How Can God Have a Son?

The Incredulity of Thomas by Caravaggio
The Incredulity of Thomas by Caravaggio

TThis is a question that virtually every Muslim has about the Isa al-Maseeh. We will attempt to provide an answer, but first let’s consider why this is an issue for Muslims. This is rarely an issue for non-Muslims, so it is helpful to consider the background of the issue in Middle Eastern culture.

Since we are going to be dealing with revealed truth, and not something that can be arrived at simply by our own efforts, may I ask you to say this prayer from your heart:

Show us the straight way, the way of those whom Thou has favored; who have not incurred Thy wrath, nor gone astray.
6 ٱهْدِنَا ٱلصِّرَطَ ٱلْمُسْتَقِيمَ
7 صِرَطَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ ٱلْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا ٱلضَّآلِّينَ

 

The Historical Background

At the time of Mohammed, the popular religion of Mecca was characterized by pagan and heretical worship of idols. Some of these false worshipers wrongly believed that the Trinity consisted of God, Mary and Jesus. Some of these unlettered and uninformed folks mistakenly thought the term “Son” implied a biological relationship, even though no Christians ever considered such an absurd idea. Because the Bible was not translated into Arabic until 867 A.D., the vast majority of Arabs did not have the benefit of knowing what God had actually revealed in it. It is not surprising many people simply assumed it taught the things that seemed self-evident to them. It is clear that Mohammed realized it was the word of God (e.g., see Surah 4:136), but unfortunately he could not have known what it said.

It was in this context that Mohammed spoke against this false understanding of the Trinity. All orthodox Christians would agree on this point. The reason is the Bible never taught such a thing.

The Spiritual Background

Mohammed saw himself as a reformer who came to rid Arabia of idol worship, which he realized would only incur the wrath of God. He wanted to replace it with worship of God. Unfortunately, he tried to do so without the benefit of of what God had revealed over the previous 2000 years in the 66 books of the Bible through a great many different prophets.

Mohammed was rightly concerned about the danger of idol worship as the first two of the Ten Commandments prohibit the practice:

You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:3-6 [In the Taurat]).

What The Second Commandment Prohibits

The second commandment forbids the making and worship of false gods. In ancient times the application was to avoid making or bowing to worthless idols. But in more modern times, this kind of idolatry is not a problem, except in some traditional pagan societies.

But because man is in a spiritually fallen condition, idolatry persists in more subtle and less visible forms. Materialism, the substitution of things for God, is a clear example. Humanism, the faith in man rather than in God is another. False religion is probably the most common kind of idolatry and most practitioners do not realize their worship is unacceptable to a holy God.

It is the fear of violating this commandment that underlies the question “How can God have a Son?” People rightly fear idolatry and need to understand who Isa al-Maseeh really is before they can give him the honor he deserves.

Here is the much needed truth: when we rightly understand the commandments, we will give Isa al-Maseeh the honor he deserves.

What is the second commandment telling us in the modern world to do? It is really a command to forsake all created gods in order to exclusively worship the Creator God.

Let  me explain. There are two very different kinds of theology. First, there is the kind of theology we create. It is often called natural theology. It is the kind of thing we can discover, create, deduce or make up. It might be called “discoverable truth.”

The second kind of theology is very different. It comes from revealed truth. It cannot be gotten through mere human effort. No amount of reasoning, experimentation, searching or speculation will yield it. It comes from God alone, not from human effort or ability. If God doesn’t give it, we can never get it.

So I am saying that the law of God forbids not only making false gods of wood, stone or gold, but also creating our own ideas of god. False ideas of God are also idols. We must not worship our created gods, the gods of natural theology. We are to worship God only as he reveals himself.

Here is a chart that compares the two kinds of theology:

created god

god as we imagine him

through extra-biblical means

limited by our conceptions

man-made

unpredictable

can only do what we think he can

conforms to the small minds of sinful men

naturally and morally finite

not holy

not loving

inherently false and idolatrous

Creator God

God as he reveals himself

revealed in the Bible

infinite beyond our conceptions

uncreated

unchanging

all-powerful

confounds the wise

infinitely great and good

perfectly holy

perfectly loving

inherently worthy of all worship

I have gone through this long explanation in order to show the assumptions and theology that underlie the question “How can God have a Son?” If we are really saying “God can’t have a Son because that doesn’t fit in with my ideas of what God can and can’t do,” then I need to consider whether or not I am limiting myself to the god of my conception.

On the other hand, if I am willing to allow God to be God and in humility to be open to his self-revelation, I can escape the confines of god as I imagine him to be. If I am willing to allow God to be God, I will ask the question “Can God have a Son?” I will be willing to let God answer the question and not insist on trying to impose my answer on him. I will be able to approach him without in effect telling him what he can and cannot do.