More thoughts on the Trinity

leaning tower

THOUGHT 1

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (from the Nicene Creed)

We look for … the life of the world to come. There is, obviously, a future sense to this, a final resolution brought about by Jesus’ return. There is a “not yet,” as our world now is not as it will be when the King has come. Right now our world operates at a tilt. The Cornerstone is present (Mark 12:10-11), but our world is shifted off-kilter, like the leaning tower of Pisa. Since the entire thing is at a slant, we don’t even realize we’ve adjusted to it. It feels natural, but this walking at a slant to the Cornerstone wears on us. We, the holy catholic and apostolic Church, baptized by and in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can walk straight NOW, can walk and move and have our very being in the Cornerstone, made straight by the Cornerstone. We’ve been enlivened by the Spirit, moved from death to life. Even though the world around us lives at a slant to eternal reality, we can live eternal reality now—the eternal reality that says love is preeminent, that stuff and accolades and success won’t last, that says love of God and neighbor is the only measure that matters, that values community and mutual submission rather than individual accomplishment, that views all people as made in the image of God… Living eternal life now isn’t easy; everything around us is going to make us feel as if we are the ones walking through life tilted. But Jesus said that when we do what he told us and act on his words—loving our enemies, living with extreme generosity, refraining from judgment and condemnation…–we are like a man who has built his house on a rock (Luke 6:46-49). It’s straight and sturdy, and will not be shaken. Let’s look for and live the life of the world to come.

 

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Pair of ducks=paradox 🙂 

THOUGHT 2

The many paradoxes of Christianity (Triune God, hypostatic union of Jesus, free will and foreknowledge…) are not as paradoxical as they seem to us. In Trinity Matters, Dancause uses this illustration to picture our limited understanding. Imagine a cone passing through a 2-dimensional world. Though the cone is 3-dimensional, as it passes through this world, it will only be able to viewed as 2-dimensional. If the cone passes through vertically, it will be seen as a circle of varying sizes. But if it passes through on its side, it will be seen as a trying of varying sizes. It will appear to be two completely different things. Yet it is one, fully integrated shape. The issue is not the shape; it is the limited view of those who live in the 2-dimensional world. Same with us and God. The issue is not contradiction within God. The issue is our limited and broken viewpoint.

He writes of is as “’flat’ ways of looking at the same ‘extra dimensional’ thing. The circle and the triangle contradict each other at one level, but on a higher level, as with the example of the cone, they actually define each other as one entity.”

The more I study God and Scripture, the more I realize my world is one little piece on the edge of a vast puzzle that stretches far, far beyond in all directions! This relational, 3-in-one/1-in-3 God extending relationship to all he has created will blow my mind—and my heart—whenever I let him, and I think in Kingdom come I will constantly be saying “Wow!” (location 1958 in Kindle edition)

THOUGHT 3

I confess that I used to think of the Incarnation as the Son being sent off to a horrific kind of boot camp (or worse). It grieved the Father and the Spirit, but it was necessary. I also thought of the Son as experiencing this all alone and thus carrying, for all eternity afterward, this experience and trauma that the Father and Spirit couldn’t identify with. I was definitely believing in some subordination within the Trinity—along with some other unorthodox ideas (maybe tri-theism?).

Karl Barth helps me with this. “Barth describes incarnation as the Son of God’s journey into a far land. …the Son of God effects reconciliation since the journey is that of God himself revealed in the Son. ‘…the Son’s journey is God’s own journey and that the Son’s self-humiliation in birth, life, and death is an expression of God’s transcendence. God is exalted in the humility of the Son.’” (p. 128 of The Doctrine of God by Veli-Matti Karkkainen).

Are there any ways you’ve discovered you’ve thought wrongly about God?

 

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And even more thoughts on the Trinity–clearly entire books have been written on this!

theosisandjustification

This painting goes with thought 2. It’s an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints. What is “theosis”? See THOUGHT 2 below.

THOUGHT 1: “To really live”

What does it mean to really live? A religious scholar asked Jesus a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If I were to put “eternal life” in my own words, I would think of it as life that is not bound by a particular time or season or set of circumstances but is forever life, full and rich and deep forever.

Well, Jesus turns the question back on this scholar and asks if he can find the answer in the Law of Moses. The man can. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he answered correctly and then says, “(D)o this, and you will live.”

So this is life, eternal life: loving God (with my entire being) and loving neighbor as myself. So simple, yet so terribly difficult for me to do. Impossible for me to do this.

But I am not asked to do this and then left powerless to actually do it.

The Nicene Creed refers to the Spirit of God as the “giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” Jesus, immediately after he was resurrected and reunited with his followers, breathed on them. This is the same breathing found in Genesis, when God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and in Ezekiel when the breath of God causes the bleached bones to live again!

I sometimes feel like a clod of dirt or like a pile of dry, dusty bones. I am not enlivened with the love of God and neighbor. I find myself, like the religious scholar, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” and then shaking my head at my inability to love the person God points out to me.

But I have been breathed on! I have been given the gift of the Spirit by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6) to me—fills me with love for God and neighbor! New Testament scholar Gerald Hawthorne wrote, “The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus extends to his followers in all of the little and the big things of their existences. … Jesus has freely and lavishly given (the Spirit) to those who would be his disciples today!”*

To live eternal life right here, right now—to live like Jesus among and with all people! Give us life, Holy Spirit, to live like that!

*The Presence and the Power by Gerald Hawthorne, p. 242. Also found on Amazon.com.

 

THOUGHT 2: “Justification by faith AND becoming like God”

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen describes the differences between the Eastern and Western wings of the church in the third century in this way: “The Eastern tradition expressed itself in Greek, and its distinctive doctrine of salvation was conveyed in the terms of deification or divinization (from the Greek term theosis, “denoting God”), which means “becoming like God.” The Western wing of the church, with its center in Antioch, used Latin and focused primarily on moral obedience and justification by faith.”*

That fascinates me! I was raised in a church culture that was very focused on justification by faith and moral obedience, so the idea of having my Christian faith expressed as “becoming like God”—that through Christ’s work and the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence/power, I am being made more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4)—this still feels like a very strange thing but also a beautiful thing! Does anyone else identify with this?

*The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction, p.72

I found a couple of helpful blog posts when I was googling “theosis.” I’m including the links here in case anyone would want to explore further. Both are very readable.

https://www.orthodoxroad.com/understanding-theosis/

https://interruptingthesilence.com/2011/07/09/theosis-the-human-vocation/

 

THOUGHT 3: Three reading suggestions on the Trinity

I am reading Trinity Matters: In Faith, Work, & Love (…and even theology) by Steve Dancause right now. If you are at all interested in reading about the Trinity, I highly recommend Dancause’s book, along with Darrell Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. All are readable, filled with joy, and concerned with concrete implications and applications for followers of Jesus—both individually and corporately.

Here are just a few quotes from the first few pages of Dancause’s book to whet your appetite.

“If we don’t deep down trust that Jesus is God alongside the Father, then why would we obey his commands? For example, why would we love our enemies—an extremely difficult thing to do—when it is easier to model our treatment of enemies on Old Testament passages that we find easier? And if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God alongside the Father and the Son, then why would we submit to the Spirit’s desire to transform us?”(230/3415, Kindle edition)

“The Church faces catastrophic decline in the developed West. Even in areas where some churches seem to be thriving, our general reputation is woeful. Why? Because we (the Church in Western society as a whole) don’t follow the teachings of Jesus as paramount. We prefer sectarian politics, sacred tribalism, legalism, academic philosophy, or a health-and-wealth gospel over a radical faith in Jesus who is God and perfectly reveals God’s character. We have settled for weak views of the Trinity.” (238/3415)

“If we have seen the Father, it is because we have seen him through the Son, and if we have received the Holy Spirit, it is through the faith of, and our faith in, the Son. There is simply no better place to find God than in Jesus. In Jesus, we are invited into the life of the triune God who exists as an eternal act of perfect love. In Jesus we see clearly not only what God looks like, but also what true humanity looks like. Since Jesus is fully human, sin, separation, and death no longer define human nature for those who are in Christ. Jesus is indeed more human than we are opening the way for us to live into our own human fullness.” (292)

 

#trinityclassns

More thoughts on the Trinity

two pups

This picture is of our two young rescue dogs, who don’t always get along this well, but we’re working on their full “reconciliation” 🙂

FIRST THOUGHT

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pointius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. from the Nicene Creed

Torrance (in The Christian Doctrine of God) writes, “The incarnation of the eternal Word and Son of God is to be understood … in an essentially soteriological way. Divine revelation and atoning reconciliation take place inseparably together in the life and work of the incarnate Son of God…” This rescue mission involved SO much! We needed to KNOW God. We needed to know our need. We needed to be reconciled to God, to be made at-one with God, at-one with each other. We needed to be saved from and saved to. All This—worked in and through the incarnation of the Son of God.

 

SECOND THOUGHT

A few weeks I told all my children’s groups the story of Jesus in the temple at age 12. He, his parents, and others from their hometown had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at the Temple. When the group left for the homeward journey, Jesus was somehow left behind, and Joseph and Mary, his parents left the group and returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of searching (I can’t imagine how panicked they must have been), they found him in the temple and Mary fussed at Jesus: “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for and very worried!”

Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”

In all but one of the Jesus’ prayers, he calls God “Father.” This address was new, different, intimate. And in the prayer he taught us to pray, we, too, are told to call God, “Our Father.”

Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, writing in reference to Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (“Father … I have finished the work which you gave me to do … I have manifested your Name unto men.”), said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you … The end and aim of this revelation of the Son is that you should know the Father … Remember that the revelation is not of the Father manifested as God, but of God manifested as the Father.” #trinityclassNS

THIRD THOUGHT

“How abysmal and desperate the lost condition of man is, may be discerned in the fact that it needed nothing short of the Lord God himself to become one with us in our sin and death in order to redeem and save mankind.” The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons by Thomas F. Torrance, p. 142

Several years ago, a couple of lovely older women knocked on my door. They’d come to talk with me about God—their beliefs about God. The conversation stayed on areas of agreement for a few minutes, but then Jesus came up: specifically, who Jesus was. Our volume stayed low, the tone of our dialogue was kind, but we were definitely of different opinions about Jesus. Still the exchange was cordial, even though one of the women was listing in rapid fire verses that she felt supported her view that Jesus was not truly divine. He was an exalted human. I had a few verses “at the ready,” so to speak, but I didn’t want to get into a tit-for-tat battle. I said a few things, and then held off for a couple minutes, letting her speak. An overwhelming feeling began rising in me, almost physical in its intensity, and when it burst out of me in words, I was surprised. “I just don’t see what a human savior is going to do for me! I need something greater than that! I need God himself to save me!” I don’t remember actually thinking those words before I said them; they just came out. It wasn’t angry, it sounded kind of desperate. We were all startled, and after the other woman talked a bit more, she said they needed to move on. I asked them to please visit again soon, but I never saw them after that. 

Two questions:

-What’s a time you’ve been very aware that your need for salvation/rescue is so great it could only be done by God himself?

-If you’ve had conversation with people who don’t accept the full divinity of Jesus, how have you responded well?

 

**Did you notice the hashtags in the above post? If you’re on Instagram, check out #trinityclassns. You’ll find LOTS of posts on the Trinity, written by my classmates in our Trinity class at Northern Seminary, which is taught by the wonderful Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling.

Nicene Creed, first line

quote for Dan

This is a quote by Victor Hugo that my daughter Em lettered for her Uncle Dan.

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” 

The above is the first line of the Nicene creed. What is below is a response on the above that I am writing for a course I am taking at Northern Seminary.

Not long ago I read a short devotional by Richard Rohr in which he was lamenting the fact that the Nicene Creed can be read as doctrinal truth without any directive as to our behavior and attitudes. I don’t want to misrepresent what Rohr was writing about, but I felt that at least part of what he was saying was this: the creeds include statements that can be held mentally as beliefs while having no impact on the ways we treat other people. Therefore, though we recite them as the main beliefs we hold to in orthodox Christianity, we can recite them in such a way as to make Christianity a belief system rather than a way of life that looks like Jesus.

I think there is a great deal of validity in what he was saying. As a member of a denomination that recites the Nicene or Apostles creed at our weekly service, I wonder if perhaps we shouldn’t also recite the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and Love you neighbor as yourself. This would remind us not only of what we believe but of the actions that those beliefs should lead to—the actions they require.

For instance the first line of the Nicene Creed has implications for our lives. If we believe that the ONE God we believe in is the Father of ALL people, then that greatly affects how we see and interact with other people. It means we are all related, and no matter how different one particular relative (or a group of them) may seem/be from me, they’re still kin! And they’re KIN through a VERY significant relationship!

The creeds are not truly creedal if we don’t plumb the deep depths of them so that they affect our living.

I’ll close with a quote from Gordon Fee. Referring to Paul’s writing about the Triune God, he reminds us that Paul’s “concern is primarily …with the way God’s people live in the world, so that even when he addresses their thinking it is to change the way they are living. May our own Trinitarian discussions never lose sight of this end as well.” (from “Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” p. 71)

(This is a post written for a course on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. It was originally posted on Instagram. If you search the hashtag #trinityclassNS, you can read posts by other students in the class–they’re REALLY good and it’s fun to read the various perspectives on the same topics!)