In Cholula, Mexico, stands the Church of Our Lady of Remedies. It sits atop the largest archaeological site in the Americas — a pyramid laced with catacombs and filled with artifacts from pre-colonial days.
According to some accounts, the natives of Cholula refused to welcome Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. So to teach them a lesson, Cortes massacred thousands and ordered the people to build 365 Catholic Churches, one for each day of the year.
They never reached their goal, but Cortes made his point: The Aztecs were a conquered people, and their religion was subjugated to Roman Catholicism.
The Aztecs understood this — or should have. Previously, they were the conquerors and had built their sacred sites atop those of other indigenous peoples.
An interesting side effect is that none of the religions remained pure. Rather, each incorporated some of the beliefs and practices of the previous peoples into their religious life.
As a result, in many parts of Latin America today Roman Catholicism is a skin stretched over the ancient bones of animistic and pagan practices that find open expression outside the Catholic Church in religions like Santeria and Voodoo.
Several years ago, El Arabiya TV asked President George W. Bush whether he was anti-Islam. He responded: “Well, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God.”
While the president’s comments no doubt were intended to soothe the minds of Muslim viewers, they had just the opposite effect on me. The god of Islam (Allah) and the God of the Bible (Yahweh) clearly are different. We can see this by asking three personal questions:
1. Does God know me?
Allah. The Qur’an teaches that Allah is the transcendent creator. He knows who you are; in fact, he has fatalistically determined your thoughts, words and deeds – and even your eternal destiny, which is why Muslims so often say, “If Allah wills it.” So, Allah does indeed know you.
But Allah is neither knowable nor approachable. The Qur’an depicts him as a singular being with no “partners.” To call Jesus the Son of God is to commit shirk, the unpardonable sin. Of the 99 names for God in the Qur’an, none is intimate. Allah reveals his will, not himself.
Yahweh also is depicted as the transcendent Creator. He knows us; but more than that, He is knowable and approachable. He created us in His image – with personality, thought, and will – for the purpose of enjoying an everlasting, intimate relationship with Him. He exists as a Trinity in eternal relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In fact, God is so knowable, He came in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. As the apostle John writes, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Does God know me? Allah and Yahweh are depicted as supreme beings that know everything and everyone. But … only the God of the Bible is truly personal and knowable.
2. Does God love me?
Allah. The Qur’an teaches that Allah loves those he chooses to love and hates those he chooses to hate. “Allah loves not those that do wrong,” says the Qur’an (Surah 3:140), neither does he love “him who is treacherous, sinful” (Surah 4:107). “Those who reject faith and do wrong – Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to any way – Except the way of Hell, to dwell therein for ever. And this to Allah is easy” (4:168-169). Other types of people Allah hates include the arrogant and vainglorious (4:36; 16:23; 31:18; 57:23); those given to excess (5:87); and the ungrateful (22:38).
Yahweh, on the other hand, loves all people (John 3:16). He demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). John writes, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). Even though God hates sin, He loves sinners and takes no pleasure in punishing them (Eze. 18:23).
Does God love me? Only the God of the Bible loves all people.
3. Did God die for me?
Allah. The Qur’an teaches that Allah did not and would not die for you, nor would he send anyone to die for you. In fact, Islam claims that Jesus did not die on the cross but was taken up into heaven, and Judas, or someone who looked like Judas, was crucified in His place.
Further, the Qur’an states that there is no need for Allah to provide a sacrifice for sin because ignorance of Islam, not sin, is man’s problem. (The possible exceptions are apostasy from Islam and refusal to convert to Islam.) Staying away from major sins (whatever those are) will automatically result in one’s “small” sins being overlooked by Allah (4:31).
Yahweh, on the other hand, loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us. This was determined in eternity past; Jesus is declared to be the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ not only died for us; He rose from the dead, conquering sin and death. And He offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace through faith in Him.
Did God die for us? Only the God of the Bible sent His Son to die for us, securing eternal life for those who trust in Him.
So, are Allah and Yahweh just two different names for the same God?
- Allah is distant and unknowable. The God of the Bible is close and personal.
- Allah does not love every person. Yahweh does.
- Allah did not and would not die for you, nor would he send anyone to do so. But the God of the Bible loves you so much He sent His one and only Son to die for you. And He stands ready to grant you everlasting life if you will receive Him by faith.
This column appeared July 21, 2012, in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.