Once again, I remind my readers that this is something to get your feet wet on the topic. I am allowing you to sample the truths of the faith in the hopes that you will go buy a full-course meal. The last time, I talked about the What of God and tonight, I would like to focus on the Who in Christian thought since I believe only Christian theism can explain all the facets of our world.
A number of readers might know already where I’m going specifically who are astute in theology. For one, there is a characteristic of God in Christian thought that I left out of the list yesterday as it is the focus today. I’m hoping some of you caught that as it is one of my favorite doctrines to discuss. The other clue I left was in the doctrine of the love of God.
For those wondering, I am referring to the doctrine of the Trinity. I believe if we want to know who God is, the answer is “Trinity.” This is something unlike the other religions of the world. Let us be clear at this point. This is a deep doctrine and one very hard for us to fathom and if you tell me that you can comprehend it, then the obvious truth is that you don’t have a clue.
The doctrine is that there is one God who exists in three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son or Spirit. The Son is not the Father or Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father or Son. All three are distinct persons that eternally exist in a relationship outside of space and time. This explains the doctrine of love for God is love within himself in the relationship of the Trinity and humanity is created so they can be invited to join into that love.
In understanding the Father, we look to the Son. We are told that to see the Son is to see the Father. (John 14:9) This isn’t about modalism though. This is about showing Jesus as the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15.) If you want to know what the nature of deity is like, look at Jesus, and if you have an idea that contradicts Jesus, then it is wrong. What is so beautiful is that our idea of what humanity is meant to be is in Jesus also. Jesus gives us the best of both worlds.
John 1:18 tells us that the Son has revealed the Father. The word used is interesting. It’s the very word that we get the word exegesis from. Exegesis is the process of studying a text and showing the meaning that is in that text. Jesus is, in essence, the one who exegetes the Father. We know the Father as he has spoken through his Word in Christ. (John 1:1.)
All of this though refers to Jesus in his deity. In his humanity, it is known that he had limitations. Philippians 2 indicates he took on some kind of limitation. I am not espousing a kenotic theory of course. I would say it is most likely that Jesus forsook the divine prerogative use of his deity. In essence, he played the game from a weaker position.
Christ is the king who bends down to lift us all up high. As Peter Kreeft has said, “He stoops to conquer.” He comes down to man so he can bring us all up to God. In his becoming fully human, he enables us to become fully human. In taking on our death, he enables us to take on life. In assuming our sin, he enables us to assume his righteousness.
The Holy Spirit is one that is often hard to understand for us. Many of us not of a charismatic bent in fact can get defensive when the Holy Spirit is named. It has been said one message Pentecostals have taught all other denominations well is “Don’t forget the Holy Spirit!” I am not a charismatic, but I do believe that the rest of us do need to work on a doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit does a lot more than giving gifts to us. He is the comforter, the one who comes alongside us, and the one who intercedes on our behalf in prayer. (Romans 8:26-27) Jesus said that he would have the Holy Spirit here for us in his physical absence from Earth, and in fact said it would be better. We should be delighting in this person of the Trinity and seeking to know all that we can about him.
Yet for many of us, the view is hazy, and I will confess I am one such. We can picture Christ easily. Even with the Father, though we are not to image him, we seem to do so. We can picture someone as an Ancient of Days ruling the cosmos. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we don’t usally know where to begin. It is often a cloud or a vapor of some sort.
One image I do think of is the Shekinah glory that filled the temple in 1 Kings. Of course, this does lead to the vapor or cloud image to an extent, but at least I can form some idea in my mind. The idea shows the great holiness of the Spirit as not even the priests could enter because of the sheer holiness. I also think this Shekinah was present in the person of Christ as he walked this Earth.
Do I have a full doctrine of the Holy Spirit yet? No. Sadly, I don’t think many of us Protestants do. Gordon Fee has written on the doctrine from a charismatic perspective in “God’s Enabling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.” It is an excellent work, but I would also like to see the doctrine gather interest in non-Pentecostal circles. Surely those of us from other denominations have our own insights as well and we must thank the Pentecostals for waking us up to the fact that there is a Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is the foundation for all we believe and to know who God is, you need to know Trinity. The more you dive into the Trinity, the deeper I believe you enter into the rich life of God and appreciate his truth now. At this time, I am working on a research paper on a philosophical defense of the Trinity and reading St. Augustine’s “The Trinity.” I am finding it quite fascinating on many points.
For others wanting to go further, I recommend books such as “The Forgotten Trinity” by James White, “Knowing the Name of God” by Roderick Leupp, and of course, Augustine and other church fathers.