The other day I was discussing the qur’an with a Muslim. Somehow we got sidetracked and started talking about the differences between Sunni orthodoxy and the Mu’tazila: whether God needed to reveal himself to mankind, or whether He was completely sovereign and whether His sovereignty was uncompromised by revelation.
Naturally your man asserted the latter, far be it from any Muslim to think that God needed to live by any rules or restrictions. My view was entirely Jewish: if God wanted to reveal himself to mankind, the least He needed to do is speak human language. That is a restriction.
But surely this was entirely sovereign and voluntary! A matter of completely free choice on Gods part, my Muslim friend claimed. This was a point that I agreed with, but it wasn’t the point I was trying to make. My point was the possibility of God bowing down, sinking to His knees -so to say- the way an adult does to speak to a child. Revelation required that. If God decided to reveal Himself, it also ment He chose to lower Himself to a more or less human level, or at least a level where He could be understood by humans.
He agreed with me on that. After a short silence he said something that startled me: ‘Basically, that’s the Christian idea of the Incarnation: God choses to become human, because communication requires one to become the other, sort of.’
Once we had established that this was probably the first time in history that a Muslim and a Christian had found a way to agree on the idea of the Incarnation, there were further comparisons to be made.
Christians differ from other religions in that they drive the idea of the Incarnation to its utmost consequence: God becomes fully and extensively human, to a point where He even shares their ultimate fate: death. But there is no essential difference between that and other revelation-religions that ‘require’ God to bow down and become in whatever way ‘incarnate’. In Islam God has become a book, an object just as helpless as a Jewish peasant under Roman rule, my companion observed.
I thought he was referring to my compatriot Geert Wilders, who suggested ripping a page from the holy book in his cut-and-paste masterpiece Fitna. But no: he was referring to the holy text, which was just as helpless against mullahs, tollahs, muftis and ordinary believers as its physical pages were against platinum blonde politicians. ‘Still’, he admitted, ‘a ripped page is nothing like a crucifixion.’
And then it dawned on me: we were even closer than we thought. Because nothing as cruel as a crucifixion was necessary according to Christian doctrine, at least not for our salvation: a lacrima infantis, ‘a tear from the baby’ would have sufficed to save mankind. Even though a tear would not have constituted much communication between God and mankind, there is room for lesser evils than a crucifixion. Just a tear was enough to make God incarnate.
We finished our teas and took leave of each other in the happy certainty that we had solved the problems of the world that were upon us and in the equally but less happy certainty that surely, nobody would heed our advice on this.