|Posted by bonesiii on June 18, 2012 at 4:10 PM|
It's been said that pastors and other Christians have tried in countless ways to come up with analogies to explain the confusing nature of the Trinity depicted in the Bible. What has always struck me about these attempts, such as the famous apple analogy, is that they are arbitrary rather than focused on what the Scriptures actually teach.
Something that got me thinking along these lines was an atheist claim that science could not consider the works of God because God has no limits (they claimed), and thus could do anything (I know, it doesn't sound like an argument against God doing anything does it?), so the atheists basically say science has no choice but to concoct an alternate explanation of origins that relies purely on the physics of this world, not God, even if that explanation is false.
Beyond the obvious flaws with this fallacious reasoning, it made me wonder, does the Bible actually portray God as having no limits whatsoever?
In fact I've found many verses that do describe basic limits; God can't lie and God can't sin, for example.
But what most struck me is that Jesus once said something about himself that seemed to be a limit that contradicted what I had always been taught. He said that nobody knows when he will return in the second coming, not even the Son (the person of the Trinity that Jesus is), but only the Father in heaven.
Various other verses have described the Father and Son. One common trait between them seems to be that they are always described as being in specific locations, rather than being all-present.
Yet, descriptions of the Spirit throughout the Bible strongly imply or at times directly state that He can be in more than one place at once, especially the teaching that when we accept Jesus, God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts.
This also got me thinking, what are the Big Three descriptions of God that we have all been taught, which are backed up by Scripture?
God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), and omniscient (all-knowing).
And suddenly it clicked. The whole Bible appears to me to be consistent about this. Each of the persons of the Trinity manifests one of these “omnis”, and appears to lack the rest, unless one of the other traits is given from one of the other Persons.
Jesus, the Son, or the Angel of the Lord in his pre-incarnation form, is all-powerful. John calls him the Word, and reveals that it was through this person of the Trinity that everything was created. It was also he who worked miracles. He would describe knowledge being given to him by the Father, but he also described power going out from him, apparently directly.
The Spirit is all-present. It's interesting to note that the prophets often described their visions as being taken up in the Spirit. It seems that the Spirit is always everywhere, seeing all. The type of work the Spirit does is usually psychological or spiritual, not in terms of direct miracles, implying that this Person of the Trinity's natural abilities are limited.
And as said above, Jesus has apparently defined the Father as all-knowing.
I like to describe them this way, since we know that God himself, as a whole, is beyond time. The Father is the Person who is outside of time, who sees the past, present, and future as one, and who cannot change. He is unlimited in time, but limited in space and power.
The Spirit is unlimited in space (direction or location; I'm not referring to “outer space” here although he is there too), usually invisible in this life, but can manifest in a fiery appearance anywhere. The Spirit is limited both in power and in time.
And the Son is unlimited in power, but limited in time (he travels through time like a human, at least once he created time) and in space (he is only in one place at a time, at least normally).
Now, I have not yet found any verse that would imply that the Spirit in this particular present cannot see the future; in fact the prophets often see visions of the future from the Spirit. But this does not remove the possibility that this knowledge is from the Father being given to the Spirit. One way of putting it is that the all-present, and all-seeing Spirit in the future is feeding what he sees to the Father who is outside of time, and the Father can then feed this vision from the future of the Spirit to the Spirit in the past. The key here is that they are NOT three separate beings, but one being.
What is still difficult for me is to figure out exactly what is the correct way to describe the relationships between each of the Persons and God as a whole, as well as the relationships between the different Persons themselves.
Is it “parts” of a single being, God? Is it ways the single God manifests? Are there actually three minds in a single being?
I'm not sure about these thing, but the best word I've come up with to describe the relationship as I understand it is that they are three natures or facets of one God. One single being can “look out” at the created beings through three different facets, and each of these facets has a different defining attribute, yet it is the same being in all three cases. When you pray to the Spirit, you are looking a fully living being, not an inanimate puppet of a distant living being, but you are still looking into the one God who also includes the Son and the Father. And the same can be said of the other Persons.
This also explains why in Genesis one the plural name Elohim is given for the one being, and he refers to himself plurally, such as “Let us create...” In order to create a universe that is very good, all three Persons of God must be involved.
Based on John 1, we know that the power of creating came from the Word or the Son, and Genesis confirms this by revealing that something most comparable to speaking was the method he used. He created a vast universe, so this power would need to be channeled through the all-present nature (the Spirit). And in order to avoid mistakes, he had to constantly rely on the all-knowledge of the beyond-time nature, the Father, since Jesus himself confirmed he does not in and of himself know everything about the future.
Now why would God make it confusing like this?
I think the answer to that is that God is not a finite being like us; he is infinite. If he wants, he can communicate to us through any number of different facets emphasizing however many natures of himself he wants. He has an infinite range of them. And in Revelation in fact the Spirit is described as sevenfold at one point, probably referring to the Spirit being in seven main places at once; the seven churches the book begins with. But the three most important natures of God are the three big omnis, and thus he chooses to focus on these. This is easier for our finite minds to grasp than infinite facets, and yet gives a strong clue that he is not like finite beings.
Interestingly this also might help answer why God is a “He”. Jesus and the Father are both referred to as He, and yet the Spirit does not seem to be, at least that I have found. I've often thought it strange that the Spirit is often implied to be more of an It, though it seems correct to call the Spirit a He.
Basically the Spirit is the only one of the three facets that is everywhere at once, including beyond time, if my theory is correct. Although I should clarify that even in my theory, there is no clear edge to the Persons, and all three could be thought of as “ways of looking at God”, so in a sense, each possesses in Himself all three major attributes. My theory is only saying that God chooses to emphasize the three attributes in separate Persons, not that God is himself stuck in any kind of divided nature.
In other words I think all three are always fully connected. While the Father might withhold certain information the Son doesn't need to know, the Son always has access to the Father. This might be debatable during the three days he was in the grave, because of what Jesus said about forsaking him on the cross. But at all other times, they are always connected.
Anyways, since the Spirit is, under my theory, the aspect of God that is everywhere, he is the most “beyond gender”. Both the Son and the Father seem to have manifestations that resemble bodies. And since we humans were designed with gender, and to have trouble related to a genderless being, he picked male. For one to be one gender while the other was another gender would be awkward to us and imply they were different beings, any gender descriptions of God had to be the same.
If he picked female, the problem is that in the original created order, the man was established as the head of the household; there had to be one to make final decisions though the Bible is clear that both spouses are equal. They simply have different jobs. Well, God and we humans are not equal to each other, so that part does not fit. But, God is clearly in the authority position over us, thus the gender male made more sense.
Could God appear in female form if he wished? Certainly. But if neither gender is superior or inferior, then there is nothing wrong with simply picking one anyways. And he picked male.
It's important to keep in mind that the authority role was never meant to be in a “lord it over” sense; Jesus revealed that the authorities are supposed to be the servants. The husband is to make his decisions based on what he believes to be best for his wife. He is not supposed to do what he thinks is best to him to his wife's detriment. He is the servant of his wife.
This especially makes sense for humans since women become less physically able to do various things while pregnant, so the male is made unable to be pregnant so that he can use his consistent abilities to serve the female however she cannot serve herself. Also, as part of the different design of women to accommodate childbearing, even while not pregnant the average female is smaller and less able to become as strong as males, so again the male's strength must have a servant purpose.
Likewise, God is stronger and always consistently able to help us, while we, being finite, are obviously smaller, and less powerful. His infinite strength does not make him infinitely loftier than us, but infinitely more a loving servant.
Yet, since he is by himself beyond gender, God the Spirit can be a little more freed up from the gender description; even the name itself is neutrally gendered versus Father and Son, even if He can be described as a He. Likewise, Elohim can be called “them” and describe himself as “we”. This helps us understand that God is not a finite male being, but an infinite being who is really beyond gender, who chooses to be called He so that He's more relatable to us.
Now, these limitations do not apply to the Genesis creation since God was acting as one triune being there, rather than just the Son. So this does not by itself answer the claim that God has no limitations. However, as far as I can tell the vast majority of other attributes of God, including limitations, are true of all of him, whether Elohim the Trinity as a whole, or any Person of the Trinity.
Those include that he cannot lie, cannot sin (meaning do anything against his nature; so he is not all-powerful in the sense of able to contradict himself), cannot violate freewill, cannot abide by sin without a cost, cannot hate, and cannot create an unjust creation.
The universe we have fits all of this exactly and no other – there is abundant evidence that everything was created harmoniously, but that we were given freewill, and as such corruption, death, and suffering entered the world as the cost, but that being Love, God paid the cost for us in Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection, so that we may live in the new perfect creation he promises in the future. Nothing we see contradicts this.
If it was false, Jesus should not have been able to work miracles, and witnesses at the time should have widely denied what some were claiming about him and wrote in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Facing a hostile government and even execution, they certainly had every reason to deny it, but did not. And Jesus himself testified to the truth of the Old Testament as God's Scripture. The above is the depiction given in the Bible and the only conclusion that makes sense given everything we observe.
So, yes, God did have limitations. So even if science could not study the work of an all-powerful God – itself an impossible fallacy; a God able to do anything is the opposite of a God who could do nothing, therefore that would only mean science would study his work all the more – but even if science could not study that, science can definitely study the work of the actual, biblical God. Because limitations do come directly from his infinite nature that apply to all three persons of the Trinity.
Also, the limitations specific to the Persons of the Trinity have a vast array of consequences historically, personally to Christians, etc. that science can also study. And it should be pointed out that limitations are not primarily what science studies anyways, but rather abilities of beings and capabilities of things. Thus the positive abilities of God can be, and constantly are being, studied. Everything science studies was made by God, and thus all science is studying God through what he made, even if the scientists involved do not always give credit where it is due.