How does God reveal Himself?

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Muslims and Christians alike claim to preserve the faith of Abraham. Both claim to have their prophets and their writings which have accurately preserved the revelation of God or Allah. But what does each mean by this word 'revelation'? All of us who seek to worship the One True God, agree that God must reveal Himself to us. We cannot discover Him by our own efforts but need Him to reveal Himself. But how does God reveal Himself?

[Text] Sura 42:51-52
"It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a Messenger to reveal, with Allah's permission, what Allah wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise. And thus have We, by Our command, sent inspiration to thee: thou knewest not (before) what was Revelation, and What was Faith; but We have made the (Qur'an) a Light, wherewith We guide such of Our servants as We will..."
 

 


*The Islamic View of Revelation
*The Christian View of Revelation
*Jesus Christ, the Word of God
*Better Comparisons

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*The Islamic View of Revelation

Sura 42:51-52 states clearly that Allah may not speak to men except by inspiration. It is for this reason that Allah reveals Himself by means of appointed prophets, who are referred to as rasul, meaning the sent one. These prophets are merely human, therefore limited (Sura 80:1-3). Revelation in Islam is from God to man via the prophets. The final revelation and therefore the most important, according to Islam, is the Qur'an. It was revealed to Muhammad between AD 610-632, via the angel Gabriel, using a process known as Nazil (to descendTanzil), which implies a word-for-word transmission.

Consider the tablets in heaven (Sura 85:21-22). These tablets, upon which the Qur'an is said to be eternally inscribed, have never been created. Since Allah is infinite and transcendent it stands to reason that His revelation and Word are also infinite and transcendent. This final revelation, given through Muhammad, is divine and therefore beyond the realm of human conjecture or criticism. What this means is that the Qur'an which we possess today is and has always been final and pure, without possibility of corruption of the text.

We are to revere the Qur'an of Allah, never questioning its pronouncements. Can a slave question his master? No, therefore a Muslim may not question the Qur'an.

At this point Muslims ask Christians, What about your book? Let us compare the Qur'an with the Bible.


*The Christian View of Revelation

Unfortunately, this issue starts on the wrong foot. As far as the Christian is concerned, the comparison between the Bible and the Qur'an falls short of the Christian understanding of revelation.

In the Christian understanding, God has not spoken in only one, but in a variety of ways:

     

  1. Creation, nature, which is the result of the divine craftsmanship.

     

  2. Actions, in amazing miracles and the different ways God has intervened directly in human affairs.

     

  3. Prophets, by the words given to them.

    We have these revelations. But because of Adam's disobedience in the garden, we are sinful. This has blinded our minds so we cannot see God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus, all humanity has consistently failed to understand God. It is due to this sin that idolatry began and the knowledge of the one true God was never grasped.

    Consequently, God chose the ultimate option. He became one of us and spoke for Himself. Because of who God is, only He can know and reveal Himself. God is the only One who can speak for God. If you attempt to tell me what God is like you will fail. I can do no better because as finite and sinful human beings we all distort what God is really like. He must communicate Himself since all intermediaries are inadequate for such infinite and holy knowledge. Here, then, is the fourth way God has spoken.

     

  4. Jesus, the perfect Word of God, showed us who God is.

 


*Jesus Christ, the Word of God

Jesus Christ is nothing less than God demonstrating Himself to humanity. God pushes aside all others and speaks for Himself. Here and here only, in Christ, will He be known.

Jesus Himself declared this. Philip, an apostle of Christ, sought a revelation of God. Jesus reply was, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (God). How can you say, show us the Father? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?" (John 14:9,10)

Let us compare the revelation of Jesus to the other revelations of God.

     

  1. Creation declares the glory of God, but this is claimed even by idolaters and pagans! Do we say that these sinners have understood who God is? No, they need more than just nature to tell them what God is like.

     

  2. Miracles confirm that a prophet is from God. But let us look to those prophets who are declaring blasphemies against God, saying there are many gods, sometimes declaring themselves to be God! Prophets in Hinduism and Buddhism today perform miracles that astound the greatest skeptics. But are these miracles enough to understand God? No, we need more than miracles.

     

  3. The Bible, the collection of the words of the prophets and messengers, is the infallible, inerrant word of God. It is the testimony to His revelation in Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that the whole Bible speaks of Him. "These are the Scriptures that testify about me." (John 5:39) The Bible is not the end of our understanding of revelation, but our starting point, our sign-post that points to Jesus Christ. Yet our human minds cannot discover God by any investigation of a book, no matter how devout, serious or religiously committed that investigation is. Therefore, by God's Spirit (ruh-allah) we discover Jesus Christ in the words of the Bible.

We understand that for Muslims this must sound confusing and possibly threatening. To explain this truth to them, we may need a better perspective. Instead of comparing the Qur'an with the Bible, as most people tend to do, it is more helpful to compare the Qur'an with Jesus, as they are both considered to be the Word of God, and stand as God's true revelation to humanity.

 


*Better Comparisons

Historically, many Muslims and Christians have compared Muhammad to Jesus and the Qur'an to the Bible (see diagram).

 

OLD COMPARISONS Because both are...
Qur'an compared to Bible ...books
Muhammad compared to Jesus ...men

 
No wonder Muslims and Christians have had so few profitable discussions! A more proper understanding would be to compare the categories of Islam and Christianity respectively. With these categories the natural comparisons would be those of the Qur'an and Jesus; Muhammad and the Apostles of Jesus; and the Bible and the Hadith, or the Tarikh, the Sira and the Tafsir (see diagram).

 

BETTER COMPARISONS Because both are regarded as...
Qur'an compared to Jesus ...the eternal revelation of God
Muhammad compared to Jesus' Apostles ...messengers of the revelation
Hadith, Tarikh, Sira and Tafsir compared to the Bible ...the history and teachings of the revelation and messengers

 
While this may help us to understand each other, we must be careful to underline that the New Testament speaks primarily about Jesus but it has little to say concerning His lifestyle. The Hadiths and Sira, on the other hand, predominantly discuss the lifestyle of Muhammad, what he did, with only a few interpretations of what he said.

In a discussion between Christians and Muslims about revelation, we must compare Jesus Christ and the Qur'an, not the Bible and the Qur'an. We do not point to the Bible, but to Jesus Christ as the definitive revelation of God. It is Jesus who is the final Word of God, the one who can be met today by means of God's Spirit revealing Him through the written pages of the Bible and through personal experience.

For that reason we stand on the Bible as God's inspired, inerrant account of His words and acts throughout history, leading up to the birth, life and resurrection of Jesus. He alone, if we approach Him in faith, will reveal God to us. God is too far beyond all human words to be revealed through anything other than Himself.

God's Spirit now continues to take the searching soul back to Jesus Christ to reveal God there and there only. We must allow those who are content with an alleged revelation of God in mere human words to take their chances, but we cannot be satisfied with anything less than a direct encounter with the revealing God Himself!

In light of these new comparisons, there is no match between the two revelations, Jesus and the Qur'an. The Qur'an is merely a book whose authenticity rests solely on the shoulders of one finite and sinful man (Sura 80:1-3). It is no match against Jesus, revered by Muslims and Christians alike as sinless, who, according to His word, is God Himself, the perfect revelation.

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

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