My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 19

Trinity or Not?

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

In the beginning I stated that the Nicen Creed represented my belief as a Christian. It does not use the Tertullian term, trinity, but does support it saying to Arius and those who proclaim a different definition of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, orthodoxy declares they are all the One and same God. I do disagree with the Statement when it reads, “worshipped and glorified,” in respect only to the Holy Spirit.

Is the Holy Spirit a “who” or a “what?” When David cries out, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me,” this comes across more as a what, but when Isaiah says, “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit,” it sounds like a who. By far and overwhelmingly references to the Holy Spirit describe this aspect of God as an essence and not a personality like Father or Son can be thought of as a personality. I’m both a father and a son and depending on the circumstance I behave and relate to others as either a son or father, yet either way it’s still me, one person. But I can’t be in two places, let alone everywhere, at the same time. Because we cannot intellectually understand how God can be Father and Son at the same time—the Son walking on the earth, dying on the cross while the Father is fully God and omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent—speaks to our inability to fully understand the wholly otherness of God. This includes what we believe about the Holy Spirit.

Clearly the Old Testament evidence is that the Holy Spirit is an essence of God, not something separate and different and this aspect of God plays a crucial part in our lives. It is part and parcel of how God works in our lives. We cannot ontologically define either why or how God does this because God is wholly other, beyond our reasoning. If we build a theology trying to define what we cannot define we are always going to get into trouble like Arius did.

In 1913 in California an old heterodoxy took on new life in what was termed the “Jesus only” movement, a new version of Modalism teaching that God operated in different forms or modes at different times—sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. Of course you have to ignore Matthew 3:16–17: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (English Standard Version.)

When we concentrate on one aspect of God we hyper-focus on that one part of God and lose the fullness of God. Pentecostals have hyper-focused (and this is just my opinion) on the Holy Spirit. We have the best description of the Holy Spirit and what this means to us in John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” One part of the church hyper-focuses on I Corinthians 12: 7-11:

“The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all. To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides.”

When I applied to work in one of these churches the litmus test of my “Christianity” was whether or not I spoke in tongues, one of the gifts of the Spirit Paul mentioned. Other parts of the church argue vociferously against so-called Pentecostalism and bring out their arguments on why the other is wrong and everyone screws up the Gospel message the disciples preached. Once again we fall into the trap of either/or versus both/and.

We don’t know more than we do know and we can’t handle that. We have to define what we don’t know as though we know it because the not knowing challenges our need for certainty. No one would love to know more than we do than me. Not having absolute certainty is uncomfortable and whatever discipline you are in you naturally struggle with that.

In The Name of Jesus

It’s time to come back to this question I asked a short while ago: Can I know and experience God and be saved without knowing his name? It’s interesting how argumentative this issue is within the church and among Christians. Was God only the God of the Hebrews? Was his whole intention to have a people in a geographical area (Israel) who were his? Was this his promise to Abraham? No one else would listen to him so he created a people who would?

Let’s jump to the so-called Christian era and look at these two scriptures: John 14:6, which declares, “I [Christ] am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me,”and Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Can they be both true and wholly misunderstood at the same time?

Let me go back to this Tertullian statement: “For by whom has truth ever been discovered without God? By whom has God ever been found without Christ? By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit?” In this sense Tertullian is right; if there is no God there is no Truth. In a philosophical sense creation is his Truth, and notice that I’m using a capital “T” making it universal. Either God created everything, including humans, or he created nothing. How can I make this statement? At what point in my development after my birth did I have the ability to know this, and decide that it was real? Do I ever really know God is real?

I’m in my seventies. About the age of 21 I began a systematic philosophical search to know and understand truth. Since my grammar school age after hearing messages about Jesus in church one day I decided what was being said I believed. But was I set up to believe? I was, but no, not preconditioned by my parents but by nature around me. I was one of those farmers that saw the mystery (mystical) of life through farming. Farmers don’t create originals, they are caretakers. The fruit trees, the grape vines, the vegetables, the animals were given to us by nature (God) to care for and in caring for them all it sustained us. Because we lived close to the Sierra Nevada mountains we often went into them to camp and visit and fish. My young eyes and mind took it all in, not in rational thoughts but in awe and wonder. Nature was feeding me information (I always called this osmosis) that I didn’t rationally understand at the moment but would be there when my mind began to ask rational questions.

I believe I am redeemed, and if you have read me this far I don’t need to explain this. Would I not be redeemed if I never entered those church doors or heard the Gospel message from my parents or any living person? Think about these words found in Genesis 4: 16-17:“So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch.” From Genesis 1 we learn some incredible things: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Not just the earth but the cosmos, everything. But our interest isn’t the cosmos, not yet, so he goes on to explain what he did on earth, which in essence is create everything we know and experience; water, rocks, clouds, air, trees, animals, birds, and us, people.

Remember that great philosophical/theological declaration coming from the quill of John in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” I’m looking at this verse for this reason, that nothing—not anything, not one thing however small however big—was made unless God/Jesus/Holy Spirit made it. We’re not told how he did this, just that he did it.

You are aware that this particular story found in Genesis 1 was not written down until after Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and were in the desert before going into the Promised Land? And guess what, there were other accounts of creation with similar themes, particularly in Mesopotamian myths such as: 

  • Adapa and the South Wind

  • Atrahasis 

  • Epic of Gilgamesh 

  • Enumn Elish

 

I’m not going to go into the argument that Genesis is nothing more than a restatement or adaption of these myths for I don’t find sufficient reason for Genesis to be such and I do find reason for those Babylon myths, as well as other creation accounts around the world to be adaption on God creating. The Genesis account is exclusive to the Hebrews and I’ve already argued that this, as well as much of Levitical Law, was God’s attempt to cleanse the Hebrews from those “pagan” influences they gained while in Egypt. In other words God is saying to them, Here is the way it really happened and how you should really act. For me this is a given. That’s why there are no explanations of how, only what, in Genesis 1-3 which leaves so much more not said than said. That outline we fill in the blanks.