100 Years Ago… – Dialogue between a Christian father and an Ahmadi Muslim on Jesus’ death


The Review of Religions [English], September 1922

M Afzal Makhdoom

Reverend Father: Jesus died for us – God’s son died for us. He died and we were saved.

I [M Afzal Makhdoom Sahib]: As a matter of fact, Jesus would have preferred to live in the world, if he could be saved. No doubt on his trial before Pilate, the Governor, he did not put in any defence, but it may be that the prosecution evidence was too strong against him, and he despaired of his case, especially when his disciples could not be trusted by him. 

Even assuming that he died for an idea, there are many other men in the world who have died for an idea. But certainly, Jesus did not care a fig for giving salvation to the whole world as he did not give away his life willingly, as history shows:

It is given in Mathew (26:37-46), “(Then Jesus) began to be full of anguish and distress and said to them (his disciples), ‘My soul is crushed with anguish to the very point of death, wait here and keep awake with me.’ Going forward a short distance, he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou willed.’ 

Then he came to the disciples, and found them asleep, and he said to Peter, ‘Alas, none of you could keep awake with me for even a single hour. Keep awake and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is right willing, but the body is frail.’ Again a second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is impossible for this cup to pass without my drinking it, Thy will be done.’ He came again and found them asleep, for they were very tired. So he left them and went away once more and prayed a third time, again using the same words. 

Then he came to the disciples and said, ‘Sleep on and rest. See the moment is close at hand when the son of man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. Rouse yourselves. Let us be going my betrayer is close at hand.’”

These words show that Jesus thrice implored His Father to avert the cup of death from him.

Again, Mathew proceeds (27:45-50), “Now from noon until 3 o’clock there was darkness over the whole land but about 3 o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani?’ that is to say, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.’ ‘The man is calling for Elijah,’ said some of the bystanders. One of them ran forthwith, and filling a sponge with some wine put it on the end of a cane and was giving him the wine to drink; while the rest said, ‘Let us see whether Elijah is coming to deliver Him,’ but Jesus uttered another loud cry and died?”

This, another loud cry was, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” Jesus despairing of the help of God and overpowered by enemies died. Would you not say that he was killed by his enemies and did not die of his free will.

Reverend Father: There is no harm in admitting that Jesus was killed by God to save others.

I: Why did God kill him to save others? I believe you will admit so much that a Divine Being should be All-Powerful, All-Merciful and All-Just.

Reverend Father: Yes.

I: If God wanted to save humanity, could he not do so without sacrificing an innocent being. If he could not do so, he is not all-powerful. Even if a stone-hearted human being sees an innocent being killed, he bursts into tears. Why should God be so merciless as not only to remain unmoved at his murder but actually to order such a cruel death? This shows that he is not all-merciful. He is not all-just too by this ghostly act. It would be best to explain it by an example. There was a criminal case in England in which the facts were as follows:

A ship was wrecked in the sea and 3 survivors floated on a plank broken from the unlucky ship. They continued to float on the plank for about 6 days and no ship could be seen by them to save them. Their bodily powers were exhausted, and it seemed certain that all would die. Then they 3 counselled together that if one of them died, with his flesh the other 2 could be saved, as a ship might be seen after some time. If no ship was to be seen afterwards too, then another man should die for the single survivor and it is possible that at least one may live. 

Upon this, one of them consented to die for the two others. They lived on his flesh for 2 days. When a ship was seen, it picked the two survivors up. When they reached England, their relatives knew no bound of happiness, but alas! one of them in merriment told the story as to how they were saved. 

The story reached the police, whereupon both were arrested, tried and hanged to death in jail. The learned judges held that under the adversity the 3 survivors were in, England would have been happy if all the 3 had lost their lives, rather than some should have been saved by killing the other. 

What criterion, the learned judges asked, was there in the estimation of value of the lives of the 3 men? How could it be said that the life of the murdered man was less valuable than these of the survivors? 

I ask why do not the learned judges of the Supreme Court of England apply the same law to this case? Does not England expect in this case too that all should die rather than some should be saved by killing another? Was the life of Jesus less valuable than the lives of the Christians now living? I think no one will endorse this. Is God then less just to His men than the judges of the Supreme Court of England? If so, then he is not all-just.

Reverend Father: The doctrine of atonement cannot stand on reason. But why should reason be the guide in religion?

I: If reason should not be our guide what else can you depend upon? You cannot convert a hostile man from his wrong position except by reason. If all religions were to believe their dogmas without reason, there should be a deadlock, and no conversions among them are possible. 

Besides, it is curious that in ordinary affairs of life we should be guided by reason and in the most important matter of life, viz., religion, we should not use reason. 

As a learned man once said that he would rather go to hell by following reason than go to paradise by not following it. Our religion teaches us to test every dogma with the help of reason, and reason should be an important factor in religion.

Reverend Father: You seem to be correct. 

I: Let me once more appeal to reason. Christianity attaches too much importance to a few moments of Christ’s death, but it ignores the many years of his life. If God’s object was merely to save mankind by killing His only son, why did He not kill him at once? 

The lessons of his life cannot be ignored, if God is to be supposed an Intelligent Being. 

But Christ’s life is not followed by the Christian World. He remained a bachelor all his life, but we see that monks and nuns in Europe are now things of the past, and no Christian likes to follow it. In fact, if all were to follow it, the world may cease to exist. His commandments are definitely set at nought. He ordered Christians to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. Nowadays European Powers crush their enemies and curse their persecutors. They justify it by saying that the commandment is a mere theory as it is impossible to love one’s enemy. One may forgive his enemy, they argue, though that too is difficult, but one cannot love with one’s whole heart one’s enemy.

In the Sermon on the Mount, he commands men to be poor in spirit. But even cardinals in England have been known to protest strongly when one of them was not allotted a seat in a levee according to his order of precedence. 

Surely God could not intend to make Jesus’ life covering over a period of many years of no moment and worthless and a few moments of his death, as of paramount importance.

Reverend Father: It is impossible to support Christianity by reason. But can one speak to God and be satisfied about his religion, if one cannot be convinced by reason alone?

I: Islam can be supported by reason if you care to consider it. Besides, as you want, in this religion man can hold communion with God as Ahmad[as] of Qadian has been doing so many times. If one acts according to his behests, even now one can do so. 

The important events of the world which have lately happened, viz., the Great War, the Plague, the Partition of Bengal and numerous others were spoken by God to Ahmad[as] long before they occurred.

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original published in The Review of Religions, September 1922)

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