Commission for Ecumenism & Interfaith Dialogue

The basic message of the Qur’an and the Bible


Fr Herman Roborgh SJ Reflection Piece
By Fr Herman Roborgh SJ 

Most people in Australia may not spend much time thinking about God, even though they would not feel the need to deny God’s existence. But what kind of image do they have of God? Many people seem to fear God because they were told that God would punish them for any wrong that they did. For them, God has become a supreme Ruler or Owner of the world, who has prepared a special place to punish those of us who go against His wishes.

But is this really the message of the Qur’an or the Bible?

In the New Testament, God is a loving Father who looks after His children. Jesus told us that all we need to do is to look at the birds of the air and the lilies in the field to know that God cares for everything in the world – even the smallest details. By means of the parables, Jesus was inviting his followers to change their human ideas about God and to believe that God was far more wonderful and surprising than they could imagine. Jesus’ stories were all about a God who constantly overturns the common preconceptions and images that people carry about with them about God.

The Qur’an also says that God is exceedingly superior to anything that human beings may think or imagine. Indeed, it is foolish to conjure up an image of God at all. God is completely aware of everything that happens in the world, even the most insignificant events. Human beings have only to look and they will experience God’s presence.

God’s is the east and the west: and wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance (Qur’an 2.115).

The Qur’an constantly says that God is most merciful and compassionate:

Whoever does evil or wrongs his own soul then asks forgiveness of God will find God most forgiving, most merciful (Qur’an 4.110).

Instead of trying to describe God in terms of human qualities, it would be far better to discard the tendency to apply human qualities to God at all. For example, we cannot use the word ‘punish’ about God in the way the law courts use this word because God does not punish as human society does.

In the Bible, Jesus rejects the harsh punishment that the Pharisees want to give the woman caught in adultery (John 8.2-11). Jesus condemns neither her accusers nor the woman herself but invites them all to become aware of their own sinfulness.

In Jesus’ beautiful story about the young man who became a slave of his own desires, the father shows great compassion and welcomes his son back (Luke 15.11-24). Jesus’ own behavior tells us that God does not condemn anyone, not even the worst of us.

Similarly, the Qur’an says that God does not wrong anyone but that a person simply reaps the bad results of his own action and behavior:

God does not do the least wrong unto men, but it is men who wrong themselves (Qur’an 10.44).

So instead of saying that ‘God punishes human beings for their sins’, the Qur’an considers it more accurate to say that our bad choices will result in consequences that bring us suffering. But God wants people to learn from the mistakes they make and to live and behave in a way that brings them life and happiness. This is the message of the Qur’an.

Both Christianity and Islam proclaim a God who understands human frailty. In fact, this is really the basic message of both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Fr Herman Roborgh SJ is a member of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta's Commission for Ecumenism & Interfaith Dialogue.

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