Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Super-Personal God

When I was about eleven years old we made our first trip as a family out to Delaware. It would be my first time going to the ocean and has now become a family tradition of ours which we continue to do even today. When it came to vacations, we had a tradition in our family, in which my mom would let my sister and I get a few magazines or books at the Kroger grocery store to keep us busy on long trips. I remember vividly what I chose that year. I got a bunch of books on sharks and shark attacks. The trip was twelve hours long and I read each book, cover to cover. 

When we did arrive, I fell in love with the ocean; each day of the vacation you would find me body boarding or swimming. On one of our last days, I became more courageous and swam out further into the ocean than I ever had. I was just wading in the water, floating around, and enjoying one of my last days of vacation. I was way out; in fact, I was probably a good thirty yards away from the nearest swimmer. But then I noticed something odd. As I looked down the entire beach front, everyone was coming out of the water. I wondered what was going on? That had never happened before?! Just then, I saw and heard the lifeguard shout through his speaker phone, “Everyone out of the water! Everyone out of the water! Sharks! Sharks!” I had never heard more frightening words. I turned around and sure enough, swimming out near a tanker were about a dozen fins sticking up out of the water. 

Immediately, I swam toward the shore as fast as I could. There was only one problem though, all I could think about was all of those shark attack stories I had read. In particular, I remembered that sharks most often attack in shallow waters when their prey believe that they're safe. I swam like never before; I kept pumping my arms, kicking my legs, and finally, without a scratch on me, I crawled up onto shore. Just then, standing above me was the life guard and into his speakerphone he yelled, “False alarm. Just dolphins.” After that, I don’t think I swam in the ocean anymore before we left to go home!

Sometimes, things aren't what they seem. This is the case when it comes to how we think about God. We can have the knack for making Him in our image. In the early church they had to wrestle with this as well, and it came out when early church leaders had to wrestle with the theological implications of the Trinity. You think you know God in one way and he turns around and changes things a bit. This was especially the case with first century Jews who had become Christians. They grew up on the words, “The Lord is One.” And that was and is true; but it’s not the whole truth. In the first century, the doctrine of the Trinity threw everybody for a loop, and to this day, it can do the same.   

So why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important? Why do we even wrestle with this ultimately mysterious issue? Why not just leave it to the theologians to argue over? The Trinity is so very important because it is the starting point with our view of God.  When one doesn't come to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the Trinity, one's view of God is, at best, shallow or worse, profane. But it is also a truth that the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult to get your mind around. It's nearly impossible to put in words. 

In the early church, the church had to come to grips with what they believed and so, they wrote out different creeds to tell themselves and others what they believed, and what they did not believe. Believe it or not, there is one such creed that specifically discusses the importance of the Trinity; it is called the Athanasian Creed. One part of it states: 
As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
As you can see, words can fail us. Clarity is difficult to find when discussing a mystery. We must remember that this doctrine is something our little minds can never fully understand. We must come to the point that we know that God is limitless and we are finite. Yet we have a problem with this; as creatures of the 21st century we want to know everything and often feel that we have the right to such knowledge. In our data-driven world, there is some much knowledge and we have a sense of entitlement that we should know all that there is to know. I like what Dorothy Sayers had to say on the topic of the Trinity. Listen carefully to what she said: 
Why do you complain that the proposition God is three in one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist's fundamental formula, ‘two P minus PQ equals IH over two Pi where I equals the square root of minus one’ when you know quite well that the square root of minus one is paradoxical in Pi is incalculable?
Did that make your head spin? There are many things within the Christian faith that fall under the realm of mystery; two, would be, the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ and God’s providence. The doctrine of the Trinity is no different. And this is the great problem that many believers face; if we don't understand it, we have a difficult time believing it.

So how can we explain this difficult belief of ours? How do we explain to someone that we believe in one God but three “persons?” We have all heard different analogies of explaining the Trinity. When my boys were young we bought them a children’s book that attempted to explain the Trinity as an apple. The book said it something like this:
The Father is the skin of the apple. He is our protector. 
The Son is the flesh of the apple. He is the one who makes us strong. 
The Holy Spirit is the seed or core. He helps us to grow. 
We must, however, remember that all analogies fail when it comes to the Trinity. In fact, all analogies lean toward some form of heresy. Why? Because God can not be analogous. If you could compare God to an apple, what would that say about him? It is impossible to compare God to anything. Actually, the only thing we can kind of compare him to is us. We are the only thing he made in his image. And yet even we are a faint comparison to Him. Even that analogy breaks down at some point. Analogies can be helpful, but we must always keep in the back of our mind that they are flawed.

Perhaps just plain words are better descriptors. I like how C.S. Lewis pictured the Trinity. He saw that God, who is triune in nature, as someone who is “super-personal.” We can't even imagine such a person. I like that phrase Lewis uses, super-personal; God is personal to an extreme. Actually, he is more than a person. Meditate on that for awhile. I believe there can be a comfort and an excitement that one can find in such an understanding. One day we will all stand face-to-face to this ultimately personal Person. Better yet, we can know this super-personal Person even today.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Kelly! We recently studied this topic and came to the same conclusion... there isn't an analogy that works well to describe it.