What is core to your identity? So central that to change it makes you no longer you? If you were suddenly NOT a parent, would you still be you? If you somehow were born somewhere else, would you be you? If your values change?
Obviously, all those questions are somewhat difficult, because who you are is, at some level, in constant flux. But what about God? God is not like us; he does not change. So this is a very different question with God – what is core to God’s identity?
Of course, as we read Scripture we realize that God is also a Person, and therefore revealing his identity is just as complex as revealing our own. That’s why it took thousands of years to prepare for Jesus, and thousands more to wrestle with what we learned in encountering Jesus.
God is Trinity
But there is one aspect of God’s identity that is emphasized again and again in the Old Testament. We find it in Deuteronomy 6:4 – The LORD is One.
This idea that there is one God, and that he is a Person with whom we can have a relationship (and want a relationship) is profound. All of the Old Testament wrestles with this idea – how can we have God’s presence with us? How can we as a people have a covenant with this ONE God? How can we as individuals connect to this One God?
But then something dramatic happens in the New Testament. We begin to hear that God is not ONLY ONE, but that he is also Three.
Read John 14:6-11, and 16-17.
This is the first part of the reveal – first part of the second narrative – God is One and Three.
Understanding the Trinity
Bad metaphors - Water analogy (solid, liquid, gas), or the idea that God is one guy wearing different hats. We imagine God is Father, Son and Spirit like I am a father, a son, a friend, etc. There is a huge problem with this! When the Son dies on the cross, all of God does not die; if so, everything would have ceased to exist. I cannot crucify my “friend hat” in any meaningful way. More importantly, I cannot have a relationship with my other hats. Traditionally this error is called "Modalism."
There are some metaphors that are useful, such as the perichoresis (Circle-dance), but the best metaphor we have is that of marriage.
Core metaphor – Marriage, Relationship of the co-equal, co-eternal Persons.
Imagine a marriage where we share all the same interests, do everything together, are completely centered on the other, have no selfish desires, and have been growing closer for billions of years. Now imagine that we are not separated by physical bodies – what makes us separate? What makes us one? This is a very human, but hopefully helpful, explanation of what Trinity means.
Because the Trinity is three Persons who are united as One, like a husband and wife are united and become one, we can speak of them as individual Persons or as one unified whole.
Jesus gives us names for the Persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit (or Father, Word, Spirit). Note that these are names, not jobs.
False narrative – Trinity is such a deep theological concept that it’s beyond my understanding.
True narrative – Trinity is part of the key that unlocks the love story of God.
God as Relationship – the First Reveal
When we read the Bible with this lens, this second narrative, we see the evidence of God as relationship all over. No place in the OT is more obvious, however, than in the story of creation.
Read Genesis 1:26-28. Note the language – “Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness”.
What does this tell us about Ourselves?
First – the most important Ourselves is not us Christians but the Ourselves of God – the Father, Son and Spirit.
But this is also the most fundamental insight into our human lives. John Calvin, the theological father of our Presbyterian tradition, began his most famous book by saying, “true and sound wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”
In other words, in understanding ourselves we understand God, and in understanding God, we begin to understand ourselves.
This passage in Genesis makes this overwhelmingly clear. We are in God’s image. What does this mean? Fundamentally, we are relational beings. We can relate to each other, to animals, even to pencils!
And what is our purpose? Why did God create us? So that we can be in relationship with Him. It wasn’t’ because he was lonely – because he is Trinity – and it wasn’t because he was bored – because he is Trinity – but because he wanted be more of who he was – he wanted to draw us into the perfect love he already had. Because that is what Love does. Real love loves the unworthy; real love loves without encouragement or motivation beyond love itself.
Any parent knows this.
Parenting advice – when should you have children? Having kids is tough – it takes extra love, beyond what is needed just for marriage. You need to have enough to overflow into the life of an overwhelmingly needy creature who offers you, at least initially, almost nothing in return. Your marriage is the source of strength and love for your parenting.
When did God create the world and us? When there was so much love between the persons of the Trinity that they chose to spill over into something new.