Who Did Allah Love in Eternity?

Ask my family, friends, or students and they will tell you that as a historic Christian I am truly captivated with the triune nature of God. Historic Christianity affirms God’s triunity: one God in three persons. God is one divine “What” (essence or being) and three personal “Whos” (persons or subsistences).

One reason for this preoccupation is that I view the Trinity as one of historic Christianity’s most distinctive truths and one of the faith’s deepest revealed mysteries. Moreover, I’m convinced that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16precisely because God is a Trinity. The plurality of persons within the one divine being of God means that God is analogous to a loving human family.

Here is the Trinity doctrine in six biblically based statements:

There is only one GodDeuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 1 Timothy 1:17
The person of the Father is GodJohn 6:27; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:2–3
The person of the Son is GodJohn 8:48; 10:30; Philippians 2:6
The person of the Holy Spirit is GodGenesis 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 5:3–4
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct and simultaneously distinguishable personsMatthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; 2 Corinthians 13:14
The three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equalityJohn 15:26; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 2:18

St. Augustine of Hippo articulated the idea that the Trinity makes God perfect in love within God’s nature itself. Consider Anglican theologian Gerald Bray’s commentary on and summary of St. Augustine’s reasoning:

“God cannot be love unless there is something for him to love. But if that something were not part of himself, he would not be perfect. The Bible does not teach us that God needed the creation in order to have something to love, because if that were true, he could not be fully himself without it. So Augustine reasoned that God must be love inside himself. To his mind, the Father is the one who loves, the Son is the one who is loved (the ‘beloved Son’ revealed in the baptism of Jesus), and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and binds them together.”1

The Trinity is critical for Christians to appreciate because it allows God to “be love” within himself and, therefore, not in need of finding love outside (in his creation). Therefore, the triune God is unsurpassably loving. This distinguishing quality, combined with his other infinite attributes, makes God, as St. Anselm put it, the greatest conceivable being.2

This idea came out in an online discussion I had with a Muslim apologist (I’ll call him M), several months ago. Our interaction included a respectful debate about whether Allah is perfect within himself regarding love (one of Allah’s 99 names in the Qur’an is “the loving”). Here I present our exchange (paraphrased) starting from where I ask M to address some questions. 

A Muslim-Christian Online Exchange about Allah and Love
Me: M, let me ask you some questions if you don’t mind. I’ll number them for your convenience: (1) Is Allah a single, solitary God (one person)? (2) If so, is Allah also a God of love? (3) If true, then who did Allah love in eternity before he created angels and human beings? (4) Since Allah had no one to love in eternity was he lonely? (5) Or does Allah need to create in order to fulfill himself? (6) If so, how can Allah be loving and sovereign? In other words, perfect in himself?

M: Here are my answers.

(1) Yes: Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “He is Allah—One ˹and Indivisible (Al-Ikhlas, 2).

(2) Yes: He is the Most Merciful of the merciful (Yusuf, 64).

(3) I don’t know.

(4) Yes: He is the First and the Last (Al-Hadid, 3).

(5) No: Allah—the Sustainer ˹needed by all˺ (Al-Ikhlas, 2).

(6) I don’t know.

I apologize for this very brief series of answers. It is challenging for me to answer philosophical inquiries, but in Islam we are instructed to act according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and this was my knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah. And it is narrated on the authority of Omar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet of Allah (prayers and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Contemplate on the signs of Allah but do not think about Allah (Himself)”

Me: According to the Qur’an, Allah is both loving (Arabic: “self-giving or sacrificial”) and sovereign (an independent ruler). Yet Allah can’t be a loving God from all eternity because before he created he had no one to whom he could give his love (a single divine person all alone). Love must be given. Moreover, if Allah did create (angels and humans) in order to get love then he is in need and can’t be considered an independent ruler. Logically, it appears that Allah is either loveless or needy. Thus the claims of the Qur’an seem to stand in logical contradiction with regard to Allah. As a defender of the truth of Islam, can you resolve this logical tension?

M: I don’t quite understand this point. Love must be given? If someone does not give love, does that mean he does not have this particular attribute at all?

Me: How can Allah be a God of love when he is all alone in eternity with no one to share his love? No one to give his love to? Love must be given and shared freely. Love requires a relationship with another person (friendship, family, caring). Was he lonely? Was he needy? Did Allah then create out of a desperate desire to love and be loved? If so, how can Allah be called in the Qur’an “the loving”? How can Allah be an independent ruler? How can Allah be perfect when he has to find love outside himself? These seem like reasonable questions. If you don’t know the answers then maybe you can ask your imam. Does Islamic theology have an answer to this logical challenge?

M: Yes, right. Thank you for your questions. I am looking for answers to these inquiries but according to my research, either there is no true religion at all, or if there is, Islam is correct—based on a series of arguments and reasons.

Me: As a human being, my heart cries out for truth, goodness, and love. How about you? As a Muslim, does Allah give you truth, goodness, and love? Do you love Allah and does Allah love you?

M: So, let me ask and try to get answers for you. As long as I’m responding to your questions, maybe you can view this website that explains and defends the Islamic religion: Many Prophets One Message

Me: M, I have studied Islam and I respect Muslim people. I will continue to read about your religion. I’m glad you are looking for answers to my questions.

M: Yes, my friend. So give me time to find answers to your inquiries. As Jesus (peace be upon him) said, I say, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).


Me: As-salamu alaykum.

In the next article, I’ll continue the discussion by sharing how M’s imam answered my questions and how our interaction continued from there.

Reflections: Your Turn 
How important is the Trinity to understanding how God can be love within himself?

Resources

Endnotes

1. Gerald Bray, “8 Things We Can Learn from Augustine,” Crossway (website), posted November 16, 2015.

2. See my discussion of St. Anselm’s ontological argument (greatest conceivable being) in Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), 82–83.

  One thought on “Who Did Allah Love in Eternity?

  1. June 1, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    What you’re engaging in is called an exercise in futility.

    • June 1, 2021 at 9:20 pm

      Hetty:

      “An exercise in futility”?

      Here’s the WordPress note I received today about the response to this article:

      “Your stats are booming! Reflections is getting lots of traffic.

      Your blog, Reflections, appears to be getting more traffic than usual! 47 hourly views – 6 hourly views on average
      A spike in your stats”

      It seems this article topic is getting a lot of attention.

      Ken Samples

  2. June 1, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    I wasn’t referring to your blog. What I mean is debating about Allah, and if/who he loves, is futile.

    • June 1, 2021 at 9:35 pm

      Hetty:

      You don’t seem to understand that this topic of who Allah loves is getting a lot of attention even among Muslims. The Lord may use this topic to open the hearts of Muslims to the Gospel.

      Moreover, go back and read my article again because a God who is not loving can’t be a maximally perfect being.

      The Trinity alone (Father, Son, Spirit) is analogous to a loving family.

      If I recall, you’re Catholic. Show this article to your priest and see if he thinks the topic is futile.

      Sincerely,

      Ken Samples

      • June 1, 2021 at 9:44 pm

        It won’t open anyone’s hearts, they’re just as invested in showing you the absurdity of the Trinity. Obviously a god that doesn’t love isn’t perfect. If you have the energy to debate, then God bless you. As for me, I’m defeated, I gave up debating. And the only thing that opens their eyes is when you show them the real Muhammad. Proselytizing gets you nowhere.

      • June 2, 2021 at 6:04 am

        Hetty:

        I’m a scholar and a teacher of the world’s religions. So I’ve been talking to people of other religions for my entire adult life.

        Talking about whether God is love makes a real difference.

        If you’re defeated you should consider my article below.

        Now back to talking about the Triune God of love.

        Ken Samples

        https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/stoke-the-faith-flame-overcoming-spiritual-weariness/

  3. David Cogger
    June 1, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    Thanx for pushing me to get into your work,
    I do appreciate that you would take the time to pursue me on this.
    However, I don’t really understand your desire for my articulation on your work.
    What I’m hearing/reading is that you resent me replying with Tweets that may or may not have any direct correlation to your initial Tweet.
    In answer to this;
    I see Twitter as a 10second grab to a greater depth of message. As such I have been piggybacking on the Tweets of the better known Tweeters and sharing Tweets that I feel God is giving me to challenge, inspire, comfort and uplift those who would be reading the initial Tweets. In most cases my Tweets do correspond or directly reply to the initial Tweets but many times I just put down my daily Tweet and piggyback on the Tweet as a catalyst for thought, controversy perhaps an alternative insight but with no real thought to take it to the next level.
    However this is the second time you have asked me whether I have read your Tweet in depth and I get the impression that you are not overly happy with my piggybacking off your Tweets.
    If this is a fair assumption on my interpretation of your responses to my Tweets then I truly am sorry that you feel I am infringing on the rights of your Tweet and therefore I will not do that again without first reading what you are truly trying to say in the fulness of your Tweet
    I don’t know if this is satisfactory for you or not, but I would like to keep our relationship ongoing but more importantly on a civil level.
    Please keep me informed on how you’re thinking or feeling on this issue and I look forward to continuing with our interaction
    Cheers D

    • June 2, 2021 at 6:27 am

      David:

      Greetings in Jesus’s name.

      I’m sure you mean well but I personally think it is inappropriate for you to make comments on a Tweet you haven’t read and don’t intend to read even if you’re using it as a piggyback attempt at evangelism or encouragement to other Christians.

      It is like responding to a headline of an article in the newspaper but not taking the time to read the article.

      Quoting Scripture passages without knowing the specific context of the issue seems less than fully responsible. Passages of Scripture are not magic that just works without context and careful application.

      If I know you’ve actually taken the time to read my article on Christianity and Islam and engage with it then I’ll respond back. But if you’re not going to take the time to read them then I ask you to respectfully not piggyback on my articles.

      I’ve got to go now and get back to writing my apologetics articles.

      Sincerely in Christ.

      Ken Samples

      Senior Scholar Reasons to Believe

  4. June 3, 2021 at 5:48 am

    Thank you very much for posting this conversation, and thank you also for elucidating the doctrine of the Trinity so concisely.
    Personally, I don’t necessarily disagree with your Augustinian reasoning that the Lord would have to be a Unity, i.e., One in essence and Three in subsistence. Although, for the sake of argument, may I ask, 1) if the reason that God is able to love before all creation is because He is eternally a Trinity (or Unity of Three Persons) and therefore has Persons Whom He loves before creation, then is God not also beyond, or outside of, all space and time? 2) If God is beyond space and time, then wouldn’t He be able to love His creation even before creating it?

    Also, regarding St. Augustine, I was wondering why, in his book On The Trinity, he adamantly rejects the notion of the Holy Spirit being described as female or feminine. I agree with his subsequent reasoning that the Holy Spirit should not be thought of in this way because it would then imply that Jesus the Son was the product of the union between God the Father and the Holy Spirit (instead of sharing One essence); but if we’re going to appeal to a consistent logic, then the obvious question follows: how can the Father have a Son without a Mother?
    To clarify, I’m not asking these questions to refute claims made by either yourself or the great Bishop of Hippo; I’m asking out of faith, seeking understanding.

    Thank you again for your insights. I look forward to reading more of your writings.

    • June 3, 2021 at 4:13 pm

      Hello, Carolyn.

      An eternal unitarian God (who is independent of time and space) wouldn’t be maximally perfect in himself because he has no one to love so he would be desperate to create just to fulfill himself. Even if God could love the idea of a creation before actually creating he would still not know the experience of giving and receiving love. But unlike all unitarian Gods, the Trinity is an eternal loving community that is perfectly loving in itself and only creates to share their love.

      The Triune God is pure spirit with no sex (neither male nor female). All of our language about God is analogous (like and unlike). So the terms Father and Son reflect analogously what we mean by these terms and much more. And since they are analogous there is no need to be literal and postulate the need for a mother.

  5. Kenny
    June 5, 2021 at 9:59 am

    Kenneth,
    How would you respond, if he replied, Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That would seem to imply that one could simply love (agapao) themselves, which would then allow them to agapao others.

    Just a thought.

    • June 5, 2021 at 10:08 am

      Kenny:

      I don’t see how your thought gets at the issue of my article.

      Single, solitary Gods are all alone in eternity with no one to love. So they create in order to fulfill themselves. Thus they can’t ground love in themselves. So they are not maximally perfect beings.

      On the other hand, the one God in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) encompass an eternal community of love and therefore constitute a maximally perfect being.

      Ken Samples

      • Kenny
        June 5, 2021 at 1:14 pm

        It would seem, that like us, a solitary God could simply love himself through all eternity, and then decide to create others to share in that love. Creation of humans need not be from a necessity to fulfill himself. Similar to Jesus saying to love our neighbors “as we love ourselves.”

        Although I believe in the Triune God, I just don’t see how it is necessary in order for God to be loving.

      • June 5, 2021 at 4:22 pm

        Kenny:

        Thanks for your comments. They will help me as I work on a book on this subject.

        Unfortunately your thought experiment doesn’t work for Allah. When the Qur’an calls Allah “the loving” (one of his 99 names) the Arabic term means “an altruistic, sacrificial love” not a self love that is then transferred to the creature.

        So in your proposal Allah in eternity isn’t truly loving because he is alone and can’t truly give and receive love (true love is never just one way).

        Moreover, Allah is supposed to be a sovereign ruler who needs nothing from the creation. Yet as a single, solitary God the only way to genuinely GIVE AND RECEIVE love (reciprocal) is to find it in a creature.

        So the Qur’an has a tension between its two revealed ideas that Allah is loving and is a soverieign ruler.

        I also think your definition of love misses the mark when you say you can love yourself and then simply shift love to another. True love (agape) is given and received freely from one person to another person.

        Self love, though a part of reality, isn’t sacrificial or altruistic and is therefore a lesser kind of love. For example, self love calls one to preserve and protect oneself. But altruistic love may call you to sacrifice your life on behalf of another. So when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor he really means that we must be transformed by grace to move from the easier love of self to the really challenging love of another.

        Further your example (a person loving themselves and then loving another) compares yourself to God which isn’t acceptable because God (unlike human creatures) is supposed to be a maximally perfect being. Otherwise God isn’t worthy of one’s worship.

        May I say humbly that I respectfully think your appreciation for the Trinity might significantly increase if you can appreciate the point being made in my article.

        Scripture says God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16), not just has love. Therefore God must have perfect love within himself (which by necessity involves multiple persons).

        So God is love because God is a Trinity.

        Got to go now and talk to more people about God’s unsurpassable love.

        Faith, Hope, and Love.

        Ken Samples

  6. Kenny
    June 6, 2021 at 6:37 am

    Thank you Ken,
    When Jesus used “agape,” about your neighbor and self, it confused me, because I had always associated that word with the way God loves.

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