[This post is part of How The Trinity Changes Everything series]
Yesterday I gave you the first part of a detailed description of God’s attributes. Today, here’s the second half:
God in action is good, holy, just, true, wise, love, merciful, personal, and one. The divine nature in no way constitutes a fourth member, but rather is what all three person of the Godhead share as equals in regards to their absolute divinity and what binds the Trinity into the mystery of God three in one, Father, Spirit, and Son. As we come to understand the God we worship, we ultimately are freed and empowered to become more human and therefore more ourselves.
As always, here’s some further explanation of the rather dense statement above. Because in for much of this there is more detailed explanation, rather than bullet points, I put in headings instead.
God is good (in nature and action) not in the sense that He perfectly fulfills moral duties, but in the sense that He possess all the moral virtues essentially and to the maximal degree (Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 534.) Another concise way of understanding this is that God is the final standard of all that is excellent, upright, virtuous, worthy and admirable (J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God, 21) The attributes that follow are what are generally considered the communicable attributes (those we as believers can to some extent exemplify) while what has preceded have been entirely incommunicable, although for my part, I have been working on becoming more omnipresent. So far it has been a failure.
Of all attributes of God, this one is the most repeated (J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God, 20). This is exemplified by the Trisagion (Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty) found explicitly in Isa 6:3; Hab 1:13; Rev. 4:8. As God is entirely holy, so we too as believers are to called to be holy in all that we do (Lve 19:2; 2 Cor 7:1; Heb 2:11, 12:14; 1 Pet 1:15-16)
This includes both God’s righteousness ( Rev 15:3-4; Dt 32:4) in all that He does as well as His wrath when appropriate (Ex 32:9-10; Ro1:18;Rev 6:16;19:15).
Rooted in Isa 45:18-19; John 17:17; and also John 18:37 where Jesus explicitly declares to Pilate that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth, not a truth, but the absolute truth that is God and that He Himself would be intimately acquainted with as the second person of the Trinity to sent to earth to accomplish the Father’s will.
In the OT God is said to “wise in heart” (Job 9:4; Ps 104:24) and in the NT, He is the “only wise God” (Ro 16:27). Christ is seen as the “wisdom of God” (! Co 1:24, 30; 4:10) (see J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God, 19,20)
There seems to be a current tendency to overplay the God’s love as His primary attribute (right up there with niceness and generosity) which should be avoided, but not at the expense of forgetting its truth entirely. See especially Psalm 107 and 136, as well as 1 John 4:16 which clarifies God’s love as His eternal self-givingness to others (see J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God 21,22). A very helpful model of explaining God’s love can be found in D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Revised (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000). Here he outlines 5 levels of divine love in Scriptures: 1) Intra-trinitarian love (John 3:35; 14:31, 17:24) 2) Providential love for creation (Gen 1:31) 3) Salvific love for the fallen world (John 3:16) 4) Particular selecting love for the elect, Israel, church (Gal 2:20, Eph 1:3-11, Ro 9:6-24) 5) Conditional love directed to God’s own people (John 14:23-24; 15:1-10; Jude 21)
Mercy and grace can be coupled together to denote the character of God’s actions towards those in need and/or deserving of punishment (see J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God 22). See Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; Mt 9:27; 2Co. 1:3; Heb 4:16). My theology professor in undergraduate (Charles F. Sheide) would always say that grace was more than unmerited favor, but was rather favor shown where wrath was deserved. I have yet to find a much better way to put it myself when thinking of the grace that God so mercifully shows us daily.
This should logically follow from the explication of the personhood of the members of the Godhead, but just in case it did not, I would affirm that throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself as profoundly personal and clearly relates to man as Person to person (see J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes, Names and Attributes of God 8).
This may be a bit of an aside, but as noted above, if wills adhere in persons, there is a certain sense in which each member of the Godhead has His own will. However, due to the oneness of the divine nature and the unity of the Trinity, all that the Triune God does is in the fullness and harmony of the divine attributes (see J. Scott Horrell, ST102 Class Notes,Names and Attributes of God 8). Serious theological error can be avoided by noting that if “will” means “desire” then there can only be one in the Godhead, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit clearly desire the same things; but if “will” is used to denote “exercise of active power” or “faculty of volition” it would seem each member of the Trinity has His own, but uses it in complete unity and harmony with other members of the Godhead (DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 149-50.)
Divine Nature Not a Fourth Member
As noted in the above definitions of “nature” and “person,” their meaning excludes both the possibility of de-personed natures and de-natured persons (see DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 142) In other words, a nature must be exemplified through a person; that is, it determines what kind of person it is in question, and the divine nature does just that through the three members of the Trinity. From my perspective, it seems rather illogical to suppose that the nature of the Trinity could somehow constitute a fourth person, but nevertheless, it was felt necessary to at least clarify the impossibility of such a notion.
Again as final note, the nature of God as explained above is exemplified by only those who are divine, and it is only exemplified by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. No one else in recorded history can hold a candle to the majesty and holiness of God, much less manifest the incommunicable attributes attest to in Scripture and conceived of by men in following the premises of perfect being theology. The Trinity is absolutely divine, and there is absolutely no other than can boast such a claim.
Empowered to Become More Human
It is my personal conviction that only as we truly understood God as Trinity are we able to make sense of first ourselves and then our relation to both those around us and our world in general. With this framework to make sense of reality, little else really makes sense. While the last footnote may not be the best spot to place a proof for God, it seems in accord with the closing thought. The best (and soundest) proof (in the real sense of proof) of God existence is the transcendental proof. While it may not necessarily persuade the toughest atheists (which is who the Holy Spirit is for anyway) a proof does not necessarily have to persuade everyone to be correct. At any rate, the transcendental proof for God is that you cannot prove anything without Him. Everything that we currently use to make sense of our universe (notions of causality, reliability of natural laws), ultimately rests in the nature of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Without first presupposing that God both exists, and is Who He claims to be in the Bible, one cannot prove anything, nor rest their hat on anything at all with any level of certainty. Because of this, nothing else ultimately makes sense in life apart from the Trinity as revealed to us. One could chose to reject God, but in a very real sense, one must still presuppose some things to be true that could only be accepted if the God of the Bible exists. It makes much more sense to not only acknowledge the existence of God as Trinity, but to pattern one’s life around it and to both cling to the Truth, and worship the persons of Godhead accordingly.