Change: The Beginning and Source

November 2, 2008 — 4 Comments

[This post is part of the Change series]

I suppose if we are going to discuss God in formal terms, I could just send you here and you could wade through a rather dense one page “definition” of God. However you want to look at it though, because of the nature of the assignment for which the paper was written, the statement is self rather pithy and requires 70 (that’s right) footnotes to adequately unpack, and even then it may not be highly understandable to those who have not formally (or informally) studied theology and are at least familiar with terms like “ontological Trinity” and “hypostatic union” and my personal favorite, “perichoresis.” Hopefully when we are done here your understanding will be opened to a fuller grasp of God which as we will see eventually, leads to a better understanding of one’s self.

In a rough adaptation of my own words (see footnote 70 of the aforementioned document), 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. Without this framework to make sense of reality, little else really makes sense. Without laboring heavily to prove that God in fact exists, I’ll just mention probably the most powerful and readily grasped argument in the absence of deep philosophical reflection. The best (and soundest) proof (in the real sense of proof) of God’s existence is the transcendental proof (transcendent meaning to be beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience). While it may not necessarily persuade the toughest atheists (who just like everyone else are ultimately persuaded by the convicting work of the Spirit of God) a proof does not necessarily have to persuade everyone in order to be correct.

At any rate, the transcendental proof for God is simply put, 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 Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David 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 to worship the persons of Godhead accordingly.

The transcendental proof for God is really stating that God is the ultimate reality that transcends and makes meaning of our ordinary experiences in life. The fact that every time you stub your toe it never fails to hurt is one of the many ways to demonstrate your faith in the uniformity of nature, and the fact that you assume the sun will come up tomorrow just like it did today further illustrates that no one functionally believes that the universe is crap shoot. Science would not be possible in a purely naturalistic view of the universe for in that philosophical system there could be no underlying reality for the very fact that such a thing is excluded when reality is limited to what one can touch, taste, see, hear, or smell (which is the essence of naturalism). The fact that people presuppose some kind of natural laws governing reality flies in the face of also claiming that reality is restricted to what can be discovered and validated by sense experience, which would include scientific study mind you, something only plausible if there is an underlying reality creating an uniformity in the natural world and thereby making experiments repeatable and the scientific method a possible way of gaining knowledge.

Unfortunately in this kind of system, whether it is naturalism or materialism, several other things are excluded as well. The laws of logic cannot be touched, tasted, seen, heard, or smelled, and therefore in a naturalistic worldview they don’t properly exist. Neither does love, hate, good, or evil. Unpleasant experiences are certainly felt, but one does not properly call good things “good” or evil things “evil” for that kind of determination is not arrived at through the 5 sense. Neither are moral judgments, and so for that matter, if naturalism is championed, nothing is right or wrong, things are just preferred. But without any underlying reality to unify nature there is no reason to assume that what gives unexplainable pleasure one day will continue to do so the next. One just has to keep trying and hope that things will continue in the future as they have in the past. There is no certainty.

The point on which the transcendental proof of God turns is that is explains reality better than the other options. Not only does it explain reality better but it shows that explanation is impossible within the other systems of thought. It’s not just that they cannot explain reality as well, it’s that they cannot properly account for the nature of reality at all. Only as they borrow Truth from God as revealed in His Word, or as they assume things that could only be true in light of God’s existence, are they able to give an account for reality. But that’s borrowing from the opponent’s worldview in order to destroy it. It’s sitting in your heavenly Father’s lap in order to get a better shot at slapping His face.

Ouch.

All of that may not have been entirely necessary, but God’s existence must be demonstrated as the only possible option for explaining reality before we can really talk about God. We could go further with the above lines of reasoning and defense of the Christian worldview, but it is probably more appropriate at this point to examine just who God is as revealed to us.

{Some of the following may veer towards idealism (in the Edwardsian sense not strictly the Berkeleyan sense), if none of this disclaimer carries meaning for you, don’t sweat it too much, just look up George Berkeley in a philosophy textbook if you have objections or just can’t follow things}

Also, maybe at this point you might want to take a short break, make a snack, come back,and take a few deep breaths. Most of the following discussion is more or less an annotated reflection on a book entitled The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards by William Danaher Jr. Most everything either comes from Edwards or Danaher, and I am just assuming the role of simplifier and arranger of their thoughts. Page numbers are noted where thoughts come through undiluted.

Our first underlying premise in this whole stream of thought is that our mind is made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27), and second that God the Father is a being of pure mind and spirit whose greatness consists not in His size, but in His perfect comprehension of all things and the extendedness of His operation and power equally to all places (pg.31). (At this point you may want to see my delineation of God the Father found here)

So, because of the nature of God the Father, necessarily God exists in Trinity. The best way I have found to understand this borrows from Edwards psychological analogy, which differs significantly with Augustine’s psychological model as presented in De Trinitatae and with which most seminarians will be familiar. In my paraphrase it goes something like this:

If you could have a perfect remembrance of all that had crossed your mind for any particular length of time, say for the last hour or so, and in that remembrance could remember all the series of thoughts and emotions perfectly with respect to their order, their individual length and their intensity; you really would be for all intents and purposes over again what you had been that last hour. By having a perfect reflexive idea of your very self over again while still experiencing your current thoughts and emotions you would in a certain sense be twice at once; the perfect idea you have of yourself would be yourself all over again. You would have begotten something of your very nature and person that would be distinct yet intimately related and dependent on you for its nature and possibility of personhood.

This should not be too hard to conceive of as we are all aware of our own internal stream of consciousness, the sort of genius that is with us accompanying us wherever we go, enabling us to continually carry on conversations with ourselves through reflecting and interacting with our own ideas arising from our minds.

Going back to our premises though considering our mind and God’s, we can see that when God the Father engages in this reflexive act, the idea begotten is truly God just as much as the Father is God. Indeed, in the beginning was the Word (or Logos, which is another way of speaking of thoughts) and the Word was with God (the Father) and the Word was God. God the Father, in having a perfect idea of Himself begets not only the perfect corresponding idea of Himself (who is the Son) but also a perfect act that loves the idea generated (who is the Spirit) and proceeds forth from Him. The Son is the deity begotten by God the Father having a perfect idea of Himself and the Spirit is the deity proceeding from God the Father in His infinite love and delight in Himself (Danaher, pg. 19).

There is much, much more that could be said unpacking some of the above thoughts, but hopefully that is a general start of giving you a glimpse of the mind of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and is one God.

From this conception of God flows the idea that His mere thoughts brought the world into existence (and could thus be properly spoken of as being accomplished by the Son and through the Spirit in the NT) and therefore all creation is a product of the mind of God (pg. 25). Everything that God does flows Father—> Son—> Spirit. Conception in the mind of the Father necessarily brings to being things by the Son and through the Spirit. Created existence then is the self communication of God, and because God’s self-communication is expressed in material as well as mental existence, all of us have vestiges of the Trinity, or more broadly, we bear the image of God as Trinity (pg.26).

As God exists relationally in Trinity, His personhood upholds all relations in the nature of things and therefore all reality reflects the nexus of relations in God’s self-consciousness (pg.31). Therefore in a real sense, all metaphysical (ontological) relations, values, laws of nature, or aesthetic categories that operate in creation and all human capacities, dispositions, and virtues stem from this conception of the unified personhood of God subsisting as Trinity and manifesting itself in creation (pg.32, Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 18 pg. 191-92).

Therefore, God’s triune personhood is the sum and source of all existence (pg.32). This is a start, but as you might can see, this is also just the beginning, as several questions are still left unanswered and there are probably some objections that could be offered to what has been said so far. However, as we see everything starting in the mind of God, we are able to understand somewhat dimly the mystery of the Trinity and from that can begin to understand both man and the end to which man was created. Once knowing that, we can coherently begin to address the problems that arise when this relationship to God is skewed and how one can begin to change into more of what God intends us to be. As far as going from here, the implications of the above discussion of God’s personhood will be applied to man and specifically the nature of conversion which for man is the beginning of any type of change process. Hopefully this has not been too weighty for an introduction, more could be said and revisions will probably be made as needed, comment where clarity seems wanting.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to Change: The Beginning and Source

  1. I have a friend who’s a pretty hard-boiled hedonist in practice, and mocks my beliefs regularly. Awhile back, he fell off a motorcycle and scraped his arm pretty bad, and after a while, the scabs started healing. Trying to get him to think out of the box, once, when the new skin was obviously healing just fine, I asked him, “did you do that?”

    “What?” he replied.

    “What do you think is inside you, that fixes those scabs and shows all that new skin?”

    “I dunno, life, I guess.”

    “Lots of little instructions have to be followed. How do you think all that knowledge got into it?”

    He just said, “oh, boy, you’re gonna say God.” Regularity, but even better, detailed knowledge, embedded in how skin heals, needs a Knower to explain it. A program implies a Programmer, doesn’t it?

    Now, to be fair, what about degradation? The counter-argument is “oh, how about that great program called dementia? What kind of programmer programmed that?”

    My first reaction might be to talk about the failure of a program, but I could use some buttressing of argument about this. Thanks.

    • I think either way you’ve got an argument put to your friend that asks how information was injected into a closed system. Have you read/heard of John Lennox? He makes a pretty compelling apologetic argument from the existence of information.

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