Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Mortality Melody

Roland Clarke

Thoughts on using wisdom literature, including ancient and contemporary Psalms, to share the Good News.


Esteemed evangelical scholar, D.A. Carson, has praised David Gibson's book, Living Life Backward, as “the best popular exposition of Ecclesiastes.” Likewise, Fiona McDonald describes how the book impacted her, “Beginning with the paradigm shift that embracing death is essential for life, I was intrigued from the start. Utterly counter to a modern worldview, the truths of Ecclesiastes are woven with ease into a narrative that rightly makes sense of why we are alive. Bold and beautiful in style, this book promises to jolt the mind and shake us out of our complacencies. I couldn't put it down!”

Reading the book, I was amazed to see how Gibson's perspective correlates with a modern “Psalm”, There goes sundown, sung by Wayne Watson. This beautiful song, like Psalms 49 & 90, contains clues suitable for whetting a person's spiritual appetite and pointing them to the resurrected Messiah who “holds the keys of death and the grave.” (Rev. 1:18)

Interestingly, the heart-warming insights explained below resonate with Muslims who acknowledge Solomon was gifted by Allah with exceptional wisdom. Moreover, most Muslims are intrigued by the preacher's words, “God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. ... A good reputation is better than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born. Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart. ... A wise person thinks a lot about death while a fool thinks only about having a good time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11; 7:2-4) Though these insights resonate with Muslims, please don't miss the main point: they also ring true to all humans regardless of creed or culture.

Let me illustrate how the gems of wisdom unearthed by Gibson have proved effective in terms of “seasoning my conversation” with friends who don't know Jesus.

Conversation with Khalid

Several months ago I had a meaningful conversation with Khalid prompted by our reading of Psalm 49, a meditation focusing on mortality. The recurring mention of death fascinated him. His curiosity was further aroused by seeing death depicted as a dilemma, a riddle which the Psalmist proposed to solve with the help of a harp. The key to unraveling this riddle involves understanding God as REDEEMER.

This week I asked Khalid if he'd like to hear an interesting song, titled, “There goes sundown.” This contemporary “Psalm” composed by Wayne Watson echoes Psalm 49 and Psalm 90. The song begins on a startling, shocking note: “Doomsday ... Some day, But not today so far.” Muslims are familiar with this kind of imagery which westerners might well view as inappropriate shock therapy. The song continues, “Only God in his wisdom, Surely not me in mine, Knows the number of the days of a man, Every day he shows me a sign.” (compare Psalm 90:11-12)

Khalid and his father listened with rapt attention as the song repeats the sundown metaphor in the refrain. Undoubtedly, Watson reasoned: since the writers of Psalm 49 and 90 used “morning” metaphorically, why not speak metaphorically of “sundown”? (see Psalm 90:5,6,14; 49:14,19)

The last 10 minutes of our conversation concluded by showing Khalid a booklet displaying a splendid sunrise on the cover, titled, “Let there be light.” It begins by looking at light as a Divine attribute and then continues to explore how Jesus brings the sunrise (Luke 1:77), the dawn (2 Peter 1:19), and indeed, the true light of life (John 8:12; cf. Psalm 49:19).

It is hard for some of us to appreciate how deeply the twin ideas of death and doomsday (Qiyamah) are embedded in the hearts of Muslims. More of us need to initiate discussions with Muslims using these themes! Muslims are accustomed to hearing sermons exhorting them to think often about death. It shouldn't surprise us that this “sundown” song, which mentions signs of doomsday, resonates with followers of Islam. A typical Muslim book title reads, “Signs of Qiyamah and the Arrival of the Maseeh.” I quoted from this book in “Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah.” You can read this article online here.

You may also like to read a simple yet detailed discussion, titled, “Is death the end?” available online here. Another online article you may like to read is titled, "Singing the Praises of God".

Contemporary musician Phil Wickham sings a song on youtube which correlates beautifully with Psalm 49. The song is titled, Hymn of heaven.

Finally please note: although the insights drawn from Psalm 49 and 90 pertaining to fear of death are relevant to Muslims, the bottom line is, they speak to everyone. All humans are slaves to fear of death as Scripture tells us in Hebrews 2:14-15.

If you want to see the table of contents and first chapter of Gibson's book it is available here.

If you have questions or want to correspond with me please write here.