Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Fish tank parable illustrating God's power to save

Roland Clarke

There was a man who decided to invest in a state of the art aquarium which became his pride and joy. One day he came home to find his beloved fish in grave danger from a predator – a huge, sinister snake was poised on the edge of the fish tank intent on devouring its occupants. The horrified man rushed to the rescue. As the snake was just sliding into the water he dived head first into the fish tank! Wait a minute. That's not what happened. The man was too big! Doing this would shatter the fish tank and the fish would die. No, no, no. The man rushed across the room and plunged his arm into the fish tank. Grabbing the snake by the neck, he threw it to the ground and stamped it to death. It took a few days for him to recover from the painful fang bite in his heel but he regretted nothing. His beloved fish were saved! This is a dramatic story, and the telling of it, keeps everyone spellbound.

Unwrapping the story

The prophet Isaiah throws light on this story when he says, “The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him.” (Isaiah 59:15-16, NLT)

What does this modern parable mean? There's a clue in Isaiah 49:6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob … I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Here God promises to send his Messiah to the rescue.

Another clue is found in the account of the miraculous birth of Christ – a story recounted in the Bible and also the Qur'an. It is interesting to see how the baby was named. The name was chosen by God and revealed through the angel. The name Yeshua-Jesus means “The Lord is salvation.” As we would expect, this corresponds with Isaiah's prophecy. (49:6)

How can we help unsaved friends (Muslims) think through the meaning of this parable? This story helps people understand the perplexing words of Jesus, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father ... I and the Father are one.” It lays a helpful foundation for explaining Christ's deity and the miraculous way he demonstrated saving power – a prerogative reserved exclusively for God in the Old Testament. (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 7:48-50 & Isaiah 43:1-13; 45:21-23; cf. Surah 3:135)

Perhaps you feel hesitant to share this story with a Muslim friend, thinking he/she might object to describing God using a physical description like “arm.” Most Muslims will intuitively realise this imagery is not meant to be taken literally, just as the “face of Allah” in the Qur'an does not imply that God has a human face.

The word “arm” occurs 91 times in the OT, and most of these are metaphorical descriptions of God's power. If necessary, you could further clarify using three examples: Jeremiah 32:7 speaks of God's powerful arm creating the heavens and the earth. Exodus 6:6 tells how God rescued the Israelites with his mighty arm. King David said in Psalm 20:6-7, “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Like the parables which Jesus frequently told, this one conveys a simple idea with an undeniable ring of truth, yet on further reflection, it raises thought provoking questions. As with any parable, deeper discussion can lead to two possible responses: a person can harden his heart or he may be curious, eventually becoming hungry to know more about Jesus.

Some online articles that can help you understand this parable are:

Signposts to Paradise, Is there only one Savior God?, and Is God/Allah mighty to save?

Note: The way Christ exercised Divine saving power is just one facet of the parable that can be explored with your Muslim friend. The serpent imagery is another facet of this parable that is important to explain. Bear in mind, Muslims pray many times each day for protection from Shaitan, the pre-eminent enemy of mankind. (Genesis 3:15)

Feel free to ask me any questions you may have which are relevant to this article.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.