Don Carson shares the following story in his book, The God who is there.
My first degree was in chemistry and mathematics at McGill University in Montreal. Somewhere along the line I befriended a wonderful Pakistani gentleman. He was twice as old as I was. He had come to McGill to do a PhD in Islamic Studies. (McGill had, and still has, a very fine Islamic institute.) He had left his wife and two children behind in Pakistan, so he was lonely. Over time I befriended him. After a while it dawned on me that he was trying to convert me to Islam. I thought that I should return the favor, but I soon found myself out of my depth in debate, for he was a trained Muslim theologian while I was studying chemistry.
I remember walking with him one night down Mount Royal along University Avenue to Pine Avenue to catch a bus. He had agreed to come to church with me. He wanted to see what it was like. As we walked, he asked me, “Don, you study mathematics, yes?”
“If you have one cup and then you add another cup, how many cups do you have?”
Well, I was taking some mathematics courses, so I said, “Two.”
“If you have two cups and you add another cup, how many cups do you have?”
I said, “Three.”
“If you have three cups, and you take away one cup, how many cups do you have?”
I said, “Two.” So far I was hitting on all cylinders.
So he said, “You believe that the Father is God?”
“Yes.” Uh oh, I could see where this was going.
“You believe that Jesus is God?”
“You believe that the Holy Spirit is God?”
“So if you have one God plus one God plus one God, how many gods do you have?”
I was studying chemistry, not theology. How was I supposed to answer that? The best I could do was say, “Listen, if you are going to use a mathematical model, then let me choose the branch of mathematics. Let’s talk about infinities. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals what? Infinity. I serve an infinite God.”
He laughed good-naturedly. That was the level of our discussion and friendship. About November it suddenly dawned on me that he had never read the Christian Bible. He did not own one; he had never held one in his hands. So I bought him a Bible. He asked, “Where do I start?”
He did not know how it was put together. He did not know about the Old Testament and the New Testament; he did not know about the Gospels. And I did not know what to suggest to him. So I said, “Well, why don’t you start with John’s Gospel?” I showed him where it was, right after Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Coming, as he did, from Asia, he did not read books the way I would read a book. (How many pages can I get through tonight? The more the better!) No, he had a style of reading that proceeded slowly with many pauses for reflection, rereading, and wondering. And the passage he was beginning to think about was John’s prologue.
That Christmas I brought him home to my parents’ home, who at that point lived on the French side of our capital city, Ottowa, in a place called Hull. It transpired that my father had heart problems, and my mother and I spent most of our time in the hospital. My dear friend Muhammad was largely left on his own. By the end of the Christmas break, Dad was recovering nicely, so I asked to borrow the car so I could take Muhammad to see some sights in the capital city. We went here and there, and we ended up at our Parliament buildings. In those days there was much less security than there is now. We joined one of the guided tours – thirty of us being led around the buildings – to the rotunda at the rear where the library is, to the Senate chambers, to the House of Commons, to the rogues gallery of Canadian prime ministers from Sir John A. McDonald down, and so forth.
We finally returned to the central foyer, which is circled by some large pillars. At the top of each pillar is a little fresco where there is a figure, and the guide explained, as he pointed from one figure to the next, “There is Aristotle, for government must be based on knowledge. There is Socrates, for government must be based on wisdom. There is Moses, for government must be based on law.” He went all the way around. Then he asked, “Any questions?”
My friend piped up, “Where is Jesus Christ?”
The guide did what guides do under such circumstances. They simply say, “I beg your pardon?”
So Muhammad did what foreigners do under such circumstances. They assume that they have been misunderstood because of their thick accent, so he articulated his question more clearly and more loudly: “Where is Jesus Christ?”
Now there were three groups in the foyer of the Canadian Parliament listening to a Pakistani Muslim ask where Jesus was. I was looking for a crack in the ground to fall into. I had no idea where this was coming from.
Finally the guide blurted out, “Why should Jesus be here?”
Muhammad looked shocked. Picking up a line from the Bible verses he had been reading, he said, “I read in the Christian Bible that the law was given through Moses but that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus Christ?” The guide said, “I don’t know anything about that.” And I muttered under my breath, “Preach it, brother.”
Do you see how it looked to Muhammad? He was a Muslim. He understood about a God who has laws, who has standards, who brings terror, who sits in judgment over you, a God who is sovereign and holy and powerful. He understood all of that. But he had already been captured by Jesus, full of grace and truth, who displays his glory profoundly in the cross and becomes the meeting place between God and sinners because he dies the sinner’s death.