I was invited to present a lecture on Jesus of the Gospels on February 9, to the post-graduate and doctoral students of the Department of Islamic Studies at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia University. There I presented Jesus as the compassionate face of God, commenting upon the healing episodes and the parables of Jesus especially the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).
After my lecture, the audience invited me to comment upon the difference between the Qur’anic portrayal of Jesus and the Jesus of Christian faith. This gave me an opportunity to present the differences openly and sensitively. I affirmed that the differences in our faith traditions should not be overlooked.
One of the students who was appreciative of my stand, commented that any serious dialogue should consider both similarities and differences. Another student stated that a dialogue that obfuscates differences would either be shallow or insincere. Their comments made me feel that we were into the serious business of real dialogue.
One student then suddenly shot a question on the Trinity. I had expected this! I felt at that moment, that I was being called to give witness to my faith. I thanked the student who asked the question and added that I would share with them our Christian response to the revelation given in Jesus Christ. I felt in my heart that they had the right to ask this question and I was duty bound to present my faith delicately and honestly. We had already accepted the foundational reality that we profoundly differed from one another in understanding the nature of Jesus.
I told them that the doctrine of the Trinity did not arise out of speculation about God but developed out of the effort to digest historical experiences. The biblical faith affirms that in the Jewish Scriptures God was encountered as the Father of Israel, the Father of the peoples, and the Creator of the world. God was not encountered as an abstract God! The New Testament revelation affirms that in Jesus Christ one meets a man who both knows God and professes to be the Son of God.
I told them that our Christian faith affirms that in Jesus one finds God in the shape of the Ambassador who is completely God, and not some kind of intermediary being.
At the same time, together with us, he calls upon God as Father. On the one hand Jesus Christ calls God as his father and speaks to him as someone facing another person, and on the other hand he is himself God as man in human form and nature. He is the real proximity of God coming to meet us; God-with-us, Emmanuel. As a mediator, Jesus Christ is God himself and ‘man himself’, both with equal reality and totality. Jesus Christ as the mediator guides us towards God.
This means that God meets us in Jesus Christ not as the Father but as Son. This new experience of God is followed by another experience, namely, the experience of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in us, in our innermost being.
The fact that I teach the course on the Trinity every year was certainly profoundly helpful in stating my faith without fear or hesitation that morning.
As a response to this sharing of my faith, a student responded in a positive way, describing how he understands Jesus from the Muslim point of view. We recognised the profound differences. I made a final comment saying that we Christians and Muslims should not be afraid of presenting our beliefs in one another’s presence when we are asked to give an account of our faith, for it is in that very process that we come to recognise the features of the God whom we both worship, though differently. It was indeed a unique experience for all present.
Dr. Fr. Victor Edwin SJ is Lecturer on “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations”, Vidyajyoti College of Theology, New Delhi. Director of the Vidyajyoti Institute of Islamic Studies (VIDIS), he serves as Secretary of the Islamic Studies Association (ISA) and edits ISA quarterly “Salaam”.