Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trinity & Covenant Part IV

Continued from Trinity & Covenant Part III

Let's move from Christology to Trinitarian theology. Now we're getting to the good stuff. I argued in the last post that God the Son converses with, loves, obeys, serves, glorifies, and offers himself to God the Father. God and God. God relating to God.

Indeed, given the way that the Son of God himself speaks of the Personal agency and relations of God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16), the church has rightly concluded that there is a complex three-way set of personal relations—God and God and God. God begotten of God. God and God sending God. God being sent by God and God. God glorifying God and God. But not three gods, one God. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speaking to, obeying, loving, serving, glorifying, offering themselves to one another.

As difficult as it was for the fledgling, post-apostolic church to make this confession in the face of Greek philosophical paganism with its inert, static, lifeless conception of God—the impersonal one, the undifferentiated monad—she courageously did so. Even so, the fuller implications of what she confessed when she called on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would not be worked out for many centuries.

She was tempted on the right and left by heretics that would shield the eternal Godhead from these personal actions. God was above all that, they said. Nevertheless, the church, bound by the Holy Scripture, against human reason and the philosophical “common sense” of the day, stuck to her guns. The God we worship, the God who has delivered us from sin and death is the God who speaks to God, the God who serves God, the God who loves and obeys God, the God who sacrifices himself to God, and all for us.

But even with this shocking trinitarian confession we are not yet ready to announce that the riddle has been thoroughly solved. We have not yet plumbed the depths of the revelation of God in Christ. There is more to learn. We are back to some of our original questions. What does this startling slice of the life of God unveiled to us during the three-year ministry of the Son in the flesh reveal about God’s being and life as God? How can obedience, service, sacrifice be predicated of the relations between the Persons of the Trinity? What does the interaction between God and God and God tell us about the way he relates to us and the way we relate to him? And ultimately what does it reveal about our eschatological hope—the end, the goal of our redemption?

It was the Reformed church and her theologians who recognized that that the way in which God the Son and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit relate to one another is strikingly parallel to the way God relates to us and the way we are expected to relate to God. That obeying, glorifying, serving, and sacrificing describe covenantal relations. Even the climax of the covenant—“God with us” and “God in us” is first of all a divine reality and relationship. How so?

The language of John 14-17, especially the language Jesus uses to indicate that the Father is with him (16:32) and that he and the Father and Spirit with be with the disciples (17:24)—this is covenantal language. In the OT, God’s covenant with the Patriarchs and Israel promised that God would dwell with them and he did so in some sense in the Tabernacle and Temple, just as he was with Adam in the Garden.

When God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s promise to be “with” and “in” the community of believers after Jesus’ departure this is just the covenantal language of the older age come to fulfillment in Christ. The word “covenant” may not be used, but the substance and language of the covenant is clearly present.

But what is striking about this language is that with the incarnation of God the Son, we get more information on the origin and ground of God’s covenantal promise to be with us. The language of God’s being “in” and “with” us is grounded in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s being “in” and “with” one another. Consider John 17:21:
. . . even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
may they also may be in us.
What this means is that the covenantal promise of “God with us” is first of all that which is experienced in the eternal inter-personal life of God the Father and Son. Just as the Father is “in” the Son and the Son is “in” the Father, so too will believers be covenantally united “with” and “in” the divine community. Just as the Word is with God the Father (John. 1:1), so the promise of the covenant is that we also with be “with” God.

Moreover, just as the Father and Son are “in” and “with” one another—covenantally united in love and service—so too will believers in the new age be “in” and “with” one another, covenantally united one with another in a way that is analogous to the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What else could John 17:22 and 26 mean?
. . . that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us

. . . that the love with which thou hast loved me
may be in them, and I in them”
There you have it. As we noted at the beginning of these reflections on the covenant, in John 17 the relations between Father and Son are all mixed up, so to speak, with their relations to us. What might at first seem like the Son’s actions toward us also turn out to be the Son’s actions toward his Father. And vice versa—the Father’s active way of relating to the Son is the way he relates to us.

What does this mean for our understanding of the covenant? The eternal covenantal love between Father and Son is the origin and ground of the covenant that binds together God and believers as well as believers with believers. God’s covenantal life is graciously opened outward to embrace created men and women.

In other words, our covenant unity with God and with one another is grounded in God’s covenantal unity with God—that is, the mutual covenantal relations between God and God and God. From eternity the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a fullness of covenantal life, love, glory in their personal relations with one another; and it is this covenantal personal fellowship of the Trinity that is the life of the covenant into which we are graciously admitted.

Let it sink in.

So is my reasoning really just pure "speculation"? Should what I have argued for in these posts—God's covenantal life is the origin and ground of his covenant with us—be dismissed as speculative simply because the Bible never explicitly applies the word "covenant" to the inter-Personal relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Next time: Reforming the traditional pactum salutis.


pdug said...

IIRC Calvin comments on the John 17 passage in terms of mediatorship, not trinitarian relation.

Is this a case of both/and, or do we need to reject the idea that he's talking about mediatorship to go for trinitarian relation?

Jeff Meyers said...

Definitely both/and, Paul.