Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

From Poison Save Us

Roland Clarke

Recently I had a discussion/debate with an attorney who works for a well-known Islamic organization. He was responding to “A Dialog about the One True God”. This article quotes many examples in the writings of the prophets which show how God saved people and thus came to be called Savior.

He did not disagree that throughout the Bible God's saving power is evident. He did not disagree that this attribute (and the corresponding name, Savior) is indeed, a prominent and recurring theme of the Bible. Interestingly, earlier responses to this article have tried to minimize the importance of this name and to justify its omission from the list of 99 beautiful names of Allah. However, this latest respondent goes so far as to negate the name, insinuating that it has become tainted and poisoned.

The attorney argued that after the Messiah had come, something changed which meant that this name was no longer valid. He explained that the meaning of words change over time and illustrated this by noting how the word 'gay' has developed two very different meanings. He noted how, on the one hand, gay can have an essentially good wholesome meaning. But on the other hand, it can also have immoral, repulsive connotations. He concluded that, as a result people seem to have gradually stopped using the word gay with its good meaning.

In a similar way, the attorney argued, the divine name Savior has come into disrepute. Originally it was good but now it has been tainted by association with certain false ideas. For example, after Jesus Christ came, the pure idea of God's oneness was contaminated by Christians who began calling Jesus the Savior of the world – a title rightly belonging only to God Almighty (Isaiah 43:10-12). Not only did the Muslim debater argue that the title Savior was 'tainted', he went so far as to say it was 'poisoned' (more about this later).

The attorney's explanation as to how the name Savior came to have bad associations is fundamentally flawed. Let me explain. There is a term that grammarians use with reference to words such as gay which share the same spelling and sound but have different meanings. They are called homonyms. A good example is the word bank. On the one hand, it can mean 'a slope bordering a river' but it can also mean 'a financial institution'. It is not valid for our Muslim debater to conclude that gay and Savior are fundamentally similar.

First of all, my opponent failed to understand that gay is a homonym and the two meanings associated with it are fundamentally different. There is no underlying commonality or root meanings connecting them. So he is incorrect when he implies that the words gay and Savior are fundamentally similar. At any rate, the word gay (in the sense of happy) has not been rendered invalid by its apparent association with gay (as related to homosexuality).

If one thinks about it carefully he will realize it doesn't make sense to say that the name Savior was prohibited after being an honorable name of God for such a long time. The prophets acknowledged that the Lord God “brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power...” (Daniel 9:15). Similarly we read in Isaiah 63:11 how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and, in this way, God made “himself famous forever”. Notice the words “lasting” and “forever”. This means the name Savior is valid for all time. These points contradict the attorney's argument that a change of circumstance led to this name being prohibited or poisonous.

As we have already noted, God's saving power was the key attribute highlighted in the Exodus story. Let me quote the relevant scripture (at the risk of being repetitious); “But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.” (Hosea 13:4) Not only did God prove himself to be Israel's Savior he summoned all nations to look to him for salvation.

Indeed the prophets foretold a coming day when God the Savior would be honored and revered among all nations. As it is written, “There is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God there is no other. I have sworn by my own name ... Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me.” (Isaiah 45:21-23)

Confirming Isaiah's prophecy, the Bible describes a vision of the end of time when God's saving power will be honored by true worshipers who have been welcomed into heaven. This vision leaves no room to doubt that God is Savior, indeed, he was always Savior.

This end-times vision is recorded in Revelation 7:9,10,

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed with white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

In light of this vision, we must ask, “Does it make sense to conceive of a gap-period in the middle of human history when the title Savior was prohibited but then, at the end, this attribute mysteriously reverts to being praiseworthy and honorable again?

Is 'Poison' a Pertinent Metaphor?

Is poisoning perhaps too strong a metaphor to describe the Muslim attitude to the biblical teaching of God as Savior? Certainly not. From an Islamic perspective the attorney accurately represented the Muslim attitude to salvation as defined in the Bible. Salvation, according to the Bible, is inseparably linked to the Lamb who was crucified on the cross (as is clearly stated in Revelation 7:9,10). It is this teaching that arouses poison-tipped darts from Muslim debaters. Their rejection of the cross is rooted in authoritative Muslim traditions which reflect the Qur'anic denial of Christ's crucifixion. The Ahadith teaches that when Al Masih u Isa (Jesus Christ) returns to earth in the last days he will break the cross.

Whereas Islam violently denies the cross, hundreds of years earlier, the Bible had already trumped this. Jesus is quoted as rebuking Peter for denying Messiah's death, saying that this denial was inspired by Satan (Matthew 16:21-23).

Satan's attitude to the cross

The Bible explains it was at the cross where Satan was convincingly and eternally conquered by Jesus (Colossians 2:15). At the cross Jesus sealed the devil's fate and liberated humanity from Satan's evil grip (John 12:20-36). And through this same cross, God afforded humanity an opportunity to be reconciled with himself for all eternity. Is it any wonder that the divine name, Savior, which culminates in the cross, is regarded by opponents as poisonous? How eternally sad that they should reject such a gracious, loving offer!

The Bible says, "The message of the cross is foolish..."

The rest of the sentence reads, “to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) The next sentence explains how this 'foolish' message overturns the wisdom of the world. “As the Scripture says, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.'” Two chapters later we read, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

Ahmed Deedat was a famous debater who was constantly attacking the cross - the ultimate expression of God's love – until the very end of his life. Anyone who follows Deedat's example must consider the risk. Think carefully about the circumstances leading to his downfall. May God help us all to realize that the scripture is true which says: “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

If you wish to discuss these themes in more detail contact me here.

Note: All Biblical quotations (unless otherwise noted) are taken from the New Living Translation.