Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who Is God? Trinity the Identity of God

Wrong views about God occur when men veer out of scripture for their understanding of God.  We know God by His revelation of Himself.  In and through God's creation, we witness the works of God, which show His attributes.  However, God's works are not His identity.  They are what He does.  He creates, so He is Creator, but His identity is not Creator.  Before God created, He was God.  He was God without creating.  He could create, was powerful enough to create, but was fully God, not missing anything, as God, without creating.

If Creator is God's identity, then He needs a creation to be who He is, but He was who He was before the foundations of the world.  In His identity, God is self-existent.  He doesn't need anything to be Who He is.  You could even say that is the essence of His holiness.  He exists without anything else.  To know the true identity of God, we read who He was before His creation, and we read that in the Bible.  Many passages talk about God before creation.

What I'm writing here relates to the history of the doctrine of God.  Arius started with God's work, His creation, and identified God as the Uncaused or the Unoriginate.  With that as God's identity, He rejected Jesus as God, because he surmised Jesus was caused.  God couldn't be caused, so Jesus couldn't be God, in the meanderings of Arius.  Jesus was the Son and the Son proceeds from the Father, so the Son couldn't be Son.  A lot of people continue to be fooled in this way today.

Athanasius centered on identity in His correction of Arius.  He said that Arius should not identify God by His works, but through the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.  The focus is on the Son in the identification of God, because the Son is the supreme identification of God through scripture.

The identity of God is Trinity.  He is Triune in His identity, which is why He is identified as Father and Son the most in scripture, but also as Holy Spirit -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father is God's identity according to Jesus Himself, speaking of the Father as loving Him before the foundation of the world.  God was Father and Jesus was Son before creation.  You can follow this through scripture, but especially consider John 17:24 and 1 John 4:8-9.
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
As Father, God is Father.  For God always to be Father, He also always had to have a Son.   It sounds like I'm repeating myself, but Father means something.  It isn't a vessel into which we pour whatever we want it to mean.  Our understanding of Father comes from our understanding of Him.  Father is outgoing, moving out from Himself. sending, giving, giving life, and begetting.  A word that should come to mind with God being Father is Love.  1 John 4:8 doesn't say that He loves.  It says He is Love.  It is His identity and this is tied into the meaning of Father and in the identity of Trinity.

God is love is accompanied by God sending His Son into the world, so love is also associated with the Son.  God was already loving the Son and then He manifested His love toward us through His Son, giving life to us through the Son.  The Father gave His glory to the Son, loving Him before the foundation of the world.  God did not become love.  He is Love.  God wasn't alone.  He was always loving before the foundation of the world.

I haven't mentioned the Holy Spirit.  From the very beginning the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father as a separate Person, energizing space and matter.  The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  The Father delights in His Son and He sent the Spirit to the Son at His baptism.  The Holy Spirit regenerates the lifeless.  He renews.  The promise of the Father is fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The love of the Father is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  I'm barely touching on the Third Person of the Trinity.  The nature of God, however, is this cascading from Father to Son to Holy Spirit.

At the bottom is the Trinity.  You don't have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and at the bottom is God.  God is Trinity.  You can't go further back or deeper than Trinity, because that is Who God is.  We pray to the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit.  Each unique member of the Trinity is operating in prayer, taking a different role.

Very often men will talk about the greatest attribute of God.  It's a big discussion point.  What I have read the most is that God's holiness is His greatest attribute and the most common argument is the angels proclaiming that attribute in the heavenly holy of holies.  God is holy.   God says, be ye holy as I am holy.  I don't know how fruitful it is to determine God's greatest attribute when scripture doesn't tell us.  An interesting question, however, might be the following:  was God holy before the creation of the world?  He wasn't Creator until He created, creation being again one of His works.  Could He be holy before He had something from which to separate?  This would consider whether God's identity is Holy.  If God couldn't be holy until He could separate from something, then should we say His identity is Holy?

Holiness is separateness.  What was God separate from before He created something and then what He created sinned and become sinful?  At the beginning, God's creation was holy, because He was holy.  Everything about His creation was holy, because it was created by God.  God couldn't and wouldn't create something unholy.

It doesn't sound right to say that God wasn't holy before the foundation of the world, but He wasn't Creator before the foundation of the world. He was Triune though.  He was Trinity.  When we pray, Jesus instructed us to pray to our Father, not our Creator.  We can praise Him by exalting His attributes, but His identity is Trinity.

15 comments:

Bill Hardecker said...

"Could He be holy before He had something from which to separate?" - we know that He is distinct from His own creation (i.e., transcendent). Can we say that His transcendence is a form of holiness? So that God as a tri-personal being is separate/distinct from creation even prior to sin.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Bill.

Of course, to start we both believe He is holy and that is important. I didn't really park on the holiness so much as the Trinity being His identity, so a starting point. Every quality relates to Trinity, which is at the bottom.

I brought up holiness as a point of discussion, but I wasn't saying that He wasn't holy previous to creation. I wanted to get people thinking about the nature of God.

God is not able to be anything but His nature. He doesn't change or cannot be changed. This is what John Owen calls "the infinite purity of the divine nature." The Son, Hebrews 1:3, says is the brightness of His glory. That was before the foundation of the world as well. In 1 John, He is light and He is love. God has this quality of radiance, glory, light, lustre, and beauty, which one could call His majestic quality. It's worth talking and thinking about.

Thanks.

Bill Hardecker said...

What about spirit? God is a spirit. This would mean that He is personal (not a thing; not also just a person but three distinct persons) and non-corporeal meaning He has no material property. Apart from His self-dislosure (even with it) we would have not known Him to be a spirit. God's tri-personality and "non-corporeal-ness" makes Him totally incomprehensible though partly knowable.
I get what you mean about the nature of God. I love it, too. Amen! People should be talking about God. He's worthy of being talked about and thought about and loved.

Kent Brandenburg said...

There is a certain construction of "God is" that goes article-God-noun-is in the Greek New Testament. "God is Spirit" is not one of those. He obviously is Spirit, but if you limit yourself to that construction, you get God is love and God is light, just those two. Those both relate to Jesus Christ in that God loves the Son and God shines through the Son. Something close to that construction is the quotation from the OT in Mark 12:29, God is one Lord.

Bill Hardecker said...

The construct in the Greek as I see it is: spirit The God. The "is" in the English is italicized (meaning supplied). Spirit teaches us that His nature is both personal and non-corporeal (with its implications of three distinct persons and non-material properties). I would only add to your article in that at the foundation level I would present God as spirit, first, and then Triune, and then all else. I am deficient in Greek. I desire to correct this in my lifetime. I believe I am correct, but I am also correctable.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Bill,

When I say identity, I'm saying what distinguishes God as God, what specifies Him as God. Trinity sets the true and only God apart from other gods. Spirit is a quality of God, but Who is He? For instance, Hinduism teaches that God is Spirit. Unitarians believe God is Spirit. There are also other spirit beings, other than God. We must worship God.

To worship God, He must be the one, true God and what distinguishes Him as that. I'm saying at the bottom is Trinity. That's also what the Athanasius creed says.

That He is Spirit means a lot to us. It is true, but I'm saying Trinity is His identity.

Bill Hardecker said...

Gotcha and amen.

Bill Hardecker said...

Funny you had the Athanasius creed in mind. I was going with the Westminster Shorter Cathecism on the question "What is God?" Ha!

Luke Mace said...

Kent,
How do you understand God's eternality? Is "Creator" an aspect of God's character or being that he took on by his work of creation? Is "Creator" of the essence of who God is, is it necessary to his identity as God?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Luke,

God could create obviously before His creation. Scripture calls Him Creator in several places, which was already settled in Heaven before creation. Only God can create, so it distinguishes Him, but He is self-existent and doesn't need a creation to be God, which is why I'm saying it isn't His identity. He was God before Creation.

God had no beginning or ending. It's an attribute of God that He is eternal.

Luke Mace said...

Kent,
Can God's agency in and toward the world as its Creator be divorced from his being? That is, is it in addition to what he is essentially as God? Was "Creator" a newly acquired property of being in God by virtue of creation?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Luke,

Creation is unique to God, but He was God before creation. He didn't have to create to be God. He didn't need anything else to be Who He was and is. This is the same argument for the eternal Sonship of God. God is Father, so there was always Son. That argument wouldn't work if He is Creator, then there was always creation. There was always Son, but not always creation. When God speaks of Himself as Creator, He is speaking regarding creation. The two go together. In each of the cases He is Creator, it refers to something He created, the creature, Israel, the earth, "Thy" Creator.

When you read Athanasius in his argument with Arius, he says that Arius's problem was with identifying God with His works rather than with Jesus Christ. There's more to say here, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Luke Mace said...

Kent,
God is God apart from, or without his creation. Creation does not validate his deity. He is the self-existant one, who gives life and being to all. I believe what you are saying here is true.

But I think the question still stands, was "Creator" a newly acquired property of being in God by virtue of creation?

Perhaps you are seeking to answer this question with your previous responses, and I am simply slow to catch on. Thanks for your time.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Luke,

The way you're asking the question is the problem. The title, Creator, belongs to God in eternity past because His Word was settled before the foundation of the world. The power to create was His before the foundation of the world. God didn't gain anything in creating. There was no change in Him by creating. Everything I'm saying is what I'm saying.

You do not deny God Creator in saying that Creator is not His identity. If His identity is Creator, then He needs a creation in order to be Who He is. He was Who He was before He created, so it isn't His identity. He would then need us in order to be Who He is.

When Jesus taught us to pray, He said pray to the Father, not to the Creator. When you read Athanasius's arguments against Arius, you see that Arius came to his position by identifying God as creator essentially, the unoriginate. When you baptize, you do so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not the Creator.

Almost every religion believes that God is Creator. Do they have the right God?

Luke Mace said...

Kent,
Thanks for the reply. That helped clarify what you are getting at and you answered my question (poorly framed though it may be).

So if I understand you correctly, you are not making an ontological statement about God becoming Creator, rather you are saying that is a relative name by which he came to be known by the observation of his created effects. My concern was that you were speaking of God as though he acquired a new property of being as God. As though "Creator" was a new feature of existance.

I would agree that God was not known as Creator from all eternity, but I would also affirm him to be the Eternal Creator. The difference is not a two-fold manner of being, but is a distinction between the human way of knowing and speaking of God, and the way God actually exists.

This distinction is important, because if becoming Creator is an ontological becoming, that suggests God does not act in the world as the God that is from all eternity, but as something else he has come to be. And this something else can not be divine and so can not be rightly worshipped.

Hopefully that clarifies what I was trying to ask.