Sunday, May 13, 2012

The amazing Trinity

Christian philosophers and theologians struggle to understand the Trinity. They deploy many ingenious analogies to model the Trinity.

A cynic would say they have such difficulty making sense of the Trinity because the Trinity doesn’t make sense. If it’s that hard to figure out, why not honestly admit the Trinity is incoherent? No amount of ingenuity can make a contradiction logical.

However, I’d turn that around. Compare the Trinity to Allah. (By “Allah” I mean the Muslim deity, not a generic synonym for “God” in Arabic.)

Allah is easy to understand. He doesn’t confront us with any perplexities. Technically, Islamic theology is apophatic. Technically, Allah is totally unlike his creatures:

But you wouldn’t get that from the Koran. The Koranic Allah is very recognizable, very straightforward. Like seeing yourself in the mirror.

Allah is quantitatively different from humans, but not qualitatively different. Like Zeus and Thor, Allah is a magnified human being. Smarter, stronger, older. He ranges along the same conceptual and metaphysical continuum. One of us–only more of the same. 

Ironically, the very fact that Allah is so easy to grasp is a reason to find him unbelievable. For such a “God” is clearly a projection of the human imagination. The idea of Allah doesn’t exceed something we’d be able to come up with on our own. Like a model airplane, you can take Allah apart and put him back together without any missing pieces.

We should be deeply suspicious of a God who’s that simple. Who’s too amendable to human reason.

It reminds me of the challenge confronting science fiction writers. How to depict aliens that are truly alien. Science fiction writers can only extrapolate from human experience.

I heard Freeman Dyson once suggest science fiction writers should model aliens on autistic children because autistic children are so different from ordinary children. So puzzling.

I don’t know enough about autistic children to know if that’s true. A father once described his autistic son to me. His son was full of surprises. Amazing flashes of insight. You never knew quite what to expect.

Whether Dyson is right or wrong, it illustrates the larger point: if the Christian God is real, would we expect him to be easy to put together? Is the Trinity less believable, or more believable–because it’s perplexing? Isn’t any “God” who’s too transparent simply incredible? Such a “God” is obvious because such a “God” is obviously an extension of the human mind, human experience.

But that’s not something you can say about the Trinity (or, for that matter, the Incarnation). The true God doesn’t differ from creatures merely as a matter of degree, but of kind. Categorically different.

Even in human experience we find some things baffling. Quantum mechanics is baffling. Yet quantum mechanics is about something mundane. It belongs to the created order. Would we expect God to be less baffling than finite creatures?

The word “amazing” has lost its original connotation. “Amazing” like a “maze.” The Trinity is amazing in the original sense. 

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