I am often challenged (1) as to how Jesus can be both God and man, and (2) how the Father, Son and Spirit can all be one God. These are valid questions, questions that Christian theologians discussed up until the council of Chalcedon (451 AD), and indeed since then too.
While the discussions of theologians have been helpful (I enjoyed studying the early Church Fathers for a term at uni, and modern theologians for another term, though I enjoyed that less), they are to me (a Protestant) a guide, and not an infallible authority. I am primarily concerned with what scripture says concerning these matters – anything further is speculative. Speculation can be helpful, and has a legitimate role, but must be recognised for what it is.
So how can Jesus be both God and man? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but that’s what scripture tells me. If I phrase it this simply, there is nothing I consider illogical. Do I consider myself limited in what I am affirming? Yes. Do I consider myself to be guilty of contradiction? No.
If I want to proceed further, I would say that Christ had a human and a divine nature. How do these two interact? I don’t know, but I would say that this taps into a broader issue, that affects Christians and Muslims alike – how does a transcendent God interact with his creation at all? Who truly knows. Because we don’t understand the reality of God, or the heavenly realm, how can we know precisely how it interacts with us/our realm? It would be like asking someone without a nose to describe the smell of a flower – it is just impossible. They have neither the faculties nor concepts to attempt such a task. But if God can interact with the physical universe (and who am I to say he can’t), why can’t he interact in a sustained, localised way, in a human being (i.e. Jesus’ body)?
As for the Trinity – scripture tells me that there is one God/deity, but that the Father is divine, as is the Son, as is the Holy Spirit. By divine, I mean fully divine, not some kind of semi-deity.
But this violates the oneness of God, many Muslims cry! Why? The Muslim definition of God may be unitarian – i.e. only one person in the Godhead. But I would argue that the Bible has no such definition – thus the door is wide open for the Trinitarian belief that God is three in person, but one in being. So when scripture teaches the Trinity, along with monotheism, I have no problem.
I try not to start with pre-conceived notions of what monotheism means, i.e. the way in which God is one. Without revelation I don’t know in what way he is one. Perhaps he is one in being, but five in person. Perhaps he is one in person, yet with multiple attributes. Perhaps the former view is incorrect – God has no attributes, for that would mean God is made up of other entities, thus violating his oneness. Put simply, unless God tells me what is meant/entailed by monotheism, I am in the dark. And the Bible, in my reading, tells me trinitarian monotheism is just fine – indeed it is the truth.
As you can probably tell, on matters of theology (proper)/the trinity, I do not think highly of reason. I just don’t think we can know using that method. I prefer relying on divine revelation. In this I like to think of myself as bearing similarity with the below:
‘More than any other sect, [‘the emergent Sunni school’] took to heart the Qur’anic warning against an overreliance [sic?] on man’s frail reason in understanding God and morality.’
Brown, Jonathan (2014-08-07). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (p. 42). Oneworld Publications. Kindle Edition.
For the ‘nascent Sunnis’:
‘human reason, with its limited understanding of reality and its inability to grasp God’s power and truth, was not fit to act as a litmus test for the wisdom of a prophet. As Shah Wali Allah remarked, when it comes to knowing what is best the Messenger of God is ‘more trustworthy than our own reason.’ [Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bāligha, 1:51]
Brown, Jonathan (2014-08-07). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (p. 43). Oneworld Publications. Kindle Edition.
‘The early Sunni view of the proper relation between reason and revelation had its greatest impact on the understanding of theology. If reason was not fit to play a constitutive role in determining right and wrong in law, it certainly had no place in informing our understanding of God’s nature and the ultimate reality of the heavens and the earth. Rational presuppositions about what was and was not acceptable for the proper conception of God had led the Mutazila to introduce figurative readings of anthropomorphic Qur’an verses and to reject wholesale Hadiths describing God in physical or familiar terms. The early Sunnis opposed this wholeheartedly.’
Brown, Jonathan (2014-08-07). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (p. 45). Oneworld Publications. Kindle Edition.
To the above methodology – ameen. This is not to say I am against reason – reason leads me to believe in God (e.g. Big Bang/cosmological argument), and in the veracity of the Christian faith (e.g. historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ). But as to the very nature of God – I’m just not sure philosophy is as firm a foundation as divine revelation. God knows himself better than we do.
PS: I hurt my finger typing this article. I hope you appreciate the suffering I went through for it.