Sin and Forgiveness

Even when I was a Christian, I understood that I was supposed to do the will of God. But I avoided seeing the obvious: that His will is for me to live a moral, caring and righteous life. All I ever thought about was what I wanted to do and then I would ask God to help me to do it. I did things because they “felt” right or good. I never asked myself if I was meeting God’s standards.

And I certainly never asked myself if I what I was doing would earn me eternal life. After all, I “knew” I was saved, because I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I thought that having to do certain things to earn a place in Paradise was an awfully legalistic way of relating to God. I thought if I was always “under the Law,” I would be preoccupied with earning my salvation and always worried about whether I had done enough. Believing that Jesus had taken the punishment for my sin let me off the hook. But it also raised more questions than it answered.

What little I knew of Islam had led me to believe that Muslims must be in a constant state of anxiety about their salvation because they don’t have the option that Christians have to accept Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for their sins. Imagine how surprised I was when I got to know some Muslims and found them to be mindful of their obligations to God, but strangely secure in their relationship with Him. No, they don’t have the assurance of salvation that Christians have. But they have something better, in my opinion: because their concept of God isn’t clouded by questions of the Trinity and the divine nature of Jesus, they seem to have a clearer picture of who He is.

Christians would argue with me, of course. I would have when I was a Christian. After all, they know God’s nature: God is love. But that’s so vague. What does it mean that God is love? Muslims wouldn’t say it that way. To them, God is much more than love. He’s loving, but he’s also just, demanding, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and so on. (See the 99 names of God.) God is not an idea, He is active.

Christians believe that God revealed His nature to us through Jesus. But Muslims believe that God reveals His nature by our daily interactions with Him. He is a living, active God, not a God who on the one hand cannot look on us in our sinfulness and on the other hand has retired to Heaven after completing his mission on Earth.

I don’t mean to be disingenuous about what Christians believe. I fully understand that they see God as living and active, too. But Muslims believe that 1) God does not see us as totally sinful; and 2) He sees us as we really are and calls us to work with Him for our salvation.

I converted to Islam because I felt it had a better grasp of human psychology. Islam teaches that we are not born sinful, but have the capability for good and for bad. God expects great things of us, not for His sake or our own sakes, but for the sake of others. Our purpose on earth is to serve others and we can only do that by cooperating with God. That means submission and prayer and repentance and perseverance. We must never give up or rest on our laurels. Our work is never finished, because we can never do enough for God and for our fellow man.

Muslims don’t believe in the concept of original sin. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in sin. We know that we offend God by our actions and our unfaithfulness.  But like Christians, we also know that only God has the right and the power to forgive us. The difference is that Christians believe that God forgave them one time for all the sins they would ever commit by sending His son to die for them. They also teach that God forgives them daily and that they must ask for His forgiveness. But the question is, why should they have to, when they’ve already been forgiven.

I always found that very confusing. Either you’re forgiven or you’re not. There is no yes and no about it. Muslims believe that God forgives our sins as we commit them as long as we ask for His forgiveness and demonstrate our willingness to turn from sin and submit to Him. Alhamdulillah! That seems so much more clear-cut to me. And it makes me more accountable for and more mindful of my actions.

Disclaimer: Whenever I compare Christianity and Islam, I do it not to disparage Christians but to try to illustrate my own thought processes as I turned from Christianity to Islam. I’m not writing a definitive theological exposition of the two faiths here. These are just my impressions and any mistakes made in interpretation or explanation are my own.

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Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.