Sunday, May 22, 2016

God in Three Persons

Trinity Sunday marks a time in the church year when specific attention is turned to God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As part of this, many church groups will recite the Athanasian Creed, which was written to help explain the difference, yet sameness, of each Person in the Godhead.  Its length and repetitive language can dissuade the reader, and one wonders if something else could not have been constructed with fewer words.  Shorter creedal statements about God have been made, but somehow they are incomplete: they simply do not convey the same depth of understanding and clarity.  After all, how does one condense and describe the omnipresent and indescribable in fewer than the 44 lines linked above?  We should praise the author(s) of that ancient document for accuracy and thoroughness—and brevity.

Consider for a moment the opening three verses of the Bible:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  (Gen 1:1-3)
How would one describe God from these verses?  You might mention that there was an all-powerful being, God, who existed before the heavens and earth, that He or She created everything, that the original state of things was somewhat chaotic needing form and structure, and God spoke things into existence.  Then you go a bit deeper: What is the Spirit of God?  Is this someone different than the God mentioned in verse one or an extension of the same?  These last two questions are actually more interesting than the first.  God is presented as the creator of all things, but His Spirit seems to be working somewhat independently yet in concert with God.

If the above is not sufficiently confusing, we must add another level of mystery—the God’s speech.  We assume that the Creator is the one speaking, rather than the Spirit hovering over the waters, but how does He communicate and able to enact great and mighty works through that communication?  What mode is used to transport the words?  What or Whom initiates the declarative act?  Scripture sheds light on this in an unexpected place:
The Lord created me in the beginning of His ways for His works;
He established me in the beginning before time,
Before He made the earth, and before He made the abysses,
Before the going forth of the fountains of the waters,
Before the mountains were created;
And He begot me before all hills.
The Lord made the fields and the uninhabited places
And the inhabited heights under heaven.
When He prepared heaven, I was present with Him,
And when He set apart His throne upon the winds.
When He made strong the things above the clouds,
And made sure the fountains under heaven,
And made strong the fountains of the earth,
I was working beside Him;
I was He in whom He rejoiced;
Daily and continually I was gladdened by His face.
When He completed the world, He rejoiced,
And He rejoiced in the sons of men.  (Prov 8:22-31 LXX*)
Here we have a recounting of creation from a different perspective—a heavenly one.  In this passage, Wisdom is personified and actively involved in creation.  Though personified elsewhere in Proverbs as an attribute to be pursued, the interworking here suggests a relationship more as one of Creator and Co-creator working together toward a result.  God is shown establishing Wisdom over His works and making all things through Wisdom.  And it is not that Wisdom is created, as we would imagine it, but rather established over all in the beginning before time having been begotten by the Lord.

Wisdom exists outside creation, and therefore cannot be considered part of the creation sequence, but rather is over it as a Workman.  The words indicate the relation of Wisdom to the Creator as as offspring, (i.e., the Son of the Father), begotten before and outside all time and ages.  Wisdom, being the Son of the Father, was present with the Father when He made the world, therefore, the Son exists with the Father outside creation.  And since the Father is not a creature, neither is His Son.

Were there, then, multiple Gods who created the world?  No.  The Son also created the world, for He was working beside the Father.  The Father is the Creator, and the Son is the Creator.  How so?  Because the working is one working.  They are distinct Persons, but the work of creation is one work.  Is the Son the same as the Spirit who hovered over the waters, as mentioned above.  Again, no.  The creation work of Wisdom, the Son, was more “hands on” during construction, while the Spirit’s work was primarily enlivening—preparing and giving life.  Three distinct Persons created the world, therefore the Holy Trinity, our one God, made the world with one working, and when completed, They rejoiced in one another.

Some will wonder why this concerns us, offering up a retort like: “So what if that group doesn't teach the Trinity.  They believe in Jesus, and that should be good enough.”  Except that is not good enough.  Look at the beginning and end of the Athanasian Creed:
  •   1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;
  •   2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
  • 44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.
The doctrine of the Trinity is important, because without a correct understanding, we believe and worship another god, not the God of the Bible.  There are many groups who mention Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their doctrinal documents, but deny the God who is both one in essence yet three in persons: among these are Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, and Jehovah Witnesses.  These groups are not Christian.  Though they give ascent to God and to three entities somehow working together, they deny either the full deity or the unique personage of each member.  Without a proper understanding of God, His Person, and His redeeming work, what is believed cannot save, because the individual divine work needed to complete our redemption cannot be accomplished.  Therefore, if we choose to trust in such a god and inadequate work, we are left in our sins.

Only by believing, teaching, and confessing the almighty, Triune God as revealed in Scripture do we have a true basis for our assurance of salvation, hope of a resurrection, and promise of an eternal destiny with our Lord.

*  I used the Septuagint because it seemed to have a better reading for the active work of Wisdom.

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