STUDY THREE: FATHER, SON, SPIRIT – THE TRIUNE GOD
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007, 2016
In the previous study we saw briefly that Schaeffer attributes the existence of the world to a personal ‘something’. A personal beginning – the creation of all that exists by a personal something who existed eternally before the beginning – is, Schaeffer maintains, the only valid explanation for the existence of the personal [that is, of love and inter-personal communication] in the finite world. The evolutionary hypothesis does not and cannot account for the existence of the personal; indeed it endeavours to explain it away by redefining ‘human’ in mechanistic, deterministic terms in which any real personhood, as distinct from machine, is eradicated. Pantheism and monism deny the personal of both god and humans by identifying both as one, and as one with the cosmic or universal whole.
In this study we look at the question: what is there about the God who created all that exists that demonstrates that this God is a personal God, and not a non-personal power or influence?
A. CREATION AND THE TRINITY
From the verses listed in the section ‘A. Before the beginning - the eternal existence of God’ in the previous study, we learn that the Bible does not speak of God as a power or force or influence. It speaks of God as a person. We learn from these verses that God wills, God plans, God feels, God communicates. These are all personal actions. We also learn from these verses that God was doing all of this – living in personal relationship - before the beginning.
Revisit these references, and identify in them everything that indicates personality and community [person to person relationships] within God. List your findings below.
From the above references we learn that there is God the Father, and there is God the Son, and that both of them existed before the beginning. In addition, as we will see in Session Six, the Son [the Word of God] was directly involved in the creation of the world.
The Bible affirms that there is also the Spirit of God who was involved in creation at the beginning and continues to be involved in the affairs of men and of the world.
Check out the reference to the Spirit of God in these Old Testament verses. How is the Holy Spirit involved in creation?
These references indicate that the Spirit of God was involved in creation. It is clear, therefore, that the God of creation is a triune God, existing in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit.
Thus God speaks of himself as ‘us’:
‘Let us make man in our image’ [Genesis 1:26]
‘The man has now become like one of us …’ [Genesis 3:22]
‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ [Isaiah 6:8]
In this reality of the Trinity of God we find the personal being who was there before the beginning and who is the origin of all that exists. In this reality of the Trinity we are prohibited from seeing creation, including our own existence, as the product of a non-personal power or influence, or as the product of a long series of random, non-personal time plus chance accidental events and mutations.
In this reality of the Trinity we are also prohibited from seeing creation, including our individual existence, as something motivated by God’s need for something or someone to love, or someone with whom to communicate. Within the Trinity perfect love already had expression and focus. Within the Trinity, communication already existed. There is a completeness and perfection there that cannot be qualified by any concept of need or lack.
Francis Schaeffer comments:
‘The biblical Christian answer takes us back first to the very beginning of everything and states that personality is intrinsic in what is; not in the pantheistic sense of the universe being the extension of the essence of God (or what is), but that a God who is personal on the high order of Trinity created all else. Within the Trinity, before the creation of anything, there was real love and real communication. Following this statement, the Bible states that this God who is personal created man in His own image. A person God created all things freely in a non-deterministic fashion …’ [p86, The God Who is There, Pickering and Inglis, 1968]
Creation, that act by which the God who exists in this perfection and completeness brings into existence something apart from himself, is therefore a divine act of absolute grace and total freedom. We are not here to supply some need or lack in God. We are not here because God is somehow, in some way, dependent on us. We are here freely. We are here by grace. We are here as a gift.
Karl Barth speaks of the sheer amazement that should overwhelm each one of us: not that God exists, but that we and the world exist:
‘The first thing, the thing we begin with, is God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And from that standpoint the great Christian problem is propounded, whether it can really be the case that God wishes to be not only for Himself, but that outside Him there is the world, that we exist alongside and outside Him? That is a riddle. If we make even a slight effort to look on God, to conceive Him as He reveals Himself to us, as God in mystery, God in the highest, God the Triune and Almighty, we must be astonished at the fact that there are ourselves and the world alongside and outside Him. God has no need of us, He has no need of the world and heaven and earth at all. He is rich in Himself. He has fullness of life; all glory, all beauty, all goodness and holiness reside in Him. He is sufficient unto Himself, He is God, blessed in Himself. To what end, then, the world? Here in fact is everything, here in the living God. How can there be something alongside God, of which He has no need? This is the riddle of creation. And the doctrine of creation answers that God, who does not need us, created heaven and earth and myself, of “sheer fatherly kindness and compassion, apart from any merit or worthiness of mine; for all of which I am bound to thank and praise Him, to serve Him and to be obedient, which is assuredly true”. Do you feel in these words Luther’s amazement in face of creation, of the goodness of God, in which God does not will to be alone, but to have a reality beside Himself?
‘Creation is grace: a statement at which we should like best to pause in reverence, fear and gratitude. God does not grudge the existence of the reality distinct from Himself; He does not grudge it its own reality, nature and freedom. The existence of the creature alongside God is the great puzzle and miracle, the great question to which we must and may give an answer, the answer given us through God’s Word; it is the genuine question about existence, which is essentially and fundamentally distinguished from the question which rests upon error, “Is there a God?” That there is a world is the most unheard-of thing, the miracle of the grace of God.’ [p53,54 Dogmatics in Outline]
The fact of God as Trinity thus enriches our perception not only of God, but also of ourselves and the world.
Here we are forbidden to think:
That God is a power or influence
That God feels aloneness
That God exists in incompleteness or lack
That we and the world are here to supply some need in God
That we complete something lacking in God
In knowing God as Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – we also know ourselves: that we are here, we exist, not because God needed us, but because God wanted us. We exist freely; as Luther says, we exist because ‘of God’s sheer Fatherly kindness and compassion’.
We are also forbidden by the existence of this personal Triune Creator God:
to understand this world and ourselves as the meaningless, transient result of time plus chance
to understand ourselves as machines whose every move is determined by our genes or our environment
to understand ourselves and our lives as having no point and no purpose
God, who exists as a personal Trinity, and who created us, is the guarantee of our existence as persons, and the guarantee of the meaning and purpose of human life.
B. INCARNATION AND TRINITY
Incarnation is God’s ultimate self-revelation: that action of God in which, in the person of the Son, God became a man and lived among us. It is that act of God in which he has come to us, in a final way, and said: Here I am. This is who I am. Come to me. Return to me. Believe in me.
In the incarnation, this final revelatory action of God, Father, Son and Spirit are each involved. We are quite familiar with the fact that the Father sent the Son; we are not so familiar with the fact that the Holy Spirit was also involved in the incarnation.
Study the references below. Describe the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation.
At the conception and birth of Christ
At the commencement of Christ’s ministry
During the ministry of Christ
In support and implementation of the revelatory impact of the incarnation
Matthew 12:18 John 3:34
C. SALVATION AND THE TRINITY
Similarly, salvation is the work of the triune God. Father, Son and Spirit are each indispensably involved. Some aspects of salvation are uniquely the role of this or that member of the Trinity; other aspects of salvation are a combined and united work of two or all three. [Note that the list of references below is representative, not exhaustive.]
Identify the aspect of or role in salvation ascribed in these scripture references to one, some or all members of the Trinity.
The Father’s role in salvation
The Son’s role in salvation
The Spirit’s role in salvation
Matthew 12:31,32, Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10
Combined roles [Father, Son, Spirit – in combinations of two or three]
Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8;
D. THE CHURCH AND THE TRINITY
In the history of the Christian Church the concept of the Trinity has at times been seriously challenged.
Historically, denial of one God in three co-existent, eternal persons was expressed in Sabellianism, Modalism and Monarchianism.
In contemporary Christianity there are groups within the church who continue to deny the Trinity; these groups often have the terms ‘Unitarian’ or ‘oneness Pentecostal’ or ‘Jesus only’ in their names or self-definitions. Some, even while using the term ‘Trinity’, undermine the biblical reality by using the terms ‘mode’ or ‘manifestation’ to avoid using the word ‘person’ in reference to Father, Son and Spirit.
A significant number of pseudo-Christian sects also deny the Trinity. Note that what is denied is the true deity and/or true personhood of either the Son or the Spirit, or both.
Some of the historic confessions [the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed] were formulated out of the struggle in the early church to maintain the equal deity, the unity and the individual personality of Father, Son and Spirit. All of the confessions include reference to the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.