I’ve already covered the theology, history, and the common objections to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in this series. Now, I would like to share my thoughts and reasoning for why it should matter to us. There’s so much I want to say about it, it will take two parts.
As A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
To review, in part one, I mentioned that God is, first and foremost, about relationship. God is a Father who has a Son and our connection with Him is through the Holy Spirit. We cannot know God without knowing love because He is love (1 John 4:8). This means love is a noun as well as a verb with God. The Greek word for love, agape, is best defined as benevolence and/or affection.
In other words, God’s essence is other-centered and self-giving, which requires relationship. For God to be love, He must be able to show this love within Himself, in relationship, apart from His creation. Otherwise, His love would be contingent on something outside of Himself and, therefore, He could not be love. For us, that would mean His love would be conditional and that we would have an effect on His nature. That lie creates anxiety and religious performance, not peace or intimacy.
If God’s love is conditional, then there can be no such thing as unconditional love because we would be saying we can do something God cannot do.
But the good news is, God is love, it’s not conditional, and all we have to do is receive His other-centered benevolence and affection that’s been going on from eternity within the Godhead by placing our trust in Christ (see 1 John 4:19).
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24 *)
It’s knowing this other-centered Love that compels us not to live for ourselves.
14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor.5:14-15 *)
Here’s a fascinating interview with Dr. C. Baxter Kruger on the Trinitarian faith. The whole thing is good but I’ve cued this clip to where he talks about the relational importance of what John is saying at the beginning of his gospel.
Second, if God is alone then we’re alone. As it says in Ecclesiastes, He’s up in heaven and we’re here on the earth. This is the religion of separation that produces legalistic anxiety and fear. Our lives are compartmentalized and in isolation rather than connected in communion.
If God is alone, we’re still orphans, separated and left wondering if He’ll accept us in the end. Redemption becomes focused on forgiveness rather than adoption. The means becomes the end. We’re only saved from sin like pardoned criminals instead of the new creation as adopted sons and daughters. The point is, we were religious orphans before Christ, but He changed all that:
18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you….20 At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.…23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:18, 23 *)
If Christ is not God, in the Father, we cannot be “hidden with Christ in God” (Col.3:3). We could not “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4) or be “seated with Him in heavenly places” (Eph.2:6) because, if Christ is not God, we’re not there either. We’re forever on the outside, looking in.
We could not be adopted sons and daughters because God is not a Father, so He could have no children. But thankfully this is not true! We see all the elements of the Trinity with relationship to us in the adoptive process here:
4-7 But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. (Gal.4:4-7 MSG *)
Beloved, we’re not left on the outside, we’re adopted sons and daughters brought into God Eternal Fellowship forever! (2 Cor.13:14).
I will conclude my thoughts on the importance of the Trinity next time.
But the good news is, God is love
To me, there’s a bit of a problem with your assertion that God is love. How do you reconcile some of the terrible things this God (Yahweh) commanded be done in the old testament? If you say, as many other Christians do, that it all changed in the New Testament … then it seems to me it would contradict the belief that Jesus is acting on behalf of God (or that he is God as many claim).
Great question, Nan. The simple answer is, God didn’t actually command it. The God of the Old Testament is exactly the same as the God the New Testament, but our understanding of Him was drastically different. His true nature wasn’t known in the Old. Jesus explains God to us, not the Old Testament (Matt.11:27; John 1:18). And He didn’t describe His Father that way.
John Wesley said: “Jesus is “the criterion” for evaluating Scripture, the prism through which the Hebrew Scriptures must be read.” (Wesley, “Free Grace”)
In the third century CE, Origen said that if the genocidal passages in the Old Testament are to be taken with wooden literalism, then Marcion was right, we should discard them. But, obviously, Origen did not discard them because he didn’t read them that way.
These narratives were often politically motivated for a particular purpose. The genius of the Old Testament is that there’s an internal debate between the priests and the prophets throughout. I wrote about that in “God said what?! – Part Seven.”
Theologian, C.S. Cowles, said this:
I also wrote a post titled, “Why was God so…different in the Old Testament? ”
These pretty much sum up my answer.
Yes, but … 😉
I’m sorry, but your assertions that “His true nature wasn’t known in the Old,” sounds like a cop-out to me. Either people read and accept the Old Testament stories or they don’t. If they do, then they must accept the fact Yahweh was a vengeful god. If they don’t, then of course they must “make adjustments” (per the theologian you quoted) to justify the belief that “God is love.” And then it becomes dishonest.
It’s not a cop-out or dishonest, it’s called proper hermeneutics. It’s rightly dividing the Word of God. You cannot just read the Bible indiscriminately, as if Jesus didn’t happen, or like a textbook. It must be interpreted. It’s multi-layered, with many literary devices, different genres, agendas, and cultures. Reading it in a wooden literal way is reading it wrongly (and anachronistically). All kinds of horrendous, false doctrines come from this type of reading. The Bible invites us not to just read the text but engage the text. And your interpretation must not just save the superficial appearance of the text but provide explanatory scope over all texts on the same subject. You cannot make a doctrine or theology that creates a contradiction and Jesus’s interpretation takes precedent. And anything that is not like Jesus is not like God.
I like the way Thom Stark put it. Scripture often mirrors humanity, not God:
To say that God is love and then accept that He is genocidal is a total contradiction, which means you are not reading the passages correctly. Jesus clarifies this by explaining what God is really like.
It must be interpreted.
Yup. And that’s why there are over 30,000 Christian denominations.
You suggest that if one doesn’t see it the way you’ve presented, they are “not reading the passages correctly.” But who’s to say YOU are reading them correctly? That’s just ONE of the reasons why people often disagree with the writers of Christian blogs (as you’ve discovered). There are simply too many contradictions and paradoxes within the bible itself … let alone the vast number of interpretations … to authoritatively say “My way is the right way.” It pretty much boils down to whatever works for each individual.
True, there are many different ways Christians interpret the Bible, which is why we shouldn’t be dogmatic about most things we believe. But we do mostly agree on the central tenets of the faith. And doctrinal agreement wasn’t the way Jesus said we would be known, but by our love for one another (John 13:35). Of course, we haven’t done that well at it so far. 🙂
I’m not saying my way is right and everybody else is wrong. I’m saying that our interpretation cannot contradict Jesus. This is the way the New Testament writers used the Old Testament. My hermeneutic is based on something every simple: whatever is like Jesus is like God; whatever is not like Jesus is not like God. This is a simplistic answer but captures the basic premise. My longer answer is found in my posts tagged, “Jesus Hermeneutic.”
Well said,Mel. I really like what you said about unconditional love. We humans can do that once in a while, so how crazy that we try and make God’s love self-absorbed, conditional, and fear based. I suspect part of that has to do with our unwillingness to fully receive grace ourselves, our attempts to try to earn it, and to make sure all the “bad” people don’t get any of what we’ve got. We are forever attempting to recreate God in our image, and failing to trust in Him.
That’s about it, right there! God made us in His image and we’ve been trying to return the favor ever since! 🙂
Even though you have done an excellent job on this series, the Trinity is still mind boggling. One day we will be able to fully grasp it. I look forward to that day.
Thanks. It’s true, the Trinity is way more than we can fully grasp. But that’s because we’re talking about the essence of God! We should expect that. But we can at least understand the relational nature in order to help us understand other-centered love in relationship. And that this God of His eternal Divine Circle of Love decided to open that Circle to include us in Christ. Just getting a glimpse of that is stunning and beautiful to contemplate.
And I’m not sure we’ll ever fully grasp it, even in the ages to come, but it sure will be fun trying. 🙂