Righteousness in the Balance

Notes on Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner’s
Unveiling Islam
Chapter 9: Salvation (Mathematical Righteousness)

“Then those whose balance [of good deeds] is heavy,–they will be successful. But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide.”
surah 23:102-103 (as quoted in Caner & Caner p. 149)

In Islam, righteousness is measured as on a balance. The righteous man is the one whose good deeds outweigh his bad deeds when the time of judgment comes.

One might think that this is a kinder, more merciful idea of righteousness than Christianity’s conception of righteousness. Christianity declares that in order to be righteous, one must be completely without sin. There is no leniency towards bad deeds, no way for bad deeds to be “made up.” What’s more, Christianity affirms the doctrine of original sin–saying that even the tiniest baby who has of yet done nothing good or bad is sinful. According to Christianity, we are all born stained–and even the smallest blot excludes one from heaven.

Original sin is a harsh doctrine. The absolute holiness of God is a harsh doctrine. That God cannot tolerate sin is a harsh doctrine. One cannot believe in the absolute depravity of man and the absolute holiness of God without hating his flesh. One cannot believe in the Christian doctrine of righteousness without being forced to depend upon Christ for his righteousness.

Christianity posits that man is helpless, stained, unable to attain to righteousness of himself. Islam, on the other hand, suggests that man can achieve righteousness. All he need do is make sure that his good deeds outweigh the bad.

Which is where the difficulty comes in. If we could all keep a scale in our house where we could collect together our good deeds and our bad and weigh them out, then perhaps this conception of righteousness could give hope. We could clearly see that the balance is tipping in the wrong direction and do some speedy acts of righteousness to even the scale.

But we do not have a scale by which to judge our righteousness. Only Allah holds that scale. How are we to know the weight of our actions? I cannot begin to comprehend the consequences of my actions in the here and now–how am I to understand their consequence in the hereafter? How much heavier is murder than lying? Is giving to charity heavier than doing street cleanup in a disadvantaged neighborhood? I know not the density of my actions.

Under Islam, my only hope is to be eternally striving–striving against bad deeds and towards good deeds. But this striving neither eases the conscience nor gives assurance for eternity. It simply begets more striving.

Compare this to Christianity, where the scale is plainly set forth. Even our smallest sins are infinitely weighty. Even our most spectacular good works are infinitesimally light. There is no way for us to balance the scale.

If this were the only information we were given about righteousness, we would have reason to despair. Better to believe in Islam, where at least there is some chance of attaining to righteousness.

But this is not the end story in Christianity. For Christianity says that man is utterly fallen and utterly incapable of lifting himself up–but Christianity also says that God has provided a way for man to be righteous.

This week, we celebrate the Passover. This week, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This week, we celebrate Good Friday. We celebrate the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, absolutely righteous, without blemish. We celebrate the exchange that took place on the cross: our sins placed on Jesus, His righteousness imparted to us. We celebrate God’s righteous wrath poured out on Christ; His favor bestowed on us.

Christianity teaches man to despair of attaining righteousness by good works–but it offers a far better righteousness, a righteousness attained by surrender, by the work of God Himself.

If it were not for Christ, Islam’s conception of righteousness as a giant set of scales would be a far more merciful righteousness. As it is, the reality of the cross of Christ, purchasing righteousness for those with no hope of ever earning, makes the God of the Bible’s implacable holiness infinitely more merciful than Allah’s scales.

To achieve Allah’s righteousness, man must work tirelessly, without any assurance of reward. To achieve Christ’s righteousness, man must recognize the worthlessness of his own works and receive the righteousness that has been bought for him, with eternal assurance.

When I weigh Christ’s righteousness vs. Allah’s in the scale, there can be no doubt in my mind. Christ’s righteousness is far better.

Addendum (May 10, 2010): Ergun Caner’s testimony as a converted Muslim has been challenged by several bloggers who claim that he has grossly exaggerated the extent of his Muslim upbringing. Readers of this book ought to be aware that the Caners may or may not have the experiential knowledge of Islam that they claim to have, and should therefore be careful to test the statements found in this book against other reliable sources.

2 thoughts on “Righteousness in the Balance”

  1. Rebekah, this is a beautiful explanation of what Christianity is all about. I wish more Christian churches understood this – that it is Jesus’ righteousness that counts for us!
    I grow weary and discouraged when I attend funerals in other churches and hear about “what a good man (or woman) he (or she) was”, and I hear nothing about Jesus and his righteousness which covers the sin of the deceased and all of us.


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