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.

Damascene Ontology – How we know God is Trinitarian

We know that God necessarily exists and that the act of creation was a sacrifice. We know that God did not create simply to be a mean child because this would mean he lacked something, but how do we know that he didn’t lack someone to love prior to creation?

It is only in the Trinity that we can explain how God is loving yet unchanging. It goes back to the distinction within the Trinity between the persons of God. If God is love, then God must have someone to love. Since creation took place at a point in time, while creation is indicative of God’s love, it cannot be the point where God began to love. Rather, if God is love, then he must have loved eternally, but this would be impossible if God were singular. In a Trinity, however, such a feat is possible.

The Father, being love, must love someone. In this love he must be sacrificial, hoping to gain nothing, but how can this be done absent of creation? The Father could love the Son and in loving the Son he could share everything he is with the Son, that is, he could make the Son equal to himself. What does the Father gain in making the Son equal? Nothing, but he sacrifices any potential selfishness or vainglory in doing so. The Son, being equal with the Father in all aspects, would willingly love the Father as much as the Father loves the Son. His sacrifice would come in following the will of the Father, though he could form his own will (this would later be demonstrated in the death of Christ).

But what is love between two when it can be shared? If a husband and wife refuse to share their love, then are they not selfish? I do not mean by having an open marriage, but by not having children. Or if they refuse to love anyone else because they are too focused on each other, would this not indicate selfishness? Likewise, with the Father and Son it follows that they would have a third person to love so that they may share in equality with this third person. This person is the Spirit.

The Spirit equally loves the Father and Son as they love him. All three are equals, love each other equally, and share in all attributes, save for being begotten and proceeding. We cannot explain how sacrifice exists within the Trinity, only to say that the Father holds the Son and Spirit as equal and that the Son and Spirit obey the will of the Father. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Trinity

Before we can understand the Incarnation and how God did not change in the Incarnation, we must first understand the Trinity. This is certainly no easy task for quite a few reasons. First, I am writing in a limited space, so even if we could comprehend God, I would not accomplish this in so few pages.

Secondly, we cannot comprehend God, so I cannot really explain the Trinity. What I can explain is what has been revealed, but I cannot explain the Trinity and how the three persons function. Rationalists need not apply in attempting to understand the Trinity or looking at the Trinity; the Trinity is a mystery and therefore cannot be comprehended.

The third reason this is not an easy task is that while what we can know of the Trinity is substantial, space and time are limited. St. Hilary of Poitiers spent the modern equivalent of 300 pages writing about the Trinity. St. Augustine spent the equivalent of nearly 500 pages writing about the Trinity. Yet both men felt that their works were inadequate. I am using only a fraction of space to write about the Trinity as these two great thinkers did, so I am positive that my explanation will be inadequate.

Regardless of the inadequacies, I will attempt to explain the Trinity to the best of my knowledge. It is my hope that in understanding the Trinity we can gain a better understanding of the Incarnation and in so doing we can understand how Christian theology does not contradict the Damascene Cosmological argument. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – The problem of the Incarnation

While the aforementioned problems certainly pose a problem for proving that the Christian God is immutable, it is the act of the Incarnation that is seemingly the nail in the coffin for Christianity. In the act of the Incarnation we have God becoming man, which indicates a drastic change. Likewise, if we say that Jesus was God, then how can it be said that God does not change? After all, Jesus grew older and grew in knowledge, both of which are indicative of change. Thus, if Jesus changed and Jesus is God, then certainly the God of Christianity must be mutable.

While a human being, God grew in knowledge. There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus came out of the womb acting like an adult. In fact, we know from his stay at the Jewish temple that he continued to grow in knowledge. We know that he didn’t come out of Mary’s womb fully grown; he was a baby. This means that he grew into a man, indicating that he changed physical status while growing up. If Jesus was God, then certainly this would indicate that God is capable of change.

Another objection critics could bring up concerning the Incarnation is that we have God changing into another nature. By taking on a human nature, so the critic says, God became something different. God didn’t have a human nature and now he did have a human nature, which indicates a change. This would show God to be mutable.

The critic could point out that no matter how nuanced we are in explaining the Trinity, the change encountered in the Incarnation proves that the Christian God cannot be immutable. For instance, if we say that is true of the part is also true of the whole, then what is true of Jesus is true of the Trinity. If my hand is infected, then it is proper to say that I have an infection. If the person of Christ changes, then it is proper to say that the Father and Spirit change as well. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – Is God moved?

While the previous answer given to “Does God change” might be adequate to some since it allows for us to understand that God does not operate in the way we do, meaning he can change his mind without changing his nature, to others such an answer is unsatisfactory.

For instance, even if we say that God’s emotions are higher than our own – such as when he’s angry he’s not holding some different quality of angry as we do, but instead holds the entire property of angry without actualizing on the entire property – the critic could point out that God’s emotional state is still a reaction to something we have done. When we look to Moses, God changed his mind after he listened to Moses, that is, he reacted to Moses.

If God reacts to us then that means he is, at times, moved by us. Many lay theologians, pastors, and even professional theologians argue that while God is immutable, by creating us he opened himself up to be moved by us at times. Such a view, however, ignores that (1) Scripture is emphatic that God did not lower himself to relate to us, but rather raises us up to relate to him and (2) God still had mutability within his nature under such a view. If God lowered himself in creation so that he could be moved by his creation at times, that means within his nature he changed from immutable to mutable, which would indicate that he was never immutable to begin with. As we discovered earlier, if anything has mutability within its nature, that is it has the potential to change, then it is mutable. Immutable beings must be immutable by nature. If God lowered himself in the act of creation, then he is not immutable and therefore we must abandon the idea of the Christian God. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – Does the Christian God have emotions?

For some, the above explanation simply is not enough in explaining that God doesn’t change. It is quite popular to point out that God has emotional responses to humans. Quite often he says that he is angry towards someone while pleased with someone else, indicating that God certainly does have emotions.

If God is emotional, this would be indicative of change within God. It would mean that he can fluctuate in degrees of being angry, happy, sad, pleased, or any other range of emotions. Even though all of his emotional responses are justified, they serve to show that God does indeed change (or so the critic would have us believe).

The semantics of the argument are that if I do good works, God becomes happy with me, or increases in happiness to me. If I do something evil, then God becomes angry at me or is less pleased with me. All of this show God moving in degrees of one emotion to the other, which would indicate that God is mutable.

I do believe that there are two reasons why such a view is misguided. The first reason, which is the weaker of the reasons, is that Christ is still incarnate and still God. The second reason, which I believe to be stronger, is that God is not like man, thus we’re using the wrong standard to explain God’s emotions. Continue reading

Short Homilies – On the Fall of Man and its Impact

The little girl cries as the man leaves her little shack. The darkness of this world has overpowered her. At such a young age she sits there as a prostitute, sold into sex slavery as though she were a prize. Multiple men visit her, but none off her any salvation. Day in and day out she must face the torture of this life. This world is broken.

As Susan falls to the floor she catches a sight of her son out the corner of her eye. As she falls down she motions for him to go back to his room. Before he can turn away, he witnesses his father – in a drunken rage – grab his mother by her hair and begin the process of beating her all over again. The son will face similar beatings as he grows up and proceed to unleash those beatings on his wife and children one day. This world is broken.

Robert sits in the chair next to his dying wife. He holds her hand as she struggles with every breath. The cancer has taken so much of her away. As he kisses her on her forehead, he watches painfully as she slips into eternity. Years of love, all the planning, promising to spend the rest of their lives together all comes to an end as her heart stops beating. In his early thirties, he must now face the fact that he is a single father – though he wants to mourn, he has no time because he has to take care of his daughter by himself. This world is broken.

Many people would attempt to deny that sin exists or that humans freely choose to sin. They would argue that this world is slowly progressing toward a better position. They would argue that humans are basically good. Yet, to the oppressed, to the poor, to the destitute, to those who’s lives have been blackened by the dark soot of sin, evil is very much a part of this world. This world is broken.

There is a lot of talk about ‘hope’. When asked to define hope, people merely say, “That things will get better.” They place their hope in causes and in politicians, not aware that their hope will be crushed to the ground. The same people who rejoice over the change they think has come will one-day gnash their teeth at the ‘hope’ they once saw. No politician, no human, can offer hope when that person is also in need of hope.  Yet, people continue to place their hope in people and institutions that often cause the darkness that we see in this world. This world is broken.

This world is weary. Children are suffering from starvation; wives are being infected with HIV by their promiscuous husbands; mothers are suffering through sleepless nights, wondering where their drug-addicted children are; little girls who should be innocent are being sold into the most perverse forms of slavery; husbands are wondering how they can provide for their families during tough economic times; our society is being lied to and being told that true happiness is found in an expensive image; this world is broken.


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.