Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Same God or Different Gods?

(Note: This is an excerpt from an unpublished book of mine entitled "God Is..." It is copyrighted by the author, Randy C. Finch)

Do Jews and Christians believe in the same God? I believe that most Christians would respond in the affirmative. After all, Christians believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Moses, is the same God that sent Jesus as the Messiah. They have to be the same God, right? I dare say that some Jewish people would beg to differ since their God never manifested himself in human form 2000 years ago.

Okay, how about this. Do Muslims believe in the same God as do Jews? Some think so since Ishmael, the supposed ancestor of most Muslims, was the firstborn son of Abraham while Isaac was his second son, thus meaning that Jews and Muslims both share a common ancestor that worshipped the true God. If indeed the Jewish people originated from the seed of Isaac and the Muslim people originated from the seed of Ishmael, how can anyone possibly say that these two peoples worship different Gods? Could it be that the concept of God—his nature, attributes, dealings with man, commands, and punishments—diverged over time between the two nations? If so, then wouldn’t this mean that both groups still worship the same God, but with some mistaken ideas about that God? After all, both Jews and Muslims claim to worship the God of Abraham. Abraham did not worship two gods, did he?

How does the Muslim God compare to the Christian God? Here are excerpts of what John Ankerberg and John Weldon have to say about the differences between these two gods.

Islam teaches that the true God is the Muslim deity, Allah. All other views of God are false because the Koran teaches, “The true religion with God is Islam.” …

But who is Allah? Is he anything like the God of Christian faith? As we will see, the Muslim God is entirely different from the biblical God. First, the Koran stresses that Allah is one person only: “They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Third of Three.’ … the Bible unmistakably tells us that God has revealed Himself as a triune Being, as One God eternally existing in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit …

Second, the Muslim God has a different character than the biblical God. It is significant that of the “99 beautiful names for Allah,” which Muslims memorize and use for worship, not one of these names is “love” or “loving.” The Koran stresses that Allah only “loves” those who do good, but that he does not love those who are bad. … The biblical God does love the sinner—in fact, He loves all sinners. … But the Bible declares, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:6).

Next, through predestination of all things, Allah is considered the direct author of both good and evil. This is not the God of the Bible. While the biblical God is sovereign and permits evil, He is not its direct cause. …

Third, Allah is ultimately unknowable and incomprehensible. In Who Is Allah in Islam, Abd-al-Masih writes, “Allah is the unique, unexplorable, and inexplicable one—the remote, vast and unknown God. Everything we think about him is incomplete, if not wrong. Allah cannot be comprehended.”

… Houssney goes on to point out the contrast between Muslim and Christian concepts concerning humanities’ relationship to God: “The Christian claim that humans can have a relationship with God is considered by Muslims to be a metaphysical impossibility. …”

All this stands in contrast to the biblical teaching that men and women can know God personally on an intimate, relational level. …

The above reveals that the Muslim God, Allah, and the biblical God, Yahweh, constitute two distinct and opposing concepts of God. Regrettably, because Muslims teach that Allah alone is the one true God, they claim that Christians worship a false god.

(John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Are Allah and the Biblical God the Same?,

The interesting thing about Ankerberg and Weldon’s comments is that if you compare Allah to Jehovah in the Old Testament rather than the New Testament, you will find that that they are very compatible. Consider these facts about Jehovah as revealed in the Old Testament that are compatible with Allah as described by Ankerberg and Weldon.

• He was considered to be One (Deuteronomy 6:4). We are never told that God was three persons in one.

• He only loved those who obeyed him. He hated those who did wrong (Psalm 5:5) and was willing to destroy any who disobeyed, even his own people (Exodus 32).

• He was the author of both good and evil (Joshua 23:15).

• He did not have personal relationships with people. Rather he had a command and control system and usually only communicated directly with leaders and prophets (Exodus 19:10-25).

So, it appears that Allah is very similar to Jehovah in the Old Testament, but radically different from Jehovah in the New Testament. If this be so, then that obviously means that the God of the Old Testament is also radically different from the God of the New Testament. I have pointed out many of these differences throughout this book. Below I list several not included above.

God of Judaism                             God of Christianity
Keep the Sabbath or be executed         No need to keep Sabbath, worship on Sunday
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth            Love your enemies
Death penalty for adulterers                  Forgive adulterers
Did not send Jesus as the Messiah      Did send Jesus as the Messiah
Man can divorce wife who is                   Man can divorce wife only if she
        displeasing                                                          commits adultery
Dietary rules                                                        No dietary rules
Animal sacrifices                                            No animal sacrifices
Under law                                                              Under grace

Ankerberg and Weldon make a compelling case for the God of Islam and the God of Christianity being two different gods. Given that, they really have no choice but to declare the God of Judaism and the God of Christianity to be two different gods also, regardless of what the writers of the New Testament say. That is unless God changes. If God changes, it is entirely possible that the God described in the Old Testament is the same God as the one in the New Testament. But this would mean that orthodox Jews who today worship God according to the dictates of the old covenant would be worshipping a false god since God as he was known in the Old Testament no longer exists. This would be very strange given that the Bible indicates God does not change (Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8).

In the natural realm, change happens all the time. At one point during my journey through spacetime, I would have been described as a teenager with long thick curly brown hair, six-foot-three-inches tall, and weighing 160 pounds. Now I would be described as fifty-something, with short grayish brown / missing hair, six-foot-two-and-a-quarter-inches tall, and weighing 230 pounds. (For humans, unlike wine, change due to aging is not always for the better.) But, of course, this is only describing physical change. What if I were to change my thinking about morals and spiritual matters? Well, I have; a number of times. At one time I did not consider myself a religious person. Later I considered myself a Christian. Yet even later, I considered myself a Deist. But people who have known me throughout all those times still deem me to be me.

So, what type of changes would I have to endure for others to see me as a totally different person? Slimming down to my recommended weight? Losing a limb? Becoming disfigured? Becoming a Buddhist monk? Becoming a bank robber? Becoming a murderer? It seems that the answer is “no” for all these. Of course, sometimes a person can alter themselves so radically that friends and family might comment, “You don’t look like yourself,” or “Wow, you are so different,” or “I don’t know you anymore,” or “What happened to you?” In all cases, the observer still recognizes the person as being the original person they knew, but so different as to seem like another person. So, what makes you you? When you really think about it, this is quite difficult to answer. Is it strictly the forensic side of yourself like your fingerprints, retinal pattern, or DNA? Perhaps, but in reality it seems as if everything combined makes you you. For example, if you changed many things about your physical appearance, talked differently, and acted differently, then it would be hard for others, even people close to you, to distinguish you from a totally separate person. (Think of the Old Testament story of the unrecognized Joseph, once he came to a position of power under Pharaoh, having a bit of fun with his brothers when they came to beg for grain. (Genesis 42-45)) Yet, if you were able to remember things that only you could know, you might convince others that you are really you. So, perhaps a key part of this mystery is your path along the spacetime continuum. Each person has a unique path along this continuum, and that is a large part of who each person is.

So, what about God? How much can he change and still be the same God? Well, strictly speaking, if there is only one God, then he can change any amount and still be the same God since no other god can exist. So, a better way of approaching this issue is to ask, “If two people believe in God, but they each describe their God in differing ways, then how can we know if 1) both people believe in the one true God with one or both having mistaken concepts of that God, 2) one person believes in the one true God, but the other person believes in a false god, or 3) both people believe in false gods?” A simplified version of this question is, “How far afield must a person’s concept of the one true God go before we can no longer say that he believes in the correct God with a few misunderstandings and must begin to say that he now believes in a false god?”

Consider two people sitting next to each other on a pew at a church. Before services begin, they engage in a conversation about their faith. They both declare themselves to be born-again believers and on track for heaven. As the conversation progresses, one person says that he differs with most people in his church on the issue of drinking alcohol since the Bible clearly teaches that drinking in moderation is totally acceptable to God. The stunned second person vehemently disagrees with this assessment. The first person then goes on to announce that smoking is not sinful either. The astonished companion says, “I can’t visualize Jesus standing outside the temple smoking a cigarette.” This is countered with, “Well, I can’t visualize Jesus standing outside the temple eating a hotdog and sipping on a soda, but that doesn’t make it a sin.” As the conversation continues, these two people find that their understanding of God is quite divergent. They each begin to question whether or not the other person is really a Christian or not. Yet, since they each claim to believe in the God of the Bible, it is difficult for either one to declare that the other actually believes in a false god. They would most likely believe their counterpart simply has a greatly distorted view of the true God. Yet, if another person approached them from a totally different religion whose God was essentially the same as the second man’s God, then the first man would likely declare the third person’s God to be a false god.

My conclusion is that it is not always easy to determine that another person believes in a different god than you. My experience tells me that typically a person will accept that another person believes in the same God when that person is a part of the same religious mega-group, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. In some cases there is crossover, such as Christians believing that Jews worship the same God. In other cases there is rejection within the mega-group, such as a traditional Christian who believes that Mormons do not worship the same God. All of this discussion may be purely academic to many of you, but it really is not. Worshipping the true God is generally considered to be one of the most important requirements of salvation since worshipping the wrong God leads to damnation. In many cases people believe that others who worship the same God, given that their view of that God is sufficiently distorted, are hell bound.