Saturday, 10 January 2015

The God of Christians and the God of Islam

I was challenged by a friend regarding the slightly muddled way in which I stated my trinitarian faith in the blog post on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. In conversation it struck home that it is precisely our trinitarianism which makes the distinction between the God of Islam and the God of Christians so vast. And it is a common lack of appreciation of the Trinity in our daily Christian lives that makes it possible to see God in such a way as verges on the Islamic.

The God who reveals himself in scripture is never a lonely Monad. Even in the Old Testament we may be mentally teased by the mystery of the plural in the word Elohim, the revelation of self consciousness and internal communication in Gen 1, or the strange multi-person and yet single person theophany of Gen 18. These and many more prepare the way for the dazzling New Testament light on the nature of God as Three-and-One. The OT doesn't teach the Trinity per se, but some things sure make sense once we have the NT revelation!

From all eternity, Father, Son and Spirit have existed in perfect, loving relationship. The Creation did not occur because God was lonely; our creation as relational beings is rather the echo of an eternal relationship. Our own experience of relationship, starting in the family, is to be understood as an analogue for our approach to God as we are invited to call him Father. Obviously, all earthly fathers fall short of ideal, some very grievously so, but even in saying that, we reveal a common consciousness of what fathers ought to be like. With all compassion for those whose fathers were appalling, by calling God "Father" and inviting us to do the same, the Bible appeals to that common consciousness. And what a father should be, God is. Perfectly. 

The world was made by and for the Son; from the start the plan of God was that a divine Man would rule over his creation, and so it has been. If Adam, the first man, brought failure and shame into our story, the second and last Man was and is and will be all that Adam should have been and more. 

In the Incarnation, the eternal Son, without ceasing to be what he eternally was, became what he eternally was not. In his death on the cross the price for the redemption of rebel human beings was, at its heart, the hellish abandonment of the Divine Man by his Father; our sin so serious that it took a breach in the Eternal Fellowship to right it. In his resurrection, Jesus, the Man, is proclaimed to be both Eternal Son and the true Man, worthy and qualified to judge all human beings at the last day as Creator of and representative-yet-perfect member of the human race. In his glorification the dust of the earth - a living Man - is now sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 

Through that victorious, Spirit-led progress of the Son through incarnation, ministry, arrest, torture, assassination, resurrection and glorification, the right has been won for all who are "in him" to have fellowship with God by the Holy Spirit. The initial joy of knowing God as one who is "close by" - the joy that Adam knew at the start - has been restored. Even though our own state of sinlessness is still future, God is with us in the present by his Spirit. His Spirit shows us Jesus at the start of our Christian life, the Spirit makes us aware of our own sinfulness, the Spirit draws us to faith, the Spirit helps in prayer, the Spirit prompts us to be more like Jesus, the Spirit works through us in the lives of others, the Spirit makes us useful with his gifts, the Spirit guarantees a future where we will be face to face with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We would be nowhere without the Holy Spirit. 

That is just a brief outline of some of the elements of Trinitarian faith. The Trinity - the fact that God is One, in Three persons - is not describable using human analogies, still less explicable using human logic. But the truth of the Trinity does pervade everything in the Christian life. That which is not Trinitarian is not Christian. And the concept of God within Islam is a very long way away. 

That is not to say that in conversation with Muslims it is necessarily unhelpful to say, "Let's talk about God" without pressing the distinction right at the start. But the distinction is there - as soon as we start to think seriously about Christian doctrine there is a chasm. We worship different Gods. 

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As a relative newcomer to the Salvation Army, my views are very much first impressions. But it seems to me that the Doctrines of the SA in general, and the Trinitarian one in particular, need to be remeembraced at a fresh level. At present there seems to be an almost self-conscious distance between personal belief and commitment to the doctrines. The Doctrine of the Trinity is affirmed at a formal level, but it doesn't dominate in general discourse, in our meetings for adoration or in what comes across of personal faith. It is only possible to even begin to swallow the "we follow the same God" line because in practice we are more Unitarian than Trinitarian. Some of what I have written above regarding the Trinity may even sound very odd, and yet it is pretty standard Christianity, if couched in provocative language! 

Our Doctrine is not to be a theoretical statement which we affirm on becoming soldiers or officers but which makes no practical difference. It is our faith - it is a brief description of actual truth about our actual God, and is to inform our gospel, our worship, our joy and our hope.

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