Many of the articles I write for this blog incorporate an ironic twist. However, sometimes it is just interesting and eye-opening to examine the written interactions between Christians and Muslims of days long past. The number of such written documents that has survived from the medieval period is slim, but what there is contains some fascinating material.
One of the relatively early Christian apologists was Yahya b. ‘Adi. He lived under Islamic rule during the Abbasid dynasty in the tenth century. Many of the Arab Christian writers of both his day as well as from the previous generation quoted both the Qur’an and the Bible extensively. Yahya sometimes took a more philosophical approach toward Islam, though. One of his arguments for the reality of the incarnation I found particularly compelling. This particular polemic uses neither the Qur’an nor the Bible, but is founded solely on one of the ninety-nine names of Allah, and follows that name to its logical consequences.
Consider the title Allah the Most Generous. [i] Let’s start with the assumption that God is the most generous being who exists, has ever existed, or ever could exist, then follow that assumption to its logical conclusion. If God is the most generous entity in the universe, then by definition, God has not only the power but also the desire to share that generosity with his creatures. To be the most generous means not just that there is the ability to bestow blessing upon others, but that there is also the reality of pouring out those blessings. After all, a rich miser represents the very opposite of what generosity entails. Therefore, God has not only the most capacity to give, but would act correspondingly in the most generous fashion. He would give to His creatures that which is the best gift He could give. As one Islamic web site puts it, God would be “The One who is continually giving forth the grandest and most precious bounty”. [ii]
So what is the best gift God could give? The greatest thing in the universe is not financial or material, or even some abstract spiritual provision. The most awesome and wonderful thing in the universe is God Himself. Anything less would be second rate. The Creator is of more worth than any of His created objects. As the same Islamic web site states, God is “The One whose kind, noble and generous essence is most esteemed, valued and honored”.
To summarize, the logic is as follows.
1. God is most generous,
2. If God is most generous, then He would give most generously.
3. The best gift in existence is God Himself.
4. Therefore, a most generous God would not hold anything back, but rather give Himself.
What would it look like for God to give Himself to humanity? Here we now arrive to the reality of the incarnation. The incarnation is the logical outcome of the original premise. [iii] Anything less than the provision of God Himself given to humanity proves that God would not be the most generous creature in existence.
Of course such a discourse would meet a likely objection from Muslims that the incarnation would be impossible. This just forces the same issue down another path. Does such an impossibility of God fusing with man occur due to God’s limitations? Clearly, God is all-powerful, and thus can do anything. If the reason for objection is that God would find the incarnation dishonoring rather than impossible, this shifts the conversation back to whether God is generous or not. If God refuses to give Himself, for any reason, this refusal confirms that His supposedly generous nature was subordinate to other concerns. Thus He truly would not be the most generous, as the most generous creature would give regardless of mitigating reasons.
This philosophical approach was much different than the other polemics of the day. I don’t view such arguments as some type of silver bullet, and I don’t advise anyone reading this to view it that way either. Such logical devices are useful under the right circumstances, but not in isolation. If you have a Muslim friend, this could be an interesting discussion. As a broadcasted call to faith in Christ, I remind everyone that such techniques have limited value.