The Knowability of God
Another fundamental difference, which relates to the nature of God in Islam and Christianity is the ability to know God. God’s knowability is directly related to both His transcendence and immanence. Norman Geisler notes, “The literal meaning of the immanence of God is ‘to be within’ or ‘near’ in relation to God’s creation.” Muslims believe Allah is transcendent to the point that his nature is unknowable, while the Christian believes God is transcendent, yet chooses to reveal Himself. God chooses to reveal Himself to his creation through the Trinity. Allah and God’s knowability again brings a sharp division between the Muslim and Christian.
Can Allah be known? The Qur’an teaches Allah is so transcendent that he is even outside of his own creation, as it says that after creation he “…then established Himself above the Throne.” Yet, as written earlier, the Qur’an describes Allah as being “closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” These two verses in the Qur’an seem to contradict one another. Can Muslims know Allah in a personal, intimate, and relational way? This question is widely debated by both Muslim and Christian scholars alike when it comes to Allah’s knowability.
For most of the Islamic community, the immanence of Allah is a foreign concept. Therefore, the immanence of Allah was never a point of contention among Muslims. This was due to the belief that Allah is one and not everywhere, as revealed in the hadiths when Muhammad asks a slave girl, “Where is Allah?” She replies, “Above the heavens.” The Qur’an and hadiths rejects the notion of Allah’s immanence; however, there were some Muslims who began to accept the teaching of Allah’s immanence, as it related to Allah’s presence on earth. As A.J. Arberry points out, “Among Muslim people, a deranged sufi/mystic and so-called saint, al-Hallaaj (858-992 CE), openly declared that he and Allah were one.” This claim by al-Hallaaj was entirely outside the boundaries of Islamic orthodoxy, since it declared God was within him, which would eventually lead to his execution for his profession of Allah’s immanence.
Allah can be known only by submitting to and obeying his will revealed in the Qur’an—namely, the five pillars of Islam. Since the Qur’an denies “Allah as a father,” he cannot be known in a personal or relational sense. Not only can he not be known relationally, but there is not even a possibility for knowing Allah since he is transcendent above his creation. The unity of Allah fails to allow for the Muslim to know him in an intimate and relational sense. Therefore, the Muslim must submit, obey, follow, the divine revelation of the Qur’an in order to be a good Muslim.
God Is Known
The Christian faith believes that the God of the Bible makes Himself known, unlike the Islamic faith where Allah is transcendent and unknowable. Christians believe God subsists as three persons known as the Trinity. The Trinity allows the Christian not only to know the will of God, but also to know God in a relational sense. As Wayne Grudem points out, “If we are to know God at all, it is necessary that He reveal Himself to us.” Grudem assumes that God can be known and desires to be known. The Bible reveals God’s desire for man to know Him when He said, “So God created man in his own image.” The knowabilty of God comes from His nature and attribute of love. Thus, God’s transcendence does not limit Himself from His creation.
The Bible claims, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The nature of God as love is revealed throughout the Bible and his creation. God’s love, revealed by creation, allows for one to know both His will and His nature. God’s love has been woven in the very fabric and essence of the Christian’s life by God through the Holy Spirit, allowing His creation to know Him. This is a major doctrinal difference between Islam and Christianity.
Therefore, God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent. He is above our ways, and yet reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20). This is only possible because God has chosen to reveal himself by the Trinity. Christians not only have the ability to know the will of God, but also to know His nature. The manifestation of God in a Christian’s life is evident by an intrinsic desire to love and care for others. This comes from the experience of knowing God’s love, which can only be revealed to them by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian has a relationship with their Creator as a result of His love for His creation—a love that not only allows Him to reveal Himself, but also allows Him to give believers the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ, through His work in atoning for their sins, as well as the impartation of eternal life given by the Holy Spirit.
The reality is there are commonalities in both the Islamic and Christian faiths. Yet, at the same time, there are sharp differences too. As one who desires to reach the Muslim community with the good news of Jesus, they must focus on the common ground in the Muslims faith, such as the Torah (Law) and the Injeel (the gospel). By focusing on the similarities of their faiths we pray and trust this will open the door in sharing the gospel. As the Muslim denies the Trinity, the Christian embraces, Him trusts and relies on Him to open the Muslims heart, ears, and eyes to see and make the gospel effectual. This is where the Christian does not have to force or manipulate but simply share and trust the Holy Spirit to do the work only He can do.
Christianity and Islam can masquerade themselves as being superficially similar since they believe in the worship of one God. However, when further investigated one finds there are vast doctrinal differences pertaining to God’s Oneness, transcendence, and knowability. These doctrinal differences are not minor points, but are vast distinctions in the reality of one knowing and understanding God. Therefore, to try and understand God’s oneness, transcendence, and immanence apart from the revealing work of the Trinity leaves one not knowing God or His nature whatsoever.