The Bible speaks of the “heart”, the central concentration point of our deepest hopes and desires. In all things the heart is the centre of human orientation (whether or not they recognize themselves as ‘religious’). For a Christian, it is in the heart that each person encounters, and responds to God. God speaks to all human beings, but the human response can be distorted by over focussing on one or other element or aspects of experience.
In the story of the creation of humanity in the first chapters of the book of Genesis, the key point in the coming to be of humanity is the encounter with God — so that the human race can be described perhaps not just as homo sapiens but homo religiosus. The Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2 marks a boundary in terms of the human response to God, resulting in a signal act of disobedience. This in turn led to the whole story of judgement and redemption, in which humanity’s relation to God is seen through the experience of key figures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, each with a covenant associated with his name — a progressive revelation of the judgement on humanity for its disobedience but, at the same time God’s gracious provision for human beings to be restored to a right relationship with himself. This process culminates in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God becoming fully human, and dying and rising to provide the sole basis for the redemption of human beings through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Human beings are inescapably religious, and this is true both of those considered conventionally to be religious (i.e. of the traditional relations, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism), but also those who are secular, not least the most aggressive secularists such as Richard Dawkins, who, in his attack on religions “fundamentalisms” creates a new fundamentalism of his own with its own creedal basis.
All that we know or can know of God is that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus. In other words, our knowledge of God is first of God as Trinity (which is the deeper logic of the affirmation that “Jesus is Lord”), and then of God who created the world. We cannot move immediately to the affirmation that God created the world, because it is only within the framework of our affirmation that God is Trinity that we can affirm that God created the world. Otherwise, that would be what Heidegger calls “onto-theology” – the projection of our own temporal reflections onto a notional eternity .
1. The Trinity is how God reveals himself. It is a limiting idea in that it forbids us to think other of God than how he reveals himself.
2. The presumption of a disjunction between who God is and how he reveals himself is something we impose on God (it is what Calvin calls a “bare and empty name” which “flits around in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.” [Institutes 1.13.2)].
3. It is not permitted to speak of God as “originating essence” or in any other similar way. This is to impose an essentially Unitarian construction on our understanding of God. It is contrary to divine self-revelation to say that in effect that God is “essentially” mondic but “energetically” or “economically” triune.
4. To say that God could (Voluntarist) or could not (Realist) be other than the Trinity is to impose inappropriate categories upon God, because while the alternatives of necessity and contingency are characteristic of the created order where characteristics are predicated of these things to which they pertain. To say that characteristics are predicated of God is inappropriate: God simply is who he says he is.
5. There is both continuity and discontinuity between God and the world. The world reflects the Trinitarian character of God, and yet God is entirely other in relation to the world. That God is Trinity is not derived from the world, and yet, since the world is created by the Triune God, it is to be expected that the world is Trinitarian in character.
6. To accord eternity or a-temporality to any aspect of the created order is to compromise the temporal character of the universe. Time does not stand over against the rest of the created order – it comes into being as occurrence. “The beginning in Gen 1:1 – also John 1:1 and Proverbs 8 – is originally not part of the created order but is rather the eternal Son in whom all things are created, and in whom all Wisdom (that is the Holy Spirit) is possessed.
7. God is Creator (with a capital “C” indicating creatio ex nihilo) but this is not an adequate description of God as God, since that would make God dependent on the world for who is is (since it is not possible to be a Creator without a creation). If being Creator is what makes God god then God cannot be god without creating, i.e. God has to create in order to be god, in other words, since God is none other than God, God has to create.
8. By contrast, to define God as Trinity means that God does not have to create in order to be god. Creation is not per se part of God’s definition as god, since God’s self-definition is on the basis of the inter-dependency of the Three Persons – there is no infinite regression of ontological dependency but only a closed ontological circle (i.e. with each of the Persons being eternally dependent on each of the other two – they are not dependent on any other entity or “originating essense” apart from themselves). As Triune, God is always god, regardless of whether he creates or not.
9. The fact that in both instances (i.e. with respect to God as Creator and God as Trinity) we have to use created language, albeit inadequately, to describe the reality of God does not reduce God to the created order. The reality of God, be it as Trinity or as Creator, cannot be reduced either to the numerical or formative modalities.
10. To say that because we can only speak of God in created terms that God is thereby reduced to created forms is a fallacious argument. That is to confuse our speech about God with God’s sovereign self-revelation. Because God reveals himself as Trinity in created terms does not mean that God’s freedom consists in our freedom to speak of God other than as Trinity – rather God’s sovereignty requires us to speak about God as Trinity, and not as any of our projections about God be it as “created essence” or in any other way. God certainly defines himself with respect to us as Creator – but if that were purely the case it would be impossible to know him. It is only through the Son that God can be known (this is true implicitly in the Old Testament and explicitly in the New Testament).
- A Framework for Life: Elements of a Working Christian Philosophy
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- Presuppositions (or “Ideas”) Foundational to any Philosophy
- The Centrality of the Heart
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- Biblical Reflection 1: The Father
- All of life redeemed – Christian philosophy for all of life
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