8. SIN IN ISLAM AND THE BIBLE
If we measure a distance, we use a ruler or a tape measure. Then we can establish that an article is say, 70 mm long and 35 mm wide. Or, we can say the distance between A and B is 95 km.
When we use undefined words, this no longer applies. If I say there is a ‘high’ mountain, it may be 100 metres high, or 7000 metres. The same applies when I speak of ‘heavy’ rain, ‘bitter’ cold or ‘severe’ pain. Concepts like these are measured alongside relative norms.
The Biblical Concept of Sin
When we look at the biblical concept of sin, we are given a norm. This norm is based on the biblical Law and by that on the nature of God. Let us look a little into that.
We read in the Bible that God is Love. This is not just a rhetorical statement. Real love is not a nice feeling, but actively seeking to build up the loved one. We only need to carefully read chapters 2 and 3 of the prophet Jeremiah to sense this. God’s love culminated in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on Calvary’s cross, on our— the sinner’s— behalf.
If the object of God’s love—and that are we—reward Him with indifference [we just don’t care], or defiance [never mind Your expectations, we do what we like], or hypocrisy [we do right when people watch us, but when unobserved do wrong, implying that God is blind, stupid or irrelevant], how do we expect God will feel? Remember, He loves us! Yet God is not only love. He is also holy, absolutely pure. He is righteous. The more we love a person, the more we are hurt by negative statements from him.
God’s holiness and righteousness are deeply offended by sin because it is the manifestation of our indifference, defiance and hypocrisy, which really amounts to unbelief. Trust is the foundation of every true love relationship. Any breach of trust, if I may put it this way, is sin.
God reflects on this many times in His Word. One of the most touching comments we find already in Genesis 6:5: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved… and His heart was filled with pain.” Have we experienced grief? God does so in an increasing measure every moment in history!
In order to define evil and to restrain it, He gave man His Law. What could have been done unawares before, was now formulated, for where there is no law, there can be no transgressions. In His holiness God ordained a total ‘No!’ to all sin, because it is incompatible with His nature. Yet in His love God has prepared a way of reconciliation: the sacrifice. And He Himself, in Jesus Christ, was that ultimate sacrifice. He bore our sins on the cross!
The Islamic Concept of Sin
It is astonishing, just how different Islam views sin. This has, no doubt, its origin in its concept of Allah. He is beyond good and evil, right and wrong. He cannot be affected by anything that happens in this world. He is mukhalafa,’ so different from his creatures, that it becomes virtually impossible to postulate anything of him (N. Anderson: “Islam in the Modern World”) He is the origin and sustainer of all things— and that includes the devil and sin.
“Nothing will happen to us, except what Allah has decreed!” (Surah 9:5 If) “Allah has created you and what you make.” (Surah 38:96)
“…you will not, except as Allah wills.” (Surah 76:30)
The famous Islamic commentator al-Barqawi says: “Everything, good or evil, exists by his will.”
The even better know al-Ghazzali writes: “All things… spirits, men, the devil… were all created by him.”
And the Qur’an says in Surah 16:93. “Allah sendeth whom he will astray and guideth whom he will, but you will surely have to account for all your actions.”
Muhammad is quoted in the Hadith as saying that Allah created some for paradise and others for hell.
If we consider all the above quotations, we see man in a total predicament. He is altogether unable to do what he ought or wishes to do and yet he is accountable for what he does.
Consequently the teaching about sin in Islam is rather technical. It does not see sin as a principle which subdues man, is utterly evil, separates us from God and grieves Him, but as something to avoid for one’s own personal benefit.
Sin is seen as something which can be compensated for by good deeds. Contrary to the teaching of predestination [as seen above], at the Last Judgment the verdict is not so much a condemnation of the sinfulness of the heart of a person, but rather a weighing of our good over our sin. If the good reaches 51 percent, we should make it!
Positively this stimulates Muslims to eagerly seek to do good deeds of charity. Negatively it makes sin a trivial issue, which is in fact detrimental.
Muslim theologians have carefully categorized sins according to their severity: Big sins like apostasy, unbelief, adultery, murder and the like, and small sins, which are also called faults. This is in agreement with the Qur’an:
“Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into] small faults, verify, the Lord is ample in forgiveness.” (Surah 53:32)
The Bible, on the other hand, unequivocally states:
“The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 3:18-19; 18:20: 33:8; John 8:21) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
“Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty!” (James 2:10)
What is so tragic about the misconception of sin in Islam?
—It assumes sin needs no sacrifice to cover it.
—It camouflages the terrible consequences of sin.
—It negates the necessity of the sacrifice of Christ.
—It leads to self-dependency and self-righteousness.