Over the last couple of blog entries, I have briefly examined the doctrine of Qadar, or Predestination, in Islam. In the first article, I defined the doctrine as taught in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Then, in the second, I presented Dr. Norman Geisler’s critique of the doctrine from his Arminian viewpoint, and also offered an analysis of this approach, pointing out the problems I have with it. In this final installment, I will offer a critique of the doctrine of Qadar from a Reformed perspective, and demonstrate that it is not the idea of God having exhaustive sovereignty that is the problem with the Islamic view.
The Problem with Qadar
As I indicated last time, the idea of God’s sovereignty over all creation, even to the final destination of one’s eternal soul, is a Biblical concept, and I presented some passages that demonstrate this. To these could be added passages such as Romans 9, Acts 13:48, and Psalm 139, which further show that all things in life are under God’s eternal decree, including salvation.
When someone such as Norman Geisler addresses this subject, given his predisposition to reject any notion of God’s sovereignty that would appear to rob man of his free will, he tends to ignore a lot of the Biblical evidence for Predestination, and simply rejects the concept, using many of his well-worn Arminian counter-arguments. As we saw last time, however, many of these arguments fall flat because he is ignoring important passages that the astute Muslim could easily throw back at him, leaving him in a position of having to refute both Islamic and Biblical ideas of the sovereignty of God while trying to defend his Arminian position upon very shaky theological ground. In other words, Dr. Geisler’s Arminianism blinds him to the fundamental problem with the Islamic doctrine of Qadar. It is not the fact that God is able to decree a man’s path and predetermine his final destiny that is the major theological problem with the Islamic view; rather it is the fact that God appears to do this without any reason or motive for so doing. Why does God choose to send one man to Paradise and another to Hell? According to the Muslim, because He wants to. How can the Muslim be assured that God has not decreed that he will suffer in Hell at the end of his life? Ultimately, he can’t. He can hope that any good he has done is as a result of God’s intention to give him eternal Bliss, but he cannot know for sure that God might snatch that from him at the end. If there is no rhyme or reason to why a man goes to Heaven, why should there be one for sending a man to Hell?
There is a concept in Islam of man’s “natural inclination,” which is called fitrah. At birth, each person’s fitrah is pure, free from erroneous ideas, and ready to take in sound teaching. However, soon after birth, this fitrah is corrupted by jinn (spirits that tend to lead a man to sin) and devils. God will intervene and protect and guide those He wishes to lead ultimately to Heaven, and simply leave the rest to be led astray by the jinn and the devils (though he guides the path of these people too, to make sure they don’t suddenly decide to resist these temptations and seek out paths of righteousness contrary to His decree for their lives).
This idea of fitrah is clearly far removed from the Biblical idea of Original Sin. The Bible teaches that as a result of Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and caused Adam and his progeny to experience spiritual death (Romans 5:12). As a result of this, every person is born with a natural inclination to sin (Romans 3:9-18). It is this natural inclination towards sin that results in every person being under God’s just wrath, and subject to final and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 1:18-32). So, rather than man being born in a neutral state that God either preserves or corrupts according to what final end He has decreed for that man, Biblically speaking, man is born in a corrupt state, subject to the full wrath of God against his sin, and dependent upon God’s mercy in Christ to save him.
To be fair, Geisler does point out that it is man’s sinful original state that requires the work of a Saviour to pay the penalty for man’s sin, to stand in his place and take the wrath of God upon Himself. However, he fails to see how vital this is to understanding the true nature of the Biblical doctrine of Predestination. In Islam, since all men are born with a pure fitrah, there appears to be no reason why God couldn’t tell the jinn and the devils to leave His creation alone and allow all men to follow the way of truth leading to Heaven. Perhaps this is really why Muslims are not encouraged to think too long and hard over the doctrine of Qadar: the picture it paints of God is not at all flattering. Rather than a loving God who sacrifices His Son to allow some of those justly condemned to go free, the God of Islam is a capricious God who takes a group of innocent people and sends some to rot in Hell, and others to follow Him to Paradise.
In Biblical Predestination, all men deserve Hell, and God could show His perfect justice by delivering all of mankind to eternal destruction because of their sin. However, God chooses to show perfect mercy too by delivering some of those condemned, sending His Son to atone for their sin that they might enter Heaven. God is not obliged to do this, but it is an act of His supreme grace. So, those who are condemned to Hell cannot complain that they were not saved: they are getting what their sins deserve, and God has acted justly towards them. Those who receive the gift of eternal life cannot boast in anything they have done because they, like the others, deserved eternal death, but by God’s grace, are the recipients of everlasting life. So God is glorified in both the execution of His perfect justice, and in the manifestation of His perfect grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In the first article, I noted how Muslims believe that when God ordains someone’s eternal destiny, He will also either protect that man from corruption, or deliver him to the paths of corruption, so that at the end of his life, his final state will be plain from the kind of life he has led. This would be like sentencing an infant to eventually end up in prison when he is thirty, and then making sure that for the first thirty years of his life he lives in the kind of environment, and associates with the kind of people, that will ensure he will be in trouble with the law. By contrast to this, the Bible speaks of God changing a man’s heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27), so that those He has decreed to be saved will, upon conversion, have their hearts that were cold to God and the things of God changed to hearts that desire to be honoring and pleasing to God. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes this transformation when he speaks of the Ephesian believers (including himself among their number) at one time being “dead in trespasses and sins” and living “in the lusts of our flesh” and being “by nature children of wrath.” This is the natural state of man: he is a God-hater, following his own desires, deserving of death but not concerned to do anything about it. However, Paul continues:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
God acts upon the hearts of those he chooses and enlivens them so that they no longer crave their own desires but long to please God and pursue His righteousness. He doesn’t have to persuade them to follow Him: they now possess that desire for themselves. Those who are unconverted remain as God-haters without the desire to please God.
Absolute Sovereignty and the Purposes of God
In the previous blog I said I would address the question of how God can cause or create good and evil and not be either contradictory in nature, or the author of evil. I cited some passages to demonstrate that the Bible does indeed teach that God’s sovereignty extends to all types of action, and so this question is not one that can, or should, be avoided.
In the first place, I hope we have seen that, unlike the God of the Qur’an and the Hadith, the God of the Bible is perfectly loving, perfectly just, and perfectly merciful. (One point that Geisler and Saleeb make well is the fact that Muslim theologians refuse to say that God can be defined by abstract concepts such as “love” or “hate”: God is God, and He is loving, compassionate, wrathful, or whatever He needs to be as He sees fit at that time.) So God’s nature is defined by these things. God cannot be malicious, unjust, or callous any more than God could sin. So when God turns the Assyrians against Israel, or puts it in the heart of the Roman and Jewish leaders to crucify Christ, or whatever acts of evil may be done by evil men, while the hearts of those performing the acts are motivated by evil, God is using their wickedness for His good and holy purposes. Is this not precisely what Joseph is saying in Genesis 50:20? The evil intentions of the sinful hearts of his brothers were actually for the glorious and righteous purpose of God in saving many people. From the very beginning, God’s motives were pure, and even though sinful acts were necessary for the outworking of His plan, God did not sin, and He did not need to coerce Joseph’s brothers into sin. Joseph’s brothers willfully, and gladly committed the sin. For this reason, God is not the author of sin, because God’s intentions were never evil; there is no sin in God, so God cannot “author” sin. However, the brothers intended evil from the beginning, and committed sin from hearts that were naturally disposed to wickedness.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I will often belabor the point that Paul does not say that God only works in good things, but He works in all things; this would include the sinful actions of men. But here I would like you to notice the latter part of the verse which speaks to God’s motivation for working all things: the good of those who love Him, i.e., His people. If ever a Christian had a reason to feel good about himself, Paul gives it to him here! Every single movement of every atom or particle in the universe has been purposed by God for the benefit of His people. Every birth, every death, every sunrise, every hurricane, every act of benevolence, every act of evil–all with the purpose of bringing about good for the People of God, the Bride of Christ, His Church. Doesn’t that make you feel special? 🙂 And what a contrast to the God of Islam who condemns the innocent to Hell, chooses equally innocent people for Heaven, and rules the universe on a whim.
There is, of course much more that could be said with regard to the doctrine of Qadar. However, I hope this has helped you understand the issues involved, and particularly see the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as something that may be used as a springboard for witnessing to your Muslim neighbors and co-workers, especially when understood from a Biblical viewpoint. May the Lord be pleased to use this information in your witnessing so that many more might be brought into the Kingdom.