This is the season of Trinity in the Christian Year. Trinity begins the Sunday after Pentecost and continues until All Saints Day on 1st November. In Scotland St Andrew’s Day falls on the Eve of All Saints or All Souls Day.
Monotheism is straightforward. One God. Simples. Three Persons in One needs unpacking. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how we understand and accept that our Maker and Creator has revealed himself to us. Ouch! Feminists beware! Two male categories and one more assumed to be so in creation, power, dynamism and achievement. Roman Catholics venerate Mary as the female complement.
God as Three In One. There is something interesting about three. There is a theology called ‘Vestiges of the Trinity’ which suggests that creation includes things done in and by threes. It seems a natural number, complete in some ways, even perfect. Past, present, future; beginning, middle, end; birth, life, death; father, mother, child; soul, mind, body; intellect, memory, will; ice, water, steam; fire, light, heat. Then there’s three little words that make the world go round. ‘I love you’. There’s the small child’s introduction to numbers, ‘One, two, three’. There are countless threes in human consciousness; first, second, third; ready, set, go; gold, silver, bronze; crouch, bind, set; BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato). There’s Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum that government should be ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’. There’s the proverb ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. Then there’s the three piece suit, the three piece suite, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria (Columbus’ ships), and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. There’s the Three Blind Mice, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Stooges and the Three Degrees. In my time in Africa I had a colleague who gave a lecture on the Vestiges of the Trinity. I was sceptical. I wound him up by saying to him ‘Joe, I saw another vestige of the Trinity today – a car with a puncture’. ‘I saw another vestige today Joe – a woman at the village market selling three potatoes for a shilling’. To which he replied ‘I saw a woman selling four potatoes for a shilling – that is heresy’.
Trinity is about relationship. A woman can be a mother, wife and daughter. A man can be a father, husband and son. God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are the aspects of God’s life and character that we can assimilate, accept and understand. (That is not to say there are not other characteristics of God. God is surely a scientist, a molecular biologist, astrophysicist and a solar system designer and builder. God must also be an artist, musician, poet and athlete). We are made in the image of God with mind and heart consciousness and this separates us from other forms of life on earth and makes us capable of relating to our Maker. Trinity is the definition of God’s relatableness to us and our relatablenss to God. This is its meaning and purpose. As ‘three’ works for us in so many ways, ‘three’ works for us in making God understandable and approachable.
The three so-called monotheistic faiths are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Judaism gives us our knowledge of God and gives us the beginnings of our relationship with God. God is described in the Old Testament initially in awesome terms. Moses records his experience on Mount Sinai for example: ‘On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish’. (Exodus 19 : 17 – 22)
This represents existential and elemental stress. This is a relationship of human subservience and obedience. God then becomes known as Father. "Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6) "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour.'" (Psalm 89:26) "Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8) "They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son." (Jeremiah 31:9) There is discipline and distance in the relationship though the Psalms bespeak a very personal one to one relationship. ‘Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament. Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.’ (Psalm 5 : 1 - 3)
Sir Keir Starmer recently said on TV that his own father was distant towards him; he did not express emotion to his son; the only time he remembered his father’s encouragement was when he said ‘well done’ to him on his passing his 11 plus examination. He did not hug him. He did not tell his son that he loved him. It just wasn’t done. The distant Victorian father is a creature of social history. Fathers in working class mining communities were often silent and uncommunicative to their children. Upper-class and aristocratic families had distant fathers too, formal and authoritarian, somewhat feared and respected. God in the Old Testament is often portrayed as being angry and judgemental due to the faults and failings of the People of God. Their worst sin was to worship other human made gods, to indulge in spiritualism and practise cults even with child sacrifice and to entirely forget their called purpose on earth. The fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC was the fullest expression of God’s judgement. Redemption was offered on God’s terms but only to a remnant of faithful penitent people. Jews could not and still do not see the value of God being incarnate in his own Son. For them this is not possible. ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one’. (Deuteronomy 6 :4)
Islam rejects absolutely the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Quran states unequivocally that this is so. ‘Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him’. (Quran 112 1 - 4) ‘Allah has not taken any son, nor has there ever been with Him any deity.’. (Quran 23: 91) ‘O People of the Scripture. do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son’. (Quran 4 : 169) ‘They have certainly disbelieved who say, " Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary" while the Messiah has said, "O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Indeed, he who associates others with Allah - Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. (Quran 5 : 17) ‘They have certainly disbelieved who say, " Allah is the third of three." And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment. So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded. (Quran 5 : 78) For Muslims, Christians are not monotheists, we are polytheists and we are worthless as such. “But once the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists ˹who violated their treaties˺ wherever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them on every way. But if they repent, perform prayers, and pay alms-tax, then set them free’. (Quran 9 : 5)
Now we consider the words of Jesus. ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10 : 30) ‘For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me….For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6 : 38, 40) ‘Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.’ (John 12 : 44 – 45) ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’. (John 14 : 6, 9b, 10, 11) … ‘the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father’. (John 16: 27, 28) ‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’. (John 17 : 1 – 5) ‘Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place’. (John 18 : 36) Jesus’ accusers told Pilate ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God’. (John 19 : 7) At his crucifixion ‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last’. (Luke 23 : 46) Jesus greeted his disciples after his resurrection. ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ (John 20 : 19 – 21a)
Let us compare some of the relative beliefs and practices of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This helps us to understand the Trinity and its value, meaning and purpose. There are 14.7 million Jews world wide. There are 1.9 billion Muslims. There are 2.54 billion Christians. There are Orthodox, observant and liberal Jews. There have been many deserters and apostates from Judaism also and many who claim to be Jewish by race but not by creed. They say they are Jewish but they do not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Faithful Jews attend their synagogues and try to keep the Law of Moses. They adhere to the 'kosher' diet and do not eat pork. They observe the Sabbath in family and synagogue worship and keep their Festivals. Minority Charedi (from ‘one who trembles’ Isaiah 66 : 2,3) men are identified by their black clothes and hats, their hair ringlets on the sides of their faces and their beards. Charedi women wear long skirts, thick stockings, and head coverings. They observe strict adherence to halakha (Jewish law) and traditions, as opposed to modern secular values and practices. They do not voluntarily associate with gentiles except where necessary. Judaism replaced the sacrifice of animals for sin with prayer but sacrifice of goats, sheep and chickens still occurs among a minority of Jews even in European countries. Men and woman sit separately in Orthodox Jewish synagogues. In liberal synagogues men and women sit together and women can be Rabbis. Most of the Jews who appear in the media are liberal Jews or those without any practice of faith. Jewish worship is mostly male led and melodic with a haunting timbre reflecting the suffering of the Jewish people throughout their history. They still wait for the Messiah. They regard Jesus as one of them but not as the Son of God and certainly not as their Messiah. Jews have been and continue to be known for their brilliance in all aspects of human creative endeavour. For that reason they have aroused great jealousy, the supreme example of which was The Holocaust. Israelis today are world leaders in medicine, science and technology. Jews do not seek to proselytise and Judaism is not a missionary faith. The Chief Rabbis of Britain are usually highly respected communicators of moral values in our otherwise de-Christianised value free culture. Israel is hated by the political left. This is an irrational hatred but it justifies itself in relation to the Palestinian issue about which serious ignorance is perpetuated by anti-Jewish campaigners. The Church of Scotland stands with the political left and anti-Israel protestations.
St Paul’s thought is the watershed between Judaism’s monotheism and Christianity’s Trinity. The key difference is between Law and Gospel. In Romans 7 ; 7f, we read. ‘I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” ‘Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ In Galatians 2 : 15f Paul writes, ‘We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified... For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’.
The relationship with Jesus Christ is one to one, and is a relationship of enabling and of forgiveness and love, permanent and eternal. It is not about keeping rules and observing regulations in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy but being redeemed from the need and desire to sin and living in spiritual unity with the Risen Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus abolished food regulations. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7 : 17 – 18) Christians say grace before meals to sanctify their eating. For St Paul food was not a matter of forbidding rules. ‘But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do’. (1 Corinthians 8 : 8) This living dynamic connection is expressed as Jesus being the Second Person of the Trinity. Devout Jews today keep to our Old Testament, living by its commandments and rejecting Christianity’s description of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Muslims call God ‘Allah’ (Arabic for God as in the Old Testament). They attribute to Allah what Judaism attributes to God as far as creation goes. The relationship factor however is not intimate and personal as in Christianity. Islam rejects John 1 : 1 - 3, for example. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made..'. Islam is a regression to greater distance and the imposition of daily rules and regulations for life as a Muslim in place of the freedom of the loving relationship with Jesus Christ that Christians can have. It is also a regression from Jesus to a God who though said to be compassionate is also vengeful and violent. Muslims are everywhere in today’s world, in today’s Britain. Scarcely a TV news bulletin goes by without two or three specifically Muslim items. Months go past without any Christian items in main news programmes. Muslims seek and want to be visibly separate in society. That is why they continue to wear middle eastern clothing. Men have beards and ankle length loose robes, mostly white and a small skull cap. They do so in Bradford and Blackburn and Birmingham and elsewhere including parts of Glasgow. Women wear the hijab around the head or the fuller niqab. Some wear the almost totally covering burka. Men go to the mosque on Fridays. Some pray visibly wherever they are 5 times a day. Some wash their feet in public toilet hand basins. They keep 'halal' (permitted) dietary laws excluding pork. They publicise their seasons and festivals. Ramadan is now part of the British calendar. Muslims are aggressively missionary in their relations with non-Muslims whom they call ‘unbelievers’. There are violently antipathetic to Jews. Islam and Christianity are irreconcilable. Islam claims to be one of the three Abrahamic faiths. However, Islam began in the late 6th early 7th century. It rewrote the Jewish and Christian Scriptures in its own image to suit its own purposes. It superimposed the Quran and Islamic tradition over Jewish and Christian belief and history.
Islam is very different in essence and character from both Judaism and Christianity. It is not a singular spiritual faith. It combines belief, militarism and politics in a unity of purpose which is complete domination of all of humanity, the creation of the ‘umma’ the Nation of Islam. Islam seeks to replace whatever political systems it finds in any country in the world. Islam is anti-democratic. Islam is essentially violent in its origins and character and creed. Islam is at war with the west and with the non-Muslim world. It pursues terrorism and large scale atrocities to gain its victories. It is doing so throughout Africa at the present time.
There is no successful Muslim truly democratic state in the world today. On June 2 2021 in Congo, Islamists from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed 70 people in Boga and Tchabi, including 7 children, with firearms and machetes, and also an Anglican pastor. On June 5th 2021 160 were killed in an attack on a village in northern Burkina Faso, Solhan, where even the houses were burned. Reuters reported a massacre at a baptism; 15 Christians were killed a few days ago. 'Allah' is not and cannot be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Jesus or else 'Allah' would not be at enmity with Jews and Christians. God is not at war with Himself. The Trinity is proof that God is love.
The Muslim author Ed Husain recounts in his book ‘Among the mosques’ that ‘a Muslim can spend months with no contact whatsoever with mainstream ‘white’ Britain’. Children are forbidden to take part in music and drama productions at school. Husain discovered books on violent jihad on sale in Bradford and wrote that such are available throughout Britain though they are banned in some Muslim countries. He found that killing anyone who ‘insults the Prophet’ is not condemned. New York 9/11, London 7/7, Lee Rigby’s 2013 beheading, Khalid Masood’s murder of four people, injuring fifty others and then stabbing PC Keith Palmer to death at Westminster in March 2017, Salman Ramadan Abedi's suicide murdering of 22 at the Manchester Arena two months later, Jack Merritt’s and Saskia Jones’, murder at the Fishmongers Hall in London by Usman Khan in 2019 are just some of the indicators of Muslim asymmetrical warfare that continues against the non-Muslim world. No Christian leader stands out against this. None challenges the creed behind these practices. No-one will say that Islam is a false religio-political entity, at odds and inconsistent with Judaism and Christianity, irrevocably irreconcilable.
Islam seeks to impose ‘Sharia’ on all nations and peoples. Sharia law is Islam's legal system. It is derived from both the Koran, Islam's central text, and fatwas - the rulings of Islamic scholars. Sharia literally means "the clear, well-trodden path to water". Islamic canonical law is based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), prescribing both religious and secular duties and sometimes retributive penalties for lawbreaking. Muslims already have their own sharia courts. They deal with family and property matters. Muslims want to have their own Parliament in Britain. Concepts of honour and offence replace those of Christian forbearance and grace. It is a large paradox that Muslims take great offence against anything critical said about Muhammad even though to them he was just a man. Our Jesus was crucified though he was the Son of God.
Boris Johnson’s journalistic comments that women wearing the burka made them look like ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ were whimsical and humorous. They also illustrated a truth from our liberal societal standpoint. It is an unnatural practice. No other nation, race, social entity or religion throughout humanity practises the almost total covering up of women. Why are feminists quiet on this issue? Boris Johnson has said that he is ‘sorry for offence taken’. The Conservative Party is adjudged to have been insensitive to Muslims. This indicates Islamic exceptionalism. Muslims now expect their counter culturalism to be treated differently from that of anyone else. This is another victory for them on their long road to making Britain an Islamic country.
Professor Richard Landes, the American historian and author has written that ‘the British authorities have descended into what has termed “proleptic dhimmitude” — which means anticipatory surrender to Islamic conquest and subjugation’. He explains that "dhimmi" status under Muslim sharia law entails a set of rules establishing the legal superiority of Muslims by visibly degrading “infidels”. These have no standing in court (either as a witness, or to bring charges), must walk in the gutter, ride donkeys not horses, avert their eyes, and above all never insult Muslims or Islam (blasphemy). And the claim of “Islamophobia” is a weapon used to silence any attempt to criticise such Islamic precepts or acknowledge Islamist aggression and its roots in Nazism and Jew-hatred as well as theological sources. Landes continues ‘The dhimmi pact is a form of “protection money,” it “protects” infidels from Muslim violence and dispossession. At the time of its creation, jihadi warriors slaughtered idol worshippers, and spared the “people of the book” (Jews and Christians) as long as they self-abased. Dhimmitude has functioned historically as an enormous, apartheid, shame-honour edifice in which honourable Muslims may debase infidels without retaliation, and stigmatised infidels must not criticise Muslims, lest Muslims take offence and strike at them with impunity. ‘The Telegraph’ of 6th May 2021 published an article headed ‘Hate preachers will be treated as a "priority threat" and tackled as part of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy, amid concerns about a resurgence of Islamist extremism’.
Islam abolishes Christianity theologically. It is as if Christianity never existed and does not deserve to exist. So no Christmas Carols then. No incarnation. No crucifixion either. No Atonement for sin. Rejection of relationship with God as Father. No resurrection appearances. No Great Commission. No Day of Pentecost, No coming of the Holy Spirit. No birth and formation of the Christian Church. No St Paul. No ‘Abba Father’ intimacy. No evangelisation of the ancient world. It is unbelief, the equivalent of blasphemy, worthy of death in Islam. Death was inflicted on Jews and Christians from its beginning and throughout the centuries of Islam. It continued under the Isis regime with its beheadings and it continues and is reported today in African countries with Jihadi slaughterings of hundreds and thousands. 'Allah' is not the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and not the same as the Father of our Lord Jesus. There is discontinuity between Islam and Christianity and Judaism and this should be recognised and articulated.
We have travelled a long way from ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. But the Trinity makes sense. Our relationships reflect the eternal Trinity. It is a reflection of how we experience our own lives in family relationships. It has completion and is not partial revelation. It is based on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, elements which Judaism rejects and Islam denies. Only Jesus rose from the dead, returned to his disciples and founded a spiritual community of faith based on mutuality while eschewing violence. Neither Moses nor Muhammad did so. This is not polytheism. It is not religion. It is renunciation, humility, forgiveness and self-sacrifice versus power, honour, revenge and rule. It is the establishment through resurrection of a spiritual eternal kingdom on earth, not a political entity. It is unity between our Maker and us human beings made personal, understandable, approachable in Jesus, the perfection of love casting out fear and the promise, hope and vision of eternal life to follow.