Monthly Archives: October 2012

Grappling with the Trinity

It’s a doctrine I struggle with.  God is not one body consisting of three parts.  God is one, and simultaneously, he is three.  Every member of the Trinity is fully God.  God is one essence in three persons, just as a hand outstretched and a hand clenched into a fist is the same hand, but in different forms.

Let’s get down to the text.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 ESV

Jesus is both with God, and he is God.  He is God, whilst having a selfhood distinct from God so that he can be “with” God.

And now for a more expanded version of the above, this time in Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV

Jesus is the exact imprint of the nature of God.  He is the essence of God.  Jesus does not just radiate God’s glory; he IS the radiance of it.  Radiance is something people can visibly perceive.  If God is light, and this light is without radiance, how can the human eye see it?  Jesus makes God’s glory [+visible].  Jesus is the way we can humanly see God’s glory.  See below:

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” John 14:8-11 ESV

Does Jesus appear to be subject to the bidding of his Father and thus inferior to him?

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you (…) glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”   John 17:1, 5 ESV

The Father and the Son glorify each other, and Jesus is now glorified with the Father as he was before the beginning of the world.  Jesus has existed since the beginning of the world and has always had the same glory as his Father.  He only stepped down from that glory during his time on Earth, and in this prayer he is about to step back up to reclaim it.

The apostle Paul states as much in his letter to the Philippians:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

 At least we know that Jesus was around before Abraham, through whom God instituted his people Israel, through whom all would be saved:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58 ESV

And here’s the killer:

“So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  [Thomas puts his hand into Jesus’ side].  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:25, 28-29 ESV

What is Thomas saying here?  Is “My Lord and my God” just an exclamation, a sort of 1st Century “OMG”?  One could posit that.  But then, that would mean that Thomas would be taking the Lord’s name in vain.  Would Thomas dare do that in the presence of Jesus, whom he and the disciples collectively know as “the Lord”, and in whom his faith has just been radically renewed?  Unlikely.  Would Jesus’ rising from the dead and appearing to Thomas not give him an attribute of deity in Thomas’ eyes?  Possibly.  And if Thomas had either taken the Lord’s name in vain or been wrong about Jesus’ deity, would Jesus not have corrected him?  Very probably.

BUT

Have you noticed that the vast majority of these quotations come from the Gospel of John, and that they seem to cumulatively ‘argue’ Jesus’ deity in a way that the other gospels don’t?  Indeed.  Can we then discredit John as having this ulterior motive?  Not easily.  If we are to say that the other gospels do not corroborate with John on the matter of Jesus’ deity, we have only to consider the fact that in John Jesus is reported as praying to the Father (and the Father is never reported as praying to Jesus).  The interplay between Jesus’ humanity an his deity is a complex issue, and John doesn’t try to fudge anything to pretend that it isn’t.  But we can expect John to know about the finer details of Jesus’ deity as he was one of the Twelve, “the disciple that Jesus loved”, and as we are told in Mark:  “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”  Should we distrust John anyway?  Why then John, and not Luke?  Why not Hebrews? Why not the whole lot?  If we start to pick holes in the Scriptures, this opens more cans of worms than our salvation is worth.  If John was lying, as an apostle of Christ, then the foundations of the gospel and of the Church are built on a lie.  Could the Church be winning freely consenting people’s hearts and radically renewing their lives if it were based on a lie?  The persecuted Church is perhaps the greatest witness today of the truth of the gospel.  Nobody in countries like North Korea is forced or even encouraged to be a Christian by government authorities.  Their culture has no Judeo-Christian roots to speak of; they have no heritage to fall back on, and they know that if a Bible is found in their room, they are liable for arrest.  They follow Christ because they believe he is the truth, and they believe it so firmly that they put their lives on the line for it.

As for the Trinity?  I’ll take the Word as my yardstick.

All quotations taken from the English Standard Version.

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