The Humility of God the Father

In the previous post I spoke about the humility of the Trinity, the incarnation, and the cross. A good question arose from that post regarding God the Father. Where do we see humility in the Father’s engagement with the Son and Spirit? The humility of the 2nd and 3rd person of the Trinity is self-evident, but is it that clear with the Father? I thought this was a great question worthy of a few posts. So over the next week or two we will discuss the biblical and theological basis for the humility of God the Father.

A Theological Starting Point: The Athanasian Creed

When talking about an attribute inherent in God, in this case humility, it is important to be explicit that we are speaking of an attribute true of all three persons of the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed captures this dynamic. I have selected portions of the creed as a starting point for our discussion.

“But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Spirit uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible….So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God….And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal.”

The creed articulates the biblical principal of perfect equality among the three persons. Eternality, incomprehensibility, and glory are equally shared by Father, Son, and Spirit. The deep equality among the Trinitarian community means that “none is afore, nor after another.” It removes the possibility of one person being “greater” or “less than” another. This principal of equality extends into every discussion of the attributes of God.

In this discussion, it means humility is a quality equally possessed by Father, Son, and Spirit. It is impossible to speak about a humble Son and Spirit without speaking of a humble Father. It is also erroneous to view one member of the Trinity as more or less humble than another. If God is humble then Father, Son, and Spirit are humble. If the Son and the Spirit are humble then it follows that the Father is humble.

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9 comments

  1. Ok, so far the argument is one from the unity of the Godhead rather than specific examples of submission by the Father. I agree that they are one is essence, but is there a difference between ‘inherent attributes’ and ‘roles’? When we think of the husband/wife relationship, we understand that both are equal spiritually yet have different roles. I think this is a good analogy when discussing humility, since we know from scripture that men and women are equal spiritually but are called to different roles within the relationship. Specifically, the wife is called to submit to the husband (Eph. 5). I think this could be very instructive to understanding both of these issues. Just prior to the submitting wives verse is one that calls for submission to each other. Yet then it seems a different role is broken out for wives. Later, Christ’s role in giving his life for the church could be viewed as submission to the church, but I think that would be more appropriately directed toward the Father. In fact, according to Jesus, I want my love for my wife – which should be great – to look like hate when compared to my love for God. Only good things for my wife will flow out of that understanding. It’s not so much about her as Him.

  2. In the posts that follow this one the issue of distinction and roles is taken up. My position is that the equality of the three persons is a good starting point because it helps us understand that humility is equally shared among all members of the Trinity. Starting with equality within the Godhead helps us think about humility amidst distinction. Though the Father, Son, and Spirit may relate differently to one another and the world it is possible to understand their various roles to be marked by humility.

    I agree that submission is a very helpful angle to take on the question, but I also think that humility is broader. In tackling the question of the Father’s humility, submission may or may not be a subset of that discussion. Let me know if you have any specific thoughts about the Father submitting to the Son or Spirit. I am continuing to think through this rich topic of humility…thanks for being the catalyst for this series of posts.

    1. Thanks for making the distinction between humility and submission. I don’t think I had even realized I was using the words synonymously – or that they shouldn’t be. Obviously, there are some strong similarities, and I’m glad you think it would be helpful to consider those. Maybe this is part of my confusion, or reluctance, to agree that the Father is humble – I view it as submission. I’m not certain that’s wrong, but I will consider it. Again, I cannot disagree regarding the unity of the trinity in attributes. I just don’t think I’ve ever heard humility described as an attribute of ‘God’. Usually I hear descriptors such as: omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc. Words that speaks to the power, grandeur and awesomeness of God. If humility is part of that, I’d like to know. Has an exhaustive list of God’s attributes ever been agreed upon, or is that possible?

      1. Rob, thanks for all the thoughts on the last few posts! I can barely keep up! So, to pick up the discussion. Yes, the distinction between humility and submission. I don’t think humility can be relegated to submission. I think it can also be expressed in contexts of authority and partnership. Certainly we do see humility in submission, but it is also possible for submission to exist apart from humility. Humility is a character quality marked by outward looking love, service, and sacrifice. It truly estimates oneself and holds others above (I take my definition of humility from Philippians 2:1-11). This quality can exist in any context and be displayed in any relationship. Whether one is leading or submitting humility can be present.

        To your other good question on attributes. There have been different ways of categorizing and discussing the attributes of God. Reformed theology has traditionally used the division of “Incommunicable” and “Communicable” attributes. Incommunicable pertains to the attributes that belong uniquely to God while Communicable attributes are those that we also possess. In this framework humility would be a communicable attribute. There are other frameworks as well that would have a category for humility. Here is a link to a nice summary by Sam Storms on this topic.

        http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/classifying-the-attributes

  3. Interestingly, none of the lists on Sam’s webpage show ‘humility’. Maybe you could make a case for humility out of mercy or grace, but it’s not explicitly listed. Also, what about this quote:

    Ronald Nash argues that an “essential” or “necessary” attribute is one that God could not lose and continue to be God. “Many of the predicates applied to God denote not attributes or essential properties of God but nonessential properties that relate God to His creatures. Relational properties like ‘creator’, ‘ruler’, and ‘preserver’ do not denote divine attributes.

    If humility is not an essential or necessary attribute, is it even an attribute? Or I’ll say it like this, is a property that is not essential or necessary for the makeup of a person really an attribute if an attribute is defined as something ‘inherent’ in the individual?

  4. Rob, your questions are good, as usual. How do we determine an attribute? This may be simplistic, but here is one way I think about this question. When God describes himself a certain way or attributes something to himself we follow his lead. So for example, we see the statement “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and we take that to mean that love is something that characterizes God. We can make distinctions (essential/nonessential or communicable/noncommunicable), but when God describes himself we take that as a starting point for his attributes. So when Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29) I think the same way about it. Thoughts? Again, maybe too simplistic.

    1. Well, simple can equate to profound, so simplicity is no knock on truth. I agree with you. It may be that I have thought TOO STRICTLY in terms of persons of the godhead, as opposed to God’s unity. Several of your assertions about the Father are ones from unity, which I can’t disagree with. I’m not sure if we’ve satisfactorily resolved the differences between roles and attributes, however. Again, in the marriage relationship, does the husband submit to the wife in the same way? And is that submission, from either, actually primarily to God? I would love to understand both of these issues better.

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