The Christian God is Good

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

As we know all too well from the nightly news, many Muslims consider Christianity to be blasphemous.

They believe that our religion insults God—we insult the divine being that Muslims call, “Allah.”

Now there are many factors that have contributed to this conviction that Christians worship a false God. Western social customs and values conflict with the traditions practiced in Muslim countries. Different ideas about the relationship between men and women, about violence—even about prayer make the two religions appear incompatible.

But, to my mind, one of the biggest differences between the two religions is theological. We were recently discussing these issues at the Men’s Group and at the Women’s Group. I argued that Christianity and Islam don’t share the same ideas about God. In fact, it’s not clear that adherents to these two faiths really worship the same divine being!

I realize that the casual observer of the two faiths might think that “God” and “Allah” refer to the same ultimate reality. For example, both are believed to be pure spirit. Both are all-powerful. Both have given commands to guide the behavior of the faithful.

But, in my view, the differences between the Christian and Muslim deities remain crucial. And, on this Trinity Sunday, it is appropriate to consider the greatest divergence in understanding between the two faiths: the Christian belief in the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

For us Christians, God is known as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The term, “Father” stands for God as Creator: the Almighty and all-powerful ruler of the universe. The “Son” is God revealed to us in human form: Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God.

And since God the Creator is already distant from us by definition and the time of Christ’s sojourn on earth is past and Jesus has now been reunited with his Father – for all these reasons, we need an additional way to approach God in our present existence.

So we have been given the “Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is “God with us”–God present to us in our hearts, God leading us spiritually in our daily lives.

Now I recognize that while this sketch of the doctrine is pretty straightforward, theologians and philosophers have still needed to figure out how the three Persons of the Holy Trinity can be said to constitute one God.

A favorite hymn asserts the paradox that there are, “three in one and one in three.” But simply to say that, “We believe in one God” in three Persons is not to explain what we mean by the Holy Trinity!

Now maybe we don’t need to explain it. We could expect that our understanding of the Trinity won’t be perfect. After all, there are many things about the material world that human beings don’t understand. Why should we be surprised if we have problems comprehending the realm of the Spirit?

But here’s an analogy that I think might be helpful. What if we look at the Trinity as a “theory”—a theory in theology that’s like the quantum theory in physics?

We all accept that the quantum theory about the tiny components of atoms is true. Scientists hold this set of ideas just as firmly as they believe that the earth revolves around the sun.

But few of us can fathom the precise details of quantum theory. We can accept the consequence that, for example, the speed of an electron can’t be determined at the same time as its location. Sub-atomic particles behave differently from larger objects. Physicists have said that if we know how fast the electron is going, then we can’t be sure exactly where it is.

But we ordinary, educated people aren’t able to prove that quantum theory is true. The equations go way over our heads. While we accept that scientific experiments show that sub-atomic particles behave in such strange ways, we can’t explain how these experiments constitute proof.

So here’s a good example of a highly perplexing theory that we still recognize to be true. Quantum theory describes the world that exists. In the same way, Christians believe that the Trinity accurately describes the God we know and worship.

Like the ideas of modern physics, our doctrine challenges us. And yet, like any good theory, it makes the best sense of the facts. The Trinity explains our religious experience.

Muslims are right that this is a very different belief from the teachings about Allah found in the Qur’an; to them, our doctrine could indeed appear blasphemous if they misunderstood it to mean that Christians believe in three gods.

But we believe that our idea of God really is monotheistic. As we say in the Creed, “I believe in one God.” Christian doctrine presents a view of a single deity whom we can approach in different ways.

We believe in one God the Father to whom we pray. We believe in one God the Son whose teaching challenges us and encourages us. We believe in one God the Holy Spirit who makes the “spiritual” into a living reality.

So the Trinity draws us closer to God in our minds and hearts. If it challenges us intellectually—well, a little thinking won’t hurt us!

At the same time, we recognize that our ideas about the nature of the divine will remain, at the end of the day, elusive. As it happens, a professor of mine in graduate school wrote a book entitled, The Elusive God; in the book, he argued that it is part of the nature of who God is that God passes our human understanding.

Yet surely it’s good to have three major ways to think about God. And we are also fortunate that we have three ways to approach God spiritually.

For then, we’ll have more chances to find the mysterious Ultimate Reality who, at the same time we look for him, seeks us: our Lord and our God.

 

And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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