The Complexity of the Trinity

After approximately forty articles, perhaps I have been remiss in not writing about one of the most contentious doctrinal issues dividing Christianity and Islam, the Trinity. Muslims often mention that the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible, and I had discussed that in a much earlier article, but have not yet attacked this issue head on. It is long past time to do so.

In Islam, Allah is indivisible, and his oneness is upheld as paramount. This concept is straightforward and easy to grasp, that Allah has no partners, is indivisible, and is one. Of course the concept of the Trinity is flatly denied. There are a few verses in the Qur’an that directly refute the concept of the Trinity. Perhaps one of the best known is as follows:

[4.171] O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector.

Of course, in Christianity, we believe God to be one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This idea of God as three-in-one seems baffling at first, but Jesus clearly taught about the nature of God in ways that astonished His listeners. The Jews were outraged at His words, because they knew exactly what Jesus meant when He referred to Himself as God’s own Son (John 5:18). Jesus responded in no uncertain terms that He and the Father were connected in a unique way that was much more integrated than His listeners could imagine (John 5:19, John 17:21). Still other passages talk about the Holy Spirit as eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omnipresent, (Psalm 139:7-8), and communicating not on His own, but somehow being interconnected with the Father and Son in enigmatic ways as well (John 16:13). There are many other passages in the Bible illustrating the deity of the Spirit such as Acts 5:3-4, and great treatises on the systematic theology of the Trinity are written elsewhere. Here we will take a more uncommon approach to the issue.

Is there a way to slice through these apologetic arguments? Indeed there is. Arguing over the concept of the Trinity is fruitless. While Christians believe in one and only one God, Muslims aren’t convinced when the concept of His Triune nature surfaces. This shouldn’t be surprising, since trying to comprehend the nature of God in a logical and systematic fashion by using human reasoning only is absurd. When Paul preached, he recognized that the mystery of God’s saving work transcended mere human reasoning (Galatians 1:11). More to the point, the Bible clues us into the fact that understanding deep spiritual truths about who God is requires the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

Accepting the truth of the Triune nature of God without the indwelling of the Spirit is impossible. Yet as humans we feel we can present strictly logical methods to prove the case, and it will be accepted through rational means. It is imperative to get past this misconception. Christian theologians have spent two millennia trying to correctly and accurately explain how God can be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously. Why would we expect a quick description or analogy to unveil the Triune nature of God to our Muslim friends unless the Holy Spirit is active and working?

Recently, when I visited a local mosque, I was asked about the Trinity. I was asked to consider the fact that in Islam God is very understandable. I was informed that Allah’s nature and makeup are simple and straightforward to comprehend. I couldn’t agree more.

In Islam, the description of Allah is easily grasped by basic logic alone. In Christianity, the description of God defies normal human explanation. In Islam, Allah’s makeup is simple and makes sense to the human mind. In Christianity, God’s makeup is complex and enigmatic, and it requires contemplation and spiritual wisdom to even fathom who He is. If God is a simple creature and thus easy to understand, then Islam has it right. If God is an incredibly complex entity and beyond normal human thought patterns, then Christianity has it right.

Each one of us must ask himself what kind of God we worship.

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5 Responses to The Complexity of the Trinity

  1. Jamie De Santis says:

    Good points made. I had two trains of thought develop after reading this post.
    1.How can God be truly giving if he is not willing to give away his most precious thing, namely the worship due unto him? In the Trinity, all His worship is given over to his Son, and Christ is also truly giving as he gives his life for sinners, so they may know God.
    2. Within God’s very nature there is a generous, sacrificial, and loving action (honoring his Son) we are invited to participate in through humbling ourselves( to also honor his Son) in keeping with the model established by God himself.

  2. Any 3-dimensional object is a trinity. It consists of three dimensions (length, width and height). If you remove any one of the dimensions, you must remove the entire object. Time is also a trinity. Time exists in future, present and past. Remove any of those three aspects and you have to remove all concept of time. Neither a three-dimentional object nor time can exist on only one plane. God is three-dimensional in Gen., 1:1. We have a plural (3 or more) God doing a singular action. If we remove any one of the dimensions of Elohim, we must remove the entire concept of God. The Hebrew word echad, which is translated “one” is a composite unity. An absolute unity is yachid. But yachid is never used in reference to God. Even in Dt. 4:6, “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one (echad) LORD” we have the Trinity mentioned twice. First, God is mentioned three times, twice as yahweh (LORD) and once as Elohim (plural, which in Hebrew is 3 or more). The second reference to God being a trinity is the use of elohim (God).

  3. Perhaps Arnobius of Sicca said it best, “It is not to be wondered at if Thou art unknown; it is a cause of great astonishment if Thou art clearly comprehended.”

  4. Jeanne says:

    Excellent article!

    FTA: “In Islam, Allah’s makeup is simple and makes sense to the human mind.” This is the complete opposite of the God of the Bible, who says:

    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
    9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    So are My ways higher than your ways,
    And My thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8

    Or this:
    “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor?” – Romans 11:33-34

    I also think of Job 38:4, when God responded, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”

    Further regarding the Trinity, Islam says that God has no son; this is actually inscribed on the ceiling of the Dome of the Rock — in Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. But in the Trinity, we see a relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we see love. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Furthermore:

    — “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 john 4:8)
    — “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
    — “We love him, because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19
    — “The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” – Jeremiah 31:3

    Of course, there are many other verses in the Bible about God’s love. But love is not one of Allah’s attributes. Who is there to love, after all? Allah does not have a relationship with anyone, even Muslims. Without relationship, there cannot be love. One person on his own cannot be love. And Allah is not love.

  5. Jeanne,

    I agree whole-heartedly. What particularly fascinates me is that when I talk to some Muslims, they do feel that they have a relationship with Allah. When I ask them about that relationship, they say it is based on the written word he has left for them. It’s akin to a father abandoning a child at birth, but leaving behind a letter for him to read while he grows up. We would accurately say that is no relationship at all; so I look forward to probing this further in the future.

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