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.
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 rainbow: We 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
In discussing faith and science Higgs went on to say I don’t happen to be one [a believer] myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there’s any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two.
(HT: David Robertson)
Originally a post on this blog Evangelicals Now have edited and published it for a wider audience
This section of a documentary entitled The trouble with atheism presented by Rod Liddle also highlights the extreme violence conducted by atheist states in the past century.
( HT: Mez McConnell)
Janet Daley in the Telegraph a couple of days ago reflects on why the last week was a bad week for atheism
After Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman Mehdi Hasan replied with a good summary of exactly why he is wrong on the issue of the relationship between God and science
In an interview with Christopher Hitchens in the Christmas Double Edition of the New Statesman, guest editor, Richard Dawkins, speculates as to what would happen if he and the new atheists succeed in ‘destroying Christianity‘.
Well it certainly looks as if he’s got some way to go in his attempts. The Pew Forum’s recent Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population shows that as of 2010 Christianity is the world’s largest religion (2.18 billion)and accounts for one third of the global population. A proportion that has remained unchanged despite 100 years of secularisation and oppression of Christianity in communist countries.
A while back I posted a short film clip in which Richard Dawkins not only admitted that we have ‘no idea’ how life began on planet earth but went on to suggest that human life may owe its origin to aliens; a theory known as panspermia. Of course, he had no scientific evidence for this, but in the absence of good science why not invoke the ‘aliens did it’ argument!
I knew Dawkins wasn’t the first to propose such a speculation. Sir Fred Hoyle argued along a similar line when he recognised the statistically absurdity of arguing that life simply evolved by chance.
Crick himself once said;
‘An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.’
Any problems that exist with theories of the evolution of life pale into insignificance when it comes to the problems with explaining the origin of life from a naturalist worldview as this recent article in Scientific American acknowledges.
The words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 come to mind:
Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
So Richard Dawkins decided to stay away rather than defend his arguments set out in The God Delusion. Here’s your opportunity to assess whether that was a wise move. William Lane Craig sets out his critique of Dawkins’ book before a panel of Oxford University Atheists who in turn respond. All part of A Reasonable Faith Tour.
Atheist and Oxford University Philosopher exposes the real reason Dawkins won’t debate William Lane Craig
I attended the lastest leg of the William Lane Craig ‘A Reasonable Faith‘ tour at Birmingham University last night where we enjoyed a good-natured, informed debate between Professor Craig and Professor Millican of Oxford University.
At least the philosophers at Oxford University think William Lane Craig worthy of respect and debate, unlike of course Richard Dawkins.
The Oxford Don and Philosophy lecturer Daniel Came, who caused a stir earlier in the year suggesting Dawkins might well be considered a coward for refusing to defend his views under scrutiny from Dr. Craig, a written a response to Dawkins vitriolic attack on William Lane Craig on the Guardian website a couple of days ago. Came exposes the real reason as to why Richard Dawkins will be avoiding the forthcoming debate in Oxford.
Came concludes ‘the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life.’
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