Introducing the Muslim to the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Trinity [1]

by Ernest Hahn


  1. What the Holy Trinity Is Not
  2. Understanding God as One Islamically in the Light of His Eternal Essence and His Eternal Attributes
  3. Understanding and Experiencing the Holy Trinity Biblically
  4. The Holy Trinity: A Short Story of God’s Love
  1. Further Comments from Muslims on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity
  2. Revelation as Engagement of the Eternal with the Temporal
  3. The Just Vengeance
  4. On Jesus the Messiah’s Resurrection from the Dead
  5. The Atonement and the Nature of God
  6. God as Trinity
  7. Citation on Behalf of Hon LCol John Weir Foote, VC, CD as a Recipient of the Victoria Cross



During formal Muslim-Christian meetings or casual conversation Muslims often ask Christians to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. No doubt, some Muslims, bewildered by this doctrine, genuinely seek to understand what Christians understand by this doctrine. On the other hand, many other Muslims, even before asking Christians this question, are confident that they already understand the doctrine and its error. They have this confidence, they may add, because they are sure that the Qur’an itself, as God’s infallible Word and final Revelation for the world, addresses the doctrine and rejects it. Further, they may continue, the doctrine of the Trinity is irrational, blasphemous and a travesty of the true and simple doctrine of God’s unity as Islam upholds it.

True, Christians will respond, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity does challenge their understanding of God. (And what a treasure it holds!) But, they ask Muslims, does the Qur’an itself really address and reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity? Have Muslims, generally speaking, really studied and understood what the Qur’an actually says about the Trinity? Even more, have Muslims sought to understand the Biblical basis that underlies and informs any serious Christian formulation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Moreover, they may continue, is the doctrine of God’s unity, as manifested in the history of Islamic theology and Islamic philosophy, so wonderfully simple and free from all plurality, complexity and difficulty, as Muslims often assert or assume? Is Islam’s confession that God is One (or God is one) so simple that Muslims may equally confess that One is God, both are equal and identical, that each is no more and no less than the other, that nothing remains to be said about Him? It is on the basis of such questions and assumptions of many Muslims that we wish to consider here: 1. What the Holy Trinity Is Not; 2. Understanding God as One Islamically in the Light of His Eternal Essence and His Eternal Attributes and 3. Understanding and Experiencing the Holy Trinity Biblically.


1. What the Holy Trinity Is Not

A. The Christian theological term “Trinity” (Tri-unity) does not mean “tritheism” (tri-theism, “three gods”), is not equal to “tritheism” and must be distinguished from “tritheism”. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not mean that Christians affirm the existence and worship of three gods. There is no evidence for this in the Bible or in classical Christian creeds; rather, there is massive evidence against it. Nor does it rest on any ancient belief system such as the ancient Egyptian belief in three gods: Osiris, Isis and Horus, or Hindu belief in Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity in Christian understanding is a defence of monotheism against atheism, bitheism, tritheism and polytheism or any form of shirk (idolatry), not to speak of agnosticism.

B. It is true, as some Muslims have noted, that the term “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible. [2] Nor, despite the misunderstanding and, on occasions, even the mistranslation of some Muslims, does it occur in the Qur’an ! However, is it not possible that Muslims and others might understand the following Quranic verses to refer to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind:
Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified!
It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right.... (Pickthall translation, 5:116)

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God.... (5:73)

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion.... The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary was only a messenger of Allah and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” — Cease: (It is) better for you! — Allah is only One God.... (4:171) [3]

In response to the above passages, please note:

1. In verse 4:171 Pickthall correctly translates the original Arabic “thalathatun" as “three”. However, Yusuf Ali incorrectly translates “... Say not ‘Trinity’: Desist: …” [4] Here, happily, the new translation of the Qur’an from Saudi Arabia, heavily dependent upon Yusuf Ali’s work, corrects Yusuf Ali by translating “three”. [5]

2. A portion of Yusuf Ali’s commentary on 4:171 (Note 676) reads: “The Doctrines of the Trinity, equality with God, and sonship, are repudiated as blasphemies.” The same Saudi edition of the Qur’an, while happily correcting Yusuf Ali’s translation of "thalathatun” sadly reproduces Note 676 as commentary on 4:171! [6]

3. A reference on p. 468 in the Index of Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur’an reads “Trinity, doctrine of, rejected, 4:171; 5:73”. Both verses remain wrongly translated. [7] Probably no other English translation and commentary of the Qur’an has enjoyed greater popularity than Yusuf Ali’s and his Notes. If so, how much greater the misunderstanding which its mistranslation promotes — to the detriment of both its Muslim and non-Muslim readers! (Would Muslims call this tahrif [“textual corruption”] of the Qur’an?)

What is the Muslim reader to infer from this? Do the different translations of "thalathatun" really matter? Does the Qur’an represent the Trinity as Christian creeds have represented it? Or does the Qur’an merely repudiate a “trinity” expressed as “three” (4:171) or the idea that “Allah is the third of three” or, incorrectly translated by Yusuf Ali, “God is one of three in a Trinity” (5:73) or “Jesus and Mary as gods beside Allah” (5:116), “trinities” which Christians would also repudiate as blasphemies because they sharply differ from the universal and well-established doctrine of the Holy Trinity throughout the Christian world?

Likewise the matter of “Sonship”: If the Qur’an repudiates Jesus’ title “Son of God” as blasphemous because it implies a physical relationship between God and Mary, then so does the Christian repudiate this title as blasphemous for the same reason — and as vehemently as the Muslim. In fact, the Bible never calls Jesus the Son of God because He is born of the Virgin Mary, i.e., Jesus’ virgin birth does not make Jesus the Son of God. Christians, like Muslims, confess that God creates; they agree that God does not procreate, that He is not male or female, and that He has no consort (6:101,102; cf. 72:3; 19:88-92). Nor does Surah 112 (“He begetteth not nor was begotten”), given the Qur’an’s understanding of Jesus’ Sonship and/or the normal Muslim interpretation of it as carnal, address the Biblical doctrine of Jesus’ Sonship. Similarly, Christians would agree with such Quranic passages (19:35,92) that state that God would never take (adopt) a son, i.e., He would never deify a human being (ta’lih). For again, given this understanding, the sonship which the Qur’an here rejects does not address the Sonship of Jesus which the Bible affirms. [8]

The Muslim who seriously seeks to understand the Christian doctrine of the Sonship of Jesus the Messiah (indeed, a vital part of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity) and the Trinity ought eventually to face such critical questions: Does the Muslim — does even the Qur’an — reject doctrines of Jesus’ Sonship and the Trinity which Christians do not affirm? Or do Christians affirm doctrines of Jesus’ Sonship and the Trinity which (with or without Yusuf Ali’s comments) the Qur’an does not reject? How many Muslims, in past and present, have assumed that the Qur’an correctly represents the actual Christian teachings about the Sonship of the Messiah and the Holy Trinity which Christians have believed and continue to believe! Should Muslims, too, as well as Christians and others, heed the Quranic command: “Do not exaggerate in your religion …” (4:171), especially when Muslims assume or claim that the Qur’an clearly addresses and refutes the Christian doctrines of Jesus’ Sonship and the Trinity — as we have seen in footnote 3? True, the Qur’an does not affirm the Christian doctrines of Jesus’ Sonship and the Trinity. Yet neither does it address them nor reject them.

Perhaps, then, when Muslims question Christians about the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ Sonship and the Trinity, Christians should respond by asking: What does the Qur’an say about these doctrines? What do you think Christians understand about these doctrines, both the Quranic and the Biblical representations of these doctrines? [9]

Moreover, as already noted above, do Muslims sometimes wonder how many Muslims (and others) have been misled by Yusuf Ali’s translations above?

C. All Christians, like Jews and Muslims, confess that God is one. By this confession, however, surely they do not reduce God to a mathematical formula, thereby “confounding ontological unity with mathematical unity”. [10] Nor do Christians reduce the Trinity to the absurd mathematical equation of 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. If the Trinity is a mathematical absurdity for Muslims, then, as has often been asked in response, what about 1 X 1 X 1?

In any case, Part 2 demonstrates that Muslims, too, while confessing that God is One, acknowledge the limitations of this simple confession and that, Quranically and Islamically, God is more than the figure one. In fact those Muslims who have seriously sought to define the theological intricacies of God’s unity on the basis of Islam’s source materials have found their task exacting, their definitions abstruse and complex and, often enough, their respective confessions in serious conflict — all of them, it might be imagined, hardly free from compromising the unity of God.


2. Understanding God as One Islamically
in the Light of His Eternal Essence and His Eternal Attributes

Islam rests solely on its doctrine of tawhid, meaning literally “making one”, theologically “making God one”, confessing that God alone is God and there is no other. Yet, even given the generally acknowledged centrality and universality of their confession that God is One, informed Muslims have clearly recognized its ultimate inadequacy and, accordingly, have engaged in serious discussion and even controversy among themselves in their attempts to provide an Islamically more comprehensive and acceptable definition of the unity of God. They surely would have asked: Who or what is the one God? Who is the one God in relation to Himself? Who is He in relation to the whole creation? Is creation eternal, even as He is eternal? Is He a unity in the sense that He alone exists and encompasses all? Is He a unity in the sense that in Himself He is free of all plurality, differentiation and complexity? Is He a unity in the sense that He is unique, transcendent, totally different from and, therefore, unknowable to His creation? Or ought His unity to be defined also in terms of meaningful relationship between Him and His creation, especially humanity, and yes, meaningful relationship even within Himself? Such questions have claimed the minds of great Muslim theologians, philosophers, scientists, and mystics. Here, for the most part we confine our discussion on this topic to the response of the theologians, specifically to two groups among them known as the Orthodox and the Mu‘tazilah. [11]

Naturally Muslims have turned to the Qur’an and Hadith for answers to such questions and concerns. There they noted that, along with His Beautiful Names, God is called the Knower, the Living, the Mighty One and concluded that He possessed the actual attributes of knowledge, life and power. In time, Muslim theologians began to speak of seven or eight attributes or even more.

All Muslims agreed God has attributes, though they differed as to which ones and their number. Then such critical questions would arise: Granted that God has these attributes (sifat), they said, but how do these attributes relate to God’s eternal essence (dhat)? Are they equated with His essence, or are they somehow different and yet related to His essence? If they are equated with His essence, then does essence = knowledge = life = power, etc., in reference to God? Or if they are eternal as His essence is eternal, yet are different from His essence, is God a compound of eternals: eternal essence and eternal attributes? Do separate eternal attributes subsist within the eternal essence? Do His eternal attributes somehow add something to His essence and is their addition proportionate? And, what is the relation of these attributes of God, who is One and “there is nothing like Him” (laisa ka mithlihi shay’un), to their human counterparts?

While discussing the above concerns we will focus, as already noted, on both Orthodox and Mu‘tazilah responses to the following questions: 1. How are God’s attributes related to God’s essence and the unity of God? 2. How are these attributes to be defined? 3. More especially, what is the Qur’an’s relation to God and to His Word? One classical Orthodox response reads:

He (God) has attributes from all eternity subsistent in His essence. They are not He nor are they other than He. And they are Knowledge and Power and Life and Might and Hearing and Seeing and Willing and Desiring and Doing and Creating and Sustaining. [12]

And Speech. He speaks with a kind of Speech which is one of His attributes, from all eternity, not of the genus of letters and sounds. It is an attribute incompatible with silence and defect. Allah speaks with this attribute, commanding, prohibiting, and narrating. The Qur’an, the Speech of Allah, is uncreated and it is written in our volumes, preserved in our hearts, recited by our tongues, heard by our ears, [yet] is not a thing residing in them. [13]

Thus, the Orthodox stated that a series of distinct and divine attributes, described negatively as “not He, nor are they other than He”, subsists within God’s essence — plurality within unity.

On the other hand, many Muslims, representing a Mu‘tazilah position, contended that God’s unity was absolute and pure, and rejected any resemblance between God and His creation. Thus they also rejected the existence of eternal attributes as separate and eternal entities subsisting within the eternal essence of God. [14] They said that the Orthodox, who believed in the plurality of eternals, negated God’s unity and were guilty, as were the Christians, of idolatry!

Nowhere was the controversy more highlighted than in the varying Muslim responses to the nature of the Qur’an as the revelation of God. Given the Mu‘tazilah understanding that God’s unity is absolute, allowing for no divisibility or multiplicity, the Mu‘tazilah concluded, understandably, that the Qur’an is the created Word of God. This conclusion the Mu‘tazilah shared with the Khawarij, the Murji’ah and other sectarian movements within Islam. (See also Qur’an 43:3,4 and 85:21,22.) [15]

In contrast, as noted from Taftazani’s Orthodox Creed above, the Qur’an is the Speech or Word of God and is uncreated. Another Orthodox creed confirms this:

We confess that the Kuran is the Speech (Word) of Allah, uncreated, His inspiration and revelation, not He, yet not other than He, but His real quality, written in the copies, recited by the tongues, preserved in the breasts, yet not residing there. The ink, the paper, the writing are created, for they are the work of men. The Speech of Allah on the other hand is uncreated, for the writing and the letters and the words and the verses are manifestations of the Kuran for the sake of human needs. The Speech of Allah on the other hand is self-existing, and its meaning is understood by means of these things. Whoso sayeth that the Speech of Allah is created, he is an infidel regarding Allah, the Exalted, whom men serve, who is eternally the same, His Speech being recited or written and retained in the heart, yet never dissociated from Him. [16]

Yet, we note here, while this creed confirms the Orthodox position that the Qur’an is the uncreated Word of God, it has also alluded more clearly to a recognition of the Qur’an’s created characteristics, an indication that the Qur’an is both uncreated and created.

Compare also Yaqub Zaki’s contemporary and more detailed definition about the nature of the Qur’an and its relation to the Word of God and to God:

“… The Qur’an is not only the literal Word of God but uncreate (ghair makhluq) and co-eternal with Him. As ‘the thought of God’ the Qur’an may be said to form part of the divine ipseity. As divine utterance (Kalam Allah) it transcends, as we have seen, all human speech and partakes of the dhat (essential nature) of God….

“… When we say that the Qur’an is uncreate and co-eternal with God this obviously cannot refer to the written book, for which Arabic reserves the term mushaf (copy), or articulated sounds (qira’a, reading, repetition or recitative) but to something distinct from either. Al-Ghazali says that the term Qur’an embraces three levels of meaning: lugha wa natq (language and utterance), huruf wa kitaba (letters and writing) and ruh wa ma‘na (spirit and meaning). It is only in the last sense that the Qur’an can be said to be uncreate and co-eternal with God. The first two act reciprocally one upon the other but both go back to the third and are but attempts to concretize or to embody something that in itself is ineffable. The precise matter of God’s kalam, like the precise nature of God Himself, eludes definition. God, of course, is constrained by the very limits He imposes upon Himself, one of which is that in addressing man He has perforce to use anthropological language, with all that that implies (grammar, logic, terms of reference, and so on). Not only is there no single human tongue but even the terms of reference must operate within the framework of human and sometimes even local experience. If, instead, the Qur’an had been revealed to dolphins — and who is to say it has not been? — its terms of reference would have been altogether different. We revert to the mystery of the bee. [17]

The controversy — or controversies — continued, not only between the Orthodox and the Mu‘tazilah but among the Orthodox themselves. [18] Muhammad Abduh, the distinguished late 19 th century Egyptian scholar, reaffirms the necessary existence of God, His essence and His attributes, as well as the uncreated and created aspects of the Qur’an. However, as for a resolution to the controversy, he writes:

But as for whether the attributes are other or more than the essence, whether speech is an attribute other than the import of the heavenly books within the Divine knowledge, and whether hearing and seeing in God are other than His knowledge of things heard and seen, and other such controversial issues, of the pundits and the contentions of the schools — all these are questions impenetrable to us, beyond the wit of human mind to attain. [19]

Another contemporary Muslim statement provides a clear summary of the controversy, notes attempts to resolve it, and finally suggests a possible resolution:

… the Qur’anic tawhid is to believe that there is no god other than Allah, that no one else shares in godhead or in any of His attributes in the sense in which God is qualified by them, and that the powers which Allah holds in virtue of His godhead and the privileges that He as such deserves, are exclusively His.

Later Muslim thought discussed the unity of God in the context of the then prevailing philosophical ideas. Its problem was to conceive the unity of God amid the plurality of his attributes. The problem emerged from a distinction between the essence (dhat) and the attributes (sifat) of God. God’s essence may be taken to be identical with his attributes, or different from his attributes. If the attributes are believed to be other than the essence, as the logical distinction between the essence and attributes requires, then there is not one God but many, the essence and the various attributes. But if the attributes of God are identified with His essence, then the unity of God might thereby be saved, but some inadmissible consequences are unavoidable. For instance, it follows that such attributes of God as his wisdom, power and speech are identical with each other, because all are identical with His essence.

Various solutions have been offered to this problem by theologians, philosophers and Sufis. Each one has its own difficulties. Probably the best solution lies in the re-examination of the nature of relation between essence (dhat) and its attributes (sifat). Ibn Taimiyya has suggested that the relation of essence and attributes is a unique relation. It is, therefore, not correct to regard the logical distinction between the essence and attributes as a real distinction between two entities. Consequently, it is not valid to infer the plurality of gods from the plurality of attributes. God’s unity is not the pale unity of a mathematical entity, nor the abstract unity of a logical notion; His unity resembles the higher unity of a personality which embraces and coordinates all the diversities and yet transcends them. [20]

Surely the final sentence of the immediately above paragraph merits rereading!

What emerges from all the above quotations is the clear and candid recognition, by competent Muslims scholars, of the problem of Islamically understanding and defining the unity of God. No doubt, it is significant also that Muhammad Abduh concludes that understanding and defining the unity of God passes human understanding. Nor is it insignificant that the final quotation is offered as a probable solution to the problem, for the problem is obviously an important one for the Muslim community and has been begging for a solution for a centuries long period of time. [21] But only a probable solution?

Given these above quotations over the controversy among Muslims regarding the nature of God and His unity and how to define that God is one from within and without, one wonders how they square with those oft-repeated claims of many Muslims about the simplicity of the Islamic doctrine of God’s unity and the formulation of this doctrine — a simplicity, we are to understand, which is free from ambiguity and confusion, clear and intelligible to all, and which, thus, contrasts sharply with the complex and confusing mental and verbal acrobatics that characterize the Christian doctrine of the Trinity! Surely the above quotations especially belie the naïve claims of those many Muslims who assume that the Islamic doctrine of the unity of God is simple — no problem! If so, then is it that those making these claims are ignorant about the controversy, its theological importance and the acrimony that it has engendered? Or is it that they wish to trivialize it, perhaps even conceal it, even more in the West?

Thus also, from the above presentation, it is evident that for the orthodox Muslim the Qur’an is the uncreated and created Word of God! The Qur’an possesses two natures, eternal and temporal! Does your Muslim friend believe these things about the Qur’an? Is this belief important for him? [22] If he is seriously aware of the Christian understanding of Jesus the Messiah, does he at all sense that his belief about the two natures of the Qur’an echoes the belief of Christians about the two natures of Jesus the Messiah? [23]

Whether or not Islam is influenced by Christian theology in its orthodox Islamic formulation about God’s Word, its relation to God and to the Qur’an and its revelation to humankind in finite circumstances, Uthman Yahya clearly highlights affinities he detects existing between Islam’s and Christianity’s respective beliefs about God’s Word and His revelation of His Word. He writes:

Muslim theology teaches that the Divine revelation, contained in the sacred books of monotheism, finds its completion in the Qur’an which is the substantial Word, uncreated, subsisting eternally in God. Truly the spiritual implications of this conception are immense. It allows the human being to enter into direct communication with God. The Qur’an in our very hands is not some exterior act of God, but precisely the Divine presence itself in His eternity. The Muslim who ponders the Qur’an and who conforms his life to the light of the Divine wisdom has veritably a real experience of the Eternal.

The orthodox Islamic doctrine as to the uncreatedness of the Qur’an has affinities with the dogma of the Incarnation in Christianity. According to Christian faith, the Divine nature co-exists mysteriously with the human nature of Christ. The different perspective of the doctrine of the uncreated Qur’an from that of the Incarnation lies solely, according to our view, in the fact of the different modes of manifestation of the Word. In the Christian view the Word was made flesh in the person of Christ: whereas the Word was made expressive (se fait expression) in the descent of the Qur’an. [24]

Moreover, the Qur’an, as the eternal Word of God, is an eternal attribute of God, one of several eternal attributes of God, “which are not He nor other than He”. Does your Muslim friend believe this about God, who is One? Does he believe that the Qur’an, as the uncreated Word of God, is an eternal attribute of God and that “it is not He nor is it other than He”? Yet if the eternal attributes “are not He nor are they other than He”, how does your friend describe them in the form of positive affirmations as they relate to God, to His unity, to themselves and to creation? Or how does your Muslim friend describe in positive terms the nature of the Arabic Qur’an in his hand (which, as the Word of God, “is not God nor is it other than God”) in relation to God, His oneness, His other eternal attributes and creation? How does he reply to those (other Muslims also) who may accuse him of believing in a multiplicity of eternals, negating the true unity of God and practising idolatry, “like the Christians” — or to those who accuse him of believing in two natures (uncreated and created) of the Qur’an as Christians believe about the Messiah? Can a created book be the uncreated Word of God? Can the finite contain the infinite?

Our discussion here has touched on some issues surrounding the Islamic definition of the unity of God in relation to God Himself and in relation to His creation, the complexity of these issues and the controversies which these issues have engendered. It is hoped it may offer some Muslims also a little better insight into the complexities involved in defining the unity of God and the danger in contrasting the simplicity of Islam’s doctrine of the unity of God with the complexity of Christianity’s doctrine of the Trinity. [25]

God knows how often, understandably and correctly, Muslims have appealed to Westerners (including Christians) for a fairer understanding of Islam and Muslims. But is it only Christians who lack understanding and misrepresent? It does seem fair to say that nowhere have Muslims seemed more susceptible to misunderstanding and misrepresenting Christian faith than in their commentaries on the Christian doctrines of Jesus the Messiah’s Sonship and the Holy Trinity, commentaries which, on occasions, have degenerated even beyond simple misunderstanding into an attitude of disdain for these doctrines and contempt for those who confess them. How many Muslims have delved into the theological intricacies marking the various definitions of God’s unity in Islamic teaching, and the Islamic controversies arising from this teaching, let alone definitions of God’s unity in Christian teaching?

Our plea here is simply that Muslims would recognize that Christians, in accordance with the Bible, have confessed and continue to confess that God is One, unique, incomparable. At the same time, however, we would also contend that it is not necessarily a “big deal” to confess that God is One. [26] It is, however, more difficult and meaningful to penetrate into the nature and meaning of God’s Oneness and to formulate the doctrine and its significance as a serious confessional statement. Muslim expositions of these creeds, too, have eloquently demonstrated the difficulties involved. Hence, before Muslims venture to comment on Christian Trinitarian treatises, would they do better to begin with Islamic treatises on the unity of God? To ignore these Islamic treatises, simply to affirm that the Islamic doctrine of the unity of God is simple and that it is enough to confess that God is One, to dismiss as irrelevant today the conflicts among Muslims over their complex formulations about the nature and meaning of God’s unity hardly serves Islam’s own cause, let alone the cause of better inter-religious understanding [27] and, even more, the honour, praise and glory of God.


3. Understanding and Experiencing the Holy Trinity Biblically

God said … “O temporal man, I was a hidden treasure,
I sought that that treasure of loving-kindness
And bounty should be revealed ….”
“Poor sufferer — and God was with him all the time,
Who knew Him not, and glorified remoteness.” [28]

What, then, is the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity? How did the experience, the concept and the conviction of the Holy Trinity arise? What is the source for it and what is its intention and rationale? Here our response to these questions must be at best introductory and elementary and yet, we hope, sufficiently clear, reasonable and provocative to encourage readers to pursue their understanding of this doctrine, more so, since it is so critical to Christian understanding of God and Christian response to Him.

A.   Christians understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to rest on revelation from God. It is not the product of human imagination or philosophical speculation, a doctrine which Christian religious leaders have invented to confuse, bemuse or simply aggravate their Christian congregations or non-Christian neighbours, including Muslims. It reflects, in fact, the profoundest experiences and keenest intellects of the early Christian Church. The source of the doctrine of the Trinity is the Holy Bible, principally the New Testament (Holy Injil), which reports what God has said and done especially through Jesus the Messiah and His Holy Spirit and what Jesus’ apostles and earliest disciples experienced through them and set out to proclaim. The doctrine itself seeks to formulate succinctly, within the confines of human thought and language, who God has revealed Himself to be and what He has revealed He has done, based on the record of the Holy Bible. For it goes without saying that only God knows who He is. So also it takes God to reveal God and to reveal what He graciously wills and allows us to know, experience and formulate in written statement about Himself, His actions among us, His relations with us, His guidance for us, and His transforming power within us — all within the confines and limitations of our created and finite world.

B.   The Holy Bible throughout affirms the unity of God and never deviates from it. The unity of God is the bedrock of Biblical faith, of Trinitarian faith also, against all false deities. Consider the following as a small sampling of the numerous Biblical affirmations that God is One:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Tawrat, Deuteronomy 6:4)

For this is what the Lord — he who created the heavens, he is God: he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Prophet Isaiah 45:18)

Jesus said: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Injil, Mark 12:29,30)

In fact, just as had the prophets before the time of the Messiah, so also the Messiah’s apostles and disciples confronted a world that was essentially pagan, its multitudes of people given to the worship of many deities, the fabricating of many idols, the propitiation of many spirits, the perverting of God’s earth, His truth and His justice. Their world was equally Arab jahiliyya (“ignorance”), though prior to it and in a different dress. To bring order out of chaos, their world, too, had to hear the good news that God is One, that “anything more than One is too many”. [29] And thus has been the world’s need ever since.

God is one! This Biblical confession of faith is basic to all Christian confessions about God — in the sense that it negates all deities and idols, all associates with God and substitutions for Him. God alone is God. There are not two or three or a multitude of gods. Only one!

Yet, in another sense God is more than one. For the Bible also characterizes the one God as the living God, as the God of love and righteousness, the holy and loving God who alone is Creator, Judge, Saviour and Father, and who covenants with His people. Through His prophets He has constantly communicated His will and purpose for His people, His command to them to shun all idolatry, to repent, to confess their sin and to seek His forgiveness, to do good and avoid evil — and with all of this His key promise to be their Saviour and Redeemer. Have you ever heard the words of Mary’s glorious Hymn of Praise (Luke 1:46-55) which she uttered while carrying Jesus the Messiah in her womb:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour …. (Luke 1:46,47)?

C.   Historically the need to elaborate on the confession of God’s unity with the confession of the Trinity is linked with the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the coming of God’s Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of God’s repeated promises through His prophets to be the Saviour and Redeemer of sinful humankind and a fallen world.

1. When Jesus was born into this world, grew up and began His ministry, it came as no surprise that everyone who knew Him considered Him to be simply another human being. So did His disciples when they met Him, moved around the country with Him and heard Him proclaim to all that the Kingdom of God was at hand and call them to repent, to seek God’s forgiveness, to get a new heart and to change their lifestyle.

And, indeed, Jesus was another human being! The Injil is replete with references to His humanity: He is born in the humblest of circumstances to the Virgin Mary, He grows up, He obeys, He works, plays, eats, thirsts, prays, tires, sleeps, laughs and cries, celebrates and suffers, and dies. He is, as the Bible says, “one who because of his likeness to us has been tested in every way, only without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ). As “the second Adam” how else could He be other than human! [30]

But, as Jesus continued His ministry, His disciples began to see Him do works and hear Him speak words and make claims — marvellous works and words and claims so subtly presented, or perhaps not so subtly, according to the situation — which began to make His disciples and others wonder. Eventually they were forced to ask: Who is this man? In fact, Jesus Himself eventually asked His disciples who the people and they considered Him to be. (Matthew 16:13-20)

It was not that the people, including Jesus’ disciples, ever doubted Jesus’ humanity. For they were Jews, zealous for defending God’s unity and ready to oppose all idolatry. But was He, though human, somehow different and more? What were they to conclude about His works: His healing of the sick, His restoration of hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind; His giving back life to the dead; His authority and control of nature? And what about His allusions to the prophecies of the previous prophets and His personal identification with these prophecies, especially those about the coming Messiah? Or what about His claims to be greater than the prophets, to be greater than the Temple, to be Lord of the Sabbath, to have authority to forgive sins? Consider here also the following words first of the prophet John the Baptist (Yahya ibn Zakariyya) about Jesus and then Jesus’ own words:

John the Baptist said: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7,8)

Jesus said: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45; cf. Prophet Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

Jesus said: “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the paralytic — I say to you stand up, take your mat and go home. And he stood up…. ” (Mark 2:10-12)

Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Jesus said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Jesus said: “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son ….” (John 5:22; cf. Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden
these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes,
Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my
Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except
the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:27-30)

Yes, a human being. But His words and works: Were they signs that He was a “special” human, even the expected Messiah, the one long awaited by the Jews? Or that, somehow, He was more than a human? But they, as Jesus’ disciples, were pure monotheists, quite unwilling to surrender their belief in God alone that uniquely distinguished their Jewishness from their pagan surroundings. In the light of these unprecedented experiences they, as staunch monotheists, felt helpless as to how to understand their Master and His relation to God, even more as to how to describe it. (Can we, wearing their shoes, sense their confusion in such unique circumstances?)

In any case, all the hopes and aspirations of Jesus’ disciples, whatever they were, soon dissipated. For the Jewish leaders resented Jesus, His works and words and, not least, His popularity with the common people. When Jesus openly confessed during a court case that He was the Messiah and the Son of God, the King of God’s Kingdom (Mark 14:61-64), the Jewish leaders concluded He had blasphemed and should be put to death. He did not measure up to their expectations of the real Messiah; moreover, He was “the friend of tax collectors and sinners”, society’s despised rabble, and made blasphemous claims about Himself that merited the penalty of death. [31]

Encouraged by the Jewish leaders, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, ordered that Jesus be crucified. What better manner of death, they thought, than the cursed death of the cross to proclaim everywhere that Jesus was not the Messiah of the Jews! The true Messiah was not a cursed and dead Messiah! And so, along with Jesus, the hopes and aspirations of Jesus’ disciples were buried with Him in His grave. To all this the Holy Bible clearly testifies. [32]

But just as clearly God was not finished with His work. Just as clearly and even more forcefully the Holy Bible testifies that it was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that rekindled the hopes and expectations of His disciples, refining and purifying them in the process. It is no coincidence that these Biblical accounts in their own unique manner uniformly accentuate the final segment of His life, i.e., His passion, His death, His burial and His resurrection from the dead, as the most vital events of His life on earth. He had come into this world and lived here in order to die and overcome death for us and for our salvation. In words often quoted:

He came to pay a debt He didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

Jesus’ resurrection is God’s vindication of life over death, truth over lie. His resurrection from the dead is God’s seal of approval of His sacrifice on our behalf and our assurance that God is our Saviour and Redeemer, just as He promised. In the light of His resurrection from the dead His disciples began to grasp the need for the death of the Messiah, even as earlier Scriptures had foretold and He Himself had proclaimed, for the sins of humanity. At the same time they realized that they, as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, were to share this message with all humanity. [33]

Such claims and events forced the early Christians to pursue asking not only who this man was but how He was related to God, how He was related to their Heavenly Father and to His Heavenly Father, as Jesus so often called Him. To suggest that Jesus could be a second god or demigod alongside God or a human being in the place of God was simply an impossible response to their question, for they were Jews and not pagans, bound to uphold the unity, uniqueness and sole lordship of God. Yet surely, in the light of events, it was clearly possible, reasonable and even inescapable to ask how God Himself was related to these events and to the person of Jesus. No doubt, Scripture had spoken often about God sending prophets. Yet beyond that, some of the prophets had alluded even to the coming of God Himself, the Sender becoming the Sent, the Revealer become the Revealed. Could Jesus actually be the One whom His name, Emmanuel, claimed Him to be, God with us? In short — and surely this concern required much time and prolonged individual and collective meditation — they began to understand Jesus not only as a man but literally as Immanuel (“God with us”), God expressing Himself not simply within the confines and limitations of a burning bush, a cloud, a temple or a book but within a human being, created in His own image. As the Holy Bible says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being….

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3,14)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11; cf. 1 Timothy 3:16)

For you know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him…. After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do what I have done to you. (John 13:3-5; 12-15)

For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20; cf. 2:9; Romans 3:21-31)

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Yes, all this is from God, praise God!

It was especially the person and the work of Jesus the Messiah that compelled the early Christians to consider the two natures of Jesus: His divine nature as the Son and Word of God and His human nature when, through Mary, He was incarnated and called Jesus, meaning “God saves”, and fulfilled God’s promises to send the Messiah.

Yes, all this is from God, sole Saviour and Redeemer!
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of His Word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. [34]

2. A second event, the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples and called the Festival of Pentecost, took place on the Jewish Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead and ten days after His ascension into heaven. After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus met His disciples on several occasions, instilling into His “dispirited” disciples new hope, reminding them that as the Messiah He had to suffer, die and rise again (Matthew 16:9-10), according to the previous prophecy of the prophet Isaiah (52:13-53:12), commissioning them henceforth to proclaim the Good News to all people and ordering them to wait for the coming of God’s Holy Spirit who would guide and empower them on their new venture. The Pentecost event, too, was intimately related to Jesus, His crucifixion and His resurrection from the dead, and generated further need to ponder the relation of God’s Holy Spirit to God. As the Bible records:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they (Jesus’ disciples) were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem . And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Acts 2:1-13)

And what was the significance of this event? (Need we say Jesus’ disciples were not filled with new wine!) Emboldened by Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon them, the disciples of Jesus, in particular Peter who had betrayed Jesus, publicly and fearlessly proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, victorious, alive and well. The Pentecost event, Peter added, was God’s assurance to His people that, with the completion of the Messiah’s mission on earth and the Messiah’s return to heaven, God was still powerfully present with the disciples of Jesus through His Holy Spirit to guide and to empower them to proclaim His Good News to all people and to call them to repent and receive His forgiveness of their sins. Remarkably, through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples of Jesus spoke in many languages. It was a sign for them that the Good News of God’s salvation was to be extended to all nations and that God Himself was present with them.

Moreover, as the disciples of Jesus pondered the event in the light of the prophecies of previous prophets, they recalled that the presence of God’s Holy Spirit was not a new and unexpected event. The Bible notes the presence of the Spirit of God at the time of creation (Genesis 1:2). The prophets continually had spoken about the Spirit of God. Centuries before the event of Pentecost the prophet Joel had announced the coming of this great event (Joel 2:28,29). Likewise Jesus foretold the coming of God’s Holy Spirit and His relation to the Heavenly Father and to Himself (John chs. 14-16). And prior to His ascension He had told His disciples that they were to go out into the whole world to teach and to do what He had taught them and to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, i.e., in the Name of the one God whom Scripture describes as the Father, the Son (Word) and the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus, too, would continue to be present with His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; see also Romans 8:9,15-19). So the Bible reminds us that no one can declare Jesus “Lord” apart from the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 12:3) [35]

God came to us then at Pentecost,
His Spirit new life revealing
That we might no more from Him be lost
All darkness for us dispelling.
His flame will the mark of sin efface
And bring to us all his healing. [36]

From such events, so intimately connected with the life of Jesus the Messiah and the experience of God’s Holy Spirit, events alluded to by the prophets prior to the Messiah’s coming and recorded by the Messiah’s apostles and disciples, the Christian community began to better grasp not only that God is One but, in addition, something of the nature of His unique Being. Simply stated, through the presence of Jesus the Messiah and the Holy Spirit they began to grasp more profoundly what God had done and who He is. They experienced that what He had said through the prophets He would do, He did, and that He truly is who He claimed to be: The Lord God, the Saviour. He is indeed the Creator, the Judge and the Saviour. Moreover, by what He did, He demonstrated how His unity is not simply a barren unity, a statistic, but a dynamic, personal, relational and societal unity. As the living and communicating God He is relational within Himself as the Father, the Son (Word) and the Holy Spirit, even as He is externally with His creation.

Indeed, it is true that God as sole creator is omnipotent, transcendent, incomparable, separate and different from His creation, sovereign Lord over creation. All power resides in God alone. There is nothing like Him (laisa ka mithlihi shay’un). Yet He is also immanent in the sense that He has created creation, is Lord of creation, owns it, is concerned with its welfare and communicates with it, appoints humanity to care for it and to be accountable to Him, even displays mercy and anger toward it, dwells within it and visits judgment upon it and, still more, redeems and frees it from all alien forces which have crept into His creation to destroy it — as He alone could do! He has manifested Himself as Victor over Satan, sin and death. Indeed, there is nothing like Him! All this further distinguishes Him to be incomparable (la thani). Allahu akbar!

Thus far, then, the designation “Trinity” is simply a verbal symbol that identifies God and God’s revelation of Himself in this world as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He had revealed Himself through His Word (His Son incarnate called Jesus the Messiah) and His Holy Spirit. In turn, Jesus the Messiah’s apostles and disciples, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded in the Holy Injil (Evangel = Good News) what they had seen, heard and experienced about Jesus and His works and the coming of God’s Holy Spirit. As a doctrine the Trinity confirms and upholds the unity of God, defends it against all false deities and philosophies and avoids all compromise with them and all idolatries. At the same time, it elucidates the Christian Church’s deeper understanding of God’s unity and uniqueness and of the implications of both His transcendence and immanence as they reflect what He intends us to grasp of His nature and His relation with His creation. [37] Herein is manifest the unity of God and the uniqueness of His unity.

D.   God is One. Yet, as we have emphasized, His unity, being more than a statistic, is also personal and relational: He relates outside of Himself to His creation, especially humanity, and He relates from within Himself to Himself. What, then, characterizes and demonstrates His relational nature? The answer is God’s revelation of His eternal Word incarnated on earth, Jesus the Messiah, indeed; yet, even more, it is Jesus the Messiah’s death on the cross, His burial and His resurrection from the dead that provide the ultimate clue to His person and character. As the Holy Bible says:

God proves His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ (the Messiah) died for us. (Romans 5:8)

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

All this for us and for our salvation!

Through the Messiah’s death and resurrection from the dead God Himself overcomes the powers of Satan and all evil, puts death to death and offers us the forgiveness of our sins and new life. Through His Holy Spirit, He also provides us the incentive and power to repent of our sins, to allay our fears of His just condemnation, to lay hold of His gift of forgiveness and new life and to help us to forgive as alternatives to self-destructing rage and thirst for revenge — to forgive even our enemies as God forgives us.

And what motivated God to do this? The holy and righteous God: It was His holy love for us -- despite our lovelessness for Him! Ultimately, on the basis of these events, the Holy Bible victoriously proclaims that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16) and speaks definitively about Him as the Heavenly Father, the Son (Word) and the Holy Spirit and their internal and eternal relationship of love — or, eventually in Christian shorthand: The Holy Trinity. It was as if God Himself had removed the veil sufficiently that would allow humanity at least to peek into His holy heart of love and sense His agitated heartbeat for a broken world and for a rebellious and fallen humanity. And it has allowed humanity, having tasted and truly experienced God’s holiness, love and forgiveness, to speak of themselves not simply as servants or slaves of God but as His adopted children:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. (1 John 3:1) [38]

In this is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

It was this same love that allowed still another apostle of the Messiah to proclaim:

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

How appropriate, then, our heartfelt response:

If you wish to know how the Almighty feels towards us, listen to the beating of your own heart, and add to it Infinity. [39]
When we think of love like Thine,
Lord, we own it love Divine. [40]

Viewed in this light, God’s self-giving love manifested in His incarnated Messiah best defines both the fact and the nature of God’s uniqueness. His incarnation, rather than detracting from or negating His uniqueness, defines, demonstrates, accentuates and verifies it — even more, graces and sanctifies it! God alone is God. He is incomparable. There is none like Him. He alone is Saviour and Redeemer. He is greater — in holiness and love also — for us and for our salvation. Praise God! [41]

Indeed, it was this same holiness and love of God, revealed in Jesus the Messiah, especially through His cross and resurrection, which, a half century ago, led Daud Rahbar, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, to acknowledge what he called the worshipability of Jesus. Particularly in the Cross of Jesus (as documented in the Holy Injil) Rahbar detected God’s perfect reconciliation between His perfect justice and His perfect love as well as His perfect character in His dealings with His creation, indeed even with His fallen creation.

In fact, Rahbar’s discovery was the answer to his longtime and intensely personal concern while still a Muslim. As he notes:

The question which I confronted for years is: What is the disposition of God toward His human creatures according to Islam? Is He only a merciful God? Is He only an angry God? Or is He both? If He is both, is He so in a capricious way or a judicious way? Is He a Sovereign of strict justice? Or should we dismiss the whole subject of divine disposition by declaring the bi la kayf formula, meaning, “We do not know how. God is the transcendent and the incomprehensible. His ways we know not.” [42]

In brief, Rahbar now understood that in Jesus God had come into this world and perfectly manifested His perfect character. As he writes (after dismissing Muslim claims that the Biblical narrative is a myth):

When I read the New Testament and discovered how Jesus loved and forgave His killers from the Cross, I could not fail to recognize that the love He had for men is the only kind of love worthy of the eternal God. [43]

Hence, he adds, Jesus is designated as the Son of God — not a second god! — and worthy of worship. Or, as the Holy Injil itself states:

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Constance Padwick’s citation of some prayers from her publication, Muslim Devotions, beautifully illustrates the tensions which Daud Rahbar experienced in his efforts to find harmony between the justice and the mercy of God. She notes that since God is merciful, the Muslim faithful are summoned to seek refuge with God from Satan, evil spirits, their enemies and all forces which would seek to hurt them and destroy them. Yet, as the faithful confess their sins and seek forgiveness and refuge in God’s mercy, from whom must they flee? Does their plea for forgiveness not mean to seek refuge from the Judge with the Judge Himself? Constance Padwick draws our attention to the great power of this common Muslim petition: “I take refuge with Thee from Thyself”, and cites two prayers utilizing this plea: [44]

I missed the Prophet one night and felt for him, and my hand lighted on the soles of his feet, for he was prostrating himself and his feet were in a vertical position. And he was saying: O God, behold I take refuge with Thy good pleasure … from Thy wrath and with Thy pardon from Thy punishment, and I take refuge with Thee from Thyself. It is beyond me to express Thy praise. Thine own praise of Thyself alone can express what Thou art. (A tradition attributed to Aisha, the wife of Muhammad) [45]

I take refuge with Thy good pleasure from Thy wrath, and with Thy pardon from Thy punishment, and I take refuge with Thee from Thyself.

O God we take refuge with Thy friendship from Thy aversion, with Thy nearness from Thy distance, and we take refuge with Thee from Thee. (Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, a Sufi saint) [46]

Yet, in these prayers is there discord and dissonance, paradox and contradiction between the justice and mercy of God Most High, the merciful and the compassionate and the Lord of the Day of Judgement? If so, is it a concern for God? Or is the reconciliation between them so easy, so simple? If so, what about the seriousness of our disobedience and rebellion against God and of God’s wrath and punishment which takes the full measure of the sinfulness of sin and its guilt in response to them? What about love’s severe discipline and order, its call for righteousness? Or what does it say about even God’s own character? How to seriously reconcile them without contaminating them or diluting them of their true substance? Or is it simply beyond our understanding and, in any case, is not our concern — we timorous mortals, with no “blessed assurance”, simply acknowledging “what God wills” as if, perhaps, to escape from reality or even to submit to fate? Identifying with Augustine and his flight from God to God, Constance Padwick detects Jesus and His Cross as God’s own response to these queries, and His way of making compatible the two seemingly incompatibles:

The Christian worshipper also takes refuge “with Him from Him”. “What way have I but to fly from Thee to Thee?” (St. Augustine on Psalm 33.) He has as strong a sense of the antithesis in these prayers as his Muslim brother. The two arms of a cross can never be parallel; they can only meet at a point of intersection. Before that point of intersection, of the clash of incompatibles, the Christian says: “Behold brethren, the goodness and the severity of God, reconciled not in a syllogism but in one Body … on the Cross. God was in Christ, reconciling ….” And on his awestruck lips he takes the prayer of his Muslim brethren, “I seek refuge with Thee from Thyself.” [47]

Thus, again, the fact is that both Islamic and Christian theologies emphasize the importance of God’s transcendence. Both declare God to be One, unique, different. “Nothing is like Him,” the Muslim pronounces, echoing the Qur’an. In this way Islam in turn simply echoes and underlines what the Bible declares the Lord God to declare: “To whom will you liken me and make me equal and compare me, as though we were alike?” (Isaiah 46:5; cf. 40:18,25)

That God is transcendent is really no issue between Muslims and Christians. What is at issue is their respective understandings of the nature of God’s transcendence, how to understand it and define it; or, as significantly, how to understand and define the nature and character of God.

In general, Orthodox Islam has inclined to understand God’s transcendence in terms of God’s absolute will and power. He alone wills, creates, acts. He does what He wills, is accountable to no one, rewards and punishes whom and how He wills. Eventually Orthodox Islamic “difference” (mukhalafa) became so extreme that it virtually sought to eliminate any relation between God and His world and God and humankind — despite even copious Quranic evidence to the contrary. It is within such a context that the Christian understanding of the Incarnation and Trinity (and Atonement) was perceived as nonsensical and blasphemous. [48]

In contrast, the Holy Bible understands God’s transcendence in terms of His holiness and love. It accents God’s uniqueness in the sense that He is holy, just and righteous, that He is holy love, Saviour and Redeemer. Biblically, too, nothing is clearer than that God is greater, greater in righteousness and love, and that, given God is love, love is the greater power. Love characterizes God’s Being and is the clue to the nature of His sovereignty. Likewise love conditions and lends unity and harmony to all His attributes and actions. In the language of Daud Rahbar, in the Bible love marks God’s constant and unwavering “disposition” toward humankind. Consonant with love’s self-giving nature and for our human understanding of it, it is best revealed in a person, in the person of Jesus the Messiah, His life, His death and His resurrection from the dead for humanity’s redemption. [49]

Given, then, that God is love, as revealed by Jesus the Messiah, what justification can there be for disallowing that God manifests Himself as Holy Trinity, that He incarnates and atones for us in Jesus the Messiah by virtue of His love, that He desires all people to be saved, that He is present with us in His Holy Spirit and wants us to know Him as our Heavenly Father and ourselves as His children — if He so will! Or do we understand, better than God (God forbid), the logic of God’s self-giving love, the sinfulness of our sin and its consequences, and the manner of His forgiveness for us? Or are we to reject God’s gracious assurance to us of our salvation through the Messiah and His offer to us to transform our lives through His Holy Spirit as something He cannot do or ought not to do? Again, then, given that God is love, how shall we presume to disallow Him to act in accordance with His own nature and character? God forbid!

But who of us does not wish to have God’s assurance of His forgiveness and salvation and to have a transformed life to live a little more like Jesus!

Voices raised to You we offer: Tune them, God, for songs of praise.
Hearts and hands we bring in tribute
For your gifts through all our days.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Triune God, to You we sing!
All creation joins to praise You; Earth and sky Your works display.
Art and music, gifts You lend us,
We return to You today.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God, Creator, Source of life!
Christ, the song of Love incarnate, Touching earth with heaven's grace,
For Your living, suff'ring, dying,
For Your rising, hear our praise!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Christ, Redeemer, Lord of Life!
Spirit, flaming through creation, Kindle faith within each heart.
Lift our voices high in chorus;
Through our hands Your love impart.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Spirit, Helper, breath of Life!
How can any praise we offer Measure all the thanks we owe?
Take our hearts and hands and voices —
Gifts of love we can bestow.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Triune God, to You we sing! [50]

E.   On the basis of the above could it be said, in summary, that generally Muslims and Christians agree that:

1. God is One. He is the sole creator, distinct from His creation. There is nothing like Him. To associate anyone or anything with Him is idolatry.

2. Muslims confess that God is One. Yet, in the sense that One is not He and that He is not free from multiplicity, He is One, but also more than One, greater than One. He is characterized by His eternal essence and His eternal attributes, the attributes super-added to His essence, each attribute distinct from the others and all of them subsisting within His essence. Thus, in this sense, eternal multiplicity subsists eternally within the eternal unity of God — in contrast to “the absolute simplicity” of God’s unity according to the Mu‘tazilah, the Shi‘ah, the philosophers such as al-Farabi and Ibn Sina and others.

3. Christians confess that God is One. Yet, in the sense that within Him there co-exist three eternal persons: the Father, the Son (Word) and the Holy Spirit, each distinct from the others yet in union together, it may be said that He is One yet also more than One.

4. Both Muslims and Christians confess that God is the God of revelation. He addresses humanity through nature and history and especially through His Word, which He mediates to humanity through prophets orally and in Scriptures.

5. Muslims confess that God has revealed His eternal Word through the Prophet Muhammad in the form of a book, the Qur’an. They therefore generally believe the Qur’an, as the Word of God and as a book, to be both uncreated and created. Christians confess that God has revealed His eternal Word/His Son in the form of a human being, Jesus the Messiah. They, therefore, believe that He is both uncreated and created, divine and human.

Thus, generally, both Muslims and Christians believe that God’s ultimate revelation is of two natures, that the infinite has penetrated into the finite, that the infinite revelation utilizes a finite vehicle within creation that renders the infinite revelation accessible, intelligible and meaningful to finite humanity. They, of course, disagree with each other on the revelation itself and the form it took, i.e., the Qur’an embooked versus Jesus incarnated.

Given, then, general agreement about the above statements, may we suggest:

1. When Muslims ask Christians: “Is Jesus God?” or anything relative to His person and His relation to God, may we request Muslims to consider whether the Qur’an is uncreated or created or both uncreated and created, and the relation of the Qur’an to God and His unity? If Muslims accept that the eternal Word of God (which, Islamically, “is not He nor is it other than He”) can become a book, then could His eternal Word become a human being, God’s supreme creation and vicegerent? Does the Qur’an as the Word of God specifically state: “The Qur’an is not God nor is it other than God”?

2. When Muslims ask Christians to explain the Trinity, Christians may request Muslims to explain tawhid (“asserting the oneness of God”) with reference to both the essence and attributes of God, their eternal and interrelational character and their relation with God’s creation. In short, compare Trinity and Tawhid, recognizing both the simplicity and complexity of each doctrine. Likewise they might enquire about the Spirit of God and His relation with God from the Islamic perspective.

Given these conditions, surely dialogue/debate on the above topics between Muslims and Christians will be conducted on a more level playing field. Even more, they will become more realistic and profitable to both Muslims and Christians who seriously want to understand, compare and even evaluate fairly the confessional theologies of both religious communities.

In any case, all this should surely be more than an intellectual exercise! [51]

Before moving on, might the reader profitably review the quotations at the beginning of Part 3?


4. The Holy Trinity: A Short Story of God’s Love

“Who am I? They mock me,
Those lonely questions of mine.
I am, Thou knowest,
O God, I am Thine.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Probably most Muslims and Christians can identify with the following conversation. It is said that the renowned Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), at the time when he was writing his dissertation on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, was once walking along the seashore when he noticed a small boy pouring seawater into a hole in the ground. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, he told Augustine that he was pouring the Mediterranean Sea into the hole.

“Don’t be stupid,” replied Augustine, “you can’t fit the sea into that little hole. You are wasting your time.”

“And so are you,” replied the boy, “trying to write a book about God.” [52]

Only a conversation, indeed! But how instructive! How great, how powerful and how majestic the limitless sea and how little the hole and its puny content of water! How much more magnified the difference between the hole and the universe. And beyond that the infinite difference between the Creation and its Creator!

Between the creation and Creator there is infinite difference, indeed! But to the point that both are absolutely incompatible and irreconcilable? A difference to the point which even renders God indifferent toward creation, care-less about it? God forbid! Is not God the creation’s Creator? And does He not communicate with people, provide them with His guidance, expect their obedience, demonstrate His wrath against their disobedience and shout aloud the coming of the Day of Judgement? Surely He understands the world’s condition and, sadly, yes, its degradation, people’s constant deviation away from His good purpose in creating it and from His good intention for people to worship Him alone and to live together with their neighbours peacefully and harmoniously! But does He really care for it? Could it be that He even grieves for the world’s present status and for the people of His creation, even for you and me?

Years ago, a dear friend, Silas, related how he, then a Muslim, was much moved by the popular Hindustani song:

Bhagwan do ghardi insan ban kar dekh.
“O God, for just two moments become a human being and look!”

It was as if the songwriter begged God that He Himself, rather than simply remaining aloof in dignified and splendid isolation from His own creation and its sorry plight, would identify with it and with its degradation, become a part of it and rescue it. If He created it, would He not want to rescue it, even to change it? Who else could? Silas had already read something like the plea of this song in the Holy Bible which his grandmother had received as a gift many years ago from a Christian friend. Though he had heard through his Islamic upbringing that the story could not be true — were not all Muslims informed that the Christian Scriptures and their portrayal of Jesus were corrupted? — he continued to consider the story to be so beautiful that he wished it were true, that in fact, it ought to be true!

Indeed, the Hindustani songwriter was not the first person to have expressed this plea. Almost three millennia ago a Biblical prophet cried out:

Oh that You would tear open the heavens and come down...! (Isaiah 64:1)

Then other messengers of God, each in his own time, echoed the plea of Isaiah and also spoke of its actual fulfillment. Eventually, through deeper Bible study, Silas himself discovered how God had already anticipated and planned to answer the plea in the song he loved to sing; even more, to his great joy he was convinced that the story about Jesus the Messiah which he had wished were true was, in truth, true, still is true and always will be true. Thanking and praising God, Silas became another disciple of Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us”, as one of us. How better to identify with us than by becoming one of us!

Yes, the story of Jesus the Messiah he had read in the Holy Bible is The Story of God’s Love, enacted on earth and with all the markings of history. God Himself had foretold it through His prophets. Its fulfillment began in Bethlehem, in the humblest of conditions, and ultimately culminated in His shameful death on a wretched cross just outside Jerusalem and then His glorious resurrection from a nearby tomb and later His ascension into heaven, from where He had come to earth.

God sends. Even more, God comes! He comes, not for two seconds but for a lifetime. In Jesus God visits His creation, where He identifies with the lowest and meanest. Should we be surprised, perhaps even offended, by this, by even the fact that He could come and would come, whatever the price? But, then, does a loving father simply e-mail or fax his ailing child, telephone him or send his representative in his place? Would he not come personally to visit His child? And, hence, would a Heavenly Father do less for His ailing and dying creatures ? Given that God is love and the nature of God’s unique love and holiness, how could He will otherwise?! Did He not heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, give hearing to the deaf and life to the dead? Did not Jesus Himself teach His disciples that a true lord does not lord over but serves his people, that to gain one’s life is to lose it and to lose one’s life is to gain it, that He Himself had come not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom? And how He exemplified it by washing His disciples’ feet and giving His life on a cross — Himself vindicating all He said and did by His resurrection and victory over death and all other powers of evil! How could Jesus the Messiah not follow His own logic, Messianic logic, the logic of that love characterizing the very being of God (John 3:16,17)! Divine logic vs. our anthropomorphic logic. Praise God! Nothing is like Him!

What really separates us from God is our sin, the great divider! Herein lies humanity’s universal problem, the problem of sin and guilt and the consequences thereof. Through the Messiah God has broken the barrier of sin and now calls us through His Holy Spirit to accept His forgiveness and to be reconciled to Him, as forgiven sinners to get a new mind, a new heart and a new life, to become His faithful children and like Abraham to become His friends! His invitation is for all.

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

But hold it! Just a moment! Everyone? Everyone to become a child of God, God’s friend?

Yet, still once more, how important we return to concerns about God, His existence, His unity, His manifold names and attributes; that He is our Creator, Lord and Judge; that He is merciful and compassionate! But do not all these concerns ultimately pale before that one critical concern that each one of us confronts, whoever we are, and whatever we have been: Does God really care for me, value me? Does He really have purpose for me in my life? Does He really forgive me? And how can I really know?

Indeed, He does! He values you, cares for you. He offers you His salvation, the forgiveness of your sins and purpose in your life, a new start. All this can be yours when you come before Him in repentance for your sins, trusting Him to be your Heavenly Father, as He has revealed Himself to you through Jesus the Messiah and His Holy Spirit. Then you will know God not only as the Saviour God but as your Saviour God and yourself as His child and friend and, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with full assurance, proclaim:

I am, You know,
O God, I am Yours.

Then, like Silas you, too, will discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You, too, having found His blessing, will become a blessing to others.

Finally for readers, especially for those who find blessing in the Saviour God and the story of His love — yet specifically for Silas, who continues to reach out to the unreached with God’s Good News in his homeland of India — may we venture to offer the following song as an edifying summary recital of the story of God’s love:

My Song Is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from his blest throne,
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know.
But, oh, my friend, my friend indeed,
Who at my need his life did spend;
Who at my need his life did spend!
Sometimes they strew his way
And his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for his death they thirst and cry.
And for his death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and 'gainst him rise;
Themselves displease, and 'gainst him rise.
They rise, and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful he to suff'ring goes,
That he his foes from thence might free.
In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav'n was his home;
But mine the tomb wherein he lay.
Here might I stay and sing —
No story so divine!
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend! [53]

To be a friend of God and a child of God: Ponder this song and its message for you and you will better discover how different from us our Saviour God truly is — and why, therefore, He lived among us!

In the Name of the One God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. To Him be all honour and praise and glory!

Appendix 1

Further Comments from Muslims on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

From “The Religion of Islam, a Presentation to Christians” by Mohamed al-Nowaihi, a professor at The American University of Cairo: “Islam … so values the oneness of God that it utterly denies anything that may carry the danger, even remotely, of an adulteration of that oneness. Here arises the first difference with Christianity. Islam repudiates the Trinity…. Thus the creed of the Incarnation is refuted and abhorred.” The International Review of Mission, 65, 1976, 407-409.

In his article “Three into one won’t go”, Inayat Banglawala, secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain’s media committee, writes: “… Islam’s insistence on the absolute transcendence of God eliminated all possible fusion of the divine with the creaturely, and therefore, any misperception of the natural as the supernatural or vice versa” ( The Guardian, England, Feb. 3, 2004 ). I am grateful to Terry Goodmundson for this reference.

According to Sayyid Qutb, “This Christian idolatry of the Trinity and its notions of sin and redemption … make no sense at all.” Kenneth Cragg, “Contemporary Trends in Islam” in Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road, J.D. Woodberry, ed. (Monrovia: Marc, 1989) 30.

Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani in the Preface to W.M. Watt’s book Islam and Christianity Today (London: Routlege and Kegan Paul, 1983) writes: “Issues like the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ and the crucifixion so central to Christian beliefs, have no place in the Islamic faith, having been categorically refuted by the Qur’an.” Taken from M. Borrman’s review of this work in Encounter (Rome: Pontificio Instituto di Studi Arabi e d'Islamistica, June July 1987) E 136, 10.

According to Gary Miller, a Canadian apologist for Islam, “The crucial issue between Islam and Christianity is basically concerning the nature of Jesus. The majority of Christians deify Jesus, i.e., they make him a God. While Muslims regard him to be no more than a Prophet of God — a faultless human being.” “The Deification of Jesus” in The Light of Truth, Maritime Muslim Students’ Associations of Dalhousie and St. Mary’s Universities, n.d.

From W. Murray Hogben, a Canadian journalist: “I had been a practising Presbyterian…. But I found the central Islamic ideas of the unity and indivisibility of God and the general acceptance of all the prophets of the Old and New Testaments as much more attractive…. I had a lot of trouble accepting the Christian concepts of original sin, of God’s having a son and letting him be executed so nastily, and of the trinity.” Leslie K. Tarr and Audrey Dorsch, Faith Today, Sept.-Oct., 1991.

Dr. Abdelwahab Boase writes: “Many Christians seem to imagine, or are taught to imagine, that religion is not supposed to make sense and should be a mystery. If, for example, you ask them to justify their faith in the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Doctrine of Atonement, they cannot do so without recourse to paradoxes and false reasoning. It may be helpful for them to remember God’s words as reported by Isaiah: ‘Come, now, and let us reason together’ (1,18).”

“Although the Qur’an contains figurative passages, ayat mutashabihat, with several possible interpretations, sufficient precision can be found in the writings to enable us to correct the Gospels on certain points despite an interval of more than five centuries. The Qur’an never refers to Jesus’ disciples as Christians, but as hawariyun (the ‘white-clad ones’, according to Asad) or as nasrani (men of Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus). Few Christians seem to realize that the term ‘Christian’ was never used in the lifetime of Jesus. “The People of the Book” in Arabia, The Islamic World Review (East Burnham: Islamic Press Agency Ltd., Feb. 1987) 59.

W.M. Baagil M.D. writes: “The Trinity is not Biblical. The word Trinity is not even in the Bible or Bible dictionaries, was never taught by Jesus and was never mentioned by him. There is no basis or proof in the Bible whatsoever for the acceptance of the Trinity.” Christian-Muslim Dialogue (Kuwait: Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, 1980) 16.

An Egyptian, Mark Gabriel, while still a Muslim, recalls spending a year in the Egyptian military, sharing a room with a Coptic Christian and at times inquiring about his Christian faith. "How can you believe in three gods?" I asked, referring to the Trinity. "You are an educated man. How can you believe something so stupid?" .… "Does God have a wife?" I mocked .... Later, thanks to a Christian pharmacist who gave him a Holy Bible, Mark learned better and eventually confessed his Christian faith before his benefactor who had given him the Bible. Mark Gabriel, Islam and Terrorism (Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2002) 188.

Noteworthy here also is that some Muslim apocalyptic thought views the West, especially the U.S.A. and, more specifically the Christian West, as the Antichrist.  Its worst sin is to have abandoned Jesus’ own simple representation of himself as prophet and to have turned him into the Son of God and to have fabricated the doctrine of the Trinity, i.e., tritheism. See Jan Jongeneel, "Muslims and the West in end times" in Christian Courier, Oct. 15, 2001 and his particular reference to Ali Akbar’s Israel and the Prophecies of the Koran, 1974, published in Malaysia.  Significantly, given the current attack and reprisals, Jan Jongeneel alludes to the statement of Kuyper that "sackcloth and ashes behoove mankind".

For the claims of some Jews that Christians believe in three gods and a response to these claims, see Leopold Cohn, Do Christians Worship Three Gods? (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Sar Shalom Publication, n.d.), in particular Moses Maimonedes’ article of faith that states incorrectly that the Creator is “absolute one” (Hebrew yachid) rather than “united one” (Hebrew achad).


Appendix 2

Revelation as Engagement of the Eternal with the Temporal

Revelation, whether in the person of Christ or the text of the Qur’an, is an engagement of the eternal with the temporal. The Qur’an, for Muslims, was “the very speech of God” — a conviction explicit in the doctrine of the I‘jaz, or “matchlessness,” of its Arabic and the total illiteracy of its instrument, Muhammad. The Book in time, on earth, was one with the Book preserved eternally in heaven. As such, it must be “uncreated,” as the term went. The speech of God could not have been acquired at any point by God, since had it been, He would earlier have, unthinkably, lacked it. One could only avoid that error by believing the Qur’an to be as eternal as God Himself.

Yet manifestly the Qur’an came to be in the seventh century with the Sirah, or “course of life,” of Muhammad. It had wide relevance for immediate events, which, indeed, it incorporated into its appeal and its sequences. In what way, then, could the exchanges with the Quraish, the battles, the household incidents, the commentary on people, be eternally existing? Did not exegesis itself turn on “the occasions of revelation” (asbab al-nuzul), seeing incidents as necessary clues to meaning? Must the Qur’an not be “created” as some Mu‘tazilites insisted? Under the caliph Al-Mutawakkil, they enforced that belief by persecuting those who believed to the contrary.

It is evident that Islam was incurring concerning the Book of God issues Christians confronted concerning the Son of God, though with the vital difference involved in that contrast. Though Christian thinking, latent through conversion or contact in the Islamic milieu, contributed to awareness of the dilemma, there is little evidence that the similarity illuminated the polemic between them. As with the solution of Al-Ash‘ari over divine and human willing, so here. The problem was contained, not explained, in the answer. The dogma of the Qur’an’s uncreatedness prevailed and was held to be resolved in the concept of Tanzil itself. In the “sending down” of the Book, in Tanzil, what remained eternal in origin was found to comprise events in the temporal. How it could be so was locked within the mystery itself. Arabic proved to be the divine language, the given counterpart of the heavenly words. What transpired in Mecca and Medina within the Sirah was the making temporal of the eternal. Much sharp polemic might have been precluded if it has been realized that in disowning Christology, Muslims had in no way eluded its implications. Rather they had incurred them in their scripture. They would have been wiser had they perceived the common situation and applied themselves to the contrast in Book and Person. [54]


Appendix 3

The Just Vengeance

Dorothy Sayers, best known for her early detective stories, and later for her celebrated life of Jesus, The Man Born to Be King, has as the theme of her play, The Just Vengeance, the doctrine of the atonement. In these lines God is made to ask after the Fall of Adam and Eve and the murder of Abel by Cain:

What did you do? What did you do for Us
By what you did for yourselves in the moment of choice?
O Eve, my daughter, and O my dear son Adam,
Whose flesh was fashioned to be My tabernacle,
Try to understand that when you chose your will
Rather than Mine, and when you chose to know evil
In your way and not in Mine, you chose for Me.
It is My will you should know Me as I am —
But how? For you chose to know your good as evil,
Therefore the face of God is evil to you,
And you know My love as terror, My mercy as judgment,
My innocence as a sword: My naked life
Would slay you, How can you know Me then?
Yet know you must, since you were made for that;
Thus either way you perish. Nay, but the hands
That made you hold you still; and since you would not
Submit to God, God shall submit to you,
Not of necessity, but free to choose
For your love’s sake what you refused to Mine.
God shall be man; that which man chose for man
God shall endure, and what man chose to know
God shall know too — the experience of evil
In the flesh of man: and certainly He shall feel
Terror and judgment and the point of the sword,
And God shall see man’s face like flint
Against Him; and man shall see the Image of God
In the image of man; and man shall show no mercy.
Truly I will bear your sin and carry your sorrow,
And, if you will, bring you to the tree of life,
Where you may eat, and know your evil as good,
Redeeming that first knowledge. But all this
Still at your choice, and only as you choose,
Save as you choose to let Me choose you. [55]


Appendix 4

On Jesus the Messiah’s Resurrection from the Dead

T.W. Manson writes: “The Resurrection means above all just this, that Christians do not inherit their task from Christ, they share it with him. We are not the successors of Jesus, but his companions. That is the measure both of our privilege and our responsibility. The essential nature of the Church is that so long as the world endures there should be in the world an organism which is truly responsive to the motions and impulses of Christ’s mind and heart and will, an organism completely expendable in the carrying out of his purposes” The Servant Messiah, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1961) 98.

Powerful historical evidence, internal and external, supports as facts the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead and from His empty tomb in which he had been buried; similarly it accounts for the otherwise inexplicably rapid and widespread expansion of the earliest Christian community, which had claimed no significant political, economic and social status. Christian faith, by any serious traditional definition of itself, rests firmly on Jesus, His life on earth, His death on the cross, His burial and His resurrection from the dead — as God’s way for humanity’s salvation. For a simple and respectable presentation on the reality and significance of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, see Alister McGrath, Understanding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) 63-80.

Consider also the following thoughts on the Resurrection of Jesus:

“Easter”, wrote R.C. Moberly, “is the Interpretation of Good Friday. The Significance of the Cross is revealed in the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not so much a mere sequel to the Cross: or a reversal of the Cross: or a subsequent reward because of the endurance of the Cross. Rather, it is a revealing of what the Cross already was.” In Christ Our Life, 89 as quoted by A.M. Hunter, The Work and Words of Jesus (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1969) 145.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep ….” (I Corinthians 15:17-20)

“The hypothesis that the apostles were imposters is quite absurd. Let us follow it right through: imagine these twelve men assembled together after the death of Jesus Christ making a plot to say that He was risen. With this they attacked all the powers-that-be. The heart of man is strangely prone to fickleness, to change, to bribery, to wealth. As soon as one of them was, however slightly, tempted into betrayal by all these attractions, and more important, by prisons, by tortures and by death, they would have been lost. Just follow up that thought.” Pascal: Pensées, pp. 97, 98.

“… No Christian Jew would have changed the sacred day from Sabbath (Saturday) to ‘the first day of the week (Sunday)’ (Acts 22:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10) except for the reason which the Christian tradition gave — that on this day Jesus was first seen risen.” A.M. Hunter, 144.

“To say that God revealed himself in Jesus, or that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, is to say nothing of real meaning unless we take our stand with the New Testament at one decisive point. That point is where God manifests Jesus as the Son of God with power, by the Resurrection from the dead.

“All the evidence of the New Testament goes to show that the burden of the good news or gospel was not ‘Follow this teacher and do your best’, but ‘Jesus and the Resurrection’. You cannot take that away from Christianity without radically altering its character and destroying its very identity. It is the presupposition, explicit and implicit, of every chapter in the New Testament. At the Cross, the Christian Church sees not merely a striking illustration of the Sublime, but the Sublime in omnipotent action ….” Whale, Christian Doctrine, pp. 68, 69.

“To the first disciples, of course, the unutterable darkness of Calvary only began to shine with light because of the Resurrection and of the whole new life of fellowship with the Risen Lord and with one another, to which the Resurrection introduced them. Without the Resurrection and all that flowed from it, the Cross both for the first disciples and for us would remain one of the darkest spots in history ….” H. H. Farmer, The World and God (London: The Fontana Library, 1963) 223.



Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From Rest and Sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go —
Rest of their bones, and souls' delivery!
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die! [56]


Appendix 5

The Atonement and the Nature of God

If it is a right conception of the atonement which enables us to attain to a right conception of the person of Christ, similarly we may say it is through a right conception of the atonement that we come to a right conception of the nature or character of God. In the atonement revelation is complete, and we must have it fully in view in all affirmations we make about God as the ultimate truth and reality. The more imperfect our conceptions of God, the more certainly they tend to produce skepticism and unbelief; and nothing presents greater difficulties to faith than the idea of a God who either gives no heed to the sin and misery of man, or saves sinners, as it were, from a distance, without entering into the responsibility and tragedy of their life and making it His own. To put the same thing in other words, nothing presents greater difficulties to faith than a conception of God falling short of that which the New Testament expresses in the words, ‘God is love.’

Now this conception is not self-interpreting or self-accrediting, as is often supposed. There is no proposition which is more in need both of explanation and of proof. We may say ‘God is love’, and know just as little what love means as what God means. Love is like every word of moral, or spiritual import; it has no fixed meaning, and in this respect differs from words denoting physical objects or attributes. It stands, so to speak, upon a sliding scale, and it stands higher or lower in the position where the experience of those who use it enables them to place it.

John, when he placed it where he did, was enabled to do so only by the experience in which Christ was revealed to him as the propitiation for sins. It is with this in his mind that he says, ‘hereby perceive we love.’ The word love, especially in such a proposition as ‘God is love’, has to have its proper meaning before it can be said to have any meaning at all. It is used in a thousand senses which in such a proposition would be only absurd or profane. Now the person who first uttered that sublime sentence felt his words to be pregnant with meaning as he contemplated Christ sent by God a propitiation for the whole world. A God who could do that, a God who could bear the sin of the world in order to restore to man the possibility of righteousness and eternal life, such a God is love. Such love, too, is the ultimate truth about God. But apart from this the apostle would not have said that God is love, nor is it quite real or specifically Christian for anyone else to say so. There is no adequate way of telling what he means. Until it is demonstrated as it is in the atonement, love remains an indeterminate sentimental expression, with no clear moral value, and with infinite possibilities of moral misunderstanding. But when it has a specific meaning through the contemplation of the atonement the danger of mere sentimentalism and other moral dangers are provided against, for love in the atonement is inseparable from law. The universal moral elements in the relations of God and man are unreservedly acknowledged, and it is in the cost at which justice is done to them in the work of redemption that the love of God is revealed and assured. We then see its reality and its scale. We see what it is willing to do, or rather what it has done. We see something of the breadth and length and depth and height which pass knowledge. We believe and know the love which God has in our case, and can say God is love.

From the vantage ground of this assurance we look out henceforth on all the perplexities of the world and of our own life in it. We are certain that it is in God to take the burden and responsibility of it upon Himself. We are certain that it is in the divine nature not to be indifferent to the tragedy of human life, not to help it from afar off, not to treat as unreal in it the very thing which makes it real to us — the eternal difference of justifying the ungodly. It is a subordinate remark in this connection, but not for that reason and insignificant one, that this final revelation of love in God is at the same time the final revelation of sin. For sin, too, needs to be revealed, and there is a theological doctrine of it as well as an experience antecedent to all doctrines. Love is that which is willing to take the responsibility of sin upon it for the sinner’s sake and which does so; and sin, in the last resort — sin as that which cuts man finally off from God — is that which is proof against the appeal of such love. [57]


Appendix 6

God as Trinity

The mystery of the Trinity is not a contradiction of God’s unity. It concerns the inward being of God, though outwardly the divine power which guides the world is always one and indivisible. The divine persons are distinct, yet inseparable. When God the Father willed that mankind be saved by His Son, the Spirit of God was equally involved. He played an essential role during the years we have just considered in this book. He was present at the time of the annunciation, at Jesus’ baptism, during every moment of his life. So pervasive was the Spirit’s presence that men’s malevolent attitude towards the Saviour continually ran the risk of becoming the dreadful sin against the Spirit. Indeed, the Messianic age is marked by the dynamic activity of the Spirit. Thus God proclaimed through His prophet Joel:

It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh …. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28,29; Acts 2:17,18)

The Messiah has come to regenerate mankind through the Holy Spirit, through the baptism of Pentecost. This is one of the noblest aspects of his mission. But here, too, just as the act of creation, it is the work of the Father, of the Son and of the Spirit, a work accomplished in the perfect unity of love; “For God is love.” (1 John 4: 8)

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he commissioned his apostles to

“Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

In this discourse we are not merely indulging in idle theological speculations. This revelation of the mystery of God has profoundly influenced mankind’s conception of greatness and perfection. Hitherto, to be great meant to be powerful, whether through the intellect or wealth or naked force. In revealing by his words and his own life that God is love, Jesus constrained those men in search of an ideal to strive for a nobler goal. To be great is to seek the welfare of one’s neighbour, to forgive him, to work for him, to help him for his own sake, in order to do as God does. To be great is to love God with a heart wholly transformed by grace and informed with the Holy Spirit. Of how little importance, then, are prestige and power! The Word of God lost none of his inner greatness in the cave in Bethlehem or at the time of his Passion. These moments of humility do not diminish in the slightest the infinite value of the Messiah’s acts. What the world often considers ignominious is, in reality, glorious.

It is sin alone that defiles us! [58]


Appendix 7

Citation on Behalf of Hon LCol John Weir Foote, VC, CD as a Recipient of the Victoria Cross

At Dieppe on 19th August 1942, Hon. Captain Foote, Canadian Chaplain Services, was Regimental Chaplain with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

'Upon landing on the beach under heavy fire he attached himself to the Regimental Aid Post which had been set up in a slight depression on the beach, but which was only sufficient to give cover to men lying down. During the subsequent period of approximately eight hours, while the action continued, this officer not only assisted the Regimental Medical Officer in ministering to the wounded in the Regimental Aid Post, but time and again left this shelter to inject morphine, give first-aid and carry wounded personnel from the open beach to the Regimental Aid Post. On these occasions, with utter disregard for his personal safety, Honorary Captain Foote exposed himself to an inferno of fire and saved many lives by his gallant efforts.

During the action, as the tide went out, the Regimental Aid Post was moved to the shelter of a stranded landing craft. Honorary Captain Foote continued tirelessly and courageously to carry wounded men from the exposed beach to the cover of the landing craft. He also removed wounded from inside the landing craft when ammunition had been set on fire by enemy shells. When landing craft appeared he carried wounded from the Regimental Aid Post to the landing craft through heavy fire. On several occasions this officer had the opportunity to embark but returned to the beach as his chief concern was the care and evacuation of the wounded. He refused a final opportunity to leave the shore, choosing to suffer the fate of the men he had ministered to for over three years.

Honorary Captain Foote personally saved many lives by his efforts and his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.'

The London Gazette, 14th February 1946 [59]


Appendix 8

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the virgin May, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen [60]


1. This essay was originally prepared to serve as a brief and introductory response to Muslim queries about the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, queries which both Muslims and Christians would automatically anticipate, given the debate/dialogue that took place between a Muslim and a Christian at Waterloo University, Waterloo, Canada on November 6, 1997. Since then, it has undergone considerable lengthening.

2. A few Muslims have claimed that the absence of the term “Trinity” in the Bible disproves the doctrine itself. (See Appendix 1, the comments of W. M. Baagil.) Still, were the term “Trinity” to be actually in the Bible, one might imagine a few others claiming the term to have been interpolated and to be another indication that Christians have corrupted their Scriptures.

3. In his article “God: A Muslim View” Muzammil H. Siddiqui writes: “It is the basic assertion of Islam that the doctrine of Trinity is the offence of Christianity against the transcendence of God. Christianity has departed from its Semitic roots and its prophetic truth by compromising the unity of God with Trinity. This offence of Christianity against the transcendence became even greater when it identified one person of the Trinity with historical Jesus, who according to Islam was only a prophet of God. The Qur’an has severely judged both doctrines of the church: Incarnation and the Trinity” in Three Faiths—One God, a Jewish, Christian, Muslim Encounter, ed. John Hick and Edmund S. Meltzer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989) 70. Muzammil, in support of his argument, quotes all the Quranic verses cited above. Unfortunately his citation of 4:171 reads, incorrectly, “say not, trinity”, rather than, correctly, “say not, three”. See also Appendix 1, “Further Comments from Muslims on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.”

4. The Glorious Qur’an, trans. M. Pickthall (Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 1997) 98 and The Holy Qur’an, translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali, American Trust Publications for the Muslim Students’ Association, 2nd edition, 1977.

5. The Holy Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, revised and edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA, Call and Guidance.

6. ibid.

7. The Qur’an, Eighth U.S.A. Edition 2001 (New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc.). Yusuf Ali’s translation of 5:73 (5:76 in Yusuf Ali’s text) reads: “They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God….”

8. On the latter Quranic passages, see Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985) 187, note 10; 209, note 13. The Bible, of course, frequently calls Jesus “the Son of God” (Matthew 16:6; 3:17; Mark 14:61,62; Hebrews 1:1,2, passim). As Jesus is the Son of God, so Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:14 ). Some two thousand years ago, according to the Bible, God’s eternal Word and Son became a human being called “Jesus” (“God saves”) and “Immanuel” (“God with us”). He is God’s self-expression on earth, the eternal Word of the eternal God enfleshed, in human form. (Can Muslims detect here a parallel to the Orthodox Muslim confession that the uncreated Word of the eternal God became inlibrated [“enbooked”], has taken the form of a created book called the Qur’an, the eternal and uncreated revealed within the temporal and created? Or, shall we say, the Book does not become the uncreated Word of God but the uncreated Word of God becomes a Book. See Parts 2 and 3 below.)

In any case, if Muslims judge “Son of God” to be anthropomorphic, so they have judged several Quranic expressions, such as “hand” and “face” and “throne” of God, to be anthropomorphic, allowing the terms to remain in the text of the Qur’an while re-interpreting them in a manner that negates their anthropomorphism. Similarly, then, will not Muslims allow Christians the same hermeneutical privilege while interpreting their own Scriptures? Surely Muslims, skilled in dealing with Arabic anthropomorphisms in the Qur’an, could easily acknowledge the Biblical significance of Jesus’ Sonship in the Bible to be free from anthropomorphism, i.e., any sexual connotation. See Footnote 11 below.

9. Compare the following comments of Sachiko Murata and William Chittick (both, it would seem, very sympathetic with Islam) on the Sonship of Jesus and the Trinity: “Koranic usage and the general Muslim understanding make clear that by “Son”, Muslims understand not a symbol or a metaphor, but a physical son, born of a mother, God’s supposed female companion. It may be that some Christians have thought that God has taken a wife, or that he somehow impregnated the Virgin Mary, giving birth to his son. But no Christian theologian has ever imagined such a thing. For Christians, Jesus’ sonship is a reality, but it cannot be taken in a physical sense….” The Vision of Islam [New York: Paragon House, 1994] 171.

“To take a simple example, it is commonly said that the Koran rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity. Inasmuch as the Trinity is understood as negating tawhid, this is true. But not all Christians think that the Trinity negates tawhid. Quite the contrary, most formulations of the Trinitarian doctrine are careful to preserve God’s unity. If ‘threeness’ takes precedence over oneness, then the Koranic criticisms apply. But among Christians, the exact nature of the relationship between the three and the one is a point of recurring debate. One of the actual Koranic verses that are taken as negating the Trinity says, ‘Those who say “God is the third of three” have become truth concealers’ (5:73). Even an elementary knowledge of any Christian catechism tells us that God is not “the third of three.” Rather, God is one and three at the same time. Inasmuch as he is three, he presents himself to his creatures as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Murata and Chittick 170.

With reference to the statement in the above quotation (170): “But not all Christians think that the Trinity negates tawhid”: In fact no serious Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant Confession negates the fundamental Biblical confession that God is One. All their faithful confess they are Unitarians (i.e., Tri-Unitarians) and that as Tri-Unitarians they are Unitarians, worshipping one God! On the other hand, they would agree that not all Unitarians are Trinitarians, even as Muslims would agree that not all Unitarians are Muslims. As we shall see in Part 2, Muslims, too, have engaged in vigorous controversy over the nature of God’s Oneness, especially over the relation of God’s eternal Word (and the Qur’an) to the eternal God and to His Oneness. Here, too, for Orthodox Islam the unity of God is defined and characterized by diversity!

10. See Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1953) “tasawwuf”, 581.

11. Or, perhaps more correctly, the Traditionalists, the Orthodox and the Mu‘tazilah. See Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, “tawhid”, 586. Significantly, this article also notes that “unity is far from being a simple idea” and that Islam’s key theological symbol “tawhid” does not appear in the Qur’an – even as the Christian theological symbol “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. See footnote 2.

The following statement, quoted from J.W. Sweetman’s Islam and Christian Theology and taken from ‘ilm al-kalam by the Indian Muslim scholar, Shibli Na‘mani, summarizes the development of Islamic theology and provides us with a framework in which we can identify the concerns of this essay: “In the first stage God is held to be corporeal, seated on the Throne, possessing hands, feet and face. God set His hand on the shoulder of Muhammad and the Prophet felt that it was cold. In the second stage God is still held to be corporeal, having hands and face and legs, but all these are not like ours. In the third stage God is conceived to have neither body, hands nor face. Such words in the Qur’an have not the real meaning at all but are metaphorical and allegorical. God is Hearer, Seer and Knower but all these attributes are in addition to His quiddity (mahiya). In the fourth stage God’s attributes are neither identical with His Essence nor alien to it (la ‘ayn wa la ghayr). In the fifth stage God’s essence is absolutely simple. In it there is no sort of multiplicity whatever. His essence does the work of all His attributes. His essence is Knowing, Seeing, Hearing, Powerful, etc. In the sixth and last stage God is conceived as Absolute Existence, i.e., His existence is His very quiddity. This takes the form of the Oneness of Existence (Wahdat ul-Wujud), where we arrive at the point where philosophy and Sufism meet. It must not be supposed that these stages represent a chronological order in which the later superseded the earlier. Representatives of the different points of view were contemporaneous and still are.” Part One, Vol. II, London: Lutterworth Press, 1947, 1-13. The fourth and fifth stages are represented especially by classical orthodox Sunni Islam and the Mu‘tazilah respectively.

The Qur’an itself clearly manifests the polarization of these theological positions within the Muslim community, in particular the Qur’an’s utilization of clearly anthropomorphic language with reference to God vs. its equally clear affirmation that God is One and nothing resembles Him (42:11). For a valuable introduction to Islamic theology, see H.A.R. Gibb, “Structure of Religious Thought in Islam” in Studies on the Civilization of Islam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1962) 176-218. See also Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, “al-Mu‘tazila”, 421-427.

For an earlier and more detailed exposition on speculative theology (kalam) in Islam, “anthropomorphism” and “ambiguity” in the Qur’an, the essence and attributes of God, as well as cogent references to Sufi and philosophical concepts of God’s unity, see Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, tr. by Franz Rosenthal (New York: Pantheon Books Inc., 1958) Vol. 3, 34-103. Ibn Khaldun (A.D. 1332-1406) is widely respected as one of Islam’s outstanding scholars. Quoting Arnold Toynbee, Akbar S. Ahmed speaks of Ibn Khaldun’s work as “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time and any place” Islam under Siege (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004) 75.

12. Sa‘d al-Din al-Taftazani, A Commentary on the Creed of Islam, trans. E.E. Elder (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950) 49.

13. Taftazani 58.

14. The Mu‘tazilah, influenced by Greek philosophy, described themselves as “The People of Unity and Justice”. The Orthodox in turn, having learned Greek speculative theology from the Mu‘tazilah , enlisted speculative theology in defence of Orthodoxy against the Mu‘tazilah and in defining their own theological position. Orthodoxy’s most famous representative during these controversies was al-Ash’ari, himself a convert from the Mu‘tazilah.

15. The Shi‘ah, like the Mu‘tazilah, paid special attention to both God’s unity and justice. For them, acknowledging that God had eternal attributes meant adding to His eternal essence and, thereby, destroying the absolute perfection of God’s unity (Ayatollah Ja‘far Sobhani, Doctrines of Shi‘i Islam [London: The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001] 18-22, 40, 41; John Alden Williams, Islam [New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1963] 210-212; Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam [Delhi: The Oxford University Press, 1985] in which Momen states on p. 176: “Similarly the viewpoint held by Sunni theologians, that the Qur’an is the uncreated, eternal Word of God is considered to set up two eternal entities [God and the Qur’an] which is polytheism. Thus the Shi‘is consider the Qur’an to have been created in time.”) For a classical Shi‘ah exposition on the Qur’an as God’s Word see Allama Hasan b. Yusuf, Al-Babu'l-Hadi ‘Ashar, A Treatise on the Principles of Shi‘ite Theology, tr. William McE. Miller (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1958) 25-28 and related Notes, 94.

16.   A.J. Wensinck, The Muslim Creed (Cambridge: The University Press, 1932) 127.

17. “The Qur’an and Revelation” in Islam in a World of Diverse Faiths, ed. Dan Cohn Sherbok, (New York: St. Martin ’s Press) 51,53,54 and the whole Conclusion. For more on the Quranic use of anthropomorphism see footnote 11 above. For a full statement of al-Ghazali on God’s speech see Abdu-r-Rahman Abu Zayd, Al-Ghazali on Divine Predicates and Their Properties (Lahore: Ashraf, 1970) 47-64.

The author also notes, significantly, that while God is totally inapprehensible to humanity, whom He “so totally transcends” with reference to His essential nature (dhat), God is apprehended by His eternal attributes (sifat) which “are not He nor other than He”, adding also that “a god that was completely transcendent would be an agnostic god”. Zaki 52.

18. For earlier phases of the controversy over the nature of the Qur’an, the development and complexity of the controversy and several of its distinguished participants (not least the Traditionalist Ahmad ibn Hanbal), see Wilferd Madelung, “The Origins of the Controversy concerning the Creation of the Koran” in Orientalia Hispanica, ed. J.M. Barral, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1974) 507-525. It all stems from the Muslim Community’s simple confession that “the Qur’an is the Word of God.” He also notes how the thesis, “The Qur’an is the Word of God, uncreated,” has become firmly established dogma within the Sunni community for some twelve centuries, yet still generates discussion and conflict from without and even within the Sunni community.

Similarly A. S. Tritton writes, “Muslims agreed that the Qur’an was the speech (kalam) of God but there agreement ended; the relation of the Qur’an to those words (kalima) of God which could not be recorded if all the seas were ink (K. 18, 109/108) was never discussed nor that to the creative “be” (K. 16, 42/39) (The Speech of God, Studia Islamica, vol. 33, 1971, 7).” Further, Tritton reports al-Ashari saying that “the Qur’an is the speech of God and is a unity to be explained only by itself. The written volume is created but it is better not to affirm that the reading of it is created or uncreated….” 13.

So Bernard Lewis: “The literal divinity and inerrancy of the Qur’an is a basic dogma of Islam….” The Crisis of Islam (New York: The Modern Library, 2003) 131.

19. Muhammad Abduh, The Theology of Unity, trans. I. Musa‘ad and K. Cragg (London: Allen Unwin Ltd., 1966) 56.

20. Islam, Abdul Haq Ansari, M. Mujeeb, K.A. Nizami, S. Abid Husain, S.A. Akbarabadi (New Delhi: Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute) 8,9. Compare footnotes 11 and 12 with footnote 3 above and Appendix 1, “Further Comments from Muslims on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.”

For further useful representations of the various sides of the conflict, see Kenneth Cragg and Marston Speight, Islam from Within, Anthology of Religion (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1980) 118-151. From this same volume the following incident may be of interest. It focuses on a conversation between a Sufi guide and his student (Abu-l-Abbas al-Alawi), after the student informed his master that he was taking another course on theology. The account itself continues: “‘What lessons are those I see you attending?’ I said: ‘They are on the doctrine of the Unity (Al-Tauhid) and I am now at “the realization of the proofs.”’ He said: ‘Sidi So-and-so used to call it “the muddy mire” doctrine [tawhil].” Then he added, ‘You had better busy yourself now with purifying your innermost soul until the Lights of your Lord dawn in it and you come to know the real meaning of Unity. But as for scholastic theology it will only serve to increase your doubts and pile up illusion upon illusion.’ Finally, he said: ‘You had better leave the rest of those lessons until you are through with your present task, for it is an obligation to put what is more important before what is of lesser importance.’” 191.

For a brief summary of the conflict among Muslims over the nature of the Qur’an and the implications of the Qur’an as uncreated and eternal for contemporary Quranic scholarship, see Farid Esack, The Qur’an, A Short Introduction (Oxford: One World Publications, 2002) 105-111.

21. Regarding Ibn Taymiyya’s solution to the Islamic problem: Might Muslims imagine Christians appealing to the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within the Godhead as a higher unity, uniquely characteristic of God?

22. In any case, as noted above, the controversy reaches back to Islam’s relatively early history and theological development. For a time, caliphs supported the Mu‘tazilah position, even persecuting their opponents. On the theological and political conflicts between the Mu‘tazilah and the Orthodox as well as Mu‘tazilah intolerance, see Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, tr. Andras and Ruth Hamori (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) 67-115. Eventually, however, the Orthodox position prevailed. Elder indicates its continuing influence in his Introduction to Taftazani’s Commentary on al-Nasafi’s Creed (footnote 12, 13), noting that “after five hundred years he is still a celebrated authority studied in the schools of the East” Taftazani xxi.

So also the distinguished twentieth century Pakistani professor, Fazlur Rahman, while discussing “Revelation” in the Qur’an, speaks of the Qur’an as “purely divine” and “pure Divine Word”. Islam (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) 32,33.

23. In fact, it was probably Christian concern regarding Jesus the Messiah’s relation with God which gradually encouraged (compelled?) Muslims to consider the relation of God’s Word, specifically the Qur’an, to God. No longer could the simple confession, “God is one”, satisfy the growing theologically- and philosophically-minded Muslim intelligentsia. The confessions “God is one” and “the Qur’an is the Word of God” beg for clarification as to who God is, the interrelation between God and His Word and, in turn, the relation of God and His Word to His creation.

24. “Man and His Perfection in Muslim Theology”, The Muslim World (Hartford: Hartford Seminary Foundation, Jan. 1959) 24. Does not Ghazali, too, indicate an affinity or likeness between God and humanity, enabling humanity to imitate God’s virtues and to love God (Encounter [Roma: Pontificio Institute Di Studi Arabi, No. 44, April 1978] 7)?

Echoing Uthman Yahya’s thoughts, Shabbir Akhtar writes: "Quotations about the nature of the Koran – is it eternal? is it uncreated? – have justly been compared to questions about the nature of the Christ. These worries considerably exercised the ingenuity of classical Islam" A Faith for All Seasons (London: Bellow Publishing, 1990) 223.

Yet, if there is in Orthodox circles an analogy between the nature of the Qur’an and the nature of Jesus and, hence, Muslims’ unique veneration of the Qur’an, so there is in other Muslim circles a unique veneration of Muhammad, rooted as they see it in his relationship with God, his origin from the eternal light, his role as intercessor, mediator and saviour. In Shi‘ah circles the analogy may shift to Ali. Then also the response of the faithful may shift from veneration even to worship.

On the status of Muhammad in some non-Orthodox Muslim circles, I have found helpful the unpublished paper of Bishop Arne Rudvin, The Gospel from the Christian and Muslim Point of View , 1977 (?) which he presented at a conference of Christians in Singapore at about the same time. See also Sweetman 110-114.

25. We all might do well to ponder H.A.R. Gibb’s observation: “Monotheism of any kind raises grave philosophical difficulties, and the more absolute the monotheism, the more difficult they become to resolve.” (“Structure of Religious Thought in Islam” in Studies on the Civilization of Islam, 204.) See also Appendix 2, “Revelation as Engagement of the Eternal with the Temporal.”

On the basis of conflicting Christian and Muslim concepts of the Oneness of God within an Egyptian religious context, Kenneth Cragg concludes that “‘One’ is the most contentious and profound of metaphors”. The Arab Christian (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991) 89. Perhaps, therefore, one of the most abused?

26. For, as the Bible says: “You have faith enough to believe that there is one God. Excellent! The devils have faith like that, and it makes them tremble” (James 2:19). On the other hand, this is not to minimize the importance of confessing that God is One, even more so the great commandment to love God with all that we are and have. In fact, while indicating the limitations of Islamic orthodoxy’s concept of transcendence, W.H.T. Gairdner expresses appreciation for Islam for “its uncompromising insistence on the Unity (that) helps us to find the love and the action of God at the beginning, middle, and end of the entire redemptive work (of God), both for the race and the individual” and for possibly safeguarding against any dangerous tendencies of Christians to move from Biblical Tri-unitarianism to non-Biblical tri-theism. “First Study” in Vital Forces of Christianity and Islam, Six Studies by Missionaries to Muslims (London: Oxford University Press, 1915) 30, 40. Part 3 of this essay will illustrate well Gairdner’s contention.

27. Compare the observations of W.C. Smith (whom many Muslim leaders recognize as a supportive and sympathetic scholar): “… (Yet) the difficulties in the way of such interreligious comprehension … are partially exemplified in the fact not merely that Muslims do not at all understand the faith of Christians, but that in general they do not even know that they do not understand.” Islam in Modern History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957) 104. At times would it be fair to wonder whether some Muslims even want to understand and appreciate Christian sensitivities? In any case, the reader might wish, in the light of this essay’s Part 1 and Part 2, to review Appendix 1.

28. The first quotation is from Jalal ud-Din Rumi’s Mathnawi, tr. by Nicholson and taken from Kenneth Cragg and Marston Speight, 203. The second quotation is from Hafiz, another distinguished Muslim poet, and taken from “Editor’s Postscript”, Dehqani Tafti, The Unfolding Design of My World, ed. by Kenneth Cragg (Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 2000) 263.

29. D.M. Baillie, To Whom Shall We Go? (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974) 74. T.W. Manson touches on the vital difference between Christian faith and the paganism against which Christians continually struggled during the time of the Roman Empire : “ … In the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian era there were gods in plenty and no lack of potential faith and piety. The trouble was that there was not an occupant of the official pantheon capable of arousing a real personal loyalty and devotion in the vast mixed multitude of peoples of the Empire. What Jupiter failed to do Augustus did – and Jesus; and the fierce struggle, which lasted till the beginning of the fourth century, between Caesar-worship and Christianity is the struggle between the cult of man-become-God and that of God-become-man, between a religion of apotheosis and one of incarnation” The Servant Messiah (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961) 57. In Christian understanding the one God, the God of Abraham, is the actor vs. the manifold manifestations of paganism.

Similarly, N.T. Wright writes: “The evidence is actually quite clear. From the very earliest Christian documents we possess (i.e., the letters of Paul) right through mainstream Christianity to the fifth century and beyond, we find Christians straining every nerve to say what they found themselves compelled to say: not that there were now two, or three, different Gods, but that the one true God had revealed himself to be, within himself so to speak, irrevocably threefold. The whole point of the doctrine of the Trinity both in its early stages in passages like Galatians 4:1-7, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:13, and Matthew 28:19, and in its later stages in the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers, was that one could not say that there was a plurality of Gods: only that there was an irreducible threefold-ness about the one God. The Fathers drew on non-Christian philosophical categories, not to invent this belief, but to try to explain it to their contemporaries.” Who Was Jesus? (London: SPCK, 1992) 53. Compare the statements of Manson and Wright with Gary Miller’s misleading comments in Appendix 1.

Need we add that Muslims, both Mu‘tazilah and Orthodox, liberally utilized non-Islamic philosophical categories (i.e., Greek philosophical categories) in order to explain their different interpretations of God’s unity?

30. I ndeed human and in the image of God just as God had created the first Adam, not in a sin-tarnished image as we know humanity today, including ourselves, as the Holy Bible portrays humanity (Romans 3:23). (Does the Qur’an’s statement: “Man was created weak”, lend support to humanity’s present image as “sin-tarnished”?) Islam’s great Traditionist, Bukhari, also reports in his hadith collection that man was created in the image of God – a point possibly of further interest to Muslims who understand “man in the image of God” as simply an absurd Biblical anthropomorphism. “Image of God”, of course, does not mean God has a physical body from all eternity.

31. Muslims, of course, honour ‘Isa al-Masih (=Jesus the Messiah/Christ), as the Qur’an calls Him, as the son of the Virgin Mary, sinless, servant, healer, prophet and apostle, Word of God (kalimatu'llah), Spirit of God (ruhu'llah). Nevertheless, it must also be said that such designations are to be interpreted Islamically. Actually the Qur’an offers little understanding of the significance of the term, Messiah, as a vocation or function (rather than a proper name) and its meaning (God’s anointed prophet, priest and king). Expositors of the Qur’an, rather than seeking its meaning from the Bible and its original Hebrew, have turned to its Arabic cognates. Thus, finally, the Jesus whom Muslims revere is the Jesus the Messiah fashioned into the image of a Muslim prophet and messenger, who, though highly revered by Muslims, emerges from the pages of the Qur’an as radically different from the Biblical portrayal of Him. Sadly, masses of Muslims, convinced that the Quranic revelation of Jesus is the final and, therefore, superior and only validly current revelation of God, pay little or no attention to His Biblical portrayal. Yet, surely, many Muslims, whatever their reasons for being unaware of, ignoring or rejecting the Biblical account about Jesus the Messiah, can still be invited to carefully read it in order to truly understand and ponder what they may have rejected or, perhaps more accurately, what they thought they had rejected but really had not. Would not a Muslim expect as much from a Christian with respect to the Qur’an?

32. In the Holy Injil nothing is so well-established historically and so spiritually meaningful as the trial and death of Jesus on the Cross. As has often been said, the Cross is the purple thread that runs through the whole Injil (New Testament). It saturates the Injil. Still, Muslims generally deny that Jesus died on the cross, based primarily on the following Quranic passage: “And because of their saying: We (the Jews) slew the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger – they slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise” (The Glorious Qur’an, Pickthall’s translation, 4:157,158). Yet, despite the general Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross, Islam’s Quranic expositors have differed greatly as to what actually happened. In fact, the few verses relevant to the event, recorded some five and one half centuries after the event and, at points, the verses themselves unclear and even confusing if not conflicting (not least in 4:157: “it appeared so unto them”: shubbiha lahum), contrast sharply with the considerable, clear, consistent and contemporary Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence (Christian, Jewish and Roman) for the fact that Jesus actually died and was buried – quite apart from its theological implications. (For a serious overview of the relevant Quranic passages see Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, 172-177.) Curious also is the Quranic claim that “We (the Jews) slew the Messiah Jesus son of Mary”. That the Jewish leaders claimed to slay Jesus, yes, in the sense that they handed Him over to the Romans. But surely the Jews did not claim to kill their own Messiah! The Jewish leaders urged the Romans to kill Jesus because, they claimed, He was not their Messiah – regardless of what Jesus did or claimed about Himself.

For a Biblical understanding of the human condition that provides the setting for the crucifixion of Jesus, see Appendix 3, “The Just Vengeance.”

33. For more comments on the significance of Jesus the Messiah’s resurrection from the dead see Appendix 4, “On Jesus the Messiah’s Resurrection from the Dead.”

34. Hymnal Supplement 98 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1998) hymn 909.

35. For the intimate relation between God’s Holy Spirit and Jesus the Messiah, as manifested in key events in the life and ministry of Jesus, see the Conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38); the Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17); Jesus’ Temptations (Mark 1:12,13; Matthew 4:1-11); The Spirit anoints Jesus for His ministry (Luke 4:14-30). The New Testament throughout testifies to the close relation of the Holy Spirit to the Church and its various ministries within and outside of the Church (1 Corinthians chs. 12,13). Is it helpful here to recall the Qur’an’s affirmation of Jesus’ disciples (57:27): “We (God) placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him” (i.e., in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples)?

For a Quranic and Islamic understanding of ”spirit” (ruh), see Thomas O'Shaughnessy, The Development of the Meaning of Spirit in the Koran (Rome: Pont. Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1953); also Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam: ruh, nafs. In the Qur’an the Spirit/spirit is associated with angels. God sends the spirit to Mary. God breathes His spirit, the breath of life, into Adam and Mary. Jesus is called “a spirit from God” and is supported by the spirit of holiness. The spirit is also frequently associated with God’s amr (ordinance, affair). Relevant to our concern here is especially the relation of the Spirit of God to God, to His attributes, to His creation, to His revelation of His Word to His creation – specifically, to His unity. Is the spirit created or uncreated, personal or impersonal? What is the relation of ruh (spirit) to nafs (soul)? Do Muslims – those also who concern themselves with the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit – give adequate concern for the relation of the Spirit/spirit of God to God and to His creation in Islamic theology?

Relevant here also, given some serious Christian and Islamic understanding of the nature and function of the Spirit/spirit based on their respective sources, is the strange yet popular claim of many Muslims that in the Holy Injil (especially John chs. 14-16, which speak of Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit) Jesus really prophesies the coming of Muhammad, not the coming of the Holy Spirit.

36. Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1979) hymn 161.

37. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, Second Edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977) 191,192. James S. Stewart writes: “You cannot say all that the mysterious word ‘God’ means to you, you cannot convey or describe what that transcendent name connotes, until you have said Father, Son, Spirit. That is true Trinitarianism ….” The Strong Name (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973) 245. See Stewart’s whole sermon “The Strong Name of the Trinity”, an exposition of 2 Corinthians 13:14, 244-253. According to Alister McGrath, “The doctrine of the Trinity provides a hermeneutical key to the correct interpretation of the Old and New Testament narratives…. Trinitarian discourse is an attempt to identify God at the centre of the Scriptural narratives….” The Genesis of Doctrine (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) 60. For a helpful summary presentation on the Trinity by a Roman Catholic theologian, see Appendix 6, “God as Trinity”.

38. Any serious reader of the New Testament will conclude that the Sonship of Jesus differs radically from the sonship of others. Disciples of Jesus are God’s children by adoption, as forgiven sinners. And need it be repeated that Biblically neither the Fatherhood of God, nor the Sonship of Jesus, nor people as the children of God has any sexual connotation? Nor is the Virgin Mary a member of the Trinity. Mary herself, doubtless, would have better understood than the one who is said to have asked her: “Mary, did you know the Son whom you have delivered has come to deliver you (i.e., from sin)?” On the other hand many Muslims are aware that the concepts of the “Fatherhood of God” and “His offspring” are not alien to Islamic thought and expression, at least to Sufis. Surely both Muslims and Christians, while utilizing such concepts, should carefully define, if necessary, what they mean and what is, for them, acceptable and objectionable. In general, may we also ask, in the holy Name of God, why Christians and Muslims, generation after generation, perpetuate these and other misunderstandings of each other? Is this perpetuation of such verbal militancy and its motivation pleasing to God? Cf. footnote 8 above.

In fact, how many new disciples of Jesus have rejoiced in learning and experiencing that God loves them, that through Jesus God has become their Heavenly Father and that they have become His dear children! Moreover, do we not expect children to serve better than servants!

39. Attributed to Lacordaire as noted in James S. Stewart, The Strong Name, 103. Yet surely it is precisely this same love and righteousness of God that God does invite us to imitate, each one of us in his/her own little way.

40. The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941) hymn 221.

41. See Appendix 5, “The Atonement and the Nature of God.”

42. From Daud Rahbar, A Letter to Christian and Muslims Friends, January, 1960. As Rahbar’s fine study , God of Justice, Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an (Leiden: Brill, 1960) reveals, Rahbar took his personal concern about God’s disposition toward humanity according to the Qur’an very seriously. On the other hand, does it appear that for Rahbar the normal Orthodox Muslim response to his question, “We do not know how ….”, sadly trivializes not only the importance of the question itself but, even more, humanity’s critical need for a divine response befitting their need and God’s character — and still more when we acknowledge that only God Most High can forgive sin, save and redeem? How vividly some of the Hadith portray the anxiety of some of Muhammad’s faithful companions — even Muhammad himself — as they recollected the severity of God’s judgement and their personal need for God’s forgiveness! For further comments by Rahbar on the influence of Greek philosophy (Hellenism) on the development of the re-interpretation of Quranic exegesis and the re-interpretation of the essential thrust of the Qur’an see “Reflections on the Tradition of Quranic Exegesis”, The Muslim World (Hartford: The Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1962) 300, 301.

43. Rahbar, Letter. H.B. Dehqani Tafti, himself a convert from Islam and later bishop of the Anglican Church in Iran at the time of the recent revolution in Iran and one of many Christians who have suffered the consequences of this revolution, speaks “of the magnet of the Cross of Christ as the ultimate index … of the reality of God.” The Unfolding Design of My World, ed. by Kenneth Cragg (Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 2000) 243. The bishop’s son was murdered during the revolution. Attempts on the bishop’s life were also made. Similarly, when the Afghan Zia Nodrat was asked, after he had become a Christian, if he realized he could be killed for apostatizing from Islam, he answered, “I have counted the cost and am willing to die for the Messiah, since He has already died on the cross for me.” Dr. Christian Goforth, The Story of Zia Nodrat (Toronto: The Fellowship of Faith) a tract. Truth to be told, Zia Nodrat was subsequently murdered.

44. Constance Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London: SPCK, 1961) 90.

45. Padwick, 90,91.

46. Padwick, 92.

47. Padwick, 93. Compare also the following: “The message of the cross is the unity of these two, the holiness of God demanding the destruction of the transgressor and the love of God saving the sinner. The message of the cross says first, that the wrath of God is a reality inseparable from the fact of sin. The holy God cannot ignore the creature’s resistance to his will. He would, so to say, abandon himself, deny his holiness in merely ignoring human rebellion. The divine wrath must manifest itself as a deadly reaction of the Holy against the unholy. But it says, secondly, that God does not want the death of the sinner but his salvation. God’s love is greater than man’s sin, he forgives guilt however great it may be. This paradoxical unity of holiness and mercy, which is inaccessible to rational thought, is the message of the Bible.” Emil Brunner, The Scandal of Christianity (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1968) 44. On the other hand, according to the Biblical understanding of love as the Messiah taught and lived it, what could be more sensible and meaningful! See again Appendix 5, “The Atonement and the Nature of God.”

It bears saying again that the Cross is Christianity’s premier symbol. The worldwide Church of Jesus the Messiah confesses as its premier confession that Jesus the Messiah died on the cross and rose from the dead “for the forgiveness of our sins”, “for us and for our salvation”, even as the Holy Injil so clearly and so frequently proclaims. The empty cross, without Him on it, represents Jesus the Messiah who now has risen from the dead and is forevermore victor over sin and death, over Satan and all evil powers. It symbolizes God’s answer to humanity’s profoundest query, “How shall we be forgiven, saved?” Quranically, as Biblically, there is really no question about the universal need for God’s forgiveness of our sins, is there?

May we also recall, in the face of the enemy on the battlefield, the great cultural influence of the Cross as a symbol of strength, courage, compassion and self-giving love in such a noble award as “The Victoria Cross”? The rationale: The Cross, originally the symbol of the most wretched and cursed of deaths, and now transformed by the death of Jesus the Messiah upon it and His resurrection from the dead has become by God’s grace the symbol of God’s gift to us of the forgiveness of our sins, a new and transformed life of service to Him and eternal fellowship with Him. For the citation on behalf of a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest honour to be conferred on a soldier in the British Commonwealth, see Appendix 7. Then again, how many other medals for bravery are shaped in the spirit and form of the cross? How can we forget the Red Cross, named thus hardly by coincidence!

We would still add that Christians do not or ought not to worship the cross any more than, may we say, Muslims do not or ought not to worship the symbols of “Allah” and “Muhammad”, inscribed in beautiful Arabic calligraphy, side by side, on a mosque wall or on an Islamic rosary. Finally, is it significant that the Palestinian Liberation Organization has viewed Jesus Christ as “the first Palestinian martyr…crucified (our emphasis) because he believed Palestine could be a land of co-existence”? The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Dec. 25, 1982.

48. At the same time, as we have already noted above (footnote 11), Muslim theologians are acutely aware that the Qur’an describes God in clearly anthropomorphic language: He has hands, eyes, and a face; He mounts the throne, etc. Not surprisingly, such attributions to God became a source of conflicting interpretations. Some theologians accepted them literally; others interpreted them allegorically; still others accepted the attribution, qualifying them by adding bi la kayf wa la tashbih (“without knowing how and free from anthropomorphism”), this relatively popular latter stance, called tanzih (transcendence), a middle position between tashbih (anthropomorphism) or tajsim (corporealizing) and ta‘til (divesting of all attributes), a position inclining towards, if not actually, agnosticism.

Still, Muslims continue to understand the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah to negate the transcendence of God and, hence, to be blasphemous. Islamically, God does not reveal Himself: He reveals His will only. For a relevant exchange of ideas, reflecting this contention between Ismail al-Faruqi and Kenneth Cragg, see the International Review of Mission, 1976.

49. Again we refer to Kenneth Cragg: “The sense of the One God that informs New Testament faith affirms a divine capacity to yearn and suffer for humanity. Such love is its ultimate clue to how divine transcendence, evident also in creation, law, and prophethood, is finally measured and known. By contrast Islam affirms a transcendence in which, despite the common dimensions of creation, law, and prophethood, such pathos and such compassion have no place. Islam believes itself commissioned with a mandate of power to institutionalize divine sovereignty on earth via the Shari‘ah, the Ummah, and the Dawlah, sacred law, community, and the state. These leave no place for inward question.

“This disparity about divine greatness, about wherein the akbar fact of God resides, is central to the Muslim-Christian relation….” The Arab Christian, 281, 282. Jesus’ parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son (Luke 15), of course, vividly portray God’s yearning.

Islam, indeed, speaks of God as loving (al-Wadud). Yet, it seems that normally He loves conditionally, rarely unconditionally. More commonly, God is described as “the Beneficent, the Merciful” (Pickthall) or “the Merciful and the Compassionate”. Nowhere does the Qur’an state that God is love. Nor does the Qur’an seriously reflect Jesus’ teaching about it and how He personally enacted what He taught His disciples to enact and what they, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, more fully defined in the Holy Bible. (See again Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 13).

No doubt, love and mercy intersect at points. But can they really ever be equated? The king need not be motivated by love to be merciful. True motherhood and fatherhood are better characterized by love than mercy. Biblically, husband and wife covenant to love one another – not simply to be merciful to each other! – the two of them to become one “until death do us part”, the husband to love his wife “even as Jesus Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for Her”, i.e., the Church. Can love – at least the love of God the Holy Injil portrays Jesus to have taught and exemplified – ever be motivated by anything other than love? See Paul Martinson, “Dialogue and Evangelism in Relation to Islam”, Word and World (St. Paul: Luther Seminary, 1996) 191-193.

With the above observations as a springboard, perhaps the following comments of C.S. Lewis might further illuminate the gist of this whole essay. Lewis has a senior devil (called Screwtape) speaking these words of truth: “The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another, and, specifically, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses … ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition.’

“Now the Enemy (God’s) philosophy is nothing more nor less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility he calls love and this same monotonous panacea can be detected under all He does and even all He is – or claims to be …. He claims to be three as well as one, in order that this nonsense about Love may find a foothold in His own nature.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Toronto: S.J. Reginald Saunders, 1947) 92.

50. Hymnal Supplement 98, hymn 895.

51. When Muslims and Christians ask each other such questions, they might well check their motive for posing their questions. Do they really want to understand or simply trap and embarrass the “opponent”? Both Tawhid and Trinity are theologically loaded concepts and resist simple definitions.

To the Muslim requesting the Christian to explain the Trinity or Jesus the Messiah’s relation to God, surely the Christian’s better response will include offering the Muslim sustained guided reading through the Gospel accounts and other portions of the Holy Bible. After all, before learning calculus one learns simple mathematics. The same obtains with the Qur’an and Tawhid.

52. Alister McGrath, Understanding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) 30,31

53. Lutheran Book of Worship, hymn 94. In verse five the murderer is, of course, Barabbas.

And, lest Muslims appear here only as adversaries to the incarnation, we may cite the eloquent couplet of Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s distinguished poet and philosopher, that yearns for God’s appearance in a form recognizable to humankind:

Kabhi ai Haqiqat-i Muntazar, nazar a libas-i majaz mein,
Keh hazaron sajde tadap rahe hain meri jabin-e niyaz mein.

O True and Awaited One, appear before us in the apparel of this world,
For my humble forehead trembles restlessly with the thousands of prostrations I would perform before You.

For this reference I am grateful to Dr. Sam Bhajjan, himself a distinguished Urdu poet and former director of The Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderabad, India .

54. Quoted from Kenneth Cragg, The Arab Christian (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) 84, 85. Al-Ash‘ari, originally a member of the Mu‘tazilah, eventually joined the Orthodox and became the father of Orthodox scholasticism (kalam). Sirah (“biography”) here has reference to Muhammad’s biography, the story of his life in Mecca and Medina. See Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, in loco.

55. Quoted from the devotional book by Alvin N. Rogness, The Word for Everyday (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981) 218.

56. Taken from “An Anthology of Verse” (Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1964) 257. The author, the distinguished preacher and poet, John Donne, comments on 1 Corinthinans 15:52-55.

57. Taken from James Denney, The Death of Christ (London: The Tyndale Press, 1960) 180-182.

58. Quoted from Jacques Jomier, Jesus the Life of the Messiah, tr. from the French Jesus la vie du Messie (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1974) 180, 181. Jomier, a Dominican Brother within the Roman Catholic Church, had long service in Egypt as an Islamic scholar, author and Christian evangelist. He has contributed articles to the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. Kenneth Cragg, a member of the Church of England, has provided a Preface to this work as well as some additions to its Notes, a few of which reflect different interpretations of some passages in the Bible – making for a more ecumenically Christian biography of Jesus.

The following writings also, all focusing on Jesus the Messiah as the Word of God and/or the Holy Trinity, and the reasonableness of these Christian statements of faith, may be of interest to Muslims and Christians:

1. John Macquarrie, The Significance of Jesus Christ Today (Toronto: The Anglican Book Centre, 1978). The author was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford.

2. Callum Beck, On Not Understanding the Trinity, 1987, an unpublished paper available from FFM.

3. Kenneth Bailey, God is ... Dialogues on the Nature of God (Toronto: FFM, 2005) uses drama and simple language to comment on the Holy Bible’s understanding of God and His Gospel from a Middle Eastern perspective. The book’s four sections: God is Great; God is Light; God is Three in One; God is Holy Love.

4. Iskander Jadeed, Did God Appear in the Flesh? (Rikon: The Good Way, 5th edition, n.d.). In this publication Iskander Jadeed, himself a convert from Islam and well informed about Islamic sources, responds to some of the Muslim objections to Incarnation, noting also that at times the same difficulties Muslims detect in the Bible with respect to tanzih and tashbih are plentifully found in the Qur’an and the Ahadith.

59. Thanks to the Rev. Jeff Miskus for reference to this citation in a sermon he delivered at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Mississauga. And lest we forget, the Victoria Cross, as symbolic in its own way of the Biblical account of Jesus the Messiah’s crucifixion, represents the very antithesis of the essential rationale and intention of the Crusades. The Kingdom of God is not spread by the sword.

60. Taken from The Lutheran Book of Worship, 84.

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