At the last RoundTable event, we addressed the topic of “Salvation in Islam and Christianity.” Apart from all the other gems that he shared, Bernie shared one particular story that has been used in the Muslim World to share the Good News from a Trinitarian perspective. It is shared in the However, it’s worth noting that there is no human analogy or illustration that can adequately explain Trinity because it is simply beyond human faculty.
The story of Ahmed and Mabruuk
A man named Ahmed was walking through the desert and he fell into a deep hole. Try as he might, he could not get out of the hole because the sand was very soft. In fact the more he tried, the worse it got, as the sand flowed down to cover him up to his waist. He called for help. Soon a face appeared at the top of the hole. The person said: “I cannot come down and help you because I am only one – I am alone. But I will send you down a book.” And he lowered a book which told the man how to build steps out of the sand, and hopefully he might save himself.
Nearby a second man named Mabruuk had fallen down a similar hole. He also tried to get out. Soon he was buried up to his waist. He called for help. Soon three faces appeared at the top of the hole – they said: “We will work together to save you.” One of them was very brave and he said: “I will come down and help you.” One was very strong and he said: “I will hold the rope.” The gentle one said: “I will blow cool air into the hole to refresh you.” The brave one was lowered down by a rope held by the strong one. He dug the trapped man out and tied the rope around his waist. The two above pulled him to safety. But in the movement the sand collapsed, and the brave one was buried. Although Mabruuk had been saved, the other had died in his place. But the strong one and the gentle one said: “We will not abandon him to the grave.” The two dug for three days and found the one who had saved the man. He was dead and buried. But the one who was very gentle breathed into his lungs and now by the power of God, he was alive again. There was great rejoicing.
But the first man, Ahmed, still in his hole nearby, continued to dig.
Which of these two men would you rather be: Ahmed who was still trying to save himself by his own efforts, or Mabruuk who was already saved by the efforts of some-one else?
Of course, for majority of you, the story goes without needing explanation. However, for some of you who are not sure what the story means, let me explain briefly.
Ahmed’s story represents the salvation in Islam, or in many other religions. We have fallen into sin and trapped in our own sins. What is coming is impending death. Allah or God sees the situation, and gives us a Holy book that tells us what to do in order to save ourselves. The holy book contains all the commandments and the system that God uses to judge human beings. You have to do all the good things said in the book, while at the same time avoiding all the bad things. Then if in the end your good outweighs your bad, you will save yourself. Otherwise, hell awaits you.
However, the problem is that good deeds can never compensate for sin. Imagine if Jack had murdered John (apologies to all Jacks and Johns out there). In the court of law, Jack could not say, “Judge, I have been a great citizen all my life. I pay my taxes. I don’t speed when I drive. I never steal money. I always tell the truth. I have done all the good things. So, surely this one incident is easily outweighed by all the good deeds I have done. So, surely, you have to let me go.” Now, if the judge let Jack go free, what would you say? That the judge is a good and fair judge? Of course not. You wouldn’t think the judge is a good judge, let alone John. John would be furious if that happened because justice would not have been served.
Why is that the case? There are two things here.
Firstly, all your good deeds you do cannot be considered a ‘credit’ in your account. As a human being, you are supposed to live that way. That’s just what is expected of you. I don’t give my children a reward based on the number of days they go to school in a year. No. That’s what they are expected to do. Furthermore, you must ask the question why you are doing good. If you are doing good because you want to look good, or you want to get a reward, or you want to feel good about yourself, then wouldn’t that be a selfish motive? If that’s the case, then your good deed is no longer good deed, wouldn’t it? That is why the Bible can say “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). No one does good out of pure motive because the problem is in the heart.
Secondly, every crime must be punished in order for justice to be served. The justice system may differ from place to place, and the punishment may differ from crime to crime, but penalty must be administered. With regards to our sin, the punishment is death because we have offended and rebelled against the Almighty Eternal God. That is why the picture here is Ahmed trapped in his sin can never save himself.
Mabruuk’s story represents salvation in Christianity. His situation is the same as Ahmed but with a huge difference. The difference is that one of God’s Three Persons came down to rescue Mabruuk. He died in the place of Mabruuk to fulfill the justice requirement so that Mabruuk can go free. Jesus Christ died on the cross to take our punishment for our sins. He was buried in a tomb to show that He really died. Then on the third day, He rose again from the dead. He cancelled the debt of our sins and defeated the power of death so we can be freed from sins and we will live forever with God. God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son (Jesus) work together in our salvation to uphold God’s Mercy, Love, Justice, and Holiness at the same time.
Is that the only way to save us? We do not have any other ways because whatever ways we can think of would not be adequate in securing our salvation.
Can God have any other way to save us? Perhaps. However, in His wisdom, He has revealed to us only one way, which is through His Son Jesus Christ. So, instead of asking is there any other way, perhaps it’s best to thank God that He shows a way at all, and cling on that way, no matter how narrow it is, knowing that we have no other hope apart from Jesus.