The Father’s Humility in Sending the Son and Spirit

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.

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2 comments

  1. I can certainly see why people have a hard time reconciling the God of the OT with Jesus in the NT. In the former, we have God telling the Israelites to kill their enemies, even their wives, children and animals. Over in the NT, we have Jesus saying ‘love your enemies’. I’m not saying there’s not an explanation, just understandable confusion. I’ve often thought people of the OT days must have viewed the Jews much like we view extremist Muslims today. And in fact, that may be part of the long-lived resentment of the Jews in that area to this day.

    This post seems to be more of the same from before. Unity of the 3 persons of the godhead, humility demonstrated by sharing glory. So, are you saying that God the Father could have created everything without any help from the other 2, and could have used other means for the salvation of the world, but ‘allowed’ Jesus and the HS to do that? Yet, they are all the same person anyway, so what’s the difference? Is it explainable?

  2. Two topics to respond to in this post. First, your comments on the difficulty of understanding God in the Old Testament. I have been working through two books on this topic that may be of interest. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (great book so fare). C.S. Cowles and Daniel Gard, Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (a discussion on a real hard topic).

    On the second issue of the Father ‘allowing’ the Son and Spirit to participate in creation and salvation. On the one hand, it is correct to say that God the Father could not have created without the Son and Spirit because they are one God. On the other hand, when we look at creation and salvation through the lens of the Triune roles we see a certain dynamic at work. There are clearly three distinct roles. What I observe in the Father is a humility in authority and leadership, a glad willingness to share in what he is doing, a joy in delegating tasks, etc.

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