A humble God sounds strange to many ears. This evening I was reading Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Copan said this about the novelty of a humble God.
“Many Christians have the false impression that something resembling divine humility appears occasionally in the Bible–for example, in the incarnation of Christ–but that humility isn’t an enduring divine quality. Upon closer inspection, God–yes even in the Old Testament–is characteristically humble. The ‘high and exalted one’ dwells with the contrite and lowly of spirit’ (Is 57:15). Psalm 113:5-6 affirms a God who stoops to look upon us. In God’s interaction with Israel, we see an other-centered, patient endurance despite Israel’s rebellion, grumbling, and idolatry. The New Testament expands on this theme of divine humility; it does not invent it.”
Copan is spot on. God is characteristically humble in both testaments for his nature is consistent in all his activity. The New Testament is indeed an expansion rather than a starting point for understanding the humility of God. Stooping low is no foreign posture for the biblical deity.
In the last few posts we have established the equality of the three divine persons along with the economic ordering of the divine life. We have seen the humility of God in his eternal relations with Son and Spirit along with his lowliness in sharing the glory of world making. We turn now to his humility in sending both Son and Spirit in the work of salvation.
The Father’s Humility in Sending the Son and Spirit
Humility at heart is outward looking. It looks beyond self to another. It sacrifices for the sake of neighbor. It is gracious, self-forgetting, and loving. This is the heart of the Father in the plan of redemption. It is also the Father’s posture toward Son and Spirit in the execution of his saving vision.
Pericherosis is a rich theological concept that will aid in understanding the humility of God’s sending activity. It is best defined as mutual indwelling (Jn 14:11). Rich Vincent gives a helpful description.
“Within the divine life there abides an eternal relationship of self-giving, mutual, and shared love. Father, Son, and Spirit deeply and intimately know one another. There is no fear, shame, or insecurity in their knowledge of one another. Father and Son dwell in a face-to-face relationship with the Spirit as the bond of love that unites them. This relationship is so profoundly complete and pure that there is no other way to describe it than that they are in one another [perichoresis]. This free, full, and overflowing love is the central quality of the home-life of God.”
Jurgen Schulz further describes the fulness of life in this intimate community.
“The Triune God lives in an incomparable celebration of eternal joy. The Father, Son and Spirit have a rich and overflowing life with or without us… The Father lives for the Son and the Son lives for the Father, and they share all things together in the Spirit. Not self centered, but other centered. Totally other centered—because that is the essential meaning of ‘God is love.’ And this is what ‘Trinity’ is all about.”
God’s communal life sets the context for his creative and redemptive activity. Son and Spirit are sent forth out of this place of interdependence and loyal love. We discern humility from two different angles when considering this framework.
First, the Son and Spirit are sent into a war zone. Their coming is a tremendous act of humility. Suffering for both was inevitable. Stepping back we must realize that this is God sending and God coming. God sends God. The sending of Son and Spirit is God humbly giving himself! Perichoresis means that God is in the Son and Spirit as they are sent. We must know that it was costly to the Father to send. Pain and sacrifice is shared by the Triune community in the work of redemption.
Second, note the humility of the Father in sharing the awesome task of redemption. In creation, the Father shared the honor of shaping the world. In salvation, the Father humbly invites Son and Spirit to play key roles in his greatest work yet. The honor due God the Savior is an honor for Father, Son, and Spirit. It is humility that gladly shares this glory.