Date published: April 19, 2011
Yahweh and Allah
Upon reading Miroslav Volfs article "Allah and the Trinity" (March 8), I was reminded of Athanasius's understanding of the Trinity.
Athanasius compared the Trinity to a lighted candle: the lighted candle is a Same; the Same is light and the ñame is heat, but it is all one flame. The one God is the creator of all, the one God is the incarnated light of Jesus, and the one God is the wanning presence of the Holy Spirit. All of these manifestations are at the same time the flame of the lighted candle. This remains the best analogy I have found to describe the Trinity.
The Christian understanding of the incarnation introduces the full humanity of Jesus, and thus the reality of free will as a part of the creation that God intends. The Muslim faith tends to be deterministic in its understanding of the human situation. Determinism teaches that Allah wills each person to a specific station in Me which is not to be questioned but accepted as the will of God.The Christian understanding is that God creates every human being with freedom of choice, in order that love may be experienced between the Creator and those he has created. Love exists only where there is freedom not to love. This freedom enables one, in faith in God, to be creative in what Ufe can become.
The discussion of this issue seems to me to be of central importance in attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue with our Muslim friends.
Rujia H. Stark II
Volf's article suggests to me that dialogue with Islam may help Christian theologians (and the church) swing the pendulum back toward the unity of the triune God.
For at least two decades, the theological education I have encountered (and on occasion have provided) has emphasized the social Trinity, the dynamic interrelation of three persons in the divine essence of love. Community, communication (Word) and compassion are all inherent in the essence of God and in the image of God present in all people. Generations of theology students have been inspired by this view of God and excited by its implications for preaching the gospel of peace and practicing a ministry of reconciliation.
But has the pendulum swung too far toward tritheism? Some recent discussions of the atonement have been dominated by concerns that the Father is unjust to send the Son to the crosslargely overlooking the notion that the Father and the Son are indeed one.
Swinging the pendulum back might balance our grappling with the mysteries of the atonement. It would surely add a dimension to Christian-Muslim dialogue. How will followers of Islam respond to the idea of a crucified God?
David Paul Henry
I am grateful for Volfs article and its honest engagement on the subject. In terms of his concern to "never divide the divine essence," he also states: "A positive way to make the same point would be to say that Christians affirm 'numerical identity of the divine essence.'" This view has many angles. So often we run into trouble when we try to describe the Trinity in terms of human number, especially as I understand the divine name of Yahweh EIohim to be, in its Hebrew definition, greater than the human concepts of space, time and number.
In contrast, the Qur'an describes Allah in terms of the human number one. Also, the Qur'an indicates no direct engagement on Allah's part inside the human dimensions of space and timeand no incarnation, as with Jesus in the New Testament. While it is easy to affirm the integrity of persons who seek the one true Creator from the widest variety of backgrounds, I see a huge difference between Yahweh and Allah.
John C. Rankin
West Simsbwy, Conn.
Though I largely agree with Volfs argument, it still leaves this Christian a little uncertain as to whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. My exposure to Islam has been to moderate or liberal Muslims in the U.S., yet that exposure leaves me with a description of Allah that in many ways matches the fundamentalist Christian image of God which I grew up with and later rejected.
A transcendent Allah has created a set of rules in the Qur'an by which Muslims accumulate credits or debits based on adherence to those rules. If there are sufficient credits, Muslims go to heaven; if not, they go to hell. Ditto for Christian fundamentalists of my youth with regard to obethence to their reading of scriptures. Allah does not seem to be immanent. For example, Allah does not weep, as Jesus did at the tomb of !,azanis. Is Allah really the immanent, personal God whom I know through scriptures, faith and the working of the Holy Spirit? The Muslims with whom I have spoken reject a description of Allah as one who knows human suffering and is moved to respond to it.