11. The Trinity explained to Muslims

 

'If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee....' (Surah 10, Yunus, verse 94)

 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

 

The main stream of Christianity throughout all the world believes in one God, the Holy Trinity. It is indeed a mystery, as God Himself is. The incomprehensibility of God is confirmed in the Quran and the Bible. (Job 11:7, 1 Cor 2:11, Surah Al-Anaam 6:103 ). Many attributes of Him are accepted by both Muslims and Christians, yet are simply not fully comprehensible to the human mind. We all accept that God has no beginning, yet do we understand this? The common question asked by children, 'If God made everything, who made God?' is just as puzzling to adults. Muslims and Christians believe that God is independent of space and time, yet how on earth can we satisfactorily explain how this might be? How is it that God can be nearer to us than our most secret thought, yet be this for the billions of other people on earth just as much simultaneously? These confusing facts apply also to all people in history and the times to come. 'Impossible!' the sceptic cries out, yet true. Then why should it be such a problem if there is some aspect of God's essential nature (his Trinitarian existence) which is difficult for us to grasp? Someone said, 'if you can understand it then be sure it is not God.' Both, the Bible and the Quran speak about God anthropomorphically (human terms are used to describe him). Orthodox Muslims do not explain the 'how'. Similarly, it is a fact that God's word was revealed in a book, but how the infinite can be expressed in the finite is not clarified. Let us now set the basic framework for our study. The Bible categorically pronounces that there is only one God!

 

Jesus: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.' (Mar 12:29, or Rom 3:29-30, Jam 2:19)

The Quran too testifies that Jews and Christians, the people of the Book, believe in one God. Surah 29, Ankabut, verse 46:

 

'And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury); But say, 'We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).'

 

A. CLARIFYING MISUNDERSTANDINGS

 

The blasphemous idea of Christians worshipping three gods comes from a wrong understanding of the Trinity. In the fifth century AD there was a Christian cult called Maryanya which spread the false belief that Jesus and his mother Mary would be two separate gods besides God. The Quran was right to speak out against such impiety. Surah 5 Ma'idah, verse 116:

 

'And behold! Allah will say: 'O Jesus, the son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, 'Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?' He will say: 'Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.'

 

To say, as the minority cult of the Maryanyas did, that Mary was the mother of God through whom He produced a physical son, and both were to be taken as separate gods besides God, is absurd! This ludicrous and heathen concept of the Trinity is completely condemned by both Islam and Christianity! The Quran rejects it in clear terms in Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 171. The triads of gods worshipped by pagans are always three separate gods, not one God. In addition to this big difference to the Biblical concept of Trinity, non-Christian Trinitarian beliefs are mostly three gods at the top of a list of many other gods. The Trinity has also been misunderstood to mean that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. Neither are there three substances in one substance.

 

 

2. EXPLORING THE TRUE CONCEPT OF TRINITY

 

A. Biblical facts as basis for Trinity

 

While the word 'Trinity' does not appear in the Bible the concept of it is quiet clearly taught throughout its pages. Similarly, the Muslim Creed, known as 'Kalimah' does not occur in the Quran. The whole sentence is put together from two different Surahs. Muslims call Allah 'El Adl', meaning 'the Just', 'El Wajid', meaning 'The Inventor or Maker', 'Edh Dhur', meaning 'The Harmful', etc. based on the list of the 99 names of God. However these words are nowhere found in the Quran but Muslims still accept these attributes as belonging to God. (see 'The Muslim doctrine of God', by S.M. Zwemer, American tract Society, 1905, pages 39-45) Let us now examine the verses in the Bible upon which the teaching of the Trinity is built.

 

'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 strength.' (Deu 6:4-5)

 

Firstly we need to look at the definition of the word 'one'. 'The idea is not, Jehovah (later translated as 'LORD') our God is one (the only) God, but 'one Jehovah'...(it) simply states that it is to Him alone that the name Jehovah rightfully belongs, that He is the one absolute God, to whom no other Elohim can be compared. This is also the meaning of the same expression in Zechariah 14: 9, 'Jehovah will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Jehovah, and His name one' where the words added 'and His name one,' can only signify that in the future Jehovah would be acknowledged as the one absolute God, as King over all the earth' (Keil-Delitsch Commentary)

 

'The word used for 'one' is the ordinary Hebrew numeral. God is all on his own. He has no 'relations'. As far as his Godhead is concerned he is alone, unique.... Some passages use plural forms for God. One form of the name for God, Elohim, is itself plural. This is remarkable in view of the Old Testament emphasis on the unity of God. It cannot be explained as a plural of 'majesty'; this was entirely unknown to the Hebrews. It has been seen as on a level with the words for 'water' and 'heaven', which both also happen to be in the plural in Hebrew. Water can be thought of in individual raindrops or in terms of the mass of water in the ocean. The plural in this case points to 'diversity in unity'. Some believe that the same is true of the plural 'Elohim'. But there are also passages where God speaks of himself in the plural. We find them in particular in the first chapters of Genesis.

 

'God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...'

and,

'The Lord God said, 'Now the man has become like one of us...'

 

But we find it also in Isaiah's vision:

'And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' (Lion Bible, article on 'The Trinity in the Bible' by Klaas Runia)

 

The following verses teach also that Jehovah, God the Holy Trinity is His own community built upon a loving relationship as the essence of reality. It brings forth a perfect and beautiful unity:

 

'In the beginning God ('elohim', plural, the Father) created ('bara' singular verb) the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, (God the Son who is known as His word in Joh 1:1 through whom he created all things according to Col 1:16)

 

'Let there be light,' and there was light.' (Gen 1:1-3)

'...hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord GOD has sent me and his Spirit.' (Isa 48:16)

Ultimately, these verses find their fulfilment in Jesus (Joh 10:36, Luk 4:1,14,18).

 

'I will tell of the kindness of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us - yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindness. He said, 'Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me'; and so he became their Saviour. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.' (Isa 63:7-10)

 

There are a number of verses in the New Testament that call Jesus and the Holy Spirit God, besides God the Father. (Joh 8:58, compare with Exo 3:14; Act 5:3-4 etc.) In the light of this truth the following verses are understood to be speaking about the Trinity:

 

'And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.' (Mat 3:16-17)

 

'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular!) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,...' (Mat 28:19)

 

'May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.' (2 Cor 13:13)

 

'Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.' (1 Pet 1:1-2)

 

In Acts 2:38, 8:16, 19:4 people are baptized in the name of Jesus only. Since Jesus is now included in a way he was not in John's baptism (19:4), the abbreviated form is used in the beginning to emphasize the distinctive quality of the new baptism. For more verses speaking about the Trinity when one considers the Biblical context see, Ephesians 4:4-6, 5:18-20, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Romans 8:9-11.

 

B. Doctrine of Trinity explained

 

The word 'Trinity' is derived from the Latin 'trinitas,' being a combination of the words 'tri' for 'three' and 'unitas' for 'unity.' The Christians definition of Trinity based on verses like the above is expressed in the Athenasian Creed:

'We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding (mixing up) the Persons; nor dividing the Substance (Essence)'

 

The word 'Person' is here used in the sense of 'self with a particular function.' ('The Illustrated Bible Dictionary' by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, see 'person') It has to be stated emphatically that Christians do not worship three gods but one God because '...each member of the Godhead in some sense indwells the other, without diminishing the full person hood of each. The essential unity of the Godhead, then, is found both in their intrinsic equality of divine characteristics and also in the intensely personal unity that comes from mutual indwelling.' ('The self-giving triune God, the imago dei and the nature of the local church: an ontology of mission', paper by J. Scott Horrell, Th.D, professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary)

 

Thus when God the Son died at the cross, God did not cease to exist but was separated from himself regarding the relationship within the Trinity not regarding his essence. To think that God gave up a perfect relationship for a time shows how great his love towards us is!

 

'It is held that although the doctrine is beyond the grasp of human reason, it is, like many of the formulations of physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended though it may not be comprehended by the human mind.' (See, 'Encyclopedia Americana', 'Trinity', by F.C. Grant, Danbury, Con.: Americana Corp., 1980) The Trinity of God, like many other facts about him does not have to be understood fully, but to be believed in. Faith, the simple childlike trust that God is and acts as he revealed himself in the Bible, is sufficient for salvation. Similarly, one does not have to understand how a Television set works in order to enjoy a program about nature. A simple touch of the right button will bring about the blessing.

 

The danger one faces when confronted with extreme or complicated ideas, is, 'to throw the baby out with the bath-water,' this means to reject everything about a matter, even the true and the good. Here is what C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University has to say about such an attitude: 'If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.' ('Mere Christianity', Macmillan Company, New York, 1943, page 145)

 

C. Illustrations

 

When it comes to finding illustrations for the Trinity, to explain that which can be apprehended but not comprehended, one can easily fall into modalism. This is a false teaching holding that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three successive 'modes' in which the one God manifested himself to bring salvation to the world. It would mean that God the Father was made flesh, died, and rose from the dead. The Biblical teaching, however, is that Jesus, God the Son took on a human nature died and rose again from the dead. Jesus is a person, in the sense of self with a particular function, distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. The oneness is still maintained by stressing the fact that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same substance or essence. As mentioned before each member of the Godhead is indwellt with the other which further confirms God's oneness. Keeping this important difference in mind, the following examples have to be viewed as applicable only in a limited way.

In trying to come to terms with this subtlety it will be helpful to realize that everything in this world consists of a kind of Trinity, namely substance, form and purpose! To put this statement to the test let us think of a pencil. Like everything else it is made out of a substance that is formed into something, in our case into a pencil. Its purpose is to enable people to write, in the same way as all other things have some purpose!


The geometric illustration of the Trinity is found in a triangle. The tree corners are inseparable and simultaneous. The one that represents Jesus is touched by a circle that stands for his human nature, whereas the corner indicates his divine nature. (Phil 2: 5 -11) Questions and apparent contradictions regarding Jesus being God (e.g. 'How can God eat, die, etc. like Jesus?') are easily solved by taking his two natures into consideration. What he did in one he did not in the other.


You, dear reader, have got a body, a soul and a spirit according to Hebrews 4:12. Yet, in spite of this you are unique, you are the only one who is like you in the whole wide world.


Nature is another example where we find diversity within unity. On one hand one can find nowhere a bigger variety. When God created flowers he did not just design red roses. There are countless different forms, shapes and colours. On the other hand is nature's unity evident in the fact that the extinction of one kind of animal effects many others.
St. Augustine, an early church father, compared the Trinity with love that involves a lover, the loved one and a spirit of love between them.


It may also be valuable to see the one universe as made of space, matter and time.
Time by itself consists of past, present and future. If any one of these is removed then universe and time will cease to be!


Fire generates heat and light. Thus fire, with its light and heat is one thing that has different functions.
Multiplicity in unity is a very common phenomena. This kind of spiritual unity which reflects the Biblical understanding of the Trinity is distinguished from mathematical unity where 1+1+1 = 3. In mathematical terms one could compare Trinity with 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.


'Further, some have pointed to the fact that Muhammad was simultaneously a prophet, a husband, and a leader. Why then should a Muslim reject the idea of a plurality of functions (persons) in God.' ('Answering Islam', by N.L. Geisler&Abdul Saleeb, Baker Books U.S.A. 1993, page 269)


This brings us to another analogy for the truth of the Trinity, that of man's mind. He has one mind, which is capable of thinking thoughts and expressing them in words. Mind, thoughts and words are one. No one can say that God has no Mind that expresses itself in Thoughts and Words. God in Mind and Thoughts and Words is one God and He never claimed that there would be two other gods beside Him! The Trinity of Christianity is truly representative of the Mind of God (commonly referred to as God the Father), His Thoughts, (commonly referred to as God the Holy Spirit) and His Word (commonly referred to as God the Son). In the Gospel according to John we read: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word (Greek: Logos) was God. He was with God in the beginning...' The Word became flesh (in Jesus) and made his dwelling among us. (Joh 1:1,14) The context shows clearly that Jesus is God in the flesh: He was in the beginning, that means he is not created, he is eternal as God is eternal. Verse three states that through Jesus, the Word, all things were made, that means that he is God the Creator. Some people have doubted that Jesus is really called God in this verse because in the Greek language the first word for 'God', 'ton theon' is different from the second, 'theos'. However in Greek it does not suggest this sort of shift in meaning. 'This can be seen by reading other passages in the New Testament where 'theos' appears in the same context both with and without the definite article, yet with no change in meaning (Joh 3:2, 13:3, Rom 1:21, 1 The 1:9, Heb 9:14, 1 Pet 4:10-11). Whenever the word 'theos' is used in the same construction, it always clearly refers to the true God (Mar 12:27, Luk 20:38, Joh 8:54, Phi 2:13, Heb 11:16, 'Why you should believe in the Trinity', by R.M. Bowman,Jr., Baker Book House, 1993, pages 93-94) The 'word' proceeds from the 'mind'. Both words derive their meaning from the Greek original 'Logos'. The word 'Logos' has many meanings. One form 'Logo' gives us the English 'logic', which means not just ordinary speech (words), but mind expressed or intelligent expression. God created the world by His intelligent Mind, or by His Thoughts, or by His Word, all of which mean the same. For God and His mind are the same being. An example of this is when we say, 'We solved the problem with our minds.' Is it us who solved it or our minds? Both are essentially the same thing. This distinction between us and our mind is merely intellectual and does not involve separation but difference of function. Likewise, when we speak about God, His Mind of which His Thought and Word proceeds, we are not separating them, but only clarifying the issue.


The last illustration finds support in the Quran where Jesus is called 'a Word from God'. Surah 3, Ali 'Imran, verse 45:

Behold! the angels said: 'O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him; his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;...'

The English translation uses the relative pronoun 'his' to render a masculine personal pronoun in the Arabic language. Since 'Kalima' (Arabic for 'word') is in the feminine gender it becomes clear that 'a word' does not just mean 'a word of language' but a person! We also find this clarified in the sayings of one of the Muslim scholars. ('Fusus al Hukm', Part II, pages 13,36, by Al Shaikh Muhyi al Din al 'Arabi)

 

The Bible speaks about the Holy Spirit being God:

'Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit...You have not lied to men but to God.' (Act 5:3,4)

 

In a similar way the Quran (Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 171) mentions Jesus as being a Spirit proceeding from God! In other parts people are described as having been strengthened with a spirit from God (Surah 58, Al Mujadilah, verse 22). At the creation Allah has breathed into man of His spirit (Surah 15, Al-Hijr, verse 29), but Jesus only IS the Spirit from Allah! This is why Islamic tradition calls Jesus 'Ruhullah', that means 'Spirit of Allah'. Neither the Spirit of Allah (the Thoughts) nor the Word (the mind expressed) of Him can have been created since whatever proceeds from God Himself is part of Him and must therefore have existed eternally. If God was without Mind at any time He would not be God; or if he was without Thoughts at any time He would cease to be the Almighty One which is impossible! Muslim theology confirms this belief by stating that the Quran is uncreated and has existed in eternity with God. There again we find plurality within unity, something that is other then God but it is at the same time one with God.

 

D. Trinity answers difficult questions about God

 

The concept of God being a unique community within Himself stands in opposite to the Muslim concept of Allah being one in the strict numerical sense of the word. This Muslim understanding raises three questions:

i) 'How could Allah have been self sufficient and loving before the creation of angels and of the earth?' Since true love is always giving and Allah according to Islam is a lone God, according to logic there must have been a time where he was incomplete, where he could not have had the attribute of love? However, according to both the Quran and the Bible, God has always been and always will be perfect.

 

ii) 'Is Allah selfish?' Since love is described as having '...no envy;...no high opinion of itself,....no pride;...no thought for itself...(1 Cor 13: 4-5) some people like sceptic John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain or Pablo Picasso have come to the conclusion that God is utterly selfish. They say that by asking us to worship nobody else but God, he himself commits the sin of seeking glory for himself only for which he condemns man. While many Muslims would say that Allah, the creator can be selfish if he wants, Bible believing Christians find the answer to this apparent contradiction in the Trinitarian nature of God. He shares his glory among himself.

 

iii) 'Is God limited?' Of course that can not be, but he who thinks of God as an absolute unity where there is no room for multiplicity at all, is forced to believe in a god who does not know himself. Self-knowledge demands a distinction, a multiplicity, between knower and known. Self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a 'self' can only exist in contrast with an 'other', a something which is not the self. Only a Trinitarian concept of God allows for such a vital distinction.

 

E. Doctrine of Trinity held by early Christians

 

Tertullian, an early church father, used the word 'Trinity' the first time at the end of the 2nd century after the birth of Christ (AD) The Church adopted it as an official doctrine at the council of Nizea in 325 and in its final form at the council of Constantinople in 381 to defend Christianity against false teachings. (See also, 'The Illustrated Bible Dictionary' by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, 'Trinity')

 

However, the content of the Trinitarian doctrine has been believed in and taught about by Christian writers living before the council of Nizea already. They do not always reflect the general theological beliefs of common Christians of their day but nevertheless give some indication regarding doctrinal issues. Statements in support of the Trinity were made by:

 

Ignatius, 30 -117, Bishop of Antioch. He was a disciple of the Apostle John who was a direct follower of Jesus. In Sunni Islam John would be equivalent to one of the 'Sahabah' ('Companions'). From that perspective Ignatius would be a 'Tabi' which is derived from 'Tabi'un' ('Followers' or 'Successors'). At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius used the threefold formula: 'Fare ye well in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our common hope, and in the Holy Ghost.' (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter XXI, 'Conclusion', ANF01 CCEL.)

 

Ignatius also identified as heretics those who "say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power." (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VI, 'Abstain from the Poison of Heretics.', ANF01 CCEL.

 

He refers to "Jesus Christ our God", clearly affirming the deity of Christ. (Ibid., Chapter VII, 'The Same Continued')

Finally, Ignatius wrote: "If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men. And such a man is poor in understanding, even as by name he is an Ebionite." (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VI, 'Do Not Accept Judaism', ANF01 CCEL.)

 

Polycarp, 69-155/160, Bishop of Smyrna. Again being a Tabi, he was a disciple of the Apostle John, one of the Sahabah who was a direct follower of Jesus. As Polycarp was taken out to be martyred he prayed: "O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen" (The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam: Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy Polycarp, Ch. 14, ANF01 CCEL.) This is the earliest of the Martyria, and its important authenticity is beyond doubt. Eusebius quotes it in his Ecclesiastical History (Ibid. iv. 15)

 

Justin, 110 - 165 AD: 'The Father of the Universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.' (see, Justin Martyr, First Apology 63, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to AD 325, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, rev.ed. A. Cleveland Coxe (Grand Rapids: William B. Eedmans Publishing Co., 1969 reprint, 1:184; hereafter cited as ANF.)

 

'Christians worship God the Father, the Son (who came forth from Him...), and the prophetic Spirit.' (Justin Martyr, First Apology 6 in ANF, 1:164)

 

Irenaeus, 130-200 AD: 'The Church has its faith in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God...Christ Jesus, is our Lord and God and Saviour, and King.' (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10.1, in ANF, 1:330)

 

Clement of Alexandria, 200 AD: 'Christ is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because He was His Son.' (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen 10, in ANF, 2:202)

 

 

3. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES TRINITY MAKE?

 

At one stage in the growing up process of my daughter she developed a new phrase that soon became her favourite saying, thankfully only for a short time. When she was told to come in for dinner after play she would often fearlessly proclaim, 'so what?' That was her way of saying, 'what you are saying is irrelevant to me. I want to continue playing outside.' She thought wrongly what we were asking her to do did not have any practical influence on her situation. Once convinced of the truth behind the Trinity many people still ask 'so what, this doctrine has no practical consequences for my life.' As we shall see, the Bible disagrees with such a hasty conclusion.

'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number;' (Gen 1:27-28)

 

As an interesting detail the thought that all men originated from one kind was not known in the ancient world. Greeks called themselves 'Autochons,' 'made from the earth of Greece.' All others they called 'Barbariens,' 'foreigners.' The Jews, being eager to stress there uniqueness as people, would never have invented such a teaching that made them having the same ancestors as other people. Only because God said so they were willing to accept it without a full understanding. This proofs once more the accuracy of the Bible.

 

The passage above declares that only men and women are created in God's image, in his likeness. Contrary to New Age and radical environmentalist belief animals, plants and inanimate things are less valuable. That is why materialistic possessions, sadly so important to many, are really one of the lowest forms of wealth. This is not to deny that God created all things good but they do gain in value as they serve what is above them in the right way. Precious minerals become even more precious when being used as food for plants and raw materials for a multitude of man's products. Plants increase their value as food for animals and humans. They can also provide us with medicines, beauty, clothing and shelter. Animals too raise in the level of usefulness when they give humans companionship, power and transportation. It comes as no surprise that human beings reach their true value only when they serve God by taking care of his creation. (For more details see, 'Discipling Nations' by Darrow L. Miller, YWAM Publishing, 1999, page 89)

 

The literal meaning of 'image', 'to shade' shows that man is not the same as God but similar in certain aspects, such as in his ability to think, feel and will. Even though badly damaged through sin, these are our God given tools to love and relate with him and each other. Calvin, the French Theologian an Reformer said: 'Do you want to know God, get to know yourself. Do you want to know yourself, get to know God (because we are made in his image).'

The word translated 'image' was used in ancient times by kings of the Near East to describe statues of themselves which were placed in all the main cities of their vast kingdoms. Because they could not be physically present everywhere, the kings images served as a reminder to everyone of their authority and rule. 'The statue was not the same as the king, but it represented the king and was due the same glory and honour. To dishonour the statue of the king was sacrilege, treason.' ('Intimate Allies' by Allender and Longman, Tyndale House Publishers, USA, 1995, page 18)

 

The Bible confirms this profound truth when it says what God is in big we are in small:

'When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, :what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (or, than God) and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.' (Psa 8:3-6)

 

'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.' (Gen 9:6)

 

The command above is so radical because if we touch men, the image of God, in a sense we touch God! War in its various forms would cease if that principle was understood. What I do to my fellow beings I do to God in some ways. We either cultivate beauty or do harm. We must learn to look beyond the depravity and see the beauty of men. We are more glorious than a beautiful sunset. No matter what we do we therefore are still worth loving, even the worst criminal.

 

'The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Mat 25:40)

 

Islam teaches to do good to our fellow beings in order to influence the scale of good and bad deeds positively so that perhaps one can go to heaven, if Allah wills. However, the real reason for treating them with dignity and importance is to bring glory and honour to God. If man is created in God's image, similar to him, what practical lessons can we learn from the doctrine of the Trinity? How does it affect our daily lives?

 

A. Trinity teaches that relationships are most important

 

A loving relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son (Mat 3:16-17), the Son submits to the Father (Luk 22:42) , the Holy Spirit brings honour and glory to Jesus. (John 16:14) Because we are made in God's image relationships must be our first priority in life. What is most important to us? Success in business? Riches, material things? Degrees? Knowledge? Health? Reputation? If they are more important than relationships then we sin and have to ask God for forgiveness.

 

B. Trinity makes personal relationship with God possible

 

Because sin is so severe and separates the Holy One from unholy men, God the Father sent God the Son to die for our sins on the cross. Without belief in the Trinity such a divine rescue operation would have been impossible. If God was One in the Muslim sense of the word who would have ruled the Universe during the time he died for us? Nobody and that can not be since God rules for ever. He who believes that Jesus died for his sin on the cross must believe in the Trinity. It is impossible to believe in the one without the other. Only through the work of Jesus on the cross men is enabled to stand in the presence of the Holy God.

 

Andrei Roubliev, a Russian artist, has painted a most interesting picture. It depicts God's visitation to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three angels. (Gen 18:1-8) One sees three men who are eating on a table. There is an empty space reserved for YOU! You are invited to enjoy the fellowship of God the Holy Trinity! We have a hard time to grasp such an incredible thought because when we think about God we stand in awe about the fact that he is One, Almighty, Powerful, having all things under his sovereign control. This is all true but it is only one side of the picture. God reveals himself not only as the sovereign One but also as having an intensive, passionate relationship within the Trinity. Through faith in Jesus and his works God invites us into a relationship as his children, who have the potential to become his grown up sons and daughters, his friends!

 

'And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast.' (Eph 2:6-9)

 

'His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.' (2 Pet 1:3)

 

'The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 Joh 1:2-3)

 

Jesus: 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.' (Joh 15:15)

 

Good friends treat each other as equals even though they may come from different backgrounds, have different jobs, and may not belong to the same social class. In spite of the differences their friendship unites them. Friends respect and listen to each other. Everyone is invited to share their opinions, feelings and ideas freely without having to fear they will be rejected as persons. Constructive criticism is allowed. Someone said, 'a friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts who you have become, and still gently invites you to grow.' As incredible as it may sound but if we have become friends with God! Through faith in Jesus he offers us such a friendship! We are invited to participate in it! God rejoices over us and our uniqueness. In taking part in God's unity our being different from everyone else will honour and glorify him. It is true, we have not deserved to be treated in such a way, it is not our right but God offers his friendship as a privilege.

 

Of course, as friends of the perfect God we will make mistakes here on earth. However, God is so great that he can even turn around the bad and make it work for our good.

 

'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' (Rom 8:28)

 

God's will can be compared with a river. Within the river bed it will always find a way. Our sins and selfishness are like debris, stones and mud. They can not stop the river for ever. It will find a possibility to get around the awkward hindrances. As long as we stay in the friendship with God he will finish the work he has started in us. (Phi 1:6) Is that not good news indeed?

 

C. Trinity makes personal relationship with people possible

 

Relationships are absolutely vital for a healthy upbringing, in fact for our very survival as human beings. Babies, orphaned during the second world war died for a lack of attention. A small child who got lost in a French forest for years started to act like an animal. Similarly, sin, selfishness, is the single most devastating problem that mars relationships and cuts people off from each other. It turns their existence into a kind of hell on earth. Since God the Holy Trinity dealt with our rebellion against him, forgiveness is available through faith in Jesus. Only they who are forgiven by God can truly forgive others. Then God's ultimate goal for us becomes possible. In the Westminster Catechism it is described as, 'The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.' This happens when we who are made in God's image, reflect him by living in loving relationships with him and each other in marriage, family, the church and the wider society. Whatever we do has to be a reflection of God's community, the Holy Trinity. God's goal is to reproduce His community:

 

'Jesus said: 'My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.' (Joh 17:20-23)

 

Dr J. Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seninary, USA, believes after having conducted extensive research that less than 30% of all leaders world wide finish well. (Clinton, 1992, page 7) The main thing that is going to help us finish well is community with God and with each other. Because we are fallen we are called to suffering in the process.

 

'For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.' (1 Pet 2:19-21, see also verses 22-25 and Phil 2:1-14)

We must adopt this theology of suffering. Like the Russian Christian we should be surprised if we do not suffer! God allows suffering in our lives because he trusts us.

 

'And we, who with unveiled faces (we must take off our masks) all reflect (as a result of being real and honest not of doing) the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.' (2 Cor 3:18-4:1)

 

We are called to enter the pain caused by living in a fallen community not to run from it. We are to stay in the 'tunnel of chaos until we bump into God.' As we do this we will learn to ask different questions about the same realities and we will be freed up to move more in our giftedness. Community with one another is sitting in the pain knowing that we can not fix it. By being loved in that way people are being freed up to be changed by God. An important issue is not to build up trust in each other only (Joh 2:24) but to get willing to open ourselves up to be hurt by others. Tears are an open door where others invite us to share their pain. When someone challenges us we should take what they say or do, unwrap it like a gift, examine it, rather than react against it superficially. To do this we need solitude in God's presence. 'Lord, why do you allowed this to happen? What do you want me to learn?' We are to be accountable to each other regularly. If more than one person tells us the same we will be more likely to listen. If sinful patterns repeat themselves we have either not pursued each other enough to keep a superficial peace or rebellion against God takes place in peoples lives. In case of the latter, as a last resort because we live in a fallen world, separation will have to occur.

 

D. Trinity teaches that diversity is necessary

 

The tree Persons of the Trinity have different roles but the same goal, namely to enable us to enter into fellowship with God and to grow in that profound relationship. God the Father is the One who sends, God the Son is the One who saves and God the Holy Spirit is the One who lives in the Christian and helps him to grow spiritually. What a tremendous example of diversity within unity, one for us to follow. To do so we desperately need the help of God the Holy Spirit. Without him we are more drawn to people that are like us in terms of where they come from, what they do and who they are. Therefore, we are in danger of judging those who are different from us, even though they may still be within biblical boundaries. Quickly we are tempted to say, 'the way we do it is better.' Perhaps we should say, 'we are doing this differently, not necessarily better or worse.' Young Christians should not say 'the way we worship God with modern songs is better than how our fathers did it.' Our style of worship is just different, that is all. Especially when Christians come together for worship and service of God they are told to do so in diversity according to the giftedness of each. (See 1 Cor 12)

 

The same principle, that diversity contributes to the richness, the quality of our relationships, is also applicable in the areas of marriage, family, friends, relatives and at work. Developments where things are done differently but still to the glory of God should make us rejoice. We ought to support not try to hinder them out of fear. Oneness with the people we relate is important as long as we make room for others to be different if they choose to do so. In the beginning of life a child would like to be one and the same with his parents. At a later stage it also wants to be different to live out its own God given uniqueness. If someone experiences too much one and the sameness they feel uneasy and suffocated. He who does not feel enough unity will get lonely. These paradox desires are a sign of God's life in us.

 

British economist Brian Griffiths describes poignantly the practical implications of the Trinitarian doctrine for political and economic life in his book, 'The Creation of Wealth' (Downers Grove, III, IVP, 1984, page 55): 'When in religion the One is given preference, as in Islam, the consequence has been a form of totalitarian state which attempts to discern the will of Allah. When the many are given priority the result is anarchy. But the tension is one which extends to economic philosophy. Fascism and Marxism are both an attempt to emphasise the one to the exclusion of the many and to find salvation in economic terms through the state. Libertanianism is an attempt to emphasise the many at the expense of the One and is a prescription not just for laissez faire but also for anarchy. The relevance of the Trinity is to emphasise both the individual and the state, as well as a large variety of mediating institutions which form the basis of a pluralistic society. As far as economic life is concerned these include corporations, partnerships, trade unions, professional associations, committees concerned with setting standards, and so on.'

 

The current move towards multiculturalism and its over emphasis on diversity in Europe and the USA is threatening the balance exemplified in the Trinity. The unity in these societies which previously resulted from faith in the same Biblical world view is being replaced by a post modernistic belief that there is no absolute truth. The latter is self contradictory since its claim is a statement of absolute truth itself. Part of the confusion can be found in today's perversion of the word 'faith'. Most often it is used to mean 'a position held despite a lack of evidence or despite opposing evidence'. The biblical word 'pistis' is derived from 'pitheo', a legal term meaning 'to be convinced by argument' or 'to yield to the evidence.' As distinguished intellectuals such as C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer have shown over and over again, the case for Biblical Christianity is solid and can be believed to be true in the biblical sense of the word. (See also www.biblicalchristianity.freeserve.co.uk for the article 'Which religion, if any, holds the truth?') A society built upon the Biblical world view will respect, protect and assimilate minorities but they will not be able to dominate it with their own world views.

 

As we have seen above, God made man in his image therefore those who follow him and his teaching become like him to a certain extent. This principle is also applicable the other way round. Psalm 115:3-4, 8 teaches that those who follow idols and what they command will also become like them:

 

'But our God is in heaven: he has done whatever was pleasing to him. Their images are silver and gold, the work of men's hands...Those who make them are like them; and so is everyone who puts his faith in them'.

All man-made gods represented in today's religions teach that human beings are basically good with the capacity to do bad. When reality fails to match this ideal a totalitarian political system is created to maintain order. As a result leaders like Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Idi Amin slaughtered millions of people in the name of progress. To the contrary the Bible teaches that man is basically a sinner with the capacity to do good. Democracy, despite all its abuses and excesses is built on the truth of man's depravity. It is designed to cope with a society of sinners. Free markets keep them honest by providing an open, competitive system. None of the alternatives, mercantilism, monopolism or consumerism measure up to it. Free markets, the product of democracy, also encourage enlightened self-interest a Biblical idea derived from passages where man is commanded to love himself for God's sake but also to love others for their sake, too. (Luke 10:27, 1 John 3:16). Because men are sinners democracy has built up laws to protect the people from its leaders. Power corrupts, therefore it is diffused into the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

 

E. Trinity teaches that mission originates naturally from it

 

Have you ever wondered why God created the world in the first place? Within the community of the Trinity he has absolutely no unmet needs. So why would he want to bother with creation and all the hassles we brought him through our rebellion against him? Could it be that he created the world and gave life to us as an overflow of his love existing within the Trinity? He who truly loves wants to give. That profound truth has to be at the heart of every missionary activity. The result of it is also a new creation. Those who believe in Jesus are born again. (Joh 3) They who know God the Holy Trinity personally, they in whom God lives through his Holy Spirit, can not but tell others about Jesus. He said: 'For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.' (Mat 12:34) Mission is at the very heart of God. It is his heart beat, the centre of his life. What kind of place does the subject of mission take in our life? When have we last told others about Jesus?

 

F. Trinity teaches about unity of life

 

Life originates from God the Holy Trinity who is life and from whom all forms of life begin. Therefore God is everywhere. He can be found in nature and in all other of his works.

'(God) You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.' (Psa 139:5-12)

'From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man's design and skill.' (Act 17:26 -29)

 

The teaching that God is everywhere is Biblical as can be seen from the passages above. New Age ideologies too believe that God is everywhere. Whereas according to those teachings God is equal to nature and is confined to it, Jews and Christians believe that God exists not just in his works but his presence far transcends, exceeds his creation. Therefore Christians do not worship the creation because God is much bigger than it. The consequences of this truth have the potential to revolutionise our daily lives! Since God is present everywhere we can fellowship and enjoy him during our love for mountain climbing, country rambling, swimming, just as much as in a Church service. All these forms of life are having God, the Holy Trinity as a source. His being can not be boxed and put in different categories, such as general life and spiritual life. Therefore we can worship him in and through everything good, be it while reading the Bible, praying, working on the computer, cleaning dishes, working in a factory, looking after children and so on. What a liberating truth! In case you would rather like to go for a walk then to a Church service you do not need to feel guilty. Out in the fresh air you can experience the all present God just as much if only you keep your eyes and ears attentive to him. Of course, everything has got its time. The ideal thing is doing one without neglecting the other. God, who lives in all his works and far beyond wants us to enjoy them and by doing that, him as well. God created such a rich variety of things for us to delight in. That is why we read in 1 Timothy 6:17:

 

'Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.'

 

E. Trinity teaches that a passionate life is possible

 

Within the community of the Holy Trinity God passionately feels, thinks, speaks and wills and works. These signs of life are naturally found in his creation too, especially in man who is created in God's image as male and female. It follows that our passions are a sign of God's life in us. As a result of sin those intense desires have sadly been subject to the likelihood of distortion and perversion. Our longing to be unique, to do something special is God given. But if we live it out wrongly we are in danger of becoming proud and selfish. God has put the desire in us to love and to be loved. Lived out in an ungodly way it can turn into lust, being overbearing, acting in a dictatorial manner, controlling. Nevertheless, the root of our passion is still God given. C.S. Lewis, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University put it in this way: '...wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way...badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled...All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself.' ('Mere Christianity', New York, Macmillan, 1943, pages 49-50) These thoughts are confirmed by the teaching of Christianity that Satan was originally created by God as an angel. Since everything else brought into being by God was good in the beginning, he too only became evil, a fallen angel, after his rebellion against God. Inspite of the dangers that lie in a passionate live we must not avoid it all together. After all we do not stop eating just because we are in danger of eating too much food.

The following teaching of our Lord in Matthew 16:24 has often been misunderstood to mean one should not live a passionate life:

 

'Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.'

To deny ourselves does mean to say 'no' to our wishes and desires if they go against the wishes and desires of Jesus. Yes, God's unity demands that we are one with him in saying 'no' to evil and selfishness. But God's holy Trinity equally asks us to say 'yes' to our good passions, to that what makes us unique, what differentiates us from others. If you love playing chess and you are good at it, then use that passion for God's glory. How? By passing on the praise people give you to God in telling them about him. Have you got a passion for dress making, sowing, knitting? Do not feel guilty if you spend hours on doing that. Use your gift for God's glory by telling others about his goodness, perhaps also by giving the finished product to someone as a gift. Do you love football, cricket, tennis? Then use these passions to praise God. How? By enjoying them and by building relationships with others in order to share your passion for God with them. If we say 'no' to our good passions we actually sin because then we say 'no' to God who is the source of all passion.

 

When we submit ourselves to the King of kings , the source of all our passions, he will enable us to live with unfulfilled desires too. God who is at the root of our passions is more important than their fulfilment. Therefore we can rejoice about the good things we desire without always having to consume them. Those of us who live in rich countries where everything is set towards instant satisfaction will find this truth particularly helpful.

In view of the fact that God is at the source of all passion we can even learn from our bad desires. Let me give you an example: A Christian went to a retreat centre to spend a few quiet days reading the Bible and praying. In the evenings participants were invited to share what they had learnt during the day. One day the poor soul had to fight a lot against sexual temptation and lustful thoughts. Once he pulled himself together to share about all this he expected his counsellor to say something like: 'If you really want to grow in spiritual maturity you have to rid yourself of such thoughts.' Much to his surprise he got this response: 'The sheer intensity of your temptation are a weak indication of how much God passionately loves you.' That is an unusual way to learn about God's intensive love for us from the source of passion that later turned bad.

 

The message of the Gospel enables us to have good passions.

At the centre of the gospel message is the proclamation that God loves us. (Joh 3:16) Sin, our rebellion against him, has spoiled the privilege of having a loving relationship with our maker. In his love he prepared a way for us to be restored again into fellowship with him by sending Jesus, God the Son, into this world to die for our sins. The punishment for our rebellion is death, separation, as seen above. Human beings are absolutely powerless to bear a sentence that is so radical because of God's holiness. In his perfection he must not have a relationship with imperfection otherwise he would cease to be God which is impossible. Whoever believes that Jesus died for their sins on their behalf will be saved from hell, the eternal separation from the Lord. They experience cleansing from evil passions in a unique, almost unbelievable way:

 

'Jesus said: 'If you love me, (based on the context one could also say 'if you believe in me') you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.' Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, 'But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus replied, 'If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.' (Joh 14:15-23)

 

Can you imagine, the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, the Holy Trinity, promises to dwell in all those who put their faith in what Jesus has done at the cross! God lives in them, similarly as the three persons of the Trinity indwell each other without diminishing the full person hood of each. To have such a friend in one's live will naturally lead to a perfect peace but also to chaotic circumstances at times. It is encouraging to know that these crises too are a sign of new eternal life. Now, with the help of God who lives in the believer, he gets the strength to say 'no' to bad passions. He can also say 'no' to good passions if they hurt others or if it is too early to express them. That gospel is truly good news!

 

 

4. CONCLUSION

 

Far from being unintelligent and unimportant, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity provides the very center of a unique Christianity. Without it there would be no cross, no resurrection and consequently no grace, no meaningful life and no assurance of salvation. The Trinitarian God is absolutely instrumental in the success of all our relationships.

'Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.' (1 Tim 3:16)