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Trinity of God

 

TRINITY:

THE MYSTERY OF THE CONCEPT OF THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN GOD


Introduction

The Judeo-Christian tradition has always maintained the fundamental conviction of  the unity of God.  God is one and this can be ascertained in both Old and New Testaments.  What is being missed, however, is the fact that within the nature of one God are three distinct yet co-eternal, coexistent, co-equal persons, namely, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  The images of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so far the most comprehensive biblical articulation of the unity of God.

What follows is an exploration into the biblical concept of Trinity in light of the Judeo-Christian concept of God.*  This essay will be divided into two parts.  The first will deal with the concept of Trinity per se, and the second will focus on the relation of the Trinity to the Old Testament concept of rigid or radical monotheism.

        

                                I

Language

As conceptualizing and thinking beings, people stretch their imagination to put into appropriate terms those which sometimes defy reason, logic, or language.  In the case of the God-concept, humanity conceptualizes a universal reality according to available images.  These referents are implicit in the Bible--Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Evidently, the conceptualization of the Trinitarian God is not a mere human invention.  Rather, the concept was given to humanity as a gift in order to aid the limited power of human reason in conceptualizing that which is known as a unified reality, i.e., God.

The term trinity per se is not found in the Bible, but the reality which the image represents is.  The language literally means,  three-in-unity (Latin: triunitas).  This immediately rules out tritheism (three gods) as well as rejects the belief of Unitarianism (a staunch anti-Trinitarian belief that rejects the deity of Jesus Christ).  The language, as I analyze it, is a theological model of Gods relatedness or relationality.  This relational aspect escapes the thinking of those whose conceptualization of God is so  much shaped by the Greek philosophical idea of a God who is aloof and thereby uncaring.


Relationality

Trinity is a language of relationship: the Father relates to the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son relates to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit relates to the Father and the Son.  This relational aspects allows clear distinctions within the nature of one God.   Here, Gods relatedness has two directions: inward and outward.  God is related inwardly as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God relates externally as sovereign majesty and mercy to creation, acting in and above human history.

Thus, it is pointless to ask how much, by means of biological substance, the Father has in the Son and in the Holy Spirit (or vice versa). Instead, the point is to see how this relationship works as a unity, and how, despite distinction in persons, God acts as one God. Precisely stated, the unity of God is best maintained on the basis of properly perceiving Gods relationality.

As a language of relationship, Trinity is collective, solidified and unified within the nature of one God.  The phrase, nature of one God, is crucial.  It speaks of how Gods relationality operates on the basis of what God was, is, and become. Here, Gods nature is inclusive of the past, present, and future aspects.  The wasness, isness, and the becoming dimensions in the nature of one God affirm the Judeo-Christian belief that God is dynamic instead of static, experienced instead of elusive, present instead of aloof, and active rather than passive.  God, then, as the language of trinity permits, derives existence from within and not from without.  As a point of clarification, Jesus existence is not simply organically derived from the Father as the Fathers existence is not necessarily organically derived from Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  Jesus existence, or that of the Father or the Holy Spirit, derives existence from the nature of one God.

Agreement within the nature of one God is not incidental: it is inherent and vital.  Trinity presupposes an agreement of relationships.  Trinitarian agreement, however, does not rule out resistance from within.  At one instance, Jesus Christ showed human resistance to the Father (Lk. 22:42).  Jesus resistance illustrates human freedom vis-avis Gods perfect will.  Although Jesus Christ is fully God, he also fully represents humanity being the second Adam.  Jesus actual human resistance to the will of the Father, although momentary, reveals a universal truth which many Christians today have a hard time accepting: Gods will can be done on earth without depreciating freedom.  Both God and human beings are free agents.  Human freedom, however, must be considered as a gift from a benevolent God.  This same gift-oriented freedom is exercised by human beings to either accept or reject Gods will.

Strictly speaking, the Sons resistance to the Father does not imply disagreement within the nature of the Trinitarian God.  On the contrary, it was a resistance based on the knowledge that Gods will is always best for humanity.  There is, therefore, no actual contradiction between Jesus momentary human resistance and the unity within the Trinity.  Jesus knows perfectly the providence of God.  His momentary human resistance, illustrated in the Gethsemane event, only affirms the distinct freedom that God and humanity have.


Distinction and Identity

The language of Trinity rules out any notion of a divided labor within the nature of one God, as some Christians claim.  Contrary to the compartmentalized belief that the Father is the Creator (OT dispensation), the Son saves (NT dispensation), and the Holy Spirit cleanses and sanctifies the heart of the person (latter days), there seems to be no clear-cut division of labor within the nature of one God.  This notion is a clear misunderstanding of the unified acts of the Trinitarian God in and above human history.  What seems to be a division of labor, I suppose, refers to the unified labor of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Already, an extreme emphasis on the separateness or distinctions within the nature of one God has distorted the language, relationship, and unity of the Trinity.  Worse yet, it could lead to an unceremonious dissection of a unified reality without its corresponding measures.

At this juncture, I should stress again that the  language of Trinity is primarily a language of a unified personal reality with the images of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Trinity has never been used in reference to a fragmented reality.  This is one reason why any conception of God must be put within the historical-theological framework of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the light of the Shema: The Lord our God (Elohim, plural in form), the Lord (Yahweh) is one (literally: a unity).

To state, however, that distinctions within the nature of one God should not be made lacks biblical merit.  The lack of distinctions can lead to the extreme emphasis on the unbiblical notion of the rigidity of the oneness of God, that is, the Father alone is God alone or Jesus alone is God. Immediately, one sees here the weakness of such conception: the Holy Spirit is an appendage to the nature of God.  Careful exegesis of the Scripture will establish that the opposite is true: The Holy Spirit is God.  In order to correct extreme and unbiblical positions, it is critical that distinctions within the nature of one God should be made.

But distinctions within the nature of one God should be done in light of a relational identification.  The man concern here is the actual relationships within God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In fact, biblical distinctions within the nature of one God can only be made in light of Gods self distinction, i.e., as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No amount of human effort can improve Gods self-distinction and self-definition as shown in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is important to note that proper distinctions within the nature of one God becomes possible only with respect to the identity of God on the basis of the unity of Gods name.  For in many cases, the fragmentation of the concept of the unity of God is traceable to the misreading of the name of God.  To misread the name of God is to miss the true identity of the Trinitarian God.  Matthews record cannot be mistaken: Gods unified name is Father, Son, Holy Spirit (28:19).  In this unified name the arguments of the anti-Trinitarians hold no water!


II

God as a Human Construct

As noted people are a symbolizing, conceptualizing, and meaning-seeking beings.  They construct reality according to what they see and experience in the world, and also assign meaning to this construction.  Essentially religious in nature, humankind begins constructing the concept of reality with the symbol God as available referent.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, human beings construct the God-concept on the basis of Gods self-communication, self-interpretation and self-definition.  Here, personal knowledge of God precedes any construction of an earth-bound referent for God.  That is, God is first intellectually grasped--of course, a product of Gods self-communication-- before the concept of God can be constructed.  As God continually communicates Himself, humanity continually constructs that which represents unified reality.  In this construction process, humankind encounters an available referent, namely, Jesus Christ, God incarnate.


God as a World-View Dependent


Apparently, as worldview changes, the construction of the reality of God also changes.  This explains the movement in which the concept of

God has gone through the long years of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Creator, Warrior, King, Lord, Light, Father, Love, Spirit, to mention a few,

all of which are human constructs based on a what was previously revealed, encountered and experienced.  As  new historical situations placed new demands upon it, the symbol of God has been continuously                   re-examined and re-constructed.  This continual reconstruction shows that the symbol God provides meaning and effective orientation for contemporary and future human life.  As a case in point, the warrior Yahweh of Moses and Joshua became known as the Yahweh Father and Lover of the prophet Hosea.  Evidently, as world views change, so does the construction of the symbol God.


God as a Shifting Paradigm

Since ones worldview changes as religious experience go deeper and thereby take variations, the worldview surrounding the term God also changes.  A paradigm or model like God changes along with the trends in society because such paradigm cannot operate in isolation since it belongs to a particular tradition, to a particular society, to a particular worldview that is used primarily for identity formation.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the crucial shift in the history of constructing the God-concept was from radical monotheism (God is one) to the Trinitarian monotheism (God is Father, Son Holy Spirit).  As a consequence, the church has never been at rest in this major paradigm shift and is still divided over the issue until today.  The reformulation of Yahweh into Immanuel, i.e., the incarnation of Jesus, readjusted peoples thinking about God.  Jesus Christ became the key model in terms of which God, specifically the Trinity, is to be understood.  Jurgen Moltmann is right in stressing that it was the offering up of Christ in the death of the Cross which makes the Trinitarian self-distinction of God apparent and necessary in thought.

Thus, the traditional construct of God finds a perfect paradigm shift in Jesus Christ, the truly God and truly man.  While this paradigm shift is no doubt definitive, it is in no way exhaustive nor it is the end of all human endeavor in constructing the God-concept.  For the changes of the worldview that hosts this construction open up to more paradigms with respect to God-concept that seem functional in each generation.  This justifies the long series of paradigm shifts with respect specifically to the Jesus model as the broad canvass of culture and history has shown: The Rabbi, The Christ Crucified, The Mirror of the Eternal, The Monk who Rules the World, The Liberator, The Man who Belongs to the World, The Universal Man, among others.


Summation

In this essay, it was established that the term Trinity is not found in the Bible, but the image and reality the word represents is.  God is three-in one.  While this concept seems to radically break away from rigid monotheism of the Old Testament, it strongly affirms a continuity of the Judeo-Christian tradition of God.  One can suspect that rigid monotheism was part of the Jewish commitment to keep God as their own, and to establish that Yahweh is indeed the exclusive God of Israel. On the other hand, there is also a suspicion that the construction of the concept of one exclusive God has moved, although without evident notice, from being the God of Israel only to the God of universal humanity.  Concomitant with this was a major paradigm shift in the symbol of God displayed in Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, the traditional notion that God is imperial majesty was shattered.  Jesus has shown that God, too, is the God of accessible mercy.  The exclusivistic Jews fail to account for a radical and dynamic participation of God in human history compared to the inclusive stance of the Trinitarian concept of God.  The inclusive God remains both a mystery and a paradox:  God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.


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