It is to the incarnation of the divine being that the Muslim takes the strongest exception. Allah is la-sharik, i.e. He “has no partner” a dogma which is expounded to mean, “He is singular, without anything like Him; separate, having no equal” If the Christian belief of the son-ship of God, which implied deity, be admitted by Muslims then it would mean to them that God would be “sharing” His divine glory with another; He would have a “partner” and that is a proposition (shirk) which the Muslim declares to be both blasphemous and impossible. “Islam refuses to acknowledge the incarnation of the divine being.”Yet here is something that is fundamental for the Christian faith. We cannot ignore it; much less can we repudiate it; for Christianity is what it is because of what we believe Christ to be. But can we so state the truth about Him as to make it appear to the Muslim less objectionable, less impossible for thought, and yet at the same time surrender no essential part of it. That precisely is the task before us.
The Muslim’s error, and his need, will become apparent if we approach this subject by way of his own deeply-rooted conviction about the separateness of Allah. He considers it to be derogatory to the Majesty of the Most High to become incarnate, even though it is for man’s salvation. One might even venture to express his point of view in some such extreme words as these rather let man “go to hell“ than that God should become incarnate to save him from hell.
Christ: The self-revelation of the divine nature
In the Person of Jesus Christ we have nothing less than a self-revelation of the divine nature so that we believe Jesus to be the real answer to man’s perennial question, “What is God like ?” He comes before us, not so much as a problem, as a solution of a problem; for what we see in Him inspires in us a profound and triumphant conviction that the Almighty God Himself, Maker of Heaven and Earth, is, supremely and essentially Holy Love. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrew states talks of the Son as :
> “the radiance of God’s Glory and the impress of His Essence” (Hebrews 1:3).
Looking at the Son we see the love, trust and obedience which marked out His life and infer from this that this holy will and this loving purpose are of the very essence of God Himself. Beyond this it is profitless to discuss how Jesus shared the “essence” of God. All that ultimately matters is that the will of Jesus, as ‘Son’, was one with the will of God; not partially, not intermittently nor yet in a metaphor, but identically one.
“Son-ship” in Christ’s case, then,
is not something which indicates His likeness to other men, as though He were on their plane but ra
ther it is something which signalises His distinction from them. It proclaims His incomparable and transcendent dignity, for He was to God what no other can be. As has been truly said, “The root element in the consciousness of Jesus was a sense of “son-ship” to the Divine Father, deeper, clearer, more intimate, more all-em
bracing and all-absorbing than was ever given to a child of man. Any inferior being, indeed, could not enter so perfectly into the mind of God, or reflect it so perfectly to man. That precisely is His own claim:
> “No one knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him”.( Matthew 11:27).
How could the eternal God be in Jesus?
Yet still, the Muslim maintains that it is beyond the possibility of thought that the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of the Worlds, should be subject to any such limitation as the Incarnation implies. The crudest form in which the objection has been put may be stated as “Did God leave His throne and the rule of the worlds for those thirty-three years when He was in Jesus?” We perceive that the Muslim’s difficulty arises from an unfounded assumption. He conceives the Deity to be the Infinite and a seIf-sufficient One, and argues that it would be a contradiction of His very Nature were He to become, in any way, incarnate. That is the position at which the mind of man is apt to arrive by a priori reasoning a conclusion to which he is forced by the very premises he has laid down.
Yet all that we see in Jesus is an emphatic exposure of the fallacy in that kind of reasoning; for He is to us the definite assurance that the Mighty God is essentially, holy love and as such God has a boundless capacity for self-determination. If for instance He was first and last power then His “glory” might be sullied by an act of condescension, or were He, supremely intelligence, then He might hesitate to appear in lowly guise; or, again, were He best described as justice, then He might seek some other means to succour mankind; but being love, holy love, He does stoop to save. and, stooping, is not degraded.
Where is the proof, the Muslim asks that God was in such a Jesus?
Then the Muslim turns to look, as we desire he should, at the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, and he is baffled by what he sees there.
1) He prays to God, (Matthew 26:39) 2) He was tempted by Satan, (Mark
1:13) 3) He was disappointed at men’s unbelief, (Mark. 6:6). 4) He sought information, (Mark. 5:30).
5) He manifested surprise, (Matthew 8:10). 6) He was weary and, by implication, thirsty, (John. 4:6 -7). 7)He was mocked, spat upon, buffeted, (Matthew. 27:29 – 30).
8 He was crucified, dead and buried, (Matthew 27:35, 50, and 60).
Reading all this the Muslim asks, could “the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faint and be weary? “Could He be tempted, spat upon, killed? Is it not sheer blasphemy to speak of Him as being “captive, beaten, bound, reviled?” Moreover, the Muslim thinks he finds repudiation of the Christian assertion of the deity of Jesus in the very words of Jesus Himself, where He says, for instance:> “I can of myself do nothing “, (John 5:30) and >”of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only “(Matthew 24:36).
These, indeed, are features drawn from the known facts of the human life of Jesus, and it is upon the recorded facts that we must proceed. But, now, what do these features really denote? Two facts in particular:
1. That Jesus was fully and completely man (“born under the Law”), though that is not to say that He was only man. He was a Jew, living His life within a body that was “organic to His self-consciousness”. He possessed power that was, at times, thwarted by unbelief. His knowledge also, as we have remarked, was limited. His moral nature was susceptible of growth, and was exposed to life-long temptation; while His very piety and personal religion were marked at all times by dependence upon God. But this only means that the divine life within Him found its expression through a truly human nature.
2. That which baffles the Muslim can, in part, be explained if, to what we have already said, we now add that in Jesus we see “Godhead self-reduced but real”. God could not put more into humanity than humanity will hold, so that this self-limitation, this self-emptying of deity, which we deduce from the facts of the human life of Jesus, instead of being an impossible conception, becomes the first condition for making any revelation at all. In this matter God must act through the conditions supplied by humanity. This it is that explains the absence in Jesus of certain attributes and functions which we rightly associate with the infinite glory of God, the Absolute, viz. omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and the like. These are utterly incompatible with humanity, as such. Moreover, it is appropriate in Jesus, the Son, that He should manifest a sense of subordination to the Father. Thus He declares: >”The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and “I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will but the will of Him that sent me” (John. 6:38).
But He also made statements about Himself such as the following:
>”My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me” (John. 4:34)
>”I and my Father are One”, John 10:30; and He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”, (John 14:9).
He could say that His words and works were the words and works of God, and it is His perfect identification with essential deity that gives the utmost significance to that other saying of His:
>”This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent ” (John 17:3)
To know Jesus is to know what God is like. And this precisely is what we find; for the character, authority and love of Jesus are the character, authority and love of God Himself. The self-revelation of God, then, in Jesus Christ, is in every way adequate to human need. It is more; it is distinctive; there can be no uncertainty about the quality of the life revealed; and it is decisive and final; we need not wait for more, because revelation can go no further.