Does God need to be triune in order to be loving?
If God possesses a diversity of personhood within the one divine essence (Trinity, from tri-unity, three in one, one God in three persons: Father, Son, Spirit), then God can be complete (perfect) in love within himself (operating analogously to a family in giving, receiving, and sharing love within a personal community). In light of this relationship, such a God doesn’t need to create in order to receive love or fulfill himself. The act of creation would be one of sharing divine love with God’s creatures.
But what about a single, solitary deity? Traditional monotheism affirms that God is one being, one person. Thus this unitarian God has no equals with which to share his love. Is he then imperfect because of the need to create to fulfill himself?
In my previous article I discussed this topic with a Muslim apologist (see Who Did Allah Love in Eternity?). I asked him (I’ll call him M) six questions on Allah and love. He wasn’t able to answer all of my questions at the time, so I encouraged him to consult his imam. After doing so, he replied to me. Here is the continuation of our exchange (paraphrased, though the content is intact).
M: Hello, friend. Here is my imam’s answer: You are essentially arguing that one only possesses an attribute if that attribute is manifested outwardly. But for it to be manifested a person has to possess those qualities in the first place. I can be charitable by nature but not exercise charity-giving because everyone is wealthier than me. Conversely, I can give charitably for ulterior motives, but it doesn’t mean I have a charitable nature. Love and judgment are part of Allah’s attributes regardless of the physical act of showing love and judgment within creation.
And please answer this question in contrast: If Yahweh is a God of judgment, then who was Yahweh judging before the creation? If Yahweh needs to create in order to fulfill judgment then how can Yahweh be all-powerful?
Me: M, that answer doesn’t rescue Allah and the Qur’an from logical contradiction. One of Allah’s names in the Qur’an is “the loving.” Thus Allah is supposed to be loving in nature from all eternity. But you and your imam seem to be saying that Allah has no one to give his love to. So Allah is not complete within himself. But Allah is not like a human being that is dependent, needy, and unfulfilled in expressing attributes. Your answer that Allah possesses these qualities but does not express them in eternity means that Allah can’t express love before he creates and he must create to fulfill himself. Your reasoning implies that Allah is not perfect within himself. This view violates the express teaching of the Qur’an.
Also, your counter against Yahweh doesn’t apply. Here’s why: The triune God (which is different from traditional Judaism) is like a loving family: the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love they share. The triune God doesn’t need to create to express love. The Trinity is perfect within itself. The triune God creates to share his love, not to receive love and thus fulfill himself. Also, the triune God is not a God of judgment but of justice. Justice flows from the triune God’s greater moral virtue of benevolence (goodness and love) which is fully expressed among the members of the Trinity. I believe that the Tawhid teaching contained in the Qur’an is logically incoherent and thus must be false. All unitarian deities (single, solitary Gods) have this logical flaw, including traditional Judaism. But the Trinity is a loving God in itself (1 John 4:8). As a Christian, I can thus say “God is love” and God has said he loves me.
Here’s another way of focusing the logical tension of the argument: How can a single, solitary God be perfect within himself without someone to express his love to in eternity? Unfulfilled attributes aren’t perfect love.
M: From the imam: “God is a righteous judge” (Psalm 7:11). Who was God judging before the creation? Was he judging the Son and Holy Spirit? His [Kenneth Samples’s] argument reduces to this: that unless God is eternally acting out an attribute then God does not possess that attribute. His [Samples’s] own logic means that his God’s position as judge is now undermined because he has not been eternally judging a sinful created world. You can make the same argument for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and a whole host of other attributes as well. God IS loving, merciful, forgiving, just, etc., because these qualities are inherently part of his essence or nature.
Me: M, your imam’s reasoning fails to recognize that the Qur’an says Allah is loving, not that he has a latent attribute of love. Thus, Allah changes—moving from merely having an attribute of love to actually loving once he creates. This view involves creation changing and fulfilling Allah—something the Qur’an denies. Love, grace, mercy, and justice are all relational attributes. God must have a relationship with another to exercise these qualities. Love involves giving and receiving, which demands plural relationships. But Allah is alone in eternity without any relationships, which means he can’t be benevolent (loving, gracious, merciful, just). Islam has a God that is either incapable of eternal benevolence or is needy and has to create to get fulfillment.
On the other hand, the triune God of Christianity has three coequal persons existing eternally in a loving relationship. Unlike Allah, the triune God doesn’t become loving after he creates, but instead lives eternally in a loving relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus single, solitary Gods cannot be maximally perfect beings.
M: Here is the imam’s final answer: My points still stand. He [Samples] does not define Allah for us, the Qur’an does. Allah has 99 names and/or attributes mentioned in the Qur’an. Allah has always possessed these names and/or qualities.
Me: M, please thank your imam for interacting with me. I’m honored he would do so. I invite you to read my article, How Does Islam Differ from Christianity? that critiques Islam in a very respectful manner (I even recommend a source by an Islamic scholar). I also invite you to genuinely consider the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who are an eternally loving community of coequal divine persons.
M: There have been discussions between religious people for centuries. Everyone believes that their own religion is correct, but I think that one should choose without prejudice. I repeat, either there is no true religion or if there is, Islam is true. Thank you. Peace be upon you, Kenneth R. Samples.
Me: Thanks, M. I hope you will consider reading my respectful critique of Islam with an open heart and without prejudice. Peace in the name of the Prince of Peace—Jesus Christ.
Reflections: Your Turn
How important is the Trinity to understanding how God can be love within himself? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.