Engraved Upon His Palms

A Muslim delights in reciting the 99 most beautiful names of God. According to a hadith the man who commits them to memory will get into Paradise (Sahih Muslim – 35.6475). If you travel among Muslims you may often see them fingering a string of prayer beads, either 99 in number for all the names of God, or 33 in number (the economy version!) with each bead representing three of the names.

The names are diverse and cover a wider range of attributes of God than are ascribed directly to him by the Christian Scriptures. He is both the Subduer and the Exalter; the Giver of Honor, and the Giver of Dishonor. He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing, and the Destroyer, as well as many things that a Christian would expect to see ascribed to God: The Eternal, The Omnipotent, The Creator, The Almighty, etc.

A Muslim once told me that the names of God are so important that God has even inscribed them on the palms of our hands. If we look at our hands we see lines upon them. On the left hand three lines, the first two of which come close together or meet between thumb and forefinger. On the right hand, the reverse. Now the inverted V symbol of the two lines that meet between thumb and forefinger are the Arabic numeral for the number 8. A single line on its own represents the number 1 just as we are familiar with it. So, on the left hand we have an 8 followed by a 1, and again the reverse on the right. 81 added to 18 results in the total of  99 on our palms. Not bad math for handprints! And all this to ensure that we do not forget the Lord!

By contrast the Christian Scriptures make it clear that God has not forgotten us. Speaking of Zion, the spiritual aspiration of all believers and the place to which all nations will come (Isaiah 2:2), the prophet speaks the word of the Lord: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. (Isaiah 49:16) This is the Lord God speaking of His compassion for His people and His desire for their salvation.

The Easter season serves as a reminder of the suffering that Christ endured for us. His broken body was hung upon a cross, held there by nails through hands and feet. He took our sin upon himself, bearing our punishment and so winning redemption for each of us. However, if we are inscribed upon the palms of His hands, surely He took us to the cross with Him and where He was nailed we were nailed with Him. Such is the compassion of our God, that He remembers us on the palms of His hands, takes us with Himself, to share our sufferings and bear our burdens.

And therein lies one of the great contrasts with the god who is revealed in Islam. Our God extends the grace of forgiveness to each one of us in loving faithfulness. He remembers us as He comes to live among us. On the other hand, the god of Islam wants to be remembered, but otherwise remains impersonal, remote and utterly transcendent!

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