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Sermon – The Christian and Culture

The Christian and culture

(Originally delivered 23rd October 1993 by Dave Roberts)

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Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say “G’day” and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person’s name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences – rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together – gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities.

The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife’s left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it! Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can’t see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on.

Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism’ which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him.

That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus. But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion.

I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him – will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don’t know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don’t want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don’t reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don’t let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now!

For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others.

Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can’t be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs. Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate.

Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don’t be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don’t accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again.

When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them! Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions – just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences.

So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don’t let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you. If you want to see someone tonight about making that decision, then see anyone of those who have performed.

For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

Right mouse click to save this Podcast as a MP3.

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Exploring Islam 12

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Exploring Islam

12. The Jesus of Islam

Part 3 – The Cross

In light of what we have previously outlined regarding the Islamic view of Jesus we are now going to finally consider what happened at the cross. For the Christian the crucifixion of Jesus is fundamental and indeed is ultimately why he came as the Saviour of the world. However, as we have seen previously regarding salvation in Islam no such atoning sacrifice is possible. Whilst the Qur’an does not deny the historical event of the crucifixion, it is does deny that it was the Islamic prophet Jesus who was killed.

Qur’an 4:157 – ‘“Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them.’

This is a fascinating verse which many Muslims are aware of given the prominence of Jesus in discussions with Christians. It is reliant upon the understanding that Allah respects his chosen prophets to such a degree that a humiliating death by crucifixion would not be permitted. Nothing more is said regarding this matter in the Qur’an and it begs the question from a non-Muslim perspective of proof. Outside of this verse there seems to be no other supporting evidence that this was the case. And I guess this is to be expected as the concept itself suggests that all present at the crucifixion and presumably all the subsequent historians were hoodwinked into believing the opposite. Admittedly, Christianity faces a similar but I think less taxing burden of proof in their defence of a risen Jesus from the tomb on Easter morning.

So instead of dying on the cross, the Islamic Jesus was taken up into heaven during this mystical switch and remains there to this day. Again, this is a unique aspect of Jesus within Islam which no other prophet including Muhammad can claim. Jesus has a further role to play in the grand scheme of history according to Islam. At the end of time before judgement day comes, Jesus will return to the earth still as a physical man and successfully lead all those chosen by Allah into Islam. The Qur’an does not speak much of this aspect leaving Muslims to rely strongly on the traditions contained in the Hadith. Unlike in Christianity who affirms Jesus’ role in judgement, the Islamic Jesus finally dies before this happens and leaves Allah to judge the world.

So this marks the conclusion of the Exploring Islam series. I have enjoyed preparing and writing these podcasts and I hope that you have benefited from them. Remember my original goal was to dispel some of the misunderstandings of Islam which are so prevalent in Western societies and can be the source of much tension with our Muslim neighbours. Even though there are significant differences between Islam and Christianity I hope I have equally showed that there are similarities even bridges for discussion. I have found the best way to facilitate this is from the attitude of respect and friendship, things which Muslims themselves value highly.

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Christian and culture

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The Christian and culture


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Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say “G’day” and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person’s name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences – rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together – gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities.

The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife’s left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it! Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can’t see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on.

Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism’ which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him.

That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus. But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion.

I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him – will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don’t know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don’t want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don’t reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don’t let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now!

For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others.

Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can’t be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs. Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate.

Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don’t be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don’t accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again.

When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them! Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions – just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences.

So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don’t let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you. If you want to see someone tonight about making that decision, then see anyone of those who have performed.

For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

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Exploring Islam 11

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Exploring Islam

11. The Jesus of Islam

Part 2 – Jesus remains a man not a god

Despite Jesus’ unusual birth to a virgin Islam still considers him to be simply a man chosen by Allah to be a prophet. He is viewed as a created being from the dust just as Adam was (Qur’an 3:59). To consider Jesus as anything more than his humanity would be to ascribe to him some status of divinity, and as we have seen previously this is a serious sin. Allah reveals himself through the Qur’an as being one, and in being the only one. He is if you like singular in construction and the only one of his kind.

During Muhammad’s life the early Church was spreading rapidly throughout the world and he would have heard of their radical concept of a Trinitarian God – that is a God which is three in one. Such a paradox, which is accepted in Christianity through faith and the testimony of the Bible, seemed to simply be a wilful act to distort the truth about Allah and elevate a man into a deity. If you remember from one of the first podcasts in this series at the birth of Islam Muhammad was reacting against an Arab people who were polytheists, that is belief in and the worship of many different gods and spirits. Muhammad placed the Christian view of Jesus into this category. The Qur’an summarises all of this in the following:

Qur’an 4:171 – ‘O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter anything concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (It is) better for you! – Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son.’

Interestingly, there are two aspects regarding the Islamic view of Jesus which are not fully explained. In the previous verse you may noticed that Jesus is referred to as a ‘word’ and a ‘spirit’ from Allah. What exactly does this mean? The Qur’an does not make any further reference to it and they are unique to him. From a Christian perspective Jesus being described as a ‘word’ is familiar as it is found in the opening verses of John’s Gospel to denote his divinity. Alongside this, the Qur’an also makes the unexpected claim that Jesus was holy, faultless, pure, or righteous depending on your translation from the Arabic in Qur’an 19:19. These characteristics are commonly associated with divinity outside of Islam and offer a stark contrast to Muhammad who required forgiveness for his sins (Qur’an 48:2). Many Muslims are not aware of this last verse and can take offense at the suggestion that their greatest prophet is in fact sinful, so refer to it with care and respect.

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Exploring Islam 10

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Exploring Islam

10. The Jesus of Islam

Part 1 – A Prophet with Miraculous Signs

 

Today we start looking at how Islam views Jesus. He is not the most important person in Islam, which is reserved for Muhammad, but as he is for Christianity it is prudent to understand how Muslims view him. This will be released over 3 successive weeks…

 

As we have seen in previous sections Islam views many characters from the Old Testament as Islamic prophets and the same is said of Jesus from the New Testament. Islam considers their understanding of who Jesus was and his religious affiliation to be the original correct one, and that Christianity has over time corrupted this truth to place him as the forerunner for their religious system.

As a prophet he was blessed by Allah with miracles in order to convince those who saw him of his divine messenger status. One of these was the production of the holy book called the Gospel which Islam views as containing a similar message to that of the Qur’an, but specifically given by Allah to the people of Israel. Jesus’ role as a prophet was to reach out to the Jewish people and properly teach them about Allah through using the existing Islamic version of the Torah (or Old Testament law) and his Gospel (Qur’an 5:49). However, no original Islamic versions of these writings have been found. Most Muslims are not challenged by this as they place supreme authority on the Qur’an’s testimony.

In addition to the Gospel Jesus displayed other signs, the first being his miraculous birth to a virgin named Mary. She says – Qur’an 5:47 – ‘My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal has touched me? He said: So (it will be). Allah creates what He will. If He decrees a thing, He says to it only Be! And it is.’

The account of Jesus’ birth in the Qur’an is remarkably similar to that found in the Christian Bible. However, the Qur’an also affirms that Jesus was capable of speaking ‘like that of an adult’ even when he was only a baby (Qur’an 5:110). This verse also lists other miracles Jesus did through the will and power of Allah; he breathed life into a lump of clay which turned into a bird, he healed leapers, and raised the dead. Jesus was indeed a prominent figure during his day.

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Exploring Islam 09

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Exploring Islam

9. The possibility of Salvation

 

We have previously looked at the concept of sin in Islam and Christianity, now we shall naturally move onto their ideas of salvation. Salvation is the common idea that there is a need to be saved from punishment and condemnation for sinful acts, ultimately seen in going to Paradise and Heaven. Paradise for the Muslim is not about spending time in the presence of Allah as his transcendence still remains even here. For the Christian, Heaven is all about worshipping God directly in his presence in a way which is not fully possible now because of sin. This fundamental difference can help us see how and why their routes for salvation are equally dissimilar.

Salvation Within Islam

Within Islam salvation is mostly a concept based upon works seen in belief and actions;

Qur’an 3:57 – ‘But as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, He will give them in full their rewards.’
It is something which at first glance is achievable by the Muslim on their own, unlike a Christian who believes that only God can help them out of their sinful predicament. Recognising that you are a slave unto Allah, after all this is what the word ‘Muslim’ literally means, and that it is your duty to be obedient to his law in the way you live your life. However, despite the most ardent attempts by the most committed Muslim does not guarantee entrance into Paradise. Allah’s will in deciding who does gain entry is always above any actions by any person even if they are in accordance to the law. Ultimately, a Muslim’s salvation is in the hands of Allah, in a way predestined, and they will never know for sure their fate.
Qur’an 7:178 – ‘Whoever Allah guides – he is the [rightly] guided; and whoever He sends astray – it is those who are the losers.’


Salvation Within Christianity

(For more about salvation in Christian thought on this website, please do click here. )

These ideas are in stark contrast with salvation found in Christianity, of which only a summary is presented. In order for forgiveness to be given by God for humanity’s sin punishment must be borne by someone. Instead of every individual suffering death for their disobedience God, in Jesus Christ, chose to suffer the penalty of death on their behalf.
1 Peter 2:24 – ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.’
This is something alien to the Muslim where a substitutionary sacrifice for sin is outright refused as even possible. We will talk about how Islam views Jesus in a later podcast. Earning salvation for the Christian is therefore not achieved by their own efforts or successes even though the Bible does advocate a way of life which God wishes. Instead, forgiveness is a gift to humanity out of God’s grace, love and desire to have a real personal relationship with his creations which would not be possible with sin in the way.
Ephesians 2:8 – ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.’

Although there are concepts of predestination within Christianity, salvation once accepted by a person and confirmed by the Holy Spirit is guaranteed by God giving a sense of peace and assurance which a Muslim is forever searching for.

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Exploring Islam 08

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Exploring Islam

The Islamic nature of Sin

What is sin?

There is similarity between Islam and Christianity in the definition of sin; in Islam it is in not fully practising sharia Law or believing in Allah and his prophets; for the Christian it is thinking or acting in contrary to God’s wishes. (For more about the Christian doctrine of sin, click here to see other resources on this site.) However, this is where the two religions part company. Within Islam every person is naturally sinless when they are born, they only become sinful when their first sinful act is committed. People are capable of following all the necessary laws and being sin free on their own, all that they require is the proper instruction and a healthy fear of the afterlife in hell to motivate them. Despite this, even Muhammad is said in the Qur’an to have sinned (Qur’an 48:2). People are forgetful and can fall prey to the temptations which Satan can cunningly whisper to them. This is in contrast to the Christian who believes that we are all born into sin before we have thought or done anything. This is the concept of ‘original sin’ found in Psalm 51:5 and means that every person is in needing of saving.

 

Different levels of sin

Within Islam there are different levels of sin derived mainly from the Hadith and are too complicated for us to go into here. The main point of the categories is to identify those actions which the Muslim can receive forgiveness for by doing repentance. But in contrast there are a very small number which are not forgivable most notably that called shirk. Committing shirk is when a Muslim changes a religion to become a Christian, and thereby in Islamic understanding believes in more than one God as seen in the Trinity. Although there are Qur’anic verses which suggest Allah would entertain forgiveness if they rescinded and returned to Islam, there are equally others which suggest it is only a one way road to condemnation. The concept of shirk is a major barrier in any Muslim’s mind in even entertaining conversation about other religions, let alone really committing to change. When a true conversion does happen it is common even in western countries not to go public for fear of reprisals.

 

Sin’s influence upon Allah and God

A final aspect of sin to mention is the effect it has upon Allah and God. In Islam Allah’s transcendence and unknowability is so complete that he is subsequently not impacted at all by humanity’s sinful acts. He is a god who has desires for humanity to live in an appropriate way, but there is no personal relationship or want for fellowship. Allah is most holy, that is pure and just and set apart. His will is his own unaffected by anyone or anything. This is in great contrast to the Christian God whose nature is equally holy and transcendent, but He has an innate desire to individually meet and express his love for his creation. However, this is hampered by the presence of sin which would, unlike with Allah, be in conflict with God’s pure holiness. Therefore, for a Christian forgiveness is required to forge the loving relationship with God, whilst for the Muslim it is to avoid going to hell.

 

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