Saturday, January 20, 2018
Matthew 6:9 “Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy."
Whenever we begin to think about God, we can three fundamental concepts: God's being, God's person hood and God's identity. These three inter-related ideas comprise an introductory reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity. In the opening text of today's post, we find Jesus instructing us on the proper way to pray. The appropriate beginning point for prayer and thought about the Christian God is God as Father. If we can grasp how God the Father gives us access to the being, personhood and identity of God - then the doctrine of the Trinity will follow.
A suggested way of beginning to think about the Trinity by starting with the Father
Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, has written quite a bit on the doctrine of God and reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity. For Swinburne, beginning with God the Father helps in tracing out one's meditation and think on the Trinity. What are his practical suggestions?
First, we begin by observing the various properties assigned to the being of God (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, holiness, love and so forth). Next, we note that the Father is endowed with properties associated with personhood (intellect, emotions and will). Then finally, we have the proper identity of God as Father.
The identity of this Person as "Father" entails a relationship with another Divine Person sharing the same properties of being while have His own distinct identity. This second Person in relationship with the Father is deemed by scripture as "the Son". According to Swinburne, in order for God to be the greatest conceivable being, He as Father would need to give of Himself to another (the Son) and be willing to have the Son be loved equally and maximally by another Divine Person that shares in the same properties of Deity - namely the Holy Spirit.
In describing the Trinity, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias notes how Christianity is the only movement that has love coming before life. That is to say, before there was a universe populated by created life, there was the One God existing as the three Persons of the Trinity expressing eternal love to one another.
Scripture and the historic Nicene Creed begin reflection upon the being, personhood and identity of God by way of the Father
As I think upon God's being, Personality and Identity - I find the Father, in eternal relationship to the Son, eternally pleased in the Holy Spirit's adoration of the Son. Such Divine pleasure spills over into God's call to sinners in the Gospel. Such a thought inclines me to embrace how the Bible talks of God as One in being and three in identity. A few New Testament passages and the opening of the ancient Nicene Creed confirm these observations.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:6 writes:
"Yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him."
Paul is stating two foundational doctrines that comprise the doctrine of the trinity: monotheism (belief in one God) and the deity of the Son. Clearly the Deity, Personhood and identity of the Father is unquestioned. Attributing the same properties of being to the Son while distinguishing the Son's Personhood and identity from that of the Father gets us a step closer to a full-orbed Trinitarian concept of God.
The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Here we see the Father in relationship to the Son as it pertains to the Son in His total humanity. If we take into account how both apostles begin with God the Father, we can also trace out the Son's dual nature as sharing in the Divine nature with the Father while having uniquely assumed unto His own Person total humanity in His incarnation. It must be recalled that the Son, not the Father, was incarnated in becoming the man Jesus of Nazareth. The Son ever remained God - since as God He cannot cease being such. By way of His incarnation as the man Jesus Christ, we see in history and scripture God incarnate, Immanuel, the Word made flesh (Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:1,14; 1 Timothy 3:16).
The Nicene Creed begins its beautiful affirmation of the Trinity with the following statement:
"I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible."
By starting with the Father, we have the being of God, personhood (the Father) and thus identity. Unlike Western Christendom, which begins with the unity of God and branches out to consider each person of the Trinity; the Eastern Orthodox Christian model of the Trinity prefers starting with the Father. This approach gets us more quickly to the notions we asserted at the beginning of this post: God's being, personhood and identity as introductory avenues into meditating on the Trinity.
As we close out this post today, it is so vital to correctly understand what we mean when we talk about God. God is Perfect in His being. God's perfection of being means He is, in the words of Anselm of Canterbury of the 11th century, the "Greatest Conceivable Being, apart from which none greater can be conceived". By establishing the fact that God is at least One, true personality, we avoid pagan concepts of deity as impersonal. 21st century secular forms of spirituality either conceive of spirituality as collapsed into the human psyche or portray a universal force devoid of personality. A robust Trinitarian Christian concept of God can ably handle the aggressive atheism and secularism of our day.
As we come to terms with God as Father, we next arrive at thinking of God as a being in a loving, eternally trusting community of Persons (Father, Son, Spirit). This can aid Christians in becoming more God-focused. The Father urges us to consider His Son, since the Spirit, sent to the church in the Son's name, points believers to focus their worship on the Son (John 14:16-17,23; 16:12-15). These practical considerations can result whenever we give our minds and hearts in more consistent devotion to the Trinity.