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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Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 2) – Defining the Terms


Before launching into the different theories out there and then proposing my own, it is best to understand the terms I will use and what I mean by them and how many theologians and philosophers define these terms. It is vitally important to understand the definition to some of the key words I will use, otherwise it could prevent someone from understanding the argument.

For instance, if someone sees that I use the term “free will” they could make the argument, “Well he’s saying that nothing can influence us and that our will is absolute, so obviously he’s wrong,” when all the while that’s not what I (or anyone else) means by “free will.” Hence the importance of defining terms. Many of the terms I use can come loaded with presuppositional baggage, so it is important to show how I mean the terms as opposed to how some might perceive the terms.

In defining my terms I also hope to narrow down the types of critiques that could be used against my theodicy. It is my hope that if one is to argue against what I write that one must either directly attack my terms, or assume my terms and go from there; one cannot create a new meaning for the terms and simply move on. This will, I hope, prevent straw man type argumentation or equivocation.

Sovereign/Providence

The first term I want to define is “sovereign” or “providence” in relation to God. For God to be sovereign simply means that He has the ultimate power and control over the universe, but does not always exercise that power and control in all possible ways. The literal definition of “sovereign” in English is generally used to refer to a Monarch or a rule of some type, the person who is the supreme ruler of the land.

It should be noted, however, that simply having the power doesn’t mean that one will always act on the power. Just as a king has the power to send his armies against a smaller nation and conquer it doesn’t mean that he will always actualize that power. To quote the Damascene, we read, “And, finally, there is the fact that all that He wills He can do, even though He does not will all the things that He can do – for He can destroy the world, but He does not will to do so.”[1] Thus, while God’s sovereignty allows Him to do as He pleases, He won’t always actualize on His sovereignty (otherwise the world would be destroyed, as He holds the power to accomplish such a task).

Some might point out that the Damascene refers to God doing whatever He wills, however the Damascene is quick to explain what he means by this statement. He writes:

“One should note that God foreknows all things but that He does not predestine them all. Thus, He foreknows the things that depend upon us, but he does not predestine them – because neither does He will evil to be done nor does He force virtue. And so, predestination is the result of divine command made with foreknowledge. Those things which do not depend upon us, however, He predestines in accordance with His foreknowledge.”[2]

When he says that God does all that He wills, the Damascene is not saying that everything that does occur was by the will of God. Rather, God has given man a measure of free will (a term we will get to) and by doing so has relinquished power over some aspects of creation. It should further be noted that the Damascene said that all God wills He can do, but in light of the above quotation we shouldn’t assume that can equates to will. Therefore, God’s sovereignty refers to His power over everything, but does not mean He will actualize this power in all instances or even to achieve His will (for certainly it is God’s will that none of us sin, but He allows this to occur even though it goes against His will).

Likewise, when referring to providence we are referring to God’s governance and guidance of creation, rather than His determination of creation. Since providence refers to God’s care through guidance of creation, by definition it would rule out determinism, for guidance implies a helpful guide rather than a forceful hand. In fact, Bruce Little argues, “If everything, however, is determined, then there is no place for providence. In fact, if everything is determined, there is no need for providence, for what is, is what was determined.”[3]

What Little is referring to is that if everything is determined then there is no reason for God to keep continued watch over His creation or to guide it; everything would be set to move in the exact way He desired it to. Continue reading