Some years ago while I was traveling in a train I struck a conversation with one of the fellow passengers. He was a medical doctor and a Muslim. I started the conversation with a desire to share the gospel with him. But he kept asking many questions and the discussion went on for a long time (more than two hours). Most of the questions were related to the reliability of the gospels and the deity of Jesus Christ. He controlled the discussion and took it in different directions. I was not able to share the gospel and was beginning to feel frustrated.
I started the conversation, he hijacked it, and I was feeling helpless. It was at this time that I began to pray and the Lord guided me to stop answering his questions and to start asking some questions instead. So I said, “Sir, you have been asking many questions and I have been trying to answer them. To me it appears that we have not been able to make much progress. I thought we should begin to talk about something that we can agree on. If you do not mind, I would like to ask you one question.” He responded positively and the question I asked him was this: “Do you believe that God is loving?” He thought for a long time and answered in the affirmative. Then I said, “If God is loving, has He always been loving?” This time he thought for a much longer time and became silent.
Then I sad, “Sir, I did not intend to silence you in our discussion. My intention in asking the question was to focus our discussion on the nature of God. Would you please let me know what your thoughts are on this matter.” He told me quite hesitatingly that he got stuck in his thinking. Then I told him that I would be happy to explain the reasoning behind my questions, if he wanted to know. He told me that he would be interested in knowing my reasoning. So I told him something like the following:
We cannot think of God who is absolutely one and loving at the same time. The reason is simple. If God is God, He must be eternal and must be eternally loving. This means that He must have loved something or someone even before He chose to create anything. This must be so, because’ love’ is other-centered and not self-centered. In fact, self-love is not a virtue and in plain language, we call it ‘selfishness’. This shows or necessitates that there must be some plurality in the personality of God, so that love might not just be a possibility, but be an actuality. This is why the Bible gives the teaching that God is tripersonal or that God is a triune being. In other words, God is one (essence) and three (persons) at the same time. If this is not the case, in eternity, God would have only had the potential to love and then He would have had to wait until He created something or someone to actualize His potential to love and such a being that depends on creatures to actualize a potential cannot be God (who must be self-sufficient and pure actuality). What God is, He is in totality and eternally. The Christian understanding of God as Trinity makes perfect sense, because the three persons of the Godhead – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit love one another eternally and such a triune being can be a loving God in Himself and can love or direct His love towards creatures like us as well. That is why the Bible says that God is love. God the Father loves God the Son through the medium of God the Holy Spirit and thus the God of the Bible is a Community of three Persons that share the same divine essence and are bound eternally by love. Only this kind of a God can be truly loving.
The Muslim friend listened very carefully and once again went into silence. I had to bring him out of the silence and back into conversation by asking him what he thought about my analysis. He told me that nobody had ever told him what I told him and promised that he would think more on this. At that point, I gave him the address of a Christian friend of mine who happened to be living in the same neighborhood.
You might be now wondering about my original intention of sharing the gospel. I could not share the gospel, because he was not prepared to take it. But I was glad that I could at least bring the discussion under control and lead it towards the truth, make a reasonable presentation of the biblical or Christian understanding of God, and thus could get a Muslim friend to listen to what I had to say about God. I do believe that God might have brought someone else like me across his path since then to present the gospel to him. As a result of our conversation, this Muslim friend must have become a little more prepared to take the gospel seriously and to understand it.
Note: A condensed version of this was originally published in Apologia: Reasoned Answers for Life (July – September 2003, pp. 27-28).