Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Theology for beginners (8): Triunity

Summary: In the story of Jesus, God defines himself as Father, Son and Spirit in a triunity of love.

We have seen, then, that if we want to speak of God we must tell the story of Jesus. The question “Who is God?” is answered by the story of Jesus. “God” is name of what happened when Jesus was raised from the dead. In the first century CE, a certain Jewish man was executed and then raised into the life of the future: that is what we mean when we use the word “God.”

Throughout his earthly life, Jesus was defined above all by his unique relationship to the God of Israel. He calls this God “Father,” and he understands himself as the Father’s obedient Son. He lives to do the will of his Father. His entire life is nothing other than an expression of faithful obedience to the Father. He gives himself over fully to the will of the Father – and this self-giving obedience finally culminates in his obedient death on the cross. In just this way, Jesus shows that he is truly the Son of the Father, truly the one in whom the Father’s will finds expression.

But Jesus carries out the Father’s will not in his own strength. Rather, it is the Father’s Spirit that empowers him to do the Father’s will. The Spirit – the living Spirit who comes from the future in the power of the kingdom – comes to Jesus and rests on him. The Spirit sets Jesus apart, leads him, anoints him (literally: “Christs” him!) as God’s messenger, and empowers him to be the Father’s Son, to live and act and die in radical obedience.

When Jesus’ ministry terminates in crucifixion, even then he continues to trust in the Father. Even then, strengthened by the Spirit, he continues to do the Father’s will. And when Jesus is dead and buried, the Father vindicates him by raising him into new life through the Spirit. Coming from the future in the power of God’s kingdom, the Spirit proceeds from the Father to the Son and raises Jesus from the dead. Thus the Father bestows on Jesus this final, decisive act of affirmation: he shows that Jesus is the true Son of the Father, the one on whom the Spirit rests, the one with whom the Father is well pleased.

This story of Jesus’ resurrection is the definition of God. God is the historical event that takes place between the Father and the Son through the Spirit when Jesus is raised from the dead. God is not a “divine substance” or a “first cause” or even a “supreme being” – God is a living event. God happens! God takes place as a unity of self-giving, reciprocal life between Father, Son and Spirit. The Father sends the Son; the Son goes from the Father in obedience; the Spirit is the uniting power of this relationship. God is this narrative; God is this triune life.

In a word, then, God is love. In the story of Jesus, God defines himself as an event of self-giving love. He defines himself as a life rich in relationships, full of movement and energy, a harmony of repetition in difference. God is not an isolated, motionless “being” – he is not a static unity, but a dynamic triunity. He is not a single voice, but a harmony; not a monologue, but a conversation; not a march, but a dance.

God is God a first time; and then God repeats himself, and so he is a God a second time; and then God is also the bond between this “first time” and this “second time,” between God and God. Like repetitions and differences within music, God is thus a living harmony – he is always in motion, always on the way from himself to himself, always giving himself and responding to this giving. Thus – in unity and in difference – God is love.

In this vibrant, energetic unity, God is Father, Son and Spirit. He is an event of love. No, he is the event of love – the love that sent Jesus from the Father and then raised Jesus from the dead into the triune life of God’s future.

Further reading

  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), §§8-9.
  • Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 155-249.
  • Jenson, Robert W. The Triune Identity: God according to the Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982).
  • Jüngel, Eberhard. God as the Mystery of the World (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1983), pp. 343-96.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 259-336.
  • Rahner, Karl. The Trinity (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970).
  • Torrance, T. F. The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996).


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