‘God Forbid’ vs ‘Inshallah’

Yesterday I was being trained to protect myself from various forms of physical assault (which may occur in my present line of work), and it was striking how often the trainer, having described an example of something going wrong, tacked a little 'God forbid!' onto the end.

It's not exactly a phrase that I use, but it is fairly common, and it got me thinking about why we use it – what worldview is expressed by saying 'God forbid' and what that says about us and about our (historical) view of God.

And immediately I was struck by the contrast with the Inshallah of the Middle East (and Islamic nations in general).  Inshallah is used when someone expresses a wish or a preference but, rather than being presumptive, submits it to God's will: 'Can you come to my party?' 'Yes, inshallah.'  Our nearest equivalent is 'hopefully', with no reference to God.  The phrase is nearly always used in reference to something that someone wants to happen.

'God forbid', obviously, is the opposite.  When we have been worried or afraid or concerned about what might happen, we (in our culture) seem to have instinctively presumed that it is God's role to intervene, to protect us, so that all will be well.  The Arabic/Muslim world is far less presumptive.

The God of 'God Forbid' –
Genial, providential, permissive, responding to our wants.  A protective, cuddly God.

The God of Inshallah
Above our preferences, engendering humility and submission.  A high, authoritative God.

Big stereotypes I know, but to me it is interesting that Western Christianity rarely has the humble awe of the Eastern Churches or of Islam, which in turn tend to lack the personal, relational aspect of the Western Church.  In turn, we have relatively little respect for authority and leadership but a far less fatalistic view of the future.


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