Mar 19, 2013
neil

No need to be embarrassed by the Trinity

A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.

A. How does God define our relationships?

I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.

Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.

The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!

And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.

Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.

B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships

Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.

1. Atheism

The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.

We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;

  • If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
  • We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
  • We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
  • Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’

Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.

Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbowWe are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.

 

Theism

Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.

No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.

2. Islam

  • God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
  • God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
  • God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
  • When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
  • God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.

 

 3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)

  • God is an impersonal force
  • Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
  • Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
  • Relationships and personality are temporary

The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.

Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter  (vv.28-30)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

 4. Christianity

Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.

C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship.  They express and define perfect love.

Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.

Bible verses Nature of relationship
John 14:31, 3:35  Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.
John 17:1,4  Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.
John 10:30  Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.
John 5:30  Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.

As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.

Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!

There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent

Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.

 

2 Comments

  • Sadly this is the typical lies espoused by believers of every sort. The part about atheists in particular. I assure you that, as an atheist, I do have “know how to live in this world,” there is something “informing my relationships,” I can find a “binding answer” when there are problems in my relationships, and I can define what it would be like if we all got along. To the point of we cannot agree how to live in this world, while I agree that there is not “atheist standard” I believe that is a human condition that you too suffer from. If you need any clarification on that matter, look up and see how many religions are based on the book you call holy. (hint there are over a thousand).
    Richard Dawkins views are complex, as (hopefully) are yours. The man was showing intellectual integrity by indicating that his specific belief on the reality of god necessarily does not hinder any action in any way. That is not to say that he has not developed a sense of morality as you seem to be suggesting. The fact that he gets his morality from a different place is irksome to your position because theists like to claim exclusive providence on morality. You are sadly mistaken. As can be evidenced by a multitude of independently verifiable and reproducible studies showing that violent crime, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, and overall standard of living is higher among non-believers than believers on a world-wide scale. The only instances where this is not true are in the countries where non-believers are disowned, beaten, raped, and left to die by their social support system for not believing the same thing as the populace.
    I would address that last comment; but, while I agree that his tone hinted that he felt those things in his life, he was clearly not saying that life is meaningless. He did not even comment on the subject of morality. Therefore the entire comment is useless for this discussion.
    I would also like to argue that you have a system of morality different from my own. You clearly do not do everything your holy book tells you to do. The fact that you are online and blogging indicates you did not do as you were told by Jesus at the sermon on the mount. I could also point to probably a hundred other things your holy book tells you to do that you do not do. Therefore you must be getting your morality from somewhere else.
    You could argue that you get direction directly from god, but there are two massive problems with that theory. The first is that free will is an integral part of your theology. If god is sitting there guiding you in your decisions, then you don’t have free will. If you have free will, he can’t be guiding you. (Oh and I don’t count voices in your brain or audible or visual hallucinations as relevant because those cannot be reliably separated from wholly natural experiences).
    The second problem is that taking orders from a third-party, in this case god, does not illustrate morals at all. You are essentially just blindly obeying. This is not a grounds for morality, but obedience. And even a dog can be obedient.
    So I would actually conclude that your are either massively ilinformed on the subject, and too lazy to do actual research on the matter; or that you are telling lies specifically to promote you view. So yes I am saying you are either lazy or a liar. Take your pick.

    • I wouldn’t want to suggest for a moment that atheists are not capable of making moral decisions or living good lives (although I wouldn’t be sure what an atheist particularly means by the phrase ‘right’ and ‘wrong’). What I am most definitely saying is that atheist philosophers fully recognise that in a universe that is amoral ie has no creator there is no morality ‘binding’ on others. An atheist, in the grand scheme of things has absolutely no basis for telling people how to live. An atheist may have a morality that is binding on himself but most definitely not binding on any one else. That is exactly what Dawkins, to name but one atheist thinker, recognises.

      For a Christian our morality is an objective one based on the words and commands of Jesus Christ. I am accountable not to myself but to Jesus Christ for how I live. As someone with two theology degrees and who reads biblical Hebrew and Greek I have to say I am perplexed by your suggestion that the sermon on the mount has anything to say on blogging. I would be most interested in your thinking behind that comment.

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