Answers to the Booklet: THE GOD THAT “NEVER WAS”
During 1983 the Islamic Propagation Centre published a booklet entitled The God that Never Was, which had first been published as an article in a local Muslim newspaper Al-Balaagh in 1980, as a response to a reply I had written to certain lectures against the Christian faith by Ahmed Deedat on cassette tapes. The booklet contains a large number of quotations from the Bible, chiefly from the four Gospels, which all relate to the earthly life Jesus lived for thirty-three years in human form. Each one of these quotes is headed by a title in which the name of Jesus is substituted by "God", and comments are made about his humanity which appear to ridicule the Christian belief in his deity. The author of the booklet sets out his purpose in these words:
A brief selection of passages from the Gospels quoted in the booklet and the headings above them illustrate the manner in which the author has set out to ridicule the deity of Christ:
As any reader of the booklet can see, the scriptures quoted relate primarily to the humanity of Jesus and his brief life on earth. The thrust of the essay is that Jesus could not have been God because he was a man and was subject to all the natural limitations of the human race (i.e. ancestry, nationality, human emotion, physical weakness, etc.).
The author of this essay, unnamed in the booklet but said to be one Mohammed Seepye in the issue of Al-Balaagh in which it occurs, has casually glossed over and paid no attention to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but has instead set forth Christian belief in Jesus as God absolutely (that is, to the exclusion of the Father and the Holy Spirit and without reference to the office of Jesus as the Son of God). He knew that when Christians say that Jesus is God this means that he shares the divine nature of the Father (a point carefully made by me in the very quotations the article contains from my reply to Deedat's tapes) with the Holy Spirit in a threefold Trinity. But he has subtly reversed this by misrepresenting the Christian doctrine, setting it forth as a belief that God, the subject, is Jesus, and has based his whole argument on this premise.
Muslims rightly claim that Islam is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the West. That is true, but it is equally true to say that Muslims do the same thing with Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ. They either just do not understand the doctrine of the deity of Christ or consciously misrepresent it to suit their purposes. It is a fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is the Son of man as well as the Son of God. There is no validity in any argument against the deity of Jesus which is based exclusively on the human limitations he deliberately assumed during his brief course on earth. It will be a welcome change to discover in Jesus the Son of God based sincerely on that doctrine exactly as it is set forth in the Bible, and not on a misrepresentation of it such as we find in Seepye's article. There is one passage in the Bible that answers the whole theme of this article very comprehensively:
The Greek word for “form” used in this passage carries the meaning “essence” or “nature”. An appropriate illustration of this meaning is our cliché “an apple to the core”, meaning that it is an apple through and through. This is what the word used here for “form” means. The passage thus teaches that the original nature and essence of Jesus was that of deity alone and that, reverently speaking, “through and through”. Nevertheless, unlike Adam, the first man, who sought to be like God by eating of the tree of good and evil, Jesus, though he was divine by nature and enjoyed the very same essence as the eternal Father in heaven, did not consider it essential to his glory to hold on to that status in heaven. Instead, in perfect humility, he condescended to become a man and was thus found in human “form” (that is, he became man through and through). As men are by nature servants of God he thus also took the “form” of a servant though he was not a servant of God by nature. The point is that he voluntarily put off his divine glory for a season and took human form so that he might redeem men and women and thus bridge the gap between God and man that sin had created. This was the fundamental purpose of his coming to earth in human form.
His perfect humility and condescending grace led him even further than Adam, as a natural servant of God, had ever been required to go. He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. From the throne of heaven he descended to the lowest places on earth. This, however, was done that sinful men might be raised to the high status of children of God through his redeeming work. In consequence of his plunge to the depths of human wretchedness God has raised him above the heights of the heavens:
Before him, in ages to come, in his eternal glory which he has now resumed, all men and all angels shall bow and acknowledge him, whether in praise or in belated deference to his true status. In the light of the fact that he took human nature and voluntarily chose to subject himself to all the limitations and weaknesses of that nature, one can surely see that no case against his deity based on his humanity (including the ancestry he elected to share, the nationality he assumed, and the human course he adopted) has any substance. In virtually every case where the expression “God” appears in the headings in Seepye's article one can comfortably substitute the expression the Son of man without any inverted commas, and the titles make good sense. (I say in virtually every case deliberately, as some of the headings also misrepresent the meaning of the texts quoted underneath).
Christians do not say that “Allah is Christ, the son of Mary” as the Qur'an alleges they do (inna-l-laaha huwa-l-Masiihu-bnu Maryam - Sura al-Ma'ida 5:72), that is, that God is Jesus. We believe that God is a Supreme Being in a threefold unity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that the Son alone took human form as the man Christ Jesus.
We do believe that the Son is subject to the authority of the Father (the very titles imply an equality in essence and nature between them on the one hand and the subjection of one to the other on the other hand). We do also believe that the Son was sent into the world according to the Father's purpose and will, as Jesus himself said: “I came not of my own accord but he sent me” (John 8:42). Likewise we accept that he does nothing of his own accord but only what the Father wills and does and, because he is the eternal Son of God, has omnipotent power to put this divine will and activity into effect (John 5:19). These are basic Christian teachings.
The fundamental difference between the Christian and Muslim concepts of Christ is not in their understanding of his subjection to a higher authority, nor in their common conviction that he was a human being in every respect while on earth. With Muslims, we accept that he spoke only as he was commanded to speak (John 12:49) and that there is one greater than he (John 14:28). We differ primarily in our beliefs about his nature, for Islam allows him no more than humanity and prophethood, whereas Christianity teaches that God spoke through him, not as a prophet, but as a Son through whom he made all things, who reflects his glory, and who “bears the very stamp of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
Booklets like The God that Never Was which represent Jesus in Christian doctrine as God absolutely, with no reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit or to his subjection to the former in authority, misrepresent Christianity altogether. Such publications accordingly serve no useful purpose. If Muslims would only assess this doctrine for what it really is, they would find it not as far removed from their own as they generally suppose, and would perhaps come to a truer and closer knowledge of who Jesus really is - not a “god” who “never was” but the eternal Son from heaven who truly remains the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).