My favorite conversations about Jesus have been about (1) human nature; (2) good and evil; and (3) the character of God. They’re interrelated topics, and I think you’ll see why.
Here are abbreviated examples of real conversations I’ve had. Be mindful that I’m really just giving a bare bones outline here. If you find this helpful, be more personal in actual conversation. But watch for how I keep pressing other people to have a coherent story of good and evil, a clear location for the evil, and whether they can really live in the story they’re telling me.
Muslim: Do you think there’s a real difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God?
Me: Isn’t it said in Islam that the Muslim God would never become incarnate in human flesh and personally touch human nature?
Me: Why is that?
Muslim: Because He is too pure, and we are too impure.
Me: And that’s one reason why Muslims deny that God could become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe he was a prophet, but he could not be God Himself. Right?
Muslim: Yes, that is what is taught.
Me: So then how does the Muslim God ever resolve the problem of human nature?
Muslim: We only have free choices to make. There isn’t a problem with human nature.
Me: But the Qur’an Surah 94 says that God had to purify the prophet Mohammed’s heart before he could receive the revelation of the Qur’an. Two hadiths also say this (Sahih Muslim, Sahih al-Bukhari).
Muslim: Yes, that is said. Ibn Ishaq states that two men clothed in white had seized him and opened his chest.
Me: What did he need to be cleansed of?
Muslim: Just something in his humanness.
Me: So then, there’s something wrong with human nature. It’s somehow impure, right?
Muslim: I suppose.
Me: And then why does Mohammed get a free ticket for cleansing, but the rest of us need to work pretty hard to be cleansed, through reading the Qur’an, fasting, and all the other things?
Muslim: Well, he was the prophet. He had to receive the Qur’an for the rest of us.
Me: And if nothing is wrong with human nature, then how do you explain why we’re so messed up?
Muslim: It’s just our bad choices.
Me: I agree that we make bad choices, but why do we all seem to make bad choices? Even Mohammed called himself a sinner, later in life (Qur’an 40:55; 48:2; 47:19; Bukhari’s Hadith 8:335, 379, 407, 408; see http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/mo-sinner.htm). Realistically, if we were just neutral, and made our choices neutrally, then wouldn’t half of all human beings be pure? Why are we all sinners? Isn’t more realistic to say that we are damaged, corrupted from an originally good design?
Muslim: I follow you. I’ll have to think about it.
Me: The idea in Christianity is that God grabs hold of human nature in one person, Jesus, fixes the problem, and then shares Jesus’ healed new humanity with anyone who asks. This is why it’s important that Jesus never sinned. God wants to saturate human nature and be in us and with us, drawing us into His very life, His radically loving, other-centered life.
Muslim: So right there, the Muslim faith disagrees. First because of the idea of tawhid, or God’s oneness. So God cannot be in a human, because that would also mean that God is broken up into two places: He is in Jesus and yet He is not only in Jesus. That’s a contradiction for Christianity because the infinite cannot become finite without running into these logical problems. Second, God in Islam is too pure to touch human beings directly.
Me: And yet, in Qur’an Surah 28:10, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, right? So even in Islam, God is able to localize Himself and still be infinite. So the only way to know the transcendent God is through the localized God, and the link between them.
Muslim: That makes a binitarian God, not a Trinitarian God.
Me: No, there’s three. We can just call the transcendent God ‘the Father,’ the localized God ‘the Son,’ and the link between them ‘the Spirit.’ How else do you explain the burning bush?
Muslim: Maybe it was actually an angel?
Me: But even for an angel like Gabriel (who brought the Qur’an to Mohammed) to know God, or hear God, God has to localize Himself to that angel. Angels are not infinite, and they do not share their consciousness with God. So you need the same thing. In order for God to even give His teaching to an angel, God has to be a Trinity. So can I go back to the burning bush?
Me: Christians explain this by actually saying that since God is a kind of divine fire. So then He comes into Jesus to burn away what is impure in human nature, to share himself with us. We believe God is one in essence and nature and character, but three persons, so that God can be one with us in the Spirit, because He became one of us in the Son, while remaining wholly other than us in the Father. That’s what makes it possible for God to communicate with us, and for God to heal us personally. If your God did for Mohammed something that He could do for everyone else but isn’t, then by definition He is not doing everything He could to undo human evil. Wouldn’t that make Him partly evil? So it’s not just that our Gods are different. Do you think Islam is more consistent, and more realistic, than Christianity?