Hidden in plain view, the unsearchable God.

I have been asked to “explain” the doctrine of the Trinity by some of my African brothers. Considering that this doctrine is one of the hottest potatoes in the history of Christian dogmatics, only a fool would be pretending to be able to “explain” what is in essence inexplicable, but not inexpressible. There are a few considerations to speak out on before even attempting to give expression to the fathomless nature of God. Even using the word “nature” leads us astray. Natural things have a limited nature. God is not natural at all. Neither is the spiritual merely an aspect of the natural. In biblical language Spirit and Nature, or Spirit and Flesh, are at enmity.

The first signal advocating extreme care is nascent in our human language and it’s limitations. We do not yet speak with tongues of angels, even the speaking in tongues is purely human language albeit in a non grammatical and non syntactical way. And human language only can express what humanity understands. The very vocabulary we use is of the same dust as we are ourselves and as soon as we utter things about that which does not belong to the natural we merely exhale more dust. Virtually all attempts of “Explaining God” begin with a firm faith in human rational thinking. “What I cannot reasonably conceive cannot be reasonable truth”. But who says that human reason by necessity is valid?

If only that is true which man can conceive of and express in its totality then man is the measure of all truth and no longer subject to the truth but truth is an object of man’s own making. Can mankind be trusted to such a level?

Can mankind truly be reckoned to have that ability? Is anyone intellectually able to comprehend His own maker? Can the clay pot claim to be the Potter’s master and instructor? I will let various Bible passages answer the question.

The first passage comes from 2 Corinthians and is vital in describing the impossibility of speaking of eternal and heavenly things even though they can be experienced. “And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” 2 Cor 12:3-4 In other words, not only are some things outside of the natural domain, they are also outside the limits of language, and on top of that they are expressly forbidden to speak of. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein coined the expression “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.“. Human limitation sets a border between what can be known and what can be spoken of. God can be known, but only in the most vague sense spoken of. It is not true that only those things exist of which we can speak. An oddity of biblical language is that it nowhere and never explains God but takes Him for granted and the language of the bible acts as a veil between mankind and God, yet with frequent liftings of a corner of that veil to show glimpses of truth, but never the whole. The Bible speaks of this double image of God. The God who reveals Himself, who is immanent, ever present, who names his Son “Immanuel, God with us”, and the God “far off and immensely unknowable”. To Isaiah YHWH said this: “‘Truly God is with you; he has no peer; there is no other God!’” Yes, you are a God who keeps hidden, O God of Israel, deliverer!
They will all be ashamed and embarrassed; those who fashion idols will all be humiliated.

The second major reading is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy: “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” 1 Tim 6:13-16

Paul begins by declaring the fact that mankind is created and given the life it has by God. The origin is not the same as the offspring, the inexpressibly great God has made man and given him all the life he has. That creates an image of God, but it is not the same as God. A comparison starting with man going backwards to God cannot give a clear view of God for two major reasons. First because we have no perfect man to start from. All the individuals of mankind that we know are fallen men and women. From this residue of humanity no God can be reconstructed. Secondly because this God dwells in, inhabits and is shrouded by, unapproachable light. Only if we were allowed to break through into that light would a clear vision be accessible. That reminds you of the phrase used repeatedly in the Scriptures: “no one can see God and live”. What cannot be comprehended by man cannot be given an exhaustive and infallible description either. Again we may know God but have no exhaustive definitions of God. All theology, all words about God, are subject to being mere shadows of the real things.

Man is mortal and only God is immortal. The mortality of man is also the mortality of man’s language about God. God is infinite, language may use the word “infinite” but can never be infinite in itself. (Note this: languages were given in order to prevent a greater sin..) Every word will pass away except the eternal words of the Eternal Word. Every author dreams of immortality for his own words, but knows deep within that immortality is not a characteristic of finity. We may have a life long longing for eternity but the end of all words is a but a dying echo. We exhale our last words and silence is the aftermath.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” Matthew 24:34-36

I have twice already said that we may know God but not express God in any final way. This understanding stems from two adjacent teachings of scripture. First the unreliability of man’s own thought. Manifested in such sayings as these: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;”
And in the response of Jesus to Simon Peter when he had rightly identified who the Son of man truly was.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Note: the identity of the Son of God is not something flesh and blood, that is nothing of that which is in unassisted human nature, can rationally or any other way be worked out by man himself, it is only by revelation that we know anything at all about God. No amount of rational thought can arrive at that which God Himself reveals to us. Read about it in Galatians 1:11-12 “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” And then he adds the most astonishing fact of all. A fact for which there is no rational reason at all. “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” Gal 1:15-16 God takes on the form of man in order to “inform Himself” in mankind. Get your head around that, if you can!

In his letter to the Corinthians he wrote a lengthy explanation of why no access is given to the mystery of Godliness by human wisdom or rational thought. Again God will either disclose Himself to us or we may never know Him.

 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Spiritual things cannot be worked out by natural means. God is Spirit and the worship of Him is not based on natural affinity or human reason at all. There is a chasm between human reason and spiritual truth which cannot be bridged by anything that man may do of his own accord. That is where every doctrine of the tri-une God, or the doctrine of the Trinity miserably comes up short. Although it may give lip-service to the shortcomings of human reason, within a few paragraphs it declares things that only can hint at but never fully explain what it points to. A similar reasoning is found in Colossians 3:16 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days— these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!” 

We are prone to, and like to give substance to shadows and call them Light!

The plot thickens even further when you read what Paul declares to Timothy: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” 1 Tim 3:16. Speaking of the Son of God and the Son of Man the cutting edge of God is the matter of God becoming flesh, but never limiting God by the flesh. It aligns with another statement made by Paul to Timothy in ch 2:3f “This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” Unless this historical event in historical time had actually occurred we would not know God at all. Christ Jesus is the “user friendly interface” between the invisible and eternal God and mankind. There is no other.

But in that sentence there is a catch. The catch phrase is “One God”. It is when we come down to the meaning of “One God” that differences of opinion become cast in concrete. It is not made any easier by the absolute understanding that there is only one God. And again we are told: “ But when the kindness and love of God our Savior (The very name Yehoshua/Jesus means The God who saves) appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. “ Titus 3:5f but then again: “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours . Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. And hear what Paul shared with the leaders of the Church at Ephesos: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. Who bought the Church with his own blood? God did, Christ Jesus did.

The writer to the Hebrews put it still more puzzling: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Here we are faced with three distinct entities of divine standing. The God who sent His son to give His blood and the mediator of that act being the Eternal Spirit. If you see a three in one here, then you are not alone. God bought the church by the Blood of Christ, a work completed by the Spirit of God. The three are in collusion about the work of redemption. God is the designer of the work, Christ is the means for it and the Spirit brings it home to the eternal realm.

There can be no doubt at all about the idea of monotheism, the faith in One God. Nobody in either Covenant period would have questioned that statement. This is where things get difficult. In Hebrew there are two words for “One”. One is indicative of uniqueness. The other is itself admitting plurality in unity.
“This is what the Lord, Israel’s king, says, their Protector, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the first and I am the last, there is no God but me. Who is like me? Let him make his claim! Let him announce it and explain it to me—since I established an ancient people— let them announce future events.” Isaiah 44: 5-7 It would seem obvious that this is the uniqueness of God and so lend credit to those who claim that God is not only Unique but also in another sense “Only one of the kind.” And that would maybe hold water for a second until you read the Book of Revelation Chapter 1. In verse 8 the Alpha and Omega are said to be attributed to God. But a little bit further on we are given to know this:  When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!” Now we ask: how many can there be who can be both the first and the last? Two possibilities are open to me. Either both the invisible Father and his visualized Son are two entities both being first and the last, or there are more entities in God than just one. It is compounded by the words of Jesus saying “I and the Father are One.”

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.” The Jewish leaders picked up rocks again to stone him to death.” John 10:29-30

There cannot be a seconds doubt as to what Jesus meant when he identified himself as being one with the Father. We would maybe use the proverb, “as the Father, so the Son”. Because to our understanding Father and Son are of the same kind. If one of them is God, so is the Other! My daughters are no less human than I am. We are generically the same sort of being. And should anyone doubt that Jesus meant to say of himself that he was as much God as the Father is God, then read John chapter 8.
“Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God.’ Yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and I obey his teaching. Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus was hidden from them and went out from the temple area.

To use the concept of I am to the scribes and pharisees and elders of Israel was the absolute red cloth to their bullish natures. Their theological sensibilities forbade them ever using the YHWH first revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3 and explained by God to Moses in Exodus 6:2f ”  God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘the Lord’ I was not known to them.” They had long since exchanged the YHWH for the “HaShem”, i e The Name. In fear of misusing the Holy YHWH they substituted The Name for the “I am”. The reaction that they showed when Jesus claimed to be the I AM even before Abraham was born led to them picking up stones to kill. Calling himself by that sacred title was the utmost blasphemy. Unless of course it was the truth! And to Pilate Christ had declared that his mission was to bring the truth. One of those truths was “He who has seen me, has seen the father.” Again a claim to identity between the Son and the father without for one moment claiming that the Son was no more than the Father or the Father anything but the Son. Else it was the Father who died on the cross!

“Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?

John 14:8-10

The mock trial is reported in Matthew 26:63f “ But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy!” Take note also of what happened when Stephen testified before the Sanhedrin. “When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent.” Acts 7:54f 

We are repeatedly told that no one can see God and live. But the paradox is there again and a again, people saw someone whom they identified as God and lived to tell. A particular case in point is the prophet Isaiah who was admitted to the very throne room of God where he both saw and was seen. (Isaiah 6) What he saw is explained in John ch 12:37f: “Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, so that the word of the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled. He said, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said,He has blinded their eye and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart,and turn to me, and I would heal them.”

 Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him! Read Isaiah ch 6 And you will easily see the connection made by John between the two events. What Isaiah saw in advance was the Christ and His glory.

Many further witnesses to the divine nature of the Son of God in the Son of man could be adduced. How come that the evil spirits and demons always immediately recognized the Son och the God most High, unless He truly was that? Luke 8:27f “When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before him, and shouted with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I beg you, do not torment me!

Again you might ask whom it was that the Satan tested in the wilderness. The text is unambiguous. Matthew 4:3f “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” And a little later: “ Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” Who is Satan testing? And again further on: “ Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.” What Satan knows many unitarians do not know. To their eternal sorrow.

The term Trinity does not exist in the Bible.
The only reason why that terminology has become almost unavoidable is because it is a convenient shortform for five different statements. And here is the catch. Humanity is of the firm conviction that what we name also is what we call it. If we can name it we can claim to have full knowledge of it. Nowhere is our arrogance more visible. It brings to mind the fact that before Adam fell he had been given the task of naming all the animals. Gen 2:19-20 “The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.” The intellectual ability to name things accurately has been lost along with many other things. But it still lingers in our minds as a residue of Eden that what we call things they must be. The word Trinity is a case in point. What is meant by it is this:

There is only one God
There is one known as the Father who is God
There is one known as the Son who is God
There is one known as the Holy Spirit who is God
There are three who are always themselves but together are one God

Each of these statements can be given ample biblical foundations. and when we speak of God we must avoid falling into the trap of thinking that our word Trinity is a fixed reality. It is only a word symbol and as such it can only approximate to truth but never exhaust it. We may accept the fact indicated in the first paragraph. We noted that human language cannot claim exhaustive knowledge of anything outside our natural environment. We are not ripe enough to understand eternal things. But we have some vision of it. Paul speaks of us seeing things as through a glass darkly. We are not entirely ignorant of it but do not know enough to be sure of the things behind the symbols that we see with our human eyes. Things are hidden in plain sight as it were. C S Lewis hints at the possible reality when in his book “The Last Battle” he calls people to come in through the last doorway from this world and find that whereas in our world all things get smaller the further in we go, in the eternal world space becomes larger the further in we come.

Those who deny that those five statements are true must hold another opinion. They will not allow that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are different and personal entities but claim to know that those three are mere manifestations of the one indivisible God. But if so the Bible lies us in the teeth when the Son prays to the Father, and when the Father speaks in public to His Son then that is mere ventriloqiusm. This fixation on the word “One” is misleading because quite obviously “One” can be inclusive of more than one, as in “and they shall become one flesh” where two distinct beings are seen as one with no confusion as to what oneness means, they retain their individuality but are to be considered as one “flesh” or “form.” The hebrew “Echad” has a root meaning “to unify or bring together” and is by definition descriptive of things that are brought together under one term. Add to it the fact that Elohim which is a plural form, is used of God, even when He says “let us make man in our image.” When we use the word one in that sense we know instinctively that One people is an awful lot of individuals, but all of one kind, as grapes are a bunch of many grapes and so on. Our use of One is then given our meaning. We can hardly force God to comply with our language. Especially not since the tower of Babel debacle.

How is God One?

In one sense God is not ONE at all. In the sequence of numbers One is distinct from Two. If God is one in that limited sense then there is something outside God where God is not. (That is the fallacy of dualism) But there is none other than God in whom be breathe and live and have our being. We speak of His Omnipresence. There is no place outside of God where a Two can be said to exist. There are no other gods at all, except in the fallacious minds of men who refuse the God who has revealed Himself in favor of homemade idols, the greatest of them being the self. Listen to Isaiah ch 40:12-14
“Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of his hand or carefully measured the sky,
or carefully weighed the soil of the earth or weighed the mountains in a balance,
or the hills on scales?
Who comprehends the mind of the Lord or gives him instruction as his counselor?
From whom does he receive directions? Who teaches him the correct way to do things,
or imparts knowledge to him, or instructs him in skillful design?

Indeed! Who dares to prescribe for God what he must be like? Is that not the same as a breach of the first commandment of the Mosaic law? When we create our description of God in our language we run the risk of worshipping our understanding rather that the God who is there. ““You shall have no other gods before me.”

Person and personality
In the literature about the Trinity mention is often made of what we call personality. Even to the point of saying that the trinity speaks of three persons in unity. Again the “person” concept is a tricky one. God has certainly an aspect of personality, but that is only one attribute of many. The original meaning of “persona” is “That through which someone sounds or presents himself to an audience“. “Per” is Greek for through and “Sona” comes from the Greek for sound. The actors in Greek and Roman dramas changed personalities on stage by holding a different mask in front of their actor’s face for each role. Applied to God that would be entire misleading. God does not act out the different roles. He does not pretend to be Father in one moment and Son in the next. God in all three senses is unchanging and unshifting and certainly never uses deceptions when He speaks or acts towards creation. Our understanding of God grows, but not because God “emerges” but because we are “slow and foolish of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”

A further complication arises from our own difficulty to separate our idea of what constitutes a person from having a specific body and form. Three bodies in one are very hard to conceive of. But all the similar ideas that exist in idolatrous worldviews do just that. But the biblical concept says nothing about three bodies. Person does not equal physical form. We are assured by Paul that the true image of the incarnation is this:

“I am writing these instructions to you  in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation:

He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles , believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
” 1 Tim 3:14-16

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.  For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” Hebr 2:17-18

The essential key to the understanding of the Tri-une God is the teaching on Incarnation.
“You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.
 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross!
” Phil 2:5-8

Job 42:2-6
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted;
you asked, ‘Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge?’ But I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Pay attention, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you will answer me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes!”

Whatever we do in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we do in the full knowledge that those three are indivisible, operate in total agreement and in complete love. We will not separate what God has joined together. That is also one of the reasons why those who claim the baptismal formula to be in the name of Jesus only err grievously. Jesus and the Father and the Spirit never do anything at all without the other two. Just as we in our language speak of “my wheels” and mean the whole car, “Jesus” covers the entire Godhead, and there is never any separation between them. To be baptized in the name of Jesus is again a short form of being “baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and The holy Spirit” as Christ taught before his Ascension. Matthew 28:19-20

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice, set things right, be encouraged, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Teddy Donobauer Doncaster 5th of December 2023

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