We had our regular Muslim-Christian dialogue this past Sunday. This month we were discussing divine sovereignty and human responsibility. How can God be sovereign over all things and yet still hold human beings accountable for their sin?
As ever, we discovered the entire universe revolves around the trinity. As ever, our Muslim friends struggled to understand the concept or its significance. We manfully pressed on explaining what the Bible reveals about God nonetheless.
What is interesting in these discussions is that we almost always get to the same point. There comes a point at which we simply have to say, I can’t say any more. I have shared with you what the Bible tells us about who God is: one being who subsists as three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and each is distinct.
We pointed to verses saying it is so. We highlighted that the trinity is implied from the very first verses of scripture. Who was God talking to or about when he said ‘let us make man in our own image?’ We pointed to how Jesus clearly claimed to be God. We pointed to how the Spirit is treated as God too. The Bible affirms one God, not three, yet three distinct persons each of whom are fully God.
But inevitably we reach the point where we can say no more. I repeatedly say that I cannot offer any analogy because there is nothing else in the created universe that is like God. Any picture I might offer will only lead to misunderstanding (and I point out some examples of such misunderstandings). I repeatedly say that I have never seen God (just like them) and I can only tell them what he has revealed about himself in scripture. If we can’t fully get our heads around it, that is neither here nor there.
And why should we be able to get our heads around it? God is not a puzzle to be solved. He is a being who has revealed himself to us. Indeed, the only way to know anything about him is if he reveals himself to us. So we can only believe about him what he has revealed.
I often ask my Muslim friends, can you explain everything about Allah? They always insist not. And how do they know anything about him at all? They affirm, only through what has been revealed. And does it matter whether they can fully comprehend everything revealed? Not really, they say. If God has revealed it, we believe it because only he can reveal himself to us. In the end, I say, that is all I’m saying to you about the trinity.
We can only know God by what he reveals about himself. It doesn’t matter whether we can fully comprehend everything about him. Nor does it matter whether he has revealed everything we might like to know about him. Ultimately, God reveals what he wants to reveal about himself and he tells us what we need to know about himself. Anything else might well be nice, but it clearly isn’t essential.
I am quite clear that some people appeal to mystery a bit quickly. They insist something is a mystery when the scriptures have revealed it to us or a bit harder thinking will make it apparent. But inevitably, there is a point where we do have to say something is a mystery. It is beyond what has been revealed. It doesn’t mean we can’t know anything about God, but it inevitably means we cannot know everything about God nor explain everything about him.
It does seem to me, if you were going to make a religion up or create a God, the trinity is not the natural thing you would invent. It seems far more likely to me that you would create a God we could more easily get our head around. And if you want to insist Jesus is divine, it is far easier to insist on tritheism than a trinity, if clarity and explanation are your main concern. I suspect this is why no other religion has ever come up with it. It is also a reason why I believe the triune God is more likely to be true. Why on earth would you make that up? Where would that idea come from? It certainly hasn’t been borrowed from anywhere else and it isn’t the most obvious answer to the theological questions involved unless this is how God has actually revealed himself. Ultimately, we either believe what the Bible reveals about God or we don’t.
Which inevitably leads us back to the only apologetic question that really matters: why should I trust the Bible above anything else? What grounds do I have to trust the Bible over the Qur’an? Why should I trust the Bible above the traditions of any religion, church or denomination? Why should I trust the Bible above my own human reason? Why trust the Bible at all? Crack that question, and it really doesn’t matter whether can fully comprehend the trinity or not. The only question is, if I can trust the Bible, what does it reveal about God?