What the People of the Book Teach About God’s Nature

On one crucial point, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are in agreement. All insist that faith in God is the first requirement. But then that’s the prerequisite of any religion, isn’t it? The differences lie in the what each religion teaches about the nature of God.

Let’s take Christians. They teach that God is love. You hear that over and over again. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son …” Christians believe that by dying on the cross for our sins, God (through Jesus) showed how much He loved us. Why else would God go through all that if He didn’t?

One of the criticisms that Christians have about Islam is that Allah is not primarily a loving God. They seem to need proof that God loves us, and that that proof is provided by His sacrifice on the cross. Muslims believe that God is continually showing His love for us and that the only proof we need is 1) that He created us in the first place; 2) that He is always there for us; and 3) that He is a Merciful God. Besides, why should God have to prove anything? He is God.

It’s completely erroneous to say that Allah is not a loving God. First of all, Muslims believe that Jesus was one of the great prophets of God and that we are to heed his teachings. We accept what he taught about God’s nature. But Jesus never said that God was a Triune God. The Christian Church developed the concept of the Trinity by putting together certain things that Jesus did say with the opinions of New Testament writers and of theologians who lived centuries after Jesus.

Christians start off wrong in their dealings with Muslims when they assume that Allah is a completely different God than the one they worship. The One God is the same whether He is worshiped by Jews, Christians or Muslims. But men try to shape their understanding of God according to the tenets of the religion they follow. Jews emphasize God’s omnipotence, Christians emphasize His love and Muslims emphasize His totality.

That’s why Muslims believe that Allah has 99 names. His nature can’t simply be summed up in one sentence. He is omnipotent and loving, but He is much more than that. To be fair, Jews and Christians also believe that God’s nature is complex. And we all agree that that God is unknowable exactly because He is God.  But we can also rejoice in the fact that God hasn’t left us completely in the dark about His nature.

All the People of the Book (Jews, Christians and Muslims) believe that God reveals Himself in His Book(s). Each of these religions believes that their Book is the last word on God. (But only the Qur’an truly is the last word.) That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t learn about God from reading the other Books. We can use the Qur’an to guide us as to what has been corrupted in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, but I think it’s important to familiarize ourselves with the pictures of God that we find there.

You can tell a lot about what a person believes about God’s nature by the rules that they follow. Jews follow the Ten Commandments which start out with God stating that He is a jealous God, and that therefore we are not to have any other Gods before Him. Christians like to sum up what Jesus taught in the phrase, “Thou art to love the Lord God with all thy heart, soul and mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.” Muslims take seriously God’s admonitions to worship and follow Him alone. All three emphasize different aspects of what God expects from us, but we can learn from them all about the God’s nature.

No one religion can say that it alone has a complete understanding of God. We need to remember that when we interact with each other.

See these charts that compare Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

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.

4 thoughts on “What the People of the Book Teach About God’s Nature”

  1. Lovely post!

    I want to add my two cents: In Islam, God has 99 names, but the name that is emphasized on the most is Him being ‘Merciful’. We begin every prayer and every Quran recitation and every action in life, even eating, by reminding ourselves of God’s Mercy.

    So to counter the criticism of Islam that God is not primarily loving, I would say He is primarily Merciful. Mercy includes Love, but is much broader than that. It also includes so many other virtues such as peace and patience and compassion and justice and generosity… Maybe if we examine each of God’s names, we’d find they stem from His mercy. Or maybe all the names are sort of linked to each other so there’s no one primary attribute…

    1. Jnana, thanks for pointing this out. I agree that God’s mercy includes His love as well as the many other attributes you mentioned. In fact, I find myself drawn much more to the concept of mercy than that of love, probably for the reasons you mention. In fact, I would say that I need God’s mercy more than I need His love (although I’m delighted that both are available to me). It IS a beautiful and amazing thing that we are taught to acknowledge God’s mercy continuously, lest we forget and fall into despair over our sins and unfaithfulness. Alhamdulillah!

  2. Good Post Ellen:
    However, I’ve alway had this question in my mind :
    Does God have to be “loving, caring, merciful” for us to acknowledge and worship him ? I mean , if I had a very bad father who treats me badly, I might hate him, but that does not mean that he is not my father. Therefore, if I believe that there should be a God, it’s not necessary for him to be good and loving so that I recognize him and worship him.
    Yet, our God is so merciful and gracious. Thank God that he is God…!!

    1. You”re absolutely right: we are called to submission just because God IS God and not because He bribes us with reassurances about His mercy, etc. However, I am so thankful and proud to be a follower of a God who is all these things and more. And, frankly, I don’t know if I’d be drawn to a God who was cruel. I guess I believe that cruelty is incompatible with God’s nature, because how could a god like that be the source of creation and the organizing principle on which all life is founded?

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