mourn in a worldly way. A person can feel sorry for himself, perhaps even regret what he/she has done without acknowledging he has offended God. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church saying, “your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended … Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10; bold added, cf. Matthew 26:74-75)

When Solomon said, “the day of one’s death [is better] than the day of one’s birth” he was not implying that everyone ends up in Paradise. For example, the foolish hedonist who says there is no God and goes about pursuing lustful pleasures at wild parties will one day die and stand before God as his judge. Solomon says that a wise person thinks much about death and prepares himself accordingly. But knowing how to prepare is of utmost importance.

Earlier we read a profound saying of Solomon about light, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. … along that path is immortality.” (Proverbs 4:18; 12:28)

Considering how Jesus fed hungry crowds, it is fitting to read a message from the prophet Isaiah which points to the true light:

With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation! ... Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 12:3; 58:7-11)

Similarly, the last book of the Bible says, “For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

This metaphor, “life-giving” water, calls to mind a conversation between Jesus and a God-fearing Samaritan woman, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” (John 4:10)

Let me conclude by quoting a prayer Jesus spoke as he looked up to heaven,

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:1-3)

All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation.

If you wish to correspond or ask questions feel free to contact me here.


While Scripture makes it clear that doing good is important, these deeds ought to be the grateful response and outcome of having received God's gift of salvation. They are not the means of acquiring eternal life. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Appendix: Does Islam teach that Jesus brought Divine light?

Muslims believe God/Allah is light and they believe Al Masihu-Isa brought God's light. (Surah 24:35; 5:46) However, we must remember Jesus Christ warned against self-deception: “Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness.” (Luke 11:35; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

When Jesus stated that those who obey his teaching will never die, his audience reacted in total shock. They knew that all the prophets had died so they indignantly asked, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53) Muslims react in similar astonishment and disbelief upon hearing this teaching. Muslims have been taught to believe that the prophet Isa will return to earth, get married and finally end up buried in a grave, like all other ordinary human beings. It is difficult for them to imagine the elimination of death. Being unaware of what the prophets wrote, they fail to understand that God's servant, the Messiah, would accomplish this heroic feat by rising from the dead! (see Isaiah 49:6; 25:7-9)

On one occasion, Jesus forewarned his disciples that he would be killed by the Jewish religious leaders. However, he also made it clear that he would be dramatically raised to life three days later! The disciples “failed to grasp” what he meant. Peter reacted instinctively against this distasteful idea. He took Jesus aside and rebuked him! Jesus sternly warned that this human mind-set comes from the Devil. What seemed to Peter to be such a “bright” idea – that the Messiah should not die – was actually false and very dark. Peter was deceived. (Luke 18:31-34; Matthew 16:22)

Perhaps Peter felt “wounded” by Christ's rebuke but later he must have realized how true the proverb is: “Faithful are the wounds of friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 9:8) Likewise, a modern Arab proverb says, “The beloved's blows are like raisins, even if they were hard stones.” (Kayyal, Damascenes, p. 154)

It is because God loves us, because he wants us to be alive forever with him in Paradise, that Jesus had to die and rise again, defeating death for us all.

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