A very different kind of God: Islam and Christianity (Trinity Sunday)

pexels-photo-50628All priests are expected to spend time forming our heart to better serve our sheep.  It was thus to sacrifice myself for study that I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 – also because I loved the first one.  The Guardians of the Galaxy are bunch of aliens led by a half-human half-alien named Peter Quill, and they include  a genetically-engineered Raccoon called Rocket.  One of the pros of the new film is that it explores the question of what God really is like.  And it reminds us of what God is not like – he doesn’t make mistakes, he is not selfish, and he has no beginning or end.

Of course this is a question which continues to preoccupy our society: what is God like?  And the fact that our liturgy today all over the world is focussed on that question goes to show how in tune the Church is to the questions of the human heart.  It is also important as we in the West begin to re-encounter a culture the West has largely ignored for the last 300 years: Islam.

Muslims are our neighbours.  In our humanity we are brothers and sisters, sharing a common father, God the Father.  Our belief that there is only one God in a sense brings us closer to one another than with other groups.  We share the importance of daily prayer, of pilgrimage, of caring for the poor.  Of a process of revelation of God which can be written, and of an unchanging demanding moral code.

And today’s feast of the Trinity also reminds us of what is special about Christianity and Islam – why they are so different: that, as Catholic Islamic experts remind us* (pp. 31ff), while together we believe that there is one God only, our God is not at all the same God.  In Islam God is so different from us that he is absolutely separate from Man (p. 97), and from every creature, waiting for every man and woman to submit themselves to him (p. 33).  Christianity is quite different: while God is a separate being to us, and we are more unlike him than like him, we still remain like him, made in his image.  This communion of being and likeness with God means he can gives himself to us, and we can know him – as Trinity: the Father creates and redeems us in the Image of Jesus Christ his Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

A second difference concerns Divine Revelation.  In Islam, while God reveals his decrees – what he wants us to do – he does not reveal himself.  Allah is truly impenetrable (p. 96), and we know nothing of his interior life.  Even his way of revelation is radically different: as God is so absolutely different from us, there is no  connection between our humanity and revelation: the Koran is simply dictated, it ‘descends’ from heaven as an object separated and external to the human author (97).

This is completely different from Christianity: there are two authors of Sacred Scripture – man and God together.  God does not dictate: he delights in working with our gifts and culture to reveal not just what he wants, but also who he is, and who we are, and what the cosmos is, and how he will save us.  Christian Revelation is Trinitarian: the Father reveals himself to us through his Son, who, by the gift of the Holy Spirit (which we had last Sunday) works to redeem humanity and every culture.

This underlines how unique Christianity truly is.  That God is so close to us, that we not only are under him but we are in him, that not only do we submit to him but that he in a sense submits to us – that he is filled with admiration at how beautiful each of us is, that he obeys the words of the sacraments, and that he even gives himself to us, onto our tongue and hand.  Thank-you and praise you, Holy Trinity.  Amen.

*All references from Dieu des Chretiens, Dieu des musulmans: Des repres pour comprendre, Francois Jourdan, L’Oeuvre, 2007