John Dickson explores the differences between Christian and Muslim attitudes to the idea that God could become a man.
On the set of the Life of Jesus documentary, John Dickson discusses how the idea at the very centre of Christianity – that God became a man in the person of Jesus – is seen as blasphemy in Islam.
JOHN DICKSON: Well here we are in noisy, bustling Nazareth, outside the famous Church of the Annunciation. This is the traditional site that marks the spot where Mary received the news that she would bear the one who in Christian history was worshipped as the Lord God himself. But what’s really fascinating – if you just come with me – is that we have a piece of Islamic commentary on this idea, posted on a banner outside the church. This is a quotation from a famous section of the Koran, that ends up saying that Allah (God) begetteth not, nor was he begotten, and there is none like unto him. What this is basically saying is that the idea celebrated in this church – that God became a man – isn’t true.
At one level, it’s a lovely insight into multi-cultural, multi-faith Nazareth. At the other level, it tells us that there is a profound difference between the Islamic and Christian ideas of God. I was giving a lecture on the Christian conception of God at a university in Sydney some years ago, and during the question time at the end, a man very politely stood up – he was well-dressed, well-spoken – and denounced everything I had just said, very amicably, but he said that what I had just spoken about – the Christian idea that God had entered into the world, became a baby, grew up, and so on – was both illogical and blasphemous. Illogical, because how could the Creator become subservient to his own creation? How could it be possible that he would need to eat, go to the toilet? he said. And it’s blasphemous, because you should never associate the Creator with a piece of his creation – the idea that God became a man is unthinkable.
It turns out that he was an Islamic leader on campus, and an academic. It was about the longest five minutes of my life. We went back to and fro for a little while, but it was quite clear that there would be no winner in this little debate, because our premises were miles apart. For him, the notion of God’s majesty excluded the idea that God could enter into the world and become a man. But for me, God’s majesty consisted precisely in the idea that God would become a servant, a person, give himself for others. In the end, I just had to thank my Islamic friend for drawing to the audience’s attention the profound difference between the Islamic and Christian idea of God: what is a blasphemy in Islam is the very centre of Christianity. God became a man.