Several months ago, an arsonist set fire to the Bellevue Islamic Center. In response, several churches, agencies, and leaders in Bellevue reached out to express their sympathy and offered help. BelPres and our leadership were among those. Since then, a few pastors and a similar number of Eastside Muslim leaders have been meeting regularly for religious conversation and relationship building. Recently, a fellow pastor asked our Muslim friends about the notion of forgiveness in Islam. Do Muslims believe God forgives? How does one know that they are forgiven enough to receive eternal life? And must a Muslim forgive someone who sins against them? Stereotypical pastor conversation, right?
In Islam, God is transcendent, meaning that God is free to do as God wills and is not bound in any way by physical laws like time and space. Christians believe the same thing. So God can be Creator without being created, and God can continually work in and outside of specific situations and events to accomplish God’s ultimate purposes.
For a Muslim, transcendence also means God is free to forgive whatever and whenever God wants. A Muslim must be sincerely sorry for their sin. When they express their sincere remorse, then God forgives. Muslims must also practice good deeds during their lifetime, which are saved up in a sort of bank account of good deeds. Good deeds are deposited, and bad deeds result in withdrawals. For a Muslim to receive Eternal Life, their good deeds must outnumber their bad deeds. When a Muslim sins against another Muslim, not only should that person ask for forgiveness, but the one who was sinned against gets to take some of that person’s good deeds and deposit them in their own bank account. It is like a money transfer, transferring good deeds from one bank account to another. So a Muslim hopes they have done enough good deeds to receive Eternal Life. But they can never be certain. Ultimately, God is transcendent and can choose to forgive or not to forgive. “In Sha Allah,” if God wills.
This is very different than what the Bible tells us as Christians. The Bible shows us that God is rich in mercy (Psalm 51:1-2; Micah 7:18.) God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 86:15, Psalm 145:8). But God is also just (Isaiah 61:8, Psalm 9:7-8). God holds us all accountable for the way we live our lives. Justice, the idea that people should not get away with the bad things they do, comes from God.
Justice and mercy appear to put God in conflict with God’s self. God is just and holds us accountable for the things we do to one another but God is also merciful and desires to treat us better than we deserve. God’s answer to the apparent dilemma is grace. Grace means God can be both just and merciful at the same time. The most powerful demonstration of God’s grace is what Jesus did for us on the cross. There, Jesus met the full requirements of justice and mercy. By dying for us, Jesus served the sentence justice requires. By stepping in our place, Jesus unleashes God’s rich mercy on each of us. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. But God did it anyway. That’s grace. Grace means, we get what we do not deserve. We get forgiveness, freedom, new life now, and new life forever. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:23-24. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:4-5.
May 27th to June 25th marks the 30 days of Ramadan. For a Muslim, Ramadan is a time for getting closer to God. Muslims will pray daily for God to reveal Himself to them and they will do things like fast from sunrise to sunset and give financially to the poor as spiritual practices to help them get closer to God. I encourage you to join Christians all across the world in praying for Muslims during Ramadan. Pray that the transcendent God will become close, personal, and intimate for Muslims. Pray they will discover Jesus, the one who ensures our forgiveness and secures our salvation. God is doing amazing things throughout the Middle East and Europe among Muslims, and they are discovering the love and hope found in Jesus. It is a unique time in history. You can become part of it through prayer.
Pick up a copy of “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” at BelPres located at the info-walls in sanctuary lobby, walkway, and upper campus lobby. Or go online to 30daysprayer.com to participate.