Today is world liberation day. Jesus’ death at the cross means amnesty for all sins. The cordial invitation to celebrate this, starts with a question: Who’s son is Jesus?
This question raises excitement when reading ‘In the footsteps of the Prophet’ (2007) by islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan. Times Magazine named him one of the most innovative thinkers of the 21st century and he’s very popular among young muslims. At the start of his book Ramadan wants to show how good it is to be a muslim. To prove it, he points to a central figure for Jews, muslims and christians: Abraham.
Ramadan compares the way the Koran and the Bible speak of the test Abraham undergoes, when he has to sacrifice his son. According to Ramadan, the Bible says Abraham is entirely alone (Gen.22). There is absolutely no help from above up until the last moment. But in the Koran (Sur.37), Ramadan says, God accompanies Abraham with all sorts of signs of his presence, so as not to doubt Gods existence. Ramadan extends these concepts. He claims that western thinking is so dominated by tragic solitude, thus also doubt and guilt. That is in contrast to islam, according to Ramadan. It shows the presence of God where man is humbled.
Back to the Bible
Now, there is no easy comparison between the Bible and the Koran, but today I will join Ramadan for a while. I suspect he wants to kill two birds with one stone, at the least. On the one hand, Ramadan connects with western sense of dissatisfaction about their own, Christian past. The Dutch liberal Frits Bolkestein said sharply that the Gospel would preach a slave-mentality. Ramadan confirms these feelings and calls for recognition. Strike two: now that Christianity is done for in Europe, better religion, the islam, fills the void. It’s clear: in this discussion an appeal for the past of a culture isn’t going to help. Ramadans challenging position asks for a meticulous (re)reading of the Scripture.
God is trustworthy
Abraham has a unique position in the Bible. He is called the father of all believers (Rom.4:11&12). What do we see in the breathtaking test he undergoes? It’s more miraculous than Ramadan suggests. Abraham left with the assignment to sacrifice Isaac ánd with Gods concrete promise that Isaac was the promised son (Gen.15:4, 18:10, Hebr.11:18). Abram left in faith to a strange country, and waited for years for the son God promised, Isaac (Gen.12-21). In this test, Abraham sees two extremes. From experience with Gods promise, Abraham knew that Isaac would live! Abraham ‘said to himself that for God it must be possible to raise someone from the dead’ (Hebr. 11:19). This faith is so great, because God had yet to raise any one from the dead. Abraham trusts God to do anything, even the impossible. Apparently, that is what God wants to achieve. He wants to be known as the One you can depend upon. One who is to be trusted up until the absurd.
Jesus precedes Abraham
In this extreme test God shows Himself. God is not only after Abraham and Isaac. God called Abraham to be a blessing for all the world (Gen. 12:3). In a very special way, Abrahams test points to that blessing. Because not only is it that centuries later, Gods ways are about Self-surrender in Jesus Christ (Rom.16:25, Gal 3:13-16). Jesus himself says: ‘before Abraham came into existence, I am’ (John 8:58). Jesus, THE son of Abraham, preceded Abraham! This is the great mystery of Christian faith. He who is God, became man (John 1:14&18). The son of Abraham, is also the Son of God. God hasn’t left us alone, like Ramadan says. He has become like us in His son Jesus! This Jesus says that who follows Him must leave his mother and father (Luke 14:26). Abraham learned that when he went to a foreign land. This Lord says that who follows, must break with their children (Luke 14:26). Abraham had learned that in the test. Christ even says that who follows, must give up their own life. Indeed: trust into the absurd. Jesus says what God already said to Abraham in the test: trust Me in my concrete promise, then it will end well! Then you will find life, eternal life (John 11:25).
Gods Son crucified
Ramadan is right in saying that Western society doesn’t trust God anymore. So with what ‘signs of His presence’ (Ramadan) is God accompanying the West then? We don’t want to talk about guilt. At the same time, we are neck deep in debt, and whole societies are diswrought in the financial crisis. Let the West realise God hasn’t cut any slack with us: at Calvary Jesus carried the full wrath of God against all sins (Joh.3:36, Ef.2:3-5). Thus God restored faith Himself. The West wants individual freedom at the centre, and not a judgment in sight. At the same time we don’t know what to do with increase of violence on the Internet, around the football field and in the bars. The calls for higher punishments are heard more often. Let the West realise that God had forgiven us all our violations for Christ’s sake (Jes.53:5, Joh.3:18). Today, Good Friday, God puts us to the same absurd test as Abraham: trust Me in everything, then al will be well in the end!
A renewed acquaintance with Jesus the crucified is what the West needs. That’s better than filling the Western void with islam, like Ramadan suggests. Because what would we get if God doesn’t fulfil His promise in His Son? Here are three practical examples from my encounter with islam. Some time ago, I walked into a cultural centre and grabbed the first book I saw; an islamic manual for women. From the first line to the last chapter, the book is about religious duties. Good Friday is about Gods promise that all documents and regulations we have kept, are nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14)! The book was also about issues like treatment of all sorts of bodily hair, colouring clothing and the proper tone of voice. As far as God has said anything about that, Jesus took al these regulations with him to the grave (Kol.2:16,20-22). And why did a muslim once say to me that during ramadan he visits the mosque more often because then it counts extra? Jesus’ death makes us realise that even our faith is a gift from God (Ef.2:5&8, cf. Luc.22:32a&61). I also think of one muslima. After introductions from islamic and christian side about prayer, she noticed how remarkable it is that you can call God ‘our Father’. She sees who Jesus is and what He has done. Jesus reconnects the bond of trust with God (Rom. 8:15).
Thank you, Ramadan, for putting us in the right direction with the word ‘loneliness’. Indeed, today we commemorate Jesus was left alone by God and man. The Bible and Koran part ways here, in opposite direction. According to the Koran, Jesus was not crucified (Sur.4:157). Today is liberation day because God has given Himself in Jesus until death, and so made Himself equal to us all. In this way God gives us the blessing He already promised to Abraham (Gen.12:3, Gal.3:13-16). Jesus says after his resurrection that all that had been written in the commandments, by the prophets and the Psalms, would be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Gods work is on top of it all. So we deeply acknowledge the test of Abraham.
Jesus is called the founder and perfecter of faith (Hebr. 12:2), also of Abrahams faith. Not only was Christ the founder of every step Abraham took. What stopped Abraham at that most important moment, was Christ Himself thanks to the eternal Spirit as an immaculate sacrifice (Hebr.9:14). ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’ (Gen.22:8). In Abrahams answer the Spirit of Christ predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (1 Peter 1:10&11). Jesus said: ‘Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad’ (John 8:56). Then let the church pray today. That the West, and all who are lost from Gods way, get re-acquainted in His son and learn to trust. And that muslims and so many others who are familiar with Abrahams test, realise that was an echo: ‘He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things (Rom. 8:32)?
Translation Julia Kolbeek – Harmsen
 The Wall Street Journal of 04 June 2011(Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant of 24 December 2009).