Allah, The Trinity, and Divine Love
By Jonah Haddad and Douglas Groothuis
The word love is a staple of the English language. We “love” to speak of love, to reflect on love, and to enjoy love’s warmth. We write songs, poems, and books celebrating love’s overwhelming power. Yet the human obsession with love is by no means limited to poetic musings and sorrowful ballads. Love has found a place of great interest among philosophers, psychologists, and theologians.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) claimed that “there is something so ambiguous and suggestive about the word love, something that speaks to memory and hope, that even the lowest intelligence and coldest heart still feel something of the glimmer of this word.”1 Love is a sweet reality from which we cannot and would not easily escape.
The great monotheistic traditions have added their own ruminations on love by boasting of the perfect love of God lavished on His creation. The enduring love of God is expressed countless times by the psalmists and Old Testament prophets, while the apostle John goes so far as to declare that “God is love” (1 John 4:16).2 Centuries later, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, would demand, “If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you, and grant you protection from your sins” (Qur’an 3:31). Such is the love of Allah that the title Al-Wadud (The Loving) has been listed among his 99 names.3
It is no surprise, then, that both Christian and Muslim alike have looked to God as the ultimate source of love. More than willed altruism and blind passion, divine love is viewed as good and kind, merciful and giving, powerful and fervent. Divine love is the model that human love imitates, so that when a man says to his wife, “I love you,” or when a mother says the same to her child, this is a reflection of God’s love. We love because God has given us the ability to do so. How then do Islam and Christianity differ in their theology of love?
Ultimately, which of these two, Allah or the Trinity, is the true source of love?4
LOVE AND THE UNITY OF GOD
Beginning with an examination of God’s being, it will become clear that Christians and Muslims are speaking of two different beings, and, hence, two different loves.
Though both teach God’s oneness, the philosophical foundation beneath each religion’s claim must be analyzed. Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Likewise the Qur’an claims that “Allah is One,” neither begetting, nor begotten (Qur’an 112:1–4). But what does this mean?
Allah’s absolute oneness is central to the Islamic understanding of God. The Islamic confession of faith asserts that there is no god but Allah. To ascribe any partner whatsoever to Allah is an unpardonable sin (Qur’an 31:13; 4:45; 5:72; 6:88; 39:65). It was this very zeal for Allah’s oneness and uniqueness that drove Muhammad and his armies to campaign against the idolatry that dominated early medieval Arabia and to eliminate any polytheistic beliefs that might contend with the one true God. One by one the cities of Arabia accepted this new religion or fell by the sword.5 Fervor for Allah’s unity led Muhammad to abhor the supposed abomination of the Christian Trinity (Qur’an 4:171).
It is likely that Muhammad and his followers had been influenced by the Neo-Platonism that was being taught in the Greek schools throughout Arabia during the Middle Ages.6 Given Muhammad’s view of the Trinity, it is clear that he would have agreed with the Neo-Platonic view that unity is far superior to plurality. Anything less than complete unity must be less than God.
Christians should be hesitant to agree with the Islamic concept of God’s unity. Yes, God is one. But plurality of persons is not evil, nor is it ontologically impossible. In defense of the Christian Trinity, theologians Demarest and Lewis assert, “Only a substantial and essential oneness fits the scriptural data denying polytheism and affirming monotheism. The divine unity revealed in Scripture is not like a mystical Neo-Platonic ‘One’ beyond all categories of thought. The biblical oneness does not rule out distinguishable attributes and persons.”7
The possibility of God existing as three persons with one essence should not be ruled out simply because of conjectures purported by medieval Greek philosophy. The orthodox Christian view of God’s being is not based in the ideas of an ancient philosophical tradition, but in God’s revealed Word (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). And while Muslims may find the doctrine of the Trinity troubling, the Islamic formulation of God’s being is wrought with tremendous philosophical complications…
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