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September 03, 2012

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Ron Appel

Scott, first of all, thanks for planning and teaching this new series. Also, thanks for making the commitment to make all of your sermons available to us in case we are out of town, etc.

So my first question is this: In describing the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "making room for each other," (and then encouraging us to go and do likewise) is it possible this might be an example of humans describing God with a human attribute they admire, then worshiping it?

Scott Daniels

Thanks, Ron. I suppose that we always run that risk. I'm not sure how we can describe anything about God, however, that isn't within our realm of experience. Because that is the case, there is in theology what is called "apophadic theology" which is the way of negation. It is the need to describe what God is not as soon as we say what God is.

So for example, we call God Father as a way of describing God's caring, nurturing, and loving nature. We have to call him Father because that is a relationship, in our experience, that we can understand. However, as soon as we say all the ways God is our heavenly Father, we need to recognize all the ways he isn't like our experience of our earthly fathers. (He isn't temporal. He isn't limited in his knowledge. He isn't male... etc.).

So I suppose that the early church in the creeds may think of the Trinity as perichoresis because we are relational and thus impose that on God. But I actually think what the church Fathers are trying to describe here is actually something beyond our experience. We certainly have to use words that we have experienced like "space-making" or "love" to describe God. (We are limited by our language and experience). But in trying to describe God not just as loving but AS love or not just making space but as eternally making space for the other (as his very essence), I think the early church is trying to get at the mystery of God that is beyond our experience.

You are right that we always at the risk of making God in our image. But we don't have a choice but to try to understand God using human attributes that we understand. It's just the way language works (or doesn't work).

Scott

Ron Appel

Scott, thanks so much for taking the time to respond and to clarify this point. It was really helpful.

Ron

Marsha Abeyta

Pastor Scott, I'm almost embarrassed to post my question/comment...but maybe I'll get some resolution to a comment you made..."God is not a male". Jesus came to earth as a male...a representation of God the Father...a human image of an invisible being...He teaches us to pray..."Our Father Who art in heaven"...would it be so far fetched for me to believe that my heavenly Father is a male. For those who were not blessed with a healthy, human father relationship...believing that God is a male is truly significant. While I realize that I've pulled out only four little words out your well written and insightful narrative...I'd so appreciate some additional thoughts when you have a few moments. There are several other items that I need to understand, but I'll wait and look forward to reading more in future outlines. Thanks, Marsha Abeyta

Scott Daniels

Marsha,
It's a very good question. Traditionally, the maleness of Jesus has been understood by theologians as accidental and not essential to his work as savior. (Almost like growing a beard or wearing sandals is not essential for "Christlikeness" - neither is being male). It may be challenging for us to think of Jesus coming as a woman in the first century and having the same opportunity for ministry as coming as a male. But historically, theologians have argued that although he obviously had to be one or the other in order to be incarnate, his maleness is not essential to his saving work.
But the same is even more true for God. Although we are taught to call him Father, we also recognize that "he" is in his essence neither male nor female. (To put it plainly, "he" doesn't have either of the parts that make us either male or female). So although culturally it may have made the most sense for Jewish people to understand God's parental care in terms of being a Father, they also repeatedly recognized that God transcends any understanding of gender. Therefore, he is also "like a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks beneath her." (But that doesn't mean he has wings).
The problem is we have to use images we understand - fathers, mothers, hens, shepherds, women who lose coins... etc. - to try and grasp the one who is beyond our language.
Hope that helps.
Blessings - Scott

Marsha Abeyta

Pastor Scott,
I dislike beating a subject to death...but something keeps gnawing at the "gut" of my heart and mind about the absolute of "God not being a male".

When you said in your response to me..."Traditionally the maleness of Jesus has been understood by theologians as accidental and not essential to his work as a Savior"...there are no accidents with God...with man, yes, but never God. I believe Christ had to be a male (Gen. 1:26-27, Phil.2:8). I don't believe there's a female today (and there's been some absolutely phenomenal women in human history) particularly during the time of Christ earth, whose name/life could have walked through the waves of human history like Jesus, leaving the eternal impression He did.

I'm only a very simple, old female who truly believes that when I die and go to heaven, there is going to be a absolutely fantastic "Being" who may not look like a "man" (Sean Connery!) but I will picked up...like His little girl...and whose eye's I will immediately recognize as my Father's eyes.

Most Restfully,
Marsha Abeyta

Scott D.

Marsha,
I understand your question. When I use the word "accidental" I don't mean unintentional but non-essential. I know it is a little different, but most theologians would argue that we can't make it any more essential for salvation that Jesus was male then whether he was right or left handed.
Part of the problem is that Gnostic heresies in the first 400 years of Christianity made his maleness so essential that some wrote that only males could be saved.
Scott

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