A. What Muslims say
Muslims say that the doctrine of trinity is against the logical laws of mathematics. There are three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. How can Christians still say that there is only one God?
They point out that 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 and therefore the doctrine of trinity is mathematical nonsense.
B. What Christians say
The mathematical equation is wrong.
1 + 1 + 1 equals 3. But it equals three persons, not three gods. Muslims often point out that 3 cannot be 1. They are right. Three gods cannot be one god. Yet we are not talking about three gods; we are talking about three persons. “3 not equal to one” logic applies only when we are referring to the same thing. Therefore, the doctrine of trinity is not illogical; only the mathematical equation above is illogical. But the mathematical equation is not representative of the trinity.
All mathematical equations used to represent God’s essence are wrong.
Some Christians say that the trinity is better understood as 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. But should God be represented as an addition or multiplication? I think it is wrong, either way, to try to fit God into one simple equation. A complex being like God cannot be reduced to a simplistic equation. Even Muslims think of Allah as The Incomparable. Surely He cannot be compared with a simple mathematical equation.
God, in both the Quran and the Bible, tells us He is One. That’s it. It is tempting to try to manipulate this One into an equation and apply all kinds of mathematical addition and multiplication to it and say that the same mathematical limitations apply to God. That is not possible. God created laws of the universe (mathematical laws included) by which we the universe is bound but by which He Himself is not bound. Can one human exist in three persons? No, there is no such thing. Neither can humans be in three places at the same time. But God can because He is not bound by natural laws.
Why doesn’t Muslims use this equation instead
Muslims say that the doctrine of trinity is against logic because 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Therefore, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be one God.
It is true that 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, and not 1. But it equals three persons, not three gods. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be one person. They have to be three. Because they are separate persons, we can add them up. But the three persons of the trinity are not separate Gods, we cannot add them up together. When Muslims say that the equation 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 is illogical, they are correct. But only the equation is illogical. But this equation is not representative of the trinity.
Be careful how we use analogies.
Something should be said here for the use of analogy to discredit the doctrine of trinity. Whatever analogy we use, we will always fall short because God is not bound by the limitations of the common examples that we give.
Christians sometimes give a simplistic example of H2O which can exists either in the form of water, ice or steam. Water is H2O, so is ice and steam but water is not ice, and ice is not steam. Even this analogy falls short desperately. 44God is not to be compared to this as water is not in all three states at the same time, but God is always three persons at the same time.
But that does not mean that we dispense with analogies altogether in our attempt to understand God. Both the Quran and the Bible uses analogies to describe God. But what about analogies that are not found in both the Quran and the Bible, which we invent ourselves to decide on what God should or should not be. God does not describe Himself as a mathematical equation and I don’t think we should do that as well.
Truth is not always within our capability to understand.
Christians agree with Muslims that the doctrine is impossible to understand fully. But truth is not always simple to understand. As C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, aptly puts it, “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.” I am not saying that all simple religions are inventions of men. What I am saying is that if we choose to neglect important revelations by Jesus and the Old Testament, we could make Christianity a whole lot simpler. But that would be denying difficult truths just because they are difficult.
Something impossible for man may be perfectly possible for God.
One good example is miracles. The Quran says that when Jesus was born, even as an infant, God caused him to prophesy. (Surah 19:29-33) Is this logical? Can a new born infant speak in perfect language? It is not human possible. But Muslims accept it anyway because while this feat is impossible for man, it is perfectly possible with God.
Let’s apply this to the trinity. Can one man exist as three separate persons? No. This is not possible with man but perfectly possible with God because God is not bound by the same limitations as men.
God gives us certain laws of the universe by which we are bound but by which He Himself is not bound. If we reject the doctrine of trinity, then why not reject every miracle in the Bible or Quran since they are also not possible with men? If we can accept the fact that some works of God are possible only with God (what we call miracles), then is it difficult to accept the fact that some aspects of God’s nature is only possible with Him?
Do not let our understanding limit truth. Let’s accept everything God reveals, whether we can understand them or not.
It is wrong to decide whether to accept or reject matters about God on the basis of whether or not we can understand it fully. Isn’t it natural that when we are talking about matters relating to God, there will always be some things that are mysterious or beyond human understanding?
The Bible teaches that God is not Someone we can fully comprehend.
(Rom 11:33 NIV) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
If logic is not the only yardstick to truth when it comes to matters concerning God, then what should be our other yardsticks? I would like to suggest that source is another yardstick. What I am saying is simply this. If your friend comes to tell you that her baby spoke to her immediately after he is born, you would laugh, won’t you? But you wouldn’t dare disbelieve if you read about it in the Quran that Jesus did the same thing? What is the difference here? The difference is source. The first source is your friend, the second is the Quran. Similarly, to test the correctness of the doctrine of trinity, we don’t look at logic alone; we look also at source. To arrive at a state of believing in the trinity, you have to satisfy yourself that this doctrine is indeed taught by Jesus. Because even Muslims believe that Jesus is a true prophet of Islam.
That does not mean that reason does not play a part in understanding God. Reason plays a part, but not the only part. Revelation plays an equally important part. Therefore, we reject the doctrine of trinity only when we are convinced that it is not taught by the Quran or Jesus.