Tag Archives: theology

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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A Kingdom Divided… how God used evil and suffering against itself. An attempt at exegesis.

From John Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die, Chapter 50, page 118 (you can download the whole book from his website – how generous!)

But the most astonishing thing is that evil and suffering were Christ’s appointed way of victory over evil and suffering. Every act of treachery and brutality against Jesus was sinful and evil.
But God was in it. The Bible says, “Jesus [was] delivered up [to death] according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The lash on his back, the thorns on his head, the spit on his cheek, the bruises on his face, the nails in his hands, the spear in his side, the scorn of rulers, the betrayal of his friend, the desertion by his disciples—these were all the result of sin, and all designed by God to destroy the power of sin. “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [did] whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).  There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. There was no greater suffering nor any greater innocence than the suffering and innocence of Christ. Yet God was in it all. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). His aim, through evil and suffering, was to destroy evil and suffering. “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I thought to myself, “But John, in the Bible Jesus says that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  That Satan cannot cast out Satan, or else he will fall, and that to rob a strong man of his possessions, one must first tie him up (Matthew 12:22-29).  How does that all work?”  Well, I then thought, of course it works.  If God uses evil and suffering to destroy evil and suffering, it is as Christ said, evil and suffering will cease.  In order to make evil and suffering cease, it is necessary to divide Satan’s kingdom against itself.  Satan would not fight against himself unless God were puppeteering him, or else he would orchestrate the doom of his own kingdom!  Therefore God must use Satan to cast out Satan.  God is the strong man who has tied Satan up.

How then do we apply this when people ask “Why does a loving God allow suffering in the world?”.  Here is a theory based on my understanding of Scripture.

Firstly, God is the source of all good.  God made the world in the beginning and saw that it was good.  Suffering is a result of of sin (or “evil”), which is rebellion against God and his good way of running the world.  Rebellion was born when one of the Intelligences in the heavens caused an uprising against God and preyed upon humanity and wooed it away from God, making it rebellious in turn.  We call this Intelligence a lot of things; Satan is perhaps the most convenient; Beelzebub, or ‘the devil’, are others.  To remove all rebellion from the world, God would have to remove all people who had ever rebelled against him, and God didn’t want to destroy them because he loved them.  So God sent Jesus to die to expiate the rebellion of those who would come back to him, to satisfy his requirements for justice so that he could take them back.  Now when God sent Jesus, that is, his spirit in human flesh, people accused him of being a partisan of Satan when they saw him liberating people from demons (Satan’s spiritual partisans).  Essentially, Jesus was answering to the assertion that God is evil.  Jesus said that if he was casting Satan’s partisans out of people he could not be working on behalf of Satan’s Kingdom, because a Kingdom divided against itself will fall.  Furthermore, he said, to tie up a strong man and steal his possessions one must first tie up the strong man. God uses this tactic to destroy rebellion, and with it, suffering.  He tied up Satan, then used sin, and with it, suffering, against itself to destroy it.

God tied up Satan by laying all sin (or evil, or rebelliousness, which causes suffering) on Jesus, that perfect representation of himself.  In letting Satan destroy Jesus, God let sin destroy sin, so that those people who resolved not to sin anymore could claim the destruction of sin through Jesus as their own, and not be destroyed themselves. God sent his man to face the penalty for human rebellion by his own justice system, and this would satisfy its requirements so that he could save the people he loved from it and live with them forever.  He raised Jesus back to life again and promised his faithful that they would be raised to life to enjoy this eternal life with him.

What God had left to do was to rid the world of the rest of its rebellion and suffering, and through Jesus he could do this by encouraging rebellious people to repent and reconciling them to him thereafter.   My theory is that God now puppeteers sin and with it, suffering, although he hates these things.  They are necessary for now because people, seeing that they are suffering, might regard the joy of God’s true partisans and want it for themselves.  They might see that it came from God and decide to sin no more, accepting Jesus’ penalty as their own.  So in this way, God is using suffering to bring people to himself, so that rebellion which causes suffering can be eradicated without him having to destroy all of mankind.

I stress that this is all based on my current understanding of Scripture It is an answer that I can give, and though it seems to make sense to me, I acknowledge that God’s ways are nothing like our ways, and that his thoughts are not like our thoughts.

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