Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do Christians Worship Three Gods? Part 3

When I was but a wee lad, my dad and I would camp out in the backyard in the summertime.  The night lights of Denver couldn't dim the explosion of the milky way in the Colorado sky.  My father would comment on how glorious the universe was, and then tell me to ponder the fact that the space we were gazing up at, with its zillions of stars, went on and on without end.  My little brain tried to wrap itself around the idea until smoke began issuing out my ears.

I suspect the discussions these last couple of weeks on this site have affected you as the infinite universe did that young boy.  But aren't we glad?  After all, a god we can fully comprehend is no god at all.

This week we shall conclude our study of the Trinity (a blog on the Trinity would have to be in three parts, wouldn't it?) by asking the question, "Does the Trinity matter?"

God created us originally to be a kingdom with Him.  We were made in His image in order for us to be stewards of the created world, both by means of and for an intimate relationship with God;  God would dwell with us, and we would fulfill our created purpose as individuals united in the kingdom of God forever. We should see from this that God is not only infinite but personal.

The relational (personal) nature of God exists eternally.  We know God is also eternally autonomous or non-contingent Being--that is, His Being is totally self-existent: God doesn't depend on anything outside Himself for existence (please remember the limitations of language, here).  How then can God be both non-contingent and personal (relational)?  He is Triune Being.  The three persons of the Godhead--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--eternally exist in relationship of Love; for, God is love.

The Triune God revealed Himself in creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. God said, “Let there be light." And there was light! [Genesis 1:1-3][NET]

The Father created through the agency of the Holy Spirit by speaking through the Son (the Word).  The Apostle John reiterated this in the prologue of his gospel using the precise eloquence of the Greek language:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. [John 1:1] [NET]

The Greek word order for the last statement communicates the binitarian relationship of the Father and Son (Word) which is each are fully God yet distinct persons.  Despite this concise theological beauty of the Greek, some have chosen to translate it, "...and the Word was a god."  They did this because they believe the Son to be a created being, so they adjusted the scripture to fit their theology.

Arius of Alexandria, who lived at the beginning of the 4th century AD was the first to propose the idea of the created Son.  Indeed, his proposition sparked the convening of the council at Nicea in 325 AD to hammer out the orthodox dogma of the Trinity as ultimately codified in the Nicean creed of 381 AD.  The church rightly demurred at the idea of a created Son, and in the end declared it a heresy.

Once one relegates the Son to creature, one obliterates the Trinity, and consequently changes how God acted in creation and re-creation.  We've already covered creation.  By re-creation I mean our redemption--our salvation--as the key component in reclaiming all creation.  From the Trinitarian perspective, the Son is essentially involved in creation as John states in the very next verse of his prologue:

All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. [John 1:3][NET].

There is no room here for the Son to be merely a sort of insulation, or motivation, or template of creation, which is all he could be as a created being.  Similarly, the Son is essentially involved in our re-creation.  In ours and the creation's salvation a created Son could be nothing more than a role-model for us.  Despite all the hand-waving of the Arians and their descendants, a created Son is a limited and therefore changeable being, not god.  As such, he would have been powerless to create us or save us.

All humanity since the rebellion of Adam and Eve (or innocent humankind bearing God's image) has remained in death, which is separation from God.  As we humans have been groping around in the darkness of death, we have driven ourselves farther from the right order and Love inherent and requisite to God's kingdom (remember for us to function in the kingdom--to work out our created purposes--we need God to be the light for our eyes and the breath for our life: we need the intimate relationship with God).  This ever-broadening distance from God has left a trail of destruction both to our relationships and our environment; we have sinned both because of and for the hubris of believing ourselves capable of being god.  And being dead, we are powerless to resurrect ourselves--to return to our original relationship with God, who is the source and sustainer of life.  Therefore our death and sin is an infinite transgression; we either remain under God's wrath, or God has to do something about it; in the same way only an infinite god could create the universe out of nothing, only an infinite god can resurrect what is permanently dead.

But reduce the Son to creature and you are forced to methods for our salvation that either compromise God's character or impose on us the fallen creature what is impossible.  Thus, the Unitarians teach that God is omnipotent and can therefore simply forgive us without the death of His Son on the cross, and so everyone in the end will be saved, regardless.  They say this is love, but it isn't because love is a two-way street; love is a relationship.  Universal salvation would contradict love because we would remain totally passive.  Universalism would also repudiate God's holiness.  God said if we turned our back on Him we would die.  Not only is death total disorder, it is the just outcome of our sin.  For God to simply overlook our sin by making death a mere abstraction would be to contradict His holiness.

Therefore our only hope is that God somehow enter death to satisfy His holiness.  And this He did as a supreme act of love.  By taking on flesh as Jesus the Christ, God's only and unique Son, God died the death for us but being God was not overcome by it so that by clinging to the Son in faith we too shall overcome death.  Because God is Holy, Jesus had to die; because God is love, Jesus did die for us.

We see then, if we hold to a non-trinitarian perspective, we cling to a spurious hope for our salvation.  But our salvation is trinitarian; our hope is solely in the completed and faithful work of Jesus the Christ, the son of God.

But our salvation involves more than forgiveness; we need to be able to remain in God's kingdom, and this by loving God by obeying Him, and so loving others.  Such ability comes through an intimate relationship with God; He must teach us how to love in holiness.  The non-trinitarian perspective once again leaves us high and dry.  The Unitarianians, for example, teach, as a consequence of their theology, that Christ is nothing more than a role model for us to follow--an motivator to obey God.  The trinitarian perspective teaches us that God will fill us with His Holy Spirit so we both know what obedience looks like and are empowered to do it.  I might watch a prodigy violinist perform and be awestruck, but all the training and work on my part will never make me a prodigy violinist; I must be given the gift.  Love demands that I choose to accept the gift; love is completed in me by God when I return back to Him the love He first expressed to me.  Without the grace the comes to us through the indwelling of God's Spirit, we would remain shipwrecked outside of God's kingdom desperately trying to obey a bunch of rules; our hope would lay in our own abilities to walk in the holiness of God's love, which, of course, was the pipe dream of our rebellion.  We delude ourselves if we believe we are non-contingent beings; we need God to live and live to the fullest as dwellers with Him in His kingdom--the very reason He created us in the first place.

It is a triune God who created us, and who in more recent times entered history to save us from death.  Without appreciating the truth of the Trinity and looking on its truth, much like that boy back in Colorado did the universe, and standing on it in faith, we will remain trapped in death by our own fallibility and arrogance.  Jesus is king, because He lives!


Jeff said...

Lots to think about here Bruce - Thanks! I never thought of how we as "dead" beings are incapable of any kind of redemption - dead is dead and only life can bring life. Do you think this is what Jesus meant when he told the young man to "let the dead bury the dead"?