By Uzma Saeed
Several years ago, one of my very close relatives died leaving behind a pile of debt. Needless to say, his children were devastated. Their pain was two-fold; losing their beloved father and the unpaid personal loans he had taken from friends and family. He was an honest man but caught in a bad situation. Since he did not leave behind any assets to repay the debt, his children felt overwhelmed and helpless. Lenders, on the other hand, after the initial shock of losing the debtor, gave up the idea of ever receiving the money they had lent in good faith as no one expected the children to take up the debt of their father. Legally and morally the children didn’t have to repay the loan amount that their father had taken.
Here is a scenario… John enters a local 7-11 and empties the cash and walks away. As soon as he gets to the door, remorse hits him and he turns around, returns the money, and profusely apologizes to the owner. He promises to do whatever it takes to make up for his crime. The owner tells him that not only is he not going to accept John’s apology but he will have him thrown in jail. The last thing he tells him is that his sons and his grandsons and his great grandsons all bear the burden of John’s crime and they will all be punished.
Anyone with a sense of justice will be perplexed as to why someone would bear the brunt of someone else’s crime. We teach our children that we are responsible for our own actions. Then how can a child be punished for his father’s action? In civilized societies, the legal system gives protection from this ever happening, because it is unfair.
If we were to be legally liable for the crimes of our forefathers, then most of us would at least be paying the speeding tickets of our parents. Have you ever seen a mother getting arrested for her son’s DUI or a great grandson serving prison time for a crime his great grandfather committed? When any serious crime occurs, such as murder, fraud, kidnapping, or arson, it is only the criminal who is charged. Furthermore, what if multiple crimes needed to be paid for by the children of the criminal over time? When would the compounded payments for the crimes end?
On the other hand, humans generally agree that forgiving is a great virtue while holding grudges and being vengeful are negative characteristics. Which of these is more befitting of God? A God ceases to be God if he has the same weaknesses as His creation. Additionally, He Himself created man with weaknesses such that there are so many things that he can be tempted with like food, money, power etc. Then how can He penalize him in a way that even the innocent children are not spared from others’ burden? What makes this more problematic is that in Christianity, God does not punish the sons of Adam, but He punishes His own alleged son. This would be like a criminal going to court, and the judge saying he can’t pardon him unless he (the judge) puts his own son in jail.
All this can be logically explained with simple concepts. First and foremost, God is perfect with perfect attributes and one of His attributes is that He is All-Merciful and loves His creations. He is the most appreciative of His servants. He patiently waits for us to turn to Him and when we sin, all we have to do is sincerely repent to him directly and he accepts it.
Secondly, God is Just and desires justice. He would not lay one man’s burden on another and would not put an innocent man to death to expiate the sin of the sinners. In the eyes of God, perfect justice is for the person who committed the crime to bear the consequences of his own actions.
If someone believes in an unforgiving God, then my question would be “How can you love and have a close personal relationship with such a God knowing that if you slip, He will forever hold it against you?”
When Adam (peace be upon him) ate from the tree, he realized his mistake immediately and repented. God, the All-forgiving, forgave him immediately. The sin did not continue down the generations as the transaction was completed there and then and the sin was wiped away immediately with true repentance. If we say the original sin of Adam (peace be upon him) has somehow trickled down to you and me, then we can still seek forgiveness from the Most Merciful and He will forgive us. That’s all it takes. To say that He will not forgive even if we ask for it, would be against the Just nature of God.
Ultimately, every soul is responsible for its own actions and no one will bear anyone else’s burden. If someone were to sin, God does not need to sacrifice an innocent person in order to forgive. Some may argue that sin is so great that it requires a sacrifice. Muslims agree that some sins are indeed great, but God’s forgiveness is greater. If He wants to forgive, He simply does so without punishing or sacrificing an innocent person. Islam is a religion that is based on absolute unity of God and His ability to forgive all sins without an intermediary.
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