GOD, AS I SEE HIM
As mortal, finite, human beings, we can never hope to see God or understand Him fully. While in the flesh, we can only see Him dimly as through dark glasses - “but then, face to face, when we shall see as we are seen.” A Being Who is timeless, perfect, uncorruptible, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, a Heavenly Father Who is the ultimate of good and beauty and the embodiment of love, a Caring (Theistic) Deity Who is just, condescending, and worthy of all adoration, is our God. His character is such that to attempt to describe Him is hardly possible in the language of men. And even thoughts without utterance and the faint glimmerings of the mind leave feelings of confusion and humility. He is a great Paradox: exalted and dwelling in the Heaven of Heavens and at the same time imminent and dwelling in the hearts of men. He knows the past and the future, and yet, all days are as one with Him, and the eternity of His existence is the “eternal present” - as Saint Augustine put it.
The orbits of electrons or planets, the life cycle of the protozoa or the whale, the combination of hydrogen and oxygen to make water or the union of egg and sperm to make an animal, the speed of a ray of light or the almost inert decomposition of uranium, the distance of all space or the width of a hair, the weight of the earth or that of an atom of hydrogen, and the metamorphosis of worm to butterfly or the transformation of the sinner into a saint - all these abide in His law.
Before His purity, the very existence of man is sin; before His wisdom, the highest attainments of genius are mere stupidity; compared to His love, the love of a mother is selfish and dead.
It has always been difficult for man to perceive that God is One. The various creations of His: the sun, moon, stars, streams, mountains, trees, etc., in all their perfection and mystery were to primitive people alive and beyond their ken, therefore, divine. These things were held as either personifications of gods or demons, or else, their dwelling places. But then in historical time, God revealed Himself as One God to the early Hebrews, and they proclaimed with assurance and with joy, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is a Unity” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And yet, there was something further than this, for the Creation account had recorded that God in the beginning had said, “Let Us make man in Our own image” (Genesis 1:26). This bespoke a Plurality that came to be later known as the Holy Trinity. Isaiah told of the advent of the Messiah and called Him “King of kings and Lord of lords.” And in Daniel 3:25, there was the mysterious statement: “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like a Son of God.”
Also, the Holy Spirit was mentioned often. In the Creation story, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” And we see that in the days of Noah, Jesus ministered through the Holy Spirit to those sinners said to be “in Satan’s bondage.” Thus it is apparent that God manifested Himself in these various Forms in old times - so that truly “history is His story.” The final revelation was spoken by the Messiah Himself as He pointed out the three Aspects of God’s nature and how He dealt with His wayward children, mankind, as a loving Father, as the Revealed Word, and as the activating Spirit speaking to the hearts of men. Even as water is evidenced in three forms - steam, fluid, and ice - and we take them to be one substance, so, God is One.
The Trinity is a mysterious thing for the mind of finite man to grasp, and some have, in the spirit of “the blind leading the blind,” rejected the difficult truth for the simplified falsehood, making three gods out of the One. But it must be recognized that this pagan polytheism destroys the lofty concept of a Supreme Being and regresses Christianity to heathenism. (And the Catholic Church has made things even worse by adding a goddess, Mary, and lesser gods, the Saints.)
It is important that this matter be clarified, because it tends to impair the idea of God-Incarnate’s winning men to Himself through His great sacrifice. This is the key to humankind’s redemption and, therefore, vitally significant as a religious truth. Any doctrine that modifies, subtracts from, or deletes the true character of the Logos is blasphemy, since it robs Him of His rightful place and tends to make of Him a lesser divinity or a mortal man. It leads to the point of declaring Jesus to be just a prophet or inspired teacher, whereas salvation can only come through believing in “the Lamb which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Jesus might be called the Embodiment of God’s Love, for “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” Isaiah gives many instances of the unity of Father and Savior-Son: “Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (45:15); “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me” (45:5); “For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall be called” (54:5); “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no Savior” (43:11); “Thou, O Lord, art our Father...our Redeemer” (63:16).
The Messiah (Gk. Christos) is called “the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace,” and His name Emmanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). The Hebrews believed that besides God there were only angels, devils, and men. Christ was neither of the latter three, though for a while “He was made a little lower than the angels,” so that He could give His life and endure the trials of mankind. But He is given a name now such that “at that Name every knee should bow.” Thus, if the Father were a separate being, He would be bowing to the Son. So, since Jesus is not man, devil, or angel, He must be God.
Pagan religions taught that a supreme god (Zeus, Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Odin, Brahman, etc.) created lesser gods, but this was not the case with the true God. He shares His divinity with none. However, men saw Him in many ways as He chose to reveal Himself in: a burning bush, a cloud, a pillar of fire, a dove, a “rushing mighty wind,” cloven tongues of fire, the “appearance of a man” (Ezek. 1:26), “like unto the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:13), the one Lord who asked, “Who will go for Us?” (Isa. 6:8), the Christ, the Comforter, the Lamb. That God and the Lamb are One is shown in Rev. 22:3: “And there shall be no more curse, but the Throne (single) of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him.” Isaiah declared, “I saw also the Lord,” and Thomas seeing the resurrected Jesus said, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Also, Luke makes record of the birth of “a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (2:11).
The use of the words “Father” and “Son” in relation to God and His Logos are not truly descriptive of this relation. “Father” was just a simple word Jesus used for the Eternal Omnipotence of Whom He was a Part. God’s attributes are similar to those of a kind, compassionate parent, so we call Him “Father.” The place of honor is at the right hand, so Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:4) is symbolic of His honor with God and as God. It pictures the phrase, “Worthy is the Lamb.” Jesus said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”...“The Father is in Me and I in Him”...“I and the Father are One.” Christ praying to God is but the bringing of the Incarnated God (with His fleshly temptations and weaknesses) into the will of the Heavenly God of Whom He is a Part. Thus Christ had to be strengthened by prayer even as man does. Prayer is the aligning of the will with God’s will. Christ, the Son of Man, could lose contact with His Heavenly Nature and become tempted. Contact with His Heavenly Part filled Him with new vigor.
Jesus declared to the woman at the well that “God is Spirit.” And the sentence, “Let Us make man in Our own image” must mean a spiritual image, since the Holy Spirit is included in the phrase “...Our own image.” God was entirely Spirit until the temporary period when a Part of Him was made flesh. Now, if a man’s body were of the express image of a body like that of the resurrected Christ, it could not grow old, die, or decay. But Christian theology teaches that only the soul of man is immortal, therefore, only the soul, the “breath of God,” is in God’s image. God is not androgynous (both male and female), but it is recorded: “In the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.” Is God black or white or yellow? How could the skins of all these races be the image of God’s body? If God’s eyes were blue, then a man with brown eyes would not be in the image of God.
What need has God with a body? What would He eat to keep His body cells alive? Would He need nectar and ambrosia as the Greek gods did to keep His body young? And why would a great Being confine Himself within a fleshly prison when His Spirit could suffuse and surround all space? Must He shave His whiskers and brush His teeth?
Only a little person could accept such a limited view of God. The prophet asked, “Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image, that is profitable for nothing?...The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house” (Isaiah 44:10,13). How great is a God who can be measured with the rule, the line, the plane, and who fits within the circle drawn by a compass, and made like a man so that any four walls could contain Him, and so that one could take Him like a molten image and make Him “remain in the house?” This is a very low concept of a very High God.
That God could on occasion become visible to human beings in the form of a man wouldn’t make Him less a Spirit. Spirits can be seen. It was said of the disciples, “They were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:37). Christ offered to be touched and handled, thereby indicating that spirits cannot be felt. God has been seen, but no one has touched Him. “Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). David tells of God’s omnipresence, saying, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy Presence?”
The Jews came to believe that they carried God with them in their golden box, the Ark of the Covenant, or shut Him up in the Holy of Holies in their Temple, but Jesus in talking with the Samaritan woman said, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father...God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21,24). Could the truth be spoken more plainly?
The divine mystery of the Trinity is that God in making Christ made Himself and was made by Himself and of Himself. “Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Notice that “made” and “took” are active voice, while “was made” is passive voice.) Christ in God made Himself and was made by Himself so that mankind could be purged of sin.
The most pitiful verse in the Scriptures is that “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” (John 1:10). But Saint Augustine says that if a man allows his spirit to be molded after the image of God’s Spirit, he will understand. “For man being renewed in his mind, and beholding and understanding Thy truth, needs not man as his director, so as to follow after his kind; but by Thy direction proveth what is that good, that acceptable, and perfect will of Thine; yea, Thou teachest him, now made capable, to discern the Trinity of the Unity, and the Unity of the Trinity” (ref. Augustine’s Confessions).
Richard L. Atkins
(written in 1956 to a Mormon in defense of the Trinity)
PLURALITY IN THE GODHEAD
The first name given for God in the Bible is Elohim. This is a plural word having the primary meaning of “gods,” and thus, it reveals a plurality in the Godhead. Elohim can be translated as “Godhead,” “God,” “gods,” or “angels,” depending upon the context. The creedal Jewish statement of faith, the Shema, is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God (Elohim), the Lord is a Unity (Echad).” The Hebrew term echad means “one,” “one of a kind,” or “unity.” It is taken from the word achad meaning “to unify.”
Terms used for the Godhead are:
Elohim (God) Davar (Word) Ruach (Breath-Spirit)
Adonai (Lord) Messiah (Anointed) Hokmah (Wisdom)
Theos (God) Logos (Word) Pneuma (Breath-Spirit)
Kyrios (Lord) Christos (Anointed) Sophia (Wisdom)
Pater (Father) Filius (Son) Spiritus Sanctus (Holy Spirit)
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created...” (God the Father)
Genesis 1:2 says, “And the Spirit of God was moving...” (God the Spirit)
Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said...” (God the Word; Greek Logos)
Psalm 33:6 says, “By the Word of the LORD (Heb. Yahweh) the heavens were made, and all their host by the Breath (Heb. Ruach: Spirit) of His mouth.”
“Holy, Holy, Holy,” was the threefold adulation of the Seraphim (Isa. 6:3).
Three mysterious “Men” appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18:2). The Three were called “They” (18:9) and “He” (18:10) and “Yahweh” (18:13).
God gave to Moses a threefold blessing for Israel (Numbers 6:24-26):
“The LORD bless thee and keep thee.”
“The LORD make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.”
“The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.”
Jeremiah rebuked the people for relying for security on a saying (7:4):
“This is the Temple of the LORD.”
“This is the Temple of the LORD.”
“This is the Temple of the LORD.”
God called to Samuel three times in the night (1 Samuel 3:4-9).
Proverbs speaks of the Holy One and His Son (30:3-4):
“Who has ascended to heaven and come down...What is His name, and what is His Son’s name?”
In the New Testament, Jesus, the Man, came from God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The gentile Wise Men, who worshiped the baby Jesus, brought three gifts:
Gifts of the Magi: Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh.
Representing Jesus’ Royalty, Divinity, Mortality.
Aspects of Godhead: Father, Holy Spirit, Christ.
The elder John testified of three witnesses to the divinity of Jesus:
“This is He Who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree.” (1 John 5:6-8)
This passage is made plainer in Phillip’s translation:
“Jesus Christ came with the double sign of water and blood - the water of His baptism as Man and the blood of the atonement that He made by His death. It is a mistake to think of Him as only the perfect Man - He made the perfect atonement as well. The Spirit within us endorses this as true (as might be expected when we remember that He is the Spirit of truth.) The witness therefore is a triple one - the Spirit in our own hearts, the signs of the water of baptism, and the blood of atonement - and they all say the same thing about Jesus, that He is God’s Christ.”
Frederick Beuchner made this pun: “The doctrine of the Trinity is the affirmation that, appearances notwithstanding, there is only one God.”
Richard L. Atkins
ANALOGIES TO THE TRINITY
There is no single satisfactory explanation of the Trinity. Therefore, men have usually resorted to analogies, some of which are given below. (It must be borne in mind that none of these analogies are entirely true in all details, and so, they are all slightly heretical.)
Man is one being, but he has body, soul, and spirit.
God is one Being, but He is Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Sun has three aspects: orb-shape, light source, heat source.
God has three aspects: Father (Primal Substance), Son (Emitted and Seen - as a ray of Light), and Holy Spirit (Felt by Men as a Warming Sensation).
Time is Past, Present, and Future.
God is Father (in Heaven), Son (in the World), Spirit (Everywhere).
Water is Solid, Liquid, Gas.
Earth is Crust, Mantle, Core.
Man is Physical, Mental, Spiritual.
Atom is Proton, Neutron, Electron.
Cell is Membrane, Protoplasm, Nucleus.
Egg is Shell, White, Yolk.
Apple is Skin, Pulp, Pips (seeds).
Tree is Bark, Wood, Sap.
Tree is Foliage, Trunk, Roots.
Beethoven is Composer, Performer, Personality.
Matthew Arnold gave the analogy of “the three Lord Shaftesburys:”
Anthony Ashley Cooper,
Earl of Shaftesbury,
Lord of the Admiralty.
A Man may be Himself, a Father, and a Son.
Karl Barth taught three “Modes of Being” of God:
Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness.
Richard L. Atkins