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Saint Augustine
Christianity and Islam: The Differences in the Societies They Create - The Third Major Difference: How does man relate to nature?
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Article Index
Christianity and Islam: The Differences in the Societies They Create
The First Major Difference: What is God?
The Second Major Difference: What is Man?
The Third Major Difference: How does man relate to nature?
The Fourth Major Difference: How do people get to heaven?
The Fifth Major Difference: What is the ideal future?
The Sixth Major Difference: What is divine revelation?
Conclusion and Endnotes
All Pages

The Third Major Difference: How does man relate to nature?

The image of God in man makes people different from everything else that God created, and it results in a divine expectation for people to be stewards of the rest of creation. In the Christian Scriptures it is written that on the sixth day of creation God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (Genesis 1:26).

Furthermore, in the Christian gospels it is written that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the storm (Acts 2:22). For Christians, Jesus is the behavior (way), character (truth), and will (life) of God incarnated into human flesh (John 14:6). Therefore, Jesus demonstrates the will of God for mankind (John 20:21). As a result, Christians believe that fighting against sickness, death, and natural disasters is fighting against evil and is according to the will of God.

How does belief about nature affect civic structures?

Western civilization has a rich heritage of struggling to improve and prolong human life with medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief. However, most of the world, and particularly most of the Muslim world, does not share the Christian passion for excellence and constant improvement in medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief. A natural disaster anywhere in the Muslim world almost always kills far more people than an equivalent disaster somewhere in the Western world.

When I was living among Muslims in Indonesia, I saved a man from drowning by performing mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration on him. The lifeguards at the pool had been performing the long discredited back-pressure-arm-lift method of resuscitation. I got him breathing again but not back to full consciousness, so he had to be taken to the hospital where the doctors and nurses thought that I had sucked the water out of his lungs in order to revive him. An article in the paper the next day said that fortunately for the young man a foreigner happened to be there to give him assisted breathing while removing the water that he had swallowed.10

While serving among embedded military advisors in Iraq, I observed that it was very difficult for American advisors to persuade Iraqi soldiers and military leaders to wear protective equipment, like eye protection, body armor, and helmets during security operations. The Iraqi response was always, "Insyallah." They seemed to be saying that whether they lived or died was God's will, so  they did not need to bother with wearing protective equipment. Of course they will take cover behind walls or sandbags from direct fire, but bullets that are flying differ from those that might never fly. They perceive a difference between a bullet that is flying and one that only might fly. Potential hazards are left in God's hands, but when active combat ensues a Muslim soldier seeks cover and concealment.

Wearing protective equipment or trying to resuscitate a drowned man reveals a lack of spirituality and a lack of submission to God's will. From the Muslim perspective, every phenomenon in the world, other than man, is administered totally by God-made laws. All natural events obey God and submit to his will. They are said to be in the "State of Islam."11 That is very different than the Christian view. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation is in bondage to decay and waits patiently for restoration through the ones who are becoming children of God (Romans 8:20-22).

The word "Islam" comes from the Arabic root word "Salema" which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. At its essence, Islam is submission to the will of God and obedience to His law.12 If nature is in a state of submission to the will of God, then that means that sickness, death, and natural disasters are according to his will. According to Muslim thinking, only human beings have the capacity to rebel against the will of God. Mankind is invited to submit to the will of God and to obey God's law through the religion of Islam. Islam teaches that submission to the good will of God, together with obedience to his beneficial law, is the best safeguard for man's peace and harmony.

At its logical conclusion, this thinking means that resisting the forces of nature that manifest themselves in sickness, death, and natural disaster is equivalent to resisting the will of God. In the Christian view, nature itself has been disturbed by evil, and one of God's purposes for humanity is not only to struggle against evil in oneself, but also to struggle against evil in nature. In the Muslim view, however, God completely controls all of nature.

Islam does call upon humanity to struggle. The word for struggle is jihad.13 Muslims are called to jihad against everything that sets itself up against the will and law of God. Jihad can be an internal personal struggle against sin, and it can be an external communal defense of Islam. But Muslims are not called to jihad against death, sickness, and natural disasters the way that Christians are.14 Nature, for the Muslim, is still under the control and will of God.

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 April 2013 20:30