In the previous blog, we looked at what the Qur’an and the Hadith teach with regard to the doctrine of Predestination (Qadar), and we saw that the notion of God’s absolute sovereignty is, indeed, supported there. Further, we saw that Islam teaches that God’s decree extends to all creation and all that happens, even down to the final destination of each human soul; and God will so direct the paths of each man’s life so that he will earn the destiny to which he has been ordained.
In his book Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, co-written with Abdul Saleeb, Dr. Norman Geisler provides a critique of this teaching (pp. 140-145 of the first edition). Norman Geisler is well-known to listeners of The Dividing Line and those who have followed this website over the years, since it was his criticism of Sproul’s book Chosen by God, entitled Chosen But Free, that provoked Dr. White to write The Potter’s Freedom. Geisler is solidly Arminian in his theology, and has attacked Reformed doctrine, particularly Calvin’s Five Points, in various fora, always with the same misunderstandings and misrepresentations as detailed in Dr. White’s book. As with most Arminians, Geisler holds to the idea that God has chosen an undefined group of people that will be saved, but, even though He loves all men equally and desires each one to be saved, He has given each man the ability to choose whether or not he will belong to that number. God provides His Church, His Word, and many evidences of His existence to all creation, and extends the offer of salvation to all of fallen mankind through the shed blood of His final and greatest gift: His Son, who sacrificed Himself on the cross for every person who has and ever will live. However, it is up to each sinful man to accept God’s offer in order to be saved. If man does not accept, then he will have consigned himself to eternal punishment, despite God’s loving efforts to save him. If he does accept, that man is welcomed into Heaven when he dies.
After seeing what Islam teaches with regard to Predestination, it comes as no surprise to learn that Dr. Geisler takes issue with the Muslim view. In this blog, I want to take a few moments to see how Geisler goes about critiquing the doctrine of Qadar, and to provide a counter-critique. My counter-critique is by no means in defense of the Muslim position, but to illustrate how Geisler’s own theological position has weakened his apologetic response.
Critiquing Qadar: The Geisler Approach
Dr. Geisler breaks his critique of the doctrine of Qadar into four categories: the logical problem, the moral problem, the theological problem, and the metaphysical problem. The logical problem he sees with Qadar is the fact that the Qur’an depicts God acting in contradictory ways, and describing Him in contradictory terms. “For example, God is ‘the One Who leads astray,’ as well as ‘the One Who guides.’ He is ‘the One Who brings damage,’ as also does Satan” (p. 141). He finds the Muslim response that these contradictions are not part of God’s essence but expressions of His will to be “inadequate.” As Geisler points out, one’s actions flow from one’s essence. In other words, a rational person acts in a way that is in character with who he is. That being the case, the God of Islam would be a God of contradictory essence.
The moral problem, according to Dr. Geisler, is simply that Islam’s “extreme determinism” robs man of moral responsibility for his actions. Since God ordains a man’s path, and causes him to act in ways that lead to either Heaven or Hell, God is unjust to condemn man for sin over which man has no power. He claims that the attempts by Muslims to deny this only work if they are willing to distort what the Qur’an plainly teaches.
Geisler’s theological problem with Qadar is that, since in Islam God wills both the faith of the believer and the unbelief of the unbeliever, God is thus made to be the author of evil.
Finally, the metaphysical problem Geisler sees is in the fact that this concept of absolute sovereignty has led to the idea that since God’s will is the only will, then God is the only one who actually acts: the rest of creation is passive, waiting for God to move. Further, some have suggested that if no-one but God has the ability to act, then nothing else has true being but God. This has led some mystical Islamic sects to seek the annihilation of one’s individuality.
Problems with Geisler’s Critique
Logical: I had the mixed blessing of studying Hebrew under a professor who was clearly very adept in Semitic languages, but was also quite virulently anti-Christian. As a result, he was able to give an accurate presentation of the structure and rules of Hebrew grammar, and yet present us with passages to translate that were, at least as far as I could see, chosen because of their “problematic” nature with regard to Christian theology. One such passage was Isaiah 45. Indeed, well I remember verse 7, [r_’ arEAbW ~Alv’ hf,[o , and how my professor gave a little half smile as he reminded us that the Hebrew literally means “making peace and creating evil.” He was quite correct, though. There is no getting around the fact that the Hebrew text is attributing to God the ability to form all that is good and all that is bad, and if we believe the Bible to be God’s Word, we have to accept this fact, and not try to avoid it. The first half of the verse also attributes to God the creation of both light and darkness. What the prophet is communicating here is precisely what Dr. Geisler is objecting to: the all-encompassing and all-pervasiveness of God’s sovereignty. If God did not bring about both good and bad, if He is only responsible for all that is good, then where did the other come from? Is there a creator other than God? The Bible firmly insists that there is not. I will deal with this passage more fully in the next blog installment, but suffice it to say that the Muslim could easily counter Geisler’s logical objection by citing this and other passages in the Old Testament that show God’s sovereign control extending to opposite extremes, and asking him to explain the contradictory nature of his God. If God only leads people to do good things, then why did He cause Joseph’s brothers to sell Joseph into slavery (Genesis 50:20), and harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3)? Can Dr. Geisler offer a more satisfactory explanation than the Muslim?
Moral: Again, the Muslim could object to this criticism by pointing Dr. Geisler to passages where God claims that sinful men have acted according to His plan (Genesis 50:20; Exodus 7:3; Isaiah 10:5-14; John 19:11; Acts 4:27-28). While Geisler loves to give man the ability to exercise free will outside of God’s direct influence, he does so contrary to the testimony of Scripture. Man does not, and indeed cannot act outside of God’s purposes. When discussing the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled as proof of His divinity, Geisler makes the following statement:
But what are we to say about the prophecies involving miracles? He just happened to make the blind man see? He just happened to be resurrected from the dead? These hardly seem like chance events. If there is a God who is in control of the universe, as we have said, then chance is ruled out… But it is not just a logical improbability that rules out this theory; it is the moral implausibility of an all-powerful and all-knowing God letting things get out of control so that all his plans for prophetic fulfillment are ruined by someone who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. (pp. 249-250)
I wonder if Dr. Geisler really grasps the level of control that God has to have over the universe to be sure that prophecy is fulfilled precisely as He intends? Imagine a chess game, and you have worked out a strategy for moving one of your pawns to your opponent’s end in order that it might become a queen. Your strategy may be first-class, but you cannot guarantee your opponent has not discerned your intentions and has devised a number of measures to hinder and possibly thwart your progress. How can you be sure that you won’t be distracted by something and forget the strategy, or perhaps a sudden need for the bathroom might take you away from the game and give your unscrupulous opponent opportunity to rig the game? No, to be infallibly certain that your pawn will reach its intended destination, you must have complete control over all factors, including your opponent’s strategy and all of his pieces (not to mention your bladder, too!). R. C. Sproul has well said that there is no such thing as a maverick molecule in the universe. If there was, there would be a chance that a prophecy may fail to come to pass, or a decree of God might not stand. It seems, therefore, that Dr. Geisler does not grasp how important it is for God to have complete control even over the seemingly free-will actions of men, otherwise Moses might not have gone to Egypt, Judas might not have betrayed Jesus, or Pilate may have decided not to have Jesus crucified.
Theological: The idea that if God ordains evil He becomes the author of evil has already been addressed to some extent. For now, it is enough to re-state that the Bible plainly teaches that God is behind all of the actions of men, whether good or bad. The question is not, therefore, “does the Bible gives God the ability to ordain evil?” but rather, how do you deal with the fact that God does ordain both good and evil actions. Again, I don’t believe Geisler has any better response to this than the Muslims.
Metaphysical: While it may be true that mystical Islamic groups have taken this doctrine to an extreme and formed outrageous belief systems as a result, that is hardly an argument against the doctrine itself. The existence of Gnosticism does not make the doctrine of Christ’s deity suspect, nor does the existence of Arianism invalidate the doctrine of Christ’s humanity. While this might be a danger of the doctrine, it is by no means a refutation of it.
Having briefly surveyed Dr. Geisler’s critique of Qadar and pointed out the failings of his critique, in the final installment of this series I will point out the fundamental flaws in the Islamic understanding of God’s sovereignty, and show how only a Reformed view of God can properly address the problems raised, and offer real hope and comfort.