Last week I tried to suggest that without a strong sense of the unity between Father, Son and Spirit, the logic Christian good news begins to unravel. I argued that it was precisely a sense of this unity that ‘Nicene theology’ sought to protect using the technical term homoousios.
The importance of this unity is dramatically evident at the cross. You see, if Jesus wasn’t really one with the Father — if he wasn’t included in the unique identity of the God who’d revealed himself to Israel — then how can we escape the charge that the death of Jesus in our place was a horrendous perversion of justice (a case of an angry Father taking his wrath out on an innocent third party)?
But our emphasis on the unity of the persons in the Godhead ought not to obscure their ‘threeness’. Too much unity — or, rather, the wrong kind of unity — can be a very bad thing. It can eclipse the particularity of the Father, Son and Spirit. And if it does that, then I think the logic of the gospel also unravels.
It unravels because if we ditch the idea that God is eternally three persons in loving, other-person-centred relationships with one another, then we end up struggling to see why God didn’t have to create and save us. That is, if God was purely singular — rather than three-in-one — then he didn’t have anyone to love until he’d created us. Worse, he’s at risk of losing someone to love unless he saves at least some of us from our sin. The hands of this God would seem to be tied.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, things get really topsy-turvy when we try to follow this through into our thinking about who God is. For if God is love but is not eternally three persons in relationship, then he couldn’t actually be himself without us to relate to. He couldn’t show love or experience relationships. Instead of being free to create and then save us, he would be forced to. In an ultimate reversal, instead of us being dependent on him for everything that makes life worth living, this God would be dependent on us!
But the good news is that God’s hands aren’t tied. The God we meet in the Old Testament — and get to know intimately in the story of Jesus — doesn’t need us to be himself. He is love because Father, Son and Spirit are eternally bound together in relationships of mutual love (expressed in distinct and particular ways — as we glimpse in the different roles they each play in the one work of creation and salvation).
Most gloriously of all, God’s majestic and lovingly executed work in creating everything and rescuing human beings (and the world along with us) is not something he’s forced into. It’s all grace. Free and full of delight. It is God the Father’s pleasure to create and save us through his dearly-loved Son and in the power of his Holy Spirit…