The Holy Trinity: How Should We Rightly Think About God ? Episode 2
Our previous lesson tackled several preliminary issues dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity. We talked about a definition of the Trinity – that God is one in essence, three in Person, existing eternally and simultaneously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and our approach to scripture. We also warned the believer or anyone discussing the doctrine to stay away from dubious illustrations of the Trinity which are, in fact, unbiblical and could give someone a false concept of God.
With the preliminaries out of the way, let’s dig into this topic some more.
In discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to distinguish our talking about God ontologically (in terms of nature and essence) and talking about Him economically (in terms of function and action).
In other words, we’re distinguishing between Who God is and what God does.
This distinction is important – simply because after we define the doctrine of the Trinity, you’ll notice that the different members of the Godhead don’t all do the exact same thing. This is where many cults like Mormons, JW’s and false religions like Islam slip up. They expect that if Jesus is God, He will do the same things that God the Father does and when they come to passages like John 14:28, they say ‘Aha! See ? The Father is greater than Jesus! So He is not God!’
Of course, anyone paying attention to the above objection knows that the term ‘greater’ is not an ontological statement (nature, essence and being), but a statement of position, authority and rank (economic statement). The president of the United States, by nature of His office, is greater than me. But as a man, he is not better than me. In terms of humanity, he and I are equally human beings on this planet.
Looking at John 14, if Jesus had said ‘the Father is better than me’, then we’d have a problem. But He didn’t, and we don’t, so let’s move on.
This portion of the lesson will basically focus on the Who and What God is.
What makes God….God ?
Isaiah 40-49 ring with proclamation after proclamation from the Almighty – I am God, there is no other (Isaiah 46:9), who can declare as I do ? (44:6-7), I will do as I please and my purpose shall stand (46:9-11). Statements like these give us some great insight into this great God of the universe.
First of all:
He’s powerful. No human can say ‘I do as I please’ and really mean it. We see that this ‘powerful’ God we serve is really powerful just by looking at the created order around us. In Isaiah 45:11-12, we see that God says:
Thus says the LORD,the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”
That’s a strong statement. This God, whom we serve, has created both the heavens (all we see above us into space) and the earth and commanded all of their host. In other words, He has complete control over all of the created order. Since there are only two classes of things in existence – God and creation – He, having created all that is, must be all-powerful. We call this God’s omnipotence.
He can’t be ‘muted’. The television has an agenda – those broadcasting through it will use it to get their message across to you. You have the ability to stop them – with the mute button. Or the power button. Likewise, the words and works of men do not always accomplish what they set out to do.
God does not have this problem. God is immutable. His words and purposes cannot be stopped, foiled or thwarted by actions outside of Himself.
We see this proclaimed constantly in scripture:
“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man of My purpose from a far country
Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.
I have planned it, surely I will do it.”
“But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever;
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'”
Man cannot speak in this fashion. Statements about God and His word and His purposes abound throughout the Old Testament. Like Job, it would be safe to simply humble our minds and our beliefs to this great truth and not try to assert having ‘some say’ in things, as some modern bible teachers like to tell us we have. God is God.
He’s Big. We look at our created order and rightly surmise that indeed that created beings usually don’t create things beyond the sum of themselves. You won’t find, for example, humongous ant-hills beyond the capacity of the necessary number of ants to complete it. Likewise, when we look at construction that human beings have done, every building, no matter how grand, is always subject to the human beings that built it. We never ‘create’ past our capacity to control or be reflected in.
In like fashion, our universe is hugely expansive. Fifteen billion light years in either direction from the earth – and that’s just what we can see. And God created it. The scriptures speak of the very being of God as infinite and eternal – having no beginning or ending. Psalm 90 puts it this way:
Before the mountains were brought forth,or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:2-4, ESV)
Again, just looking our immediate created order in comparison to God, He’s big. But the Psalmist teaches us more. He teaches us that a thousand years in His sight are treated the same as a day passing with us human beings or even worse – a ‘watch in the night’ (about 3 hours).
This statement (and there are many others like it) is a testimony to the timelessness of God. We, as time-bound beings (finite), tend to measure things by time. Always with a beginning, sometimes with an ending. God does not – and the passage of time does not change God or affect Him. This passage teaches us that God is both eternal (without beginning or ending) and unchanging (unaffected by time’s passage).
God’s timelessness has other implications. Being unaffected by time, God views all of human history as a historical present. As such, God’s knowledge of all things is human history (past, present and future) is exhaustive. Simply put, God is omniscient, or has complete knowledge of all things in existence. Man cannot ‘hide’ from God. All of history and existence is laid bare before Him and He sees and knows all of it. Intricately and perfectly, down to the smallest existing particle in existence.
In Jeremiah 23, God states it this way:
“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:23-24, ESV)
God Himself says that He ‘fills’ heaven and earth. We should not take this statement in a pantheistic way, as scripture definitely makes a difference between the Creator and His creation. Rather, we should realize from this and other passages we will read through, that nothing is hid from God’s presence at any time in human history. Hebrews 4:13 states it this way: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give an account.” (Heb. 4:13) This ‘ever-presence’ of God is called His omnipresence.
Finally, we come to the issue of God’s independent self-existence, called His aseity. What this simply means is that:
God doesn’t need anything.
God doesn’t lack anything.
God exists simply because He does. His existence is not dependent on anything or anyone other than Himself.
God is sufficient in and of Himself.
Acts 17:24-25 demonstrate this in passing:
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things
as does Hebrews 2:10:
…it was fitting that God, for Whom and through Whom everything exists…
And various other passages (Romans 11:36, Exodus 3:14, Revelation 4:11, etc…). It’s assumed and treated as an already established fact.
These truths – God is eternal, God is omniscient, God is omnipresent, God is omnipotent, God needs nothing nor lacks anything, is unaffected by time – describe the God of the Universe. These some of what are called His incommunicable attributes. They are things that describe Him, but cannot be attributed or given to (communicated to) any of His creation.
We also distinguish these from God’s communicable attributes, since man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Man is made in God’s image in these things:
Man is a moral being (able to distinguish right from wrong)
Man is an emotional being (love, patience, kindness, jealous, etc…)
Man is an intelligent being (able to reason and use logic)
Man is self-aware (knows that he exists and knows himself)
Man is a spiritual being (possessing an immaterial and invisible nature)
Various scriptures (Exodus 20, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, 1 John 3:20, 1 John 4, Exodus 3:13-14, John 4:24) tell us that God is also all of these things, but to a greater or perfect extent (for example, Isaiah 40 tells us that God knows Himself perfectly, whereas Jeremiah 17:9 says that man does not).
Why is it important that we know these things about God ?
For one, the scripture (Psalm 95:1-7) tells of God’s greatness. The scripture also commands us to sing of and proclaim His greatness (Psalm 148). So it would be wise to find out what exactly makes God so ‘great’ aside from ‘He gives us things’ (which is what a lot of ‘worship’ gets watered down to today).
Another reason is that understanding these things will help us keep from making a mountain of erroneous statements. For example, some have said that at one point in time, God got lonely and decided to make a world. But if God is sufficient in and of Himself, He would not ‘lack’ in this way.
This is an interesting point for a discussion of the Trinity, by the way. In our previous discussion, we spoke of One God who existed eternally in Three Persons. Several concepts such as ‘fellowship’, ‘love’ and ‘communication’ are only possible if God is multi-personal. Otherwise, God would need human beings or angels in order to experience these things (since they all require other persons). But back to our list….
Understanding these vital points about God should bring a sense of awe and deeper worship (Psalm 144:3-4), a true sense of utter dependence upon God (Psalm 145), a sense of deep humility (because we DON’T control any of it, ultimately – Ephesians 1:3-14), and a contrite and grateful heart (Psalm 149).
Never fear a good theological discussion. Theology is the key to unlock the mind’s door to the heart. Man’s worship will only be as high as His view of God.
Our next installment in this series will delve into the Persons of the Godhead.