Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Delighting in the Trinity: A book that’s bursting with light about a subject plagued by obscurity

    

[Wallpaper]. (2020, June 9). Virtual Reality. Retrieved from https://wallpapershome.com/hi-tech/vr-headsets/vr-virtual-reality-space-12369.html

 

    The first time I experienced VR I was sitting in a dark room with my Samsung galaxy note 5 locked into a relatively heavy plastic device strapped to my head tight enough to block out any light from getting in but also nearly cutting off the circulation to my brain.  The experience was so intense that I could only handle a few minutes of immersion at a time.  Stopping every few minutes to take the helmet off and breathe and re-orient myself.  This is how I felt each of the four times I have read this book.  Stopping multiple times per page to put the book down, breathe in the fresh air of the authors perspective and re-orient myself.  The difference here being that instead of experiencing a virtual reality, this book was claiming to increase my ability to accurately perceive the reality around me.  Sounds crazy, I know but the experience has been so transformative and enriching to my life that I feel compelled to recommend it to nearly every person who I suspect even has a passing interest in Christianity.  I even recommend it to my non-Christian friends!  

If you are not familiar with the Christian worldview it is captured in its entirety in a book called the Bible.  The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by various authors across hundreds of years that all tell a unified story that lead to a person named Jesus.  The Bible claims that there is an eternally existing God that at some point created everything, including humans, then entered a partnership with those humans.  Unfortunately they screwed up their part of the deal and instead of God nullifying it all together, this God decides to actually come and fullfill our part of the contract himself and then legally freeing us from the debt in order to re-establish the good relationship we had before our fall. Jesus is the human form of God who came to fulfill the contract and rescue us from our breach of contract.   One of the more confusing parts is that God is called by different names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it has not always been clear, to me at least, whether this is one being who has three different roles or three distinct persons that make up one Godhead.  Or something else entirely.  That is what makes this book so fantastic is that it so clearly articulates what, or more accurately, who God is.  I consider it an essential read for both Christians and non-Christians. 

First, for the Christian, this book not only demystifies the “Trinity”, or this idea of a community of three persons who have existed for eternity. It also makes sense of the rest of creation.  The author says, “God is a mystery, but not in the alien abductions, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sense.  Certainly not in the “who can know, why bother?” sense.  God is a mystery in that who he is and what he is like are secrets, things we would never have worked out by ourselves.  But this triune God has revealed himself to us.  Thus the trinity is not some piece of inexplicable apparent nonsense, like a square circle or an interesting theologian.  Rather, because the triune God has revealed himself, we can understand the Trinity.”  I must concur because when I first found myself agreeing with the Christian worldview, I would attempt to understand the Trinity in what I now know to be heretical ways.  Saying, well, when I am at work, I am a creator and when I am at my mom’s house, I am a son and if I ever have children then I’ll be a father, but I am still one person.  So that must be what the Bible means when it speaks of God in these different ways, and while this sounds reasonable, the author explains why this, and many other attempted explanations of the trinity are insufficient. “We are seeing that with this God we are dealing with three real and distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  And they must be real persons: there could be no true love between them if they were, say, just different aspects of one single divine personality…Throwing the Father, Son and Spirit into a blender like this is politely called modalism by theologians.  I prefer to call it moodalism.  Moodalists think that God is one person who has three different moods (or modes if you must.)”  Very similar to the way I use to think, the author goes on, “One popular moodalist idea is that God used to feel Fatherly in the old testament, tried adopting a more sonny disposition for thirty-some years, and has since decided to become more spiritual.”  I love his silliness, but he is making a good point, most of my Christian friends do not give the Trinity much thought at all and might even say amen to that description.  The author also compares the relationship between the father and son to a fountain, he says that a fountain is not a fountain if it does not pour forth water.  Although I suppose a fountain can run dry and then would it still be a fountain?  That may be a whole different essay, but his point is that a fountain is defined by its function of pouring forth water.  Just so, he says, the Father would not be the Father without his Son and vice versa.   

I would put my money on the table to bet that many modern-day Christians have a poor view of the Trinity if they have one at all.  Lifeway research, A Christian nonprofit organization who I am sure is totally unbiased in their research, asked 3,000 Americans their views on the Trinity and 72% responded positively to the question, “There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit”  but then 59% go on to agree that the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being, 55% agree that Jesus was created and 52% agree that Jesus is not God.  Clearly, there is some confusion here on the most distinguishing feature of the Christian Worldview.  Understandably so, and the author knows this too.  In the opening paragraph the author directly confronts this by saying, “God is love: those three words could hardly be more bouncy.  They seem lively, lovely and as warming as a crackling fire.  But “god is a Trinity”? No, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy.  All quite understandable, but the aim of this book is to stop the madness.  Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.”  Not only do Christians seem uninterested in exploring the Trinity, but the author also acknowledges part of the reason is that lots of explanations of the Christian worldview are dull and uninteresting, which I argue is quite the feat.  The author goes on to show, not just tell us how.  Here is just a quarter of the quote from another authors attempted explanation of the Trinity, “In the same freedom and love in which God is not alone in Himself but is the eternal begetter of the Son, who is the eternally begotten of the Father, He also turns as Creator ad extra in order that absolutely and outwardly He may not be alone but the one who loves in freedom…”  Michael Reeves the author of Delighting the Trinity, says “Yes, theologians often write like that.  What he means is that, since God the Father has eternally loved his Son, it is entirely characteristic of him to turn and create others that he might also love them”.   Here he not only shows us that authors are great at explaining the Trinity in a way that will keep laymen far away, but he goes on to translate for us what that original author was trying to get across.  A simple and beautiful idea that the reason why God is love and why God created anything at all is that because God is eternally a loving community of diverse persons.  God loves others, and delights in harmony. Why couldn’t the original author speak so plainly?  If the Trinity is so poorly understood inside of Christianity, what about outside?

Now, for my non-Christian reader, this book scares away the crows of esoteric and technical jargon and clears away the bushes of circumlocution to provide a crystal-clear view of exactly what the Christian faith is claiming.  All in less than 200 pages.  But even if you walk away unconvinced, I think you will be better off for reading it, by finding new value in your friendships and relationships. In the opening lines of Chapter two the author humorously asks, “Imagine for a moment that you are God.  I’m sure you’ve done it before.  Now think: Would you in your divine wisdom and power ever want to create a universe and, if so, why?  Because you feel lonely and want some friends?  Because you like being pampered and want some servants?  It is one of the profoundest questions to ask:  if there is a God, why is there anything else?  Why the universe?  Why us?”  The author goes on to show us that because central to Gods being is community and otherness, having harmony in diversity for all of eternity, and enjoying it.  God is fundamentally outward looking.  In contrast to a single person God who would be fundamentally inward looking and would not be eternally loving.  The author goes on to say, “Creation is about the spreading, the diffusion, the outward explosion of that love.  This God is the very opposite of greedy, hungry, selfish emptiness; in his self-giving he naturally pours forth life and goodness.  He is, then, the source of all that is good, and that means he is not the sort of God who would call people to himself away from happiness in good things.  Goodness and ultimate happiness are to be found with him, not apart from him.”  Ah! There it is.  All the things that bring us joy come to us through relationship.  Think of everything you enjoy. It probably involves another person.  Either directly or indirectly we get our greatest happiness from relationships and it seems to follow that then we would get ultimate happiness and enjoyment from the ultimate relationship.  Look at what the author says here, “The Father, Son and Spirit have always been in delicious harmony, and thus they create a world where harmonies-distinct beings, persons or notes working in unity-are good, mirroring the very being of the triune God.”  I think it is difficult to deny the fact that unity (not uniformity) is amazing, and it is even more amazing the more diverse the individual pieces of that harmony are.  Christians and non-Christians alike would do well to learn from this model.  That there is room for all of us to co-exist and to work and live together in unity without losing our individuality. Part of that involves some intentional outreach and taking time to understand what other viewpoints think and believe and why, including why others may disagree with your viewpoint.

One of the popular complaints I have heard against Christianity comes in two different forms, but I think are complaining about the same thing.  One is I have heard atheists complain that it seems silly that Jesus was God and then he prayed to himself to save himself from himself.  Which is alluding to the same thing I have heard from my Muslim friends that how can 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? Essentially, how can God be singular and not singular? I love the authors response. “…the Trinity that provides the most compelling rationale for mathematics…there needs to be such a thing as ultimate plurality for math to make any real sense, for me to believe that “2” actually means something.  And yet there also needs to be such a thing as ultimate unity so that 1 + 1 always = 2 and not sometimes 83.  To be coherent and meaningful, math requires the existence of ultimate plurality in unity.”  Just writing that out blows my mind.  What a profoundly simple explanation.  They say that mathematics is the only subject that provides 100% certain proofs.  The idea here is that God is a single being made up of three distinct persons.  One God made up of three plural units.  So, it is perfectly reasonable that 1 person + 1 person + 1 person = 1 God, just like 1 person + 1 person = 1 marriage.  Then it is entirely reasonable that God the Son, prayed to God the Father to save us from loving ourselves more than we love God and more than we love each other. 

Nearly every human offense can be attributed to a person loving inwardly, whether it is themselves or their own tribe, over and more than they love outwardly towards others.  Think of the last time you had a really bad day.  I imagine you were either highly isolated, or some other person was selfishly loving themselves at your expense.  Most murders, theft, and other crime is a breach of social cohesion, it is a one person doing something that devalues another.  I think this book helps us see why relationships and harmony with others are so vital to enjoying life to its fullest.  I hope you will be as inspired, even more, to see the beautiful, extroverted love of God and overflow to your neighbors no matter how other they may seem.  Giving each other room to be yourselves and delighting in the diversity that makes life so rich.

 

Works Cited

Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: an Introduction to the Christian Faith. IVP Academic, 2012.

Earls, Aaron. “Americans Hold Complex, Conflicting Religious Beliefs, According to Latest State of Theology Study.” Lifeway Research, 3 Feb. 2021, lifewayresearch.com/2020/09/08/americans-hold-complex-conflicting-religious-beliefs-according-to-latest-state-of-theology-study/.

 

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