Divine Transparency

In the previous post we discussed the safety of the divine community. In this post,  I would like to look a little deeper into one dimension of a safe community. Meaningful relationships are always marked by transparency, openness and vulnerability. Again, if the Triune God is the blueprint for all relationships we might expect to find some of these dynamics within that community. Sure enough, we do. I want to briefly explore three texts that touch on these overlapping themes.

  • “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

Astonishing, this passage gives us a glimpse into the Triune relationship. The Spirit searches, explores and inquires into the thoughts of the Father. He journeys the heights and depths of God himself. The language is relational. The Father is welcoming, open and transparent. The Spirit responds to the openness of the Father with investigative energy. The Spirit is privy to the thoughts of God…he knows them all.

  • “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

The Father has an intimate knowledge of the Spirit’s mind. Unintelligible groanings to us are clear to the Father because he knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The unity of will and purpose between the Father and Spirit is foundational to this mutual understanding. The text is relational once again. This divine knowing is something that seems to require openness on the part of the Father and Spirit. Though completely equal in omniscience…there appears to be some mechanism of divine sharing that facilitates this knowledge.

  • “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

Exclusive knowledge of the Father belongs to the Son. Exclusive knowledge of the Son belongs to the Father. This text brilliantly displays the intimacy of the Godhead. God alone knows God. The Father gives the Son total access and vice versa. Revelation…a gracious introduction of the Father through the Son by the Spirit…is the only way one comes to know God.

All three of these texts hint at openness, transparency and vulnerability in Trinitarian interaction. Father, Son and Holy Spirit willingly allow the other respective persons into the fulness of themselves. They truly see one another and are seen by one another.

Another way of getting at this mystery is the doctrine of perichoresis, which has been defined as “co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration.” Alister McGrath writes that it “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.”

This doctrine is rooted in Scripture that uses the language of “in” when discussing how the Father, Son and Spirit are connected. For example, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11). This is intimacy, openness and vulnerability at its very best.

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Theological Implications of the Humility of God

I have spent the last month discussing the topic of God’s humility. I have argued that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are equally and magnificently humble. Through viewing a variety of texts, exploring trinitarian doctrine, and drawing from a number of resources I have worked to show that humility is intrinsic to the Father as well as Son and Spirit.

In this post I want to spend a few moments teasing out the implications of a God who is humble. What does it matter that God is humble? How does it change how we think, live, and operate?

  • Humility is a Trinitarian attribute and dynamic. This means that humility occurs in community as it is fundamentally about engaging others. Humility does not occur in a vacuum, it is birthed in interaction with other individuals.
  • Humility as a Trinitarian reality implies that this attribute can be explored from two angles. First, we can look at the oneness of God and search out divine humility. Second, we can look at the diversity in God as we think about humility. Each of the Triune persons is characterized by humility and riches await us if we would search this out.
  • If God is humble then it follows that all he does will be informed by and marked with his humility. In other words, we will be able to discern humility in creation, revelation, historical engagement with Israel and the nations, the incarnation, cross, ascension, sending of the Spirit, birthing of the church, second coming, and establishment of the new earth. We will hear humility in his words where we have not heard it before. We will see it in his activity where we have not recognized it before.
  • The coming rule and reign of God will be a humble theocracy. Kings are not often characterized by lowliness and passion for service to others. The Triune God is quite the opposite. Yahweh is a humble sovereign, a sacrificing deity, an outward looking God. What a refreshing reality awaits those who will live under his kingship. Greg Haslam is right, “At the root of all present-day oppressive dictatorships, divided or monochrome societies, devaluation of certain individuals and the inability to cultivate loving community, is a denial of the Trinity.”
  • Visions of a humble God invoke repentance and worship. Beholding a God who gets on his knees to wash his creature’s feet must move us. Sacrifice and service from the Creator has a way of shattering hardness in our hearts and stirring us to song. The more we view God’s humility the more we will be moved.
  • Human beings are made in the image of a humble God. It follows that humility is a mark of genuine humanity. We are called to humility because we are called to reflect God. The saving humility of God manifest in Christ and the Spirit is the means to making this a reality.

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.