Last night, I listened to Tim Keller’s message entitled “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” You can listen to it here. It’s worth your time.
It gave me pause for thought. Why do we all want Corona to end? Is it because we want to return to our normal lives? Maybe. Because we want sickness and death to stop. For sure. I suspect we also want to be done with “social distancing” and “quarantines.” We want our relationships to return to normal. I know I do. I’m missing seeing my kids and grandkids and nothing quite replaces taking those little ones on my lap and hugging them. Ah…
Why is that? Why do we love? Is it just a chemical secretion in the brain that allows us to procreate and sustain the human race?
We realize instinctively that there’s something deeper.
God is love…a relational community without beginning or end …the Father-Son-Spirit God. We humans were brought into existence in the image of that mutual self-giving love. So we long for it. We miss it when it gets interrupted. If we’re deprived of it for too long, we can lose our psychological balance. We were made for it so life without it doesn’t work.
Given how central it is to our lives, does it strike you as odd that we say no one really understands the Trinity? We were made for communal and mutual love, reciprocal relationships that supply meaning and beauty to our lives. And yet, when we talk about that in the Father-Son-Spirit God, we mostly talk about how hard it is to understand or explain! I get that it’s hard to explain rationally, but the reality of our deep relational longing explains the Father-Son-Spirit God better than any equation or analogy.
So when we summarize our faith, we usually avoid speaking about the tri-personal God. We prefer to say something about our salvation (e.g. Jesus died for our sins). Fair enough, but there’s a reality that stands behind Jesus dying for our sins. That reality is a God who created us out of the overflow of his divine love and, when we alienated ourselves from him, he came seeking us in order to draw us back into the embrace of that divine love.
In fact, in the early centuries of the church, they identified the Father-Son-Spirit God as the heart of the Christian faith. Check out how Athansius (4th c.) stated it:
Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic [or universal] faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally. Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity.
(Click here to see the whole Athanasian creed)
For Athanasius (and most of the church Fathers) the Trinity was the sum and essence of the Christian faith.
As Keller points out, the kind of God we worship influences how we live. What he calls a “unipersonal” God—a God who exists alone—could not be love because love is something one has for another. That god is moved by power and his followers tend to stress rule-keeping which leads to legalism.
The God of the gospel, on the other hand, is a tri-personal God. The implications of that are enormous. One implication is that how we live in relationships matters to God as much as it matters to us. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
God wants us to be in intimate, loving relationships because he is. A God like that makes you want to be in relationship with him too. Right?
Tim Keller cites Cornelius Plantinga:
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit glorify one another. That means the persons within God exalt, commune with and defer to one another. Each harbors the others at the center of his being in a constant movement of overture and acceptance, each person envelopes and encircles the others. God's interior life therefore overflows with self-giving love for others.
You and I were born out of that overflow of self-giving love that envelopes and encircles. That’s why we want to relate, why we want to love. That’s why we want Corona to be over.
The next time you’re trying to summarize your faith, think about using words like “relationship, mutual self-giving love” and “the Father-Son-Spirit God.”
So thanks for relating with me by reading this. I hope something in this website might invite you in.
29 March 2020 (Bellingham, WA)