Everyday conversations tell us a lot. My son Stephen recently told me of a conversation with a friend. He asked how Islam could be wrong and the Christian faith right since both are monotheistic. I replied that the very existence of conversations raises a question that only one of the two faiths seems adequate to explain.
Stephen and his wife Sara volunteer with Young Life and field all sorts of questions about faith from all sorts of students. Recently, a student asked how Islam could be wrong and the Christian faith right, since both are monotheistic. He also wanted to know how a Trinitarian faith fits with monotheism. Good questions. Stephen forwarded them to me. Here’s my reply.
For starters, let’s clarify terms. Islam is not wrong because it holds to monotheism. Christianity is a monotheistic faith. Islam is monotheistic. Monotheism refers to God’s nature – one God. However, Islam does not believe in the Trinitarian personhood of God – three persons sharing one nature. Christians do. If Islam is right – that God (Allah) is one person – wouldn’t this mean that, for all eternity, Allah lived in isolation? And if he lived in isolation, who did Allah talk to for all eternity?
I mean no disrespect, but if God talked to himself, well, we have a clinical definition for that sort of behavior. It would make more sense if he talked to no one. But that raises another question. Islam and Christianity agree that humanity is made in God’s image. If we’re made in the image of Allah for example, and it makes sense that he talked to no one for eternity, wouldn’t it be in our nature to also talk to no one? If that’s essentially correct, then why are we having this conversation? Why do conversations even exist?
You could counter, “Well, God needed company, so he made us and began to have conversations.” That doesn’t work. Christians and Muslims agree that, by definition, God doesn’t need anything or anyone to be complete. Christians and Muslims agree that God did not create the angelic realm due to any need on his part, or for conversations. If creating any thing completes something in God, then, by definition, he’s not God. If this is so, it seems that Islam fall short in explaining conversations like this one. In fact, if Islam is correct, would we even have conversations?
The Christian faith seems better suited to explain the existence of conversations. It’s a monotheistic as well as Trinitarian faith. For all eternity, One God exists in community – three persons. They enjoy one another’s company. They converse. They laugh. They love (I John 4:8). Love is the enjoyment of another as well as the desire to expand the circle of love. In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Spirit decided to expand the circle by having the Son wed a bride – humanity. The Father, Son, and Spirit didn’t need to do this. They were complete. Love simply desires to expand the circle. So God hatched a plan, not out of need but love. God desires to “marry us.” If no one ever took up God on his offer, the Father, Son, and Spirit would still love one another and be happy as a lark.
Os Guinness likes to point out how differences make a difference. For Muslims, a monotheistic but not Trinitarian faith goes a long way toward explaining why Islam means “submit.” There is no conversation. You submit – period. If things go well, you say, “Allah’s will be done.” If things go poorly – say you lose a baby – you say, “Allah’s will be done.” There is no back-and-forth conversation with Allah because for all eternity Allah did not entertain back-and-forth conversations with anyone.
On the other hand, the Christian religion is a monotheistic, Trinitarian faith. In the Godhead, there is an eternal back-and-forth conversation in the heavenly places. It’s called love. The gospel is God’s offer to humanity to enter a marriage relationship with God the Son. Those who embrace the gospel become part of the Bride of Christ, the church. Marriage involves submission but includes a back-and-forth conversation. This is why God urges his followers to “come and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). The goal is for the bride to grow up and become a suitable partner. Conversation contributes to the maturation process.
Muslims are not wrong because they hold to a monotheistic faith. It seems to me they’re wrong because, in part, they cannot explain why we enjoy conversations. Any and every conversation points to the existence of a Trinitarian God, exactly what the Christian faith subscribes to. Conversations are one of many “signals of transcendence” – human experiences that seem to point to a greater reality. The imminent sociologist Peter L. Berger says they are universal, instinctive; yet assume and require answers that lie beyond themselves.1 Everyday conversations point to Christianity.
C. S. Lewis said he believed in Christianity as he believed the sun had risen – not only because he saw it; but by it, he saw all things. Christianity gave Lewis “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” It seems that only this faith can adequately explain why we’re even having this conversation. I hope this faith helps you and your friend see this conversation in a new light.
1 Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels (New York: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1990), pp. 59-65.