The Trinity, the Incarnation and Divine Love


In striking contrast to the solitary, self-absorbed, impersonal picture of god we see in Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the distant and uninterested god imagined by Deists, or the utterly transcendent and semi-tyrannical dictator espoused by Islam, Christians have always maintained that God is Love.  St. John so beautifully states this in his first epistle:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)

From this passage we can discern at least three things about the One True God:  (1) that He can be known, (2) that He is personal, and (3) that love is a fundamental aspect of His existence or being.  To fully understand these three things, however, we must take a closer look at the two most important teachings of the Christian faith; namely, the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.

It may strike you as odd that I maintain these doctrines are the most important teachings of the Christian faith; after all, many people today question whether or not it is necessary or even relevant for Christians to believe in the Trinity or the Incarnation.  Some say these doctrines are impractical abstract concepts which have no bearing on everyday life; others suggest that these doctrines are rooted in pagan ideas and simply demonstrate the influence of Greek philosophy on the Early Church Fathers.  As we shall see, both of these assertions are entirely false.  The Trinity and the Incarnation are not only practical but, diametrically opposed to the Greek conception of the Divine Nature.

For, it is when we examine the Trinitarian explication of God’s existence and  look closely at the Incarnation of our Lord that we come to understand what sets Christianity’s vision of the Divine Nature apart from all others.  Only through these doctrines do we see that God is love, and, therefore, both personal and knowable.

The idea that God exists as three distinct persons who share one Divine Nature is absolutely necessary if we wish to maintain that God is both personal and loving.  After all, personhood is, in part, understood through relationships—that is through an individual’s interaction with other rational beings.  If God is the solitary enigmatic figure depicted in other forms of monotheism, we must therefore question whether or not he is personal at allConsider that a perfect being must be complete in and of Himself and must depend upon nothing or no one for its existence.   It stands to reason that if God is a perfect being (as Theists almost universally affirm) His personality must be grounded within Himself and should not be contingent upon the existence of other finite rational agencies.  This, however, presents a problem for non-Christian forms of monotheism that depict God as a monad—that is, as one solitary self absorbed consciousness.   In the absence of other distinct rational agencies it becomes difficult to understand how such a deity could be understood as personal or loving without sacrificing his perfection and transcendence; and this is reflected in their teachings about the Divine Nature.  While they sometimes speak of God as one might speak about a person, their theology unavoidably leads to an unapproachable, disinterested, distant, and fundamentally impersonal Deity.

In contrast, the Doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God has eternally existed as a plurality of personalities– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and it is from this that we derive our understanding of God as a personal and loving being while, simultaneously,  maintaining his perfection and transcendence.

It is in virtue of the perfect cooperation which exists between these three distinct personalities that we are able to discern that God is love:  for the Father and the Son, and the Spirit all give of themselves to each other, and work in unity and harmony with each other.  There is no struggle; no conflict.   Everything the Father has he gives to his Son and, likewise, the Spirit shares in everything that is of the Father and of the Son.  From this we learn that the Divine Nature is not narcissistic, self-obsessed and disinterested, but rather, a communion of perfect self-giving—self sacrificing–personalities.  Through this principle of self-giving we come to understand the heart of true love.

We see this beautiful self-giving love spilling out into Creation in the most profound way through the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, the eternal Word of God by whom all things were created, humbled himself out of love and became a mere Man for our salvation.  Thus, the beloved St. John says: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (I John 9-10) . . . and earlier in his epistle he says, “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (i John 3:16).

God’s self-giving love is made known to the world through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the eternal Word of God.  In stark contrast with other monotheisms, Christianity proclaims the God of love—the personal being who, although transcendent and mysterious, sacrifices everything and reveals Himself to us His most treasured creation.

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Are You a Free Spirit?


A question for you to dwell upon tonight: are you a free spirit? Nietzsche argued that the greatest human beings were free spirits—those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human (all too human), creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful. Does this sound like the type of person you strive to be?

People often tell me that they desire freedom from the constraints of organized religion or from puritanical moral systems, which they believe bring about oppression and unnecessary limitations upon mankind. Some perceive that religion imposes overwhelming intellectual limitations—that is, they believe that religion stunts their intellectual growth or somehow disengages their rational faculties. They want the freedom to believe whatever they deem to be true. Others perceive that religion brings about suffocating ethical limitations—they want sexual liberation, they want to lie and cheat and steal from time to time without feeling guilty about it.

Perhaps the most common form of freedom that people speak about is the freedom to make meaning. Have you ever heard someone say, “life is what you make of it” or “my life has meaning because I make it meaningful”? Statements like these illustrate the type of freedom that I’m referring to. It’s the idea that we have the freedom to make meaning for our lives apart from any standard or universal meaning which applies to everyone. We see this in art as well. There’s no longer a standard for what qualifies as art—art is simply an expression of someone’s inner feelings or emotions. Thus, anything can be art. A jar of urine is art if you feel that it is and attribute to it some form of meaning. There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art. There is a desire for freedom—an unlimited freedom to express whatever one wants however one wants to express it (whether that be through urine in a jar or oil on canvas). There is also a tremendous resistance to the idea that beauty is objective—that something can truly be said to be beautiful. We want the freedom to make that determination for ourselves.

I wonder, however, if Nietzsche’s free spirit is truly free? I wonder if those of us who strive for this type of freedom are actually placing ourselves into bondage? What if, in our desire to be free spirits, we have actually enslaved ourselves to one of the most tyrannical and destructive dictators of all? The dictator to which I refer is of course self love. By self love I do not mean having a healthy self image (something we all should have); rather, I mean the placing of our pleasures and our needs as the very end of (i.e. the purpose of) our existence. When we direct our lives in accordance with our unbridled passions; when we make decisions solely based upon what is beneficial to our own wellbeing or to what brings us the most pleasure or satisfaction–this is self love. Self love is all about fulfilling any sexual urge or fantasy we might have, expressing ourselves in any way we want (without recourse to the good, the noble, or the beautiful), and about living life to feed the ego. The free spirit, in her desire to break free from values, from universals, from absolutes, ends up in bondage to her own arbitrary emotions; to her own ego. Rather than being a rational human being, the free spirit is more akin to a horse following a carrot on a stick—wherever the carrot goes the horse goes.

A free spirit, enslaved to self love, ultimately brings bondage and enslavement to others as well. In the eyes of the free spirit, people become simply a means to an end—objects to be used for personal gain. This happens whether the free spirit is aware of it or not. For example, you begin to think–perhaps only in your subconscious–of your girlfriend as a sex object; of course she is a person, but in practice she is nothing but a means to satiating whatever sexual desires you might have. She, in turn, is obligated to fulfill your sexual desires no matter how uncomfortable or dirty it might make her feel if she wants to keep you. You degrade her (maybe you don’t even think of it this way); you reduce her to a mere tool for masturbation and whether you realize it or not, she has become your slave. But, perhaps, she has enslaved you too. Perhaps she knows–even subconsciously–she can get something she wants out of you (money, power, respect, companionship . . .) if she gives you the sex that you want? In this case, you are ultimately her slave–not unlike the lab rat that won’t stop pressing the button which gives it sexual stimulation (to the exclusion of the button which dispenses food) and, in the end, dies of starvation.

St. Paul spoke of this type of self love in his second letter to Timothy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self,       lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:1-4)

This type of self love, which is the root of all sin, leaves us in bondage. We become slaves to sin–slaves to our unbridled passions, slaves to our ego, and slaves to each other. The freedom that we so long for turns out to be nothing but an illusion.

Freedom, true freedom, can only come through Christ. Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the pain and suffering and oppression we bring into the world, but offers us an escape from the tyranny of self love. Jesus gives us the freedom to love what is truly beautiful and truly good–the Creator and sustainer of life Himself; and to love others who have been made in His image. This, in fact, is the essence of Christianity: to “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” (Luke 10:27).

The follower of Christ, imaging God Himself, makes love the end or, the purpose, of his existence. By love I do not mean some fluffy sentimentality or warm sensation that one experiences in his stomach. I mean the act of sacrifice–of self giving. St. John said: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Later he states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). God is love, not in some abstract way, but his very nature is love. Within the blessed Trinity we see the existence of three persons, joined together by nature and eternally pouring out themselves, sharing themselves, submitting themselves to each other. We see true love. In the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we see this love, this self-giving, spilling out into creation–we see the Divine Logos humbling Himself, giving of Himself, even unto death. We see true love.

The true free spirit is the one who embraces this love, who breaks free from the chains of self love and into the liberating arms of self-giving. So, the question remains: are you a free spirit?

Reflections on the Trinity – On the Incarnation


You counted it nothing to abandon your place in Heaven, O Word, to take on our flesh, on our behalf, to rescue us from ourselves. How could we ever dream of such a God who would love us enough to die for us? But you did more; you lived as us so as to redeem us.

In the beginning you created us and we rebelled against you. As you walked in the garden shortly after our rebellion you asked where we were, but you knew. Nothing is hidden from you Lord. You knew what had occurred and what we had done, but in your question you shamed us. You made us contemplate on the sickness that we had just done.

You were not without love or compassion. Rather than eradicating us, you lovingly fashioned animal skins to cover our nudity. My Lord, you did this as a foreshadow of your own death on our behalf! Just as Adam and Eve had become ashamed of their nudity in the Garden and needed to be covered, so too did we become ashamed of our nudity before your Law. But just as you did with Adam and Eve, rather than letting us lay there in despair, you fashioned yourself as a skin to cover our iniquity so that we might not be ashamed. How can my sinful mind ever hope to understand your love, O Lord?

You came into the world as we do, only without human father. It was the blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, who you chose as the worthy vessel to carry you. We ask that you send your Spirit to us to aid us in following her example, for at hearing that she was to be blessed with you in her womb she humbly and joyfully submitted. May we too react in the same way when invited to hold you within ourselves! It is in Mary that we find the eternal mystery of how the infinite was contained to her womb, but this foreshadowed the mystery of how your would Spirit would be contained within us. Continue reading

Reflections on the Trinity – The Spirit


Who am I to be so bold as to declare to you who you are? I offer this prayer up humbly to you my Lord, knowing that you are the Alpha and Omega. You are beyond me. It is in your mystery that I find clarity. It is in your hidden nature that I find you. I take sweet rest in your grace. I am weary O Spirit, but my rest is in you.

Eternally proceeding from the Father, but uncreated, you comfort us my God. You proceed as the heat proceeds from the sun, though distinct you are unified to the Father, though uncreated you find your existence in him. Such a mystery I shall never comprehend or understand, but in my finite nature I worship you.

Never let me blaspheme you, O Spirit. Should I ever blaspheme you, may you make my thoughts and actions cease! May you restrict me like an unruly child. Should I ignore your discipline, which is your love, then may you cast me into oblivion. May I never experience your presence or find comfort in you should I rebel against you!

But in all, please show patience with me Lord. I am a sinner, lowly in heart and low in mind. I need you to guide my path and to give me the strength to follow your path. It is through you, O Spirit, that I am defied, not in my identity and being, but in all other things I become like you. What a humbling thought that you would step down from heaven to dwell with me so that I might become like you. I do not deserve this for I have soiled your name. I have cursed you in word and deed. I have been your enemy. Yet you live within me and guide me to what you desire; your love I shall never comprehend.

You are the gift given by the Word to us mere mortals. You are the strength behind the martyrs. You are the power that raised Christ from the dead. You are the one that resides within those who follow and proclaim Jesus as the Christ. It is only through you that we know anything. But you are not a force, an inanimate object that permeates all of creation. You are a person unified with the Father and Son in identity and being, a living person who thinks and feels and I worship you.

How amazing it is that I could not worship were it not for you. It is only through you that I can worship you. I am so finite and so sinful that I am not even capable of uttering your name in a worthy fashion without your power. But you do not withhold this joy from me. You do not abandon me to live a life absent of worshiping you, which is Hell. Instead, you indwell me and open my mind. You enlighten me in every aspect of my being to prepare me to worship you and to wholly worship you. Such a beautiful mystery.

Christ called you the Comforter, the one who would walk with us and dwell within us in our darkest moments. What glory there is in such a thought! To know that there is no pain too great that you cannot overcome it, for what is our temporary pain in comparison to the infinite God of the universe? There is no sadness that can quench the joy you instill in us. There is no harm that can capture the soul that belongs to you.

You have been breathed into man twice, at our creation and at our re-creation. When created you are the one who crafted us into the image of God. When we are redeemed by the Word you are the one who is breathed into us again to craft us into the image of Christ, to make us holy, to make us more than we ought to be.

O Spirit, I pray that you sustain me tonight and for all the days of my life and once you have called for my mortal life to end that you will embrace my soul and bring me to your bosom. I pray that you will welcome me as a faithful servant and not a rebellious child. Continue to live within my life so that I may disappear and you may appear. Have mercy upon me O Spirit, a sinner.

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This was a scheduled post. I am currently out of town and subsequently have turned comments off since I cannot moderate or interact with commenters. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this post, please feel free to contact me.

Reflections on the Trinity – On the Word


O blessed Word of God, how we worship you! It is through you that all things were created. It is through you that we have existence. The begotten of the Father, but uncreated and timeless, you share all things with the Father except in this; you were begotten of the Father, not in the way we humans are begotten, but in a mystery that we mere humans will never know.

I reflect upon your good deeds and your revelation to us. Certainly God must have a Word, but not one that dissipates as soon as spoken as our words do. Rather, you are a person who shares in the divine essence of God.

How wonderful you are for the love you have shown to humanity. It was you who walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve, sharing with them the Divine wisdom that was meant for us humans. It was you who discovered humanity’s rebellion in the Garden and cursed us. But in the curse you showed such restraint! You showed such love! For you did not destroy us, but rather allowed us to continue.

It was you who guided Abraham’s path and it was you who met with Moses. You guided your people, the Hebrews, from Egypt into the land you had prepared for them. These have been your interactions with men, always guiding us along the path of righteousness.

You stood with the three in the furnace and you closed the mouths of the lions who desired to consume Daniel. You walked with Israel and guided her paths, but she turned from you as all humanity turned from you. But you did not despair. Instead of destroying us, O precious Word, you came down and lived amongst us!

Such blasphemy to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks! That you, the begotten Word, would come down and live amongst us is unfathomable to all. But you took on our nature. My struggles are now your struggles.

When I sin, you are the one who forgives. When I am burdened, you are the one who guides me along the path to relief. You go between us and the Father on our behalf, issuing your forgiveness to us.

To whom can the burdened and tired take refuge? It is in you alone my Lord. It is in you that the weary may lay their heads and rest. It is in you that the traveler may find his home. It is in you that we learn that the mountains that impede our paths belong to you! There is no trial we can face, no persecution too great, that we cannot find hope in you O Lord! Continue reading

Reflections on the Trinity – On the Father


Oh most blessed and holy Father, what ever can I say about you? To what can I compare you? What words can I say that will offer up an explanation as to who you are? Nothing in all of existence may be compared to you and no words come close to describing who you are.

The unbegotten and uncreated Father, holy beyond all comprehension. For no words can come close to describing you Father. Our words are mere analogies to your splendor and greatness. To say you are holy does not close to expressing your majesty.

The holy Father, forgiver of sins and origin of all things. For it is by your Word that we all came into existence. You spoke into the void and created us, not out of need or desire, but out of love and glory. You have safeguarded your creation and protected us.

It is by your will that you sent your only begotten Son to die on our behalf, to die for the creation that rebelled against you. Out of love you watched as your Son was tortured on our behalf. But you did not let your Son die in vain on the cross, but instead sent your Spirit to raise him from the dead and sit him at your right hand.

It is this same Spirit you sent to those who believe in you. God indwelling in man. Father I confess that were it not for the sacrifice of your Son and the indwelling of your Spirit I would not know you, for I am a lowly creation who has made myself lower by partaking in rebellion against you. Have mercy upon me Father! Continue reading

Reflections on the Trinity – On God


On God

What among your creation is like you, O God? What in your creation can be compared to you? Shall we point to the tallest peaks in order to match your majesty? Yet your majesty towers over them. Shall we look to the furthest galaxies and the vast expanse of space to find something as big as you? Yet you contain it all within your hands.

All is contingent upon you, O God. A dove does not fly, a drop of rain does not fall, a wave does not churn, an atom does not move without your constant reflection upon their being. Were you to ever turn our gaze from your creation it would disappear. Nothing in your creation can ever compare to you for you are infinitely above it.

I confess that you are not weak. Your piercing gaze tames the untamable lion. When the storm rages and the seas refuse to cease and yield their might to no one, they are calmed by your whisper. What man can bring down the planets or the various galaxies? What man can ever hope to travel light years, to traverse billions of miles within a human lifetime, to visit these distance lands? And yet with your mere word they came into existence. You are above your creation and control your creation.

You are not limited to any space. We do not need to climb a mountain to find you or travel to a distant land to seek your wisdom. You are eternally present in all your creation, though your creation remains distinct from you and is not in you. For as the Psalmist says, if I should make my bed in the deepest valley, you shall be there. I cannot escape the presence of my God for my God is beyond all of creation. Continue reading