One and Three: Beyond Simplicity and Individuality to Resurrection Communion- Dr Marty Folsom

Does theology roll away the stone for you?

If the Bible and theological discourse does not roll away the stone of human confusion to share a resurrected life, it is likely to operate as Roman centurions, protecting against fanatic disciples, or Greek philosophers who imbibe the teaching, but leave the man in the cave. Or we may be indignant Jewish leaders who are concerned about authority and tradition, keeping mystery in lock down to protect against heretics and zealots. We may be as the faithful who feel a loss or a flickering hope. But the stone must be rolled away by God.

The God of the Bible wants to be known, not locked in philosophical terms. If we emphasize the simplicity and singularity of God, we miss the community. If we emphasize the distinctions in God we risk advocating three Gods and miss the biblical witness. It is in the unity of the three persons as one God in communion that we find the God acting to reveal God and embrace humanity for a life of participation. We are so often disconnected today from a present, resurrected Jesus, a reconciled Father still embracing, and an awakening Spirit still raising the dead. These three are one, alive, and active.

In the Old Testament, God is proclaimed as One, over against the gods of the nations who are many. The Christian God is to be uniquely loved and adored, not replaced by idols, nor reduced to human images. This oneness is not a limiting number, but a unity, so that Jesus can say, “the Father and I are one” and it is consistent with the oneness of God.

The historic use of the term simplicity is supposed to correlate with the sense of oneness. It maintains the Old Testament affirmation of a monotheistic faith in a polytheistic world. This has never been questioned as an orthodox stance. All propositions that imply more than one God are rejected.

But the word simplicity has problems, in that it does not seem to reflect the God revealed in the Bible—that is, without a long theological argument about ontological perfections maintained by scholastic thinkers indebted to Aristotelian thinking. That requirement for abstract argument makes the God who wants to be known unnecessarily remote. Simplicity, meaning not composed of parts, is not an argument made by the persons of the Trinity in the revelation process. The Kingdom Jesus preached was mysterious, but full of the presence of Father, Son, and Spirit to transform philosophically uneducated minds.

Each person of the Trinity points to the other two, a unity with implicit connectivity. The Son clearly comes to reveal and glorify His Father. He later reveals the Holy Spirit to them and promises that His work will continue through this one who will also come alongside to help, as He has come. The Spirit opens our eyes to see the Father, and cry out “Abba, Father,” and He brings to remembrance what Jesus has said. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit. Each of the three exists with reference to the other two, making them visible and participating in each other’s work.

“Simplicity” simply does not seem to capture the kind of indivisible unity that is attested to in the biblical narrative. The oneness of God needs to be held with a corresponding seriousness for the Threeness in God. If we do not make overt room to express the three, then the charge of modalism—that the one God wears three masks in the progression of revelation—is a valid threat. Even to say that “the Father speaks through the Son in the Power of the Spirit” is not a simple statement. It follows the logic of “no parts,” required to call it simple. But it presents a unity of the three that is collaborative. Thus, it can be affirmed because it presents the complexity of the unity of the three who exist in relational communion that constitutes who they are. They each only exist because of the others, that is being-in-relation. This is an eternal relation, not one created or achieved in time. They have always been in loving communion.

“Individuality” in the Trinity is to be resisted as well. It must be noted that the term individual at one point meant “not dividable” and was appropriately used of the persons of the Trinity. The one God was the unity of three who could not be less than the three in an irreducible communion. But in time, the human looked away from God and saw that their own sense of self was a unity of body, mind, and spirit (or some set of terms referring to a human alone)—that became the unit of indivisibility. Thus, the term as used of the Trinity was lost to a new meaning, the term could no longer be used of the Trinity without meaning three Gods—Tritheism. So, like simplicity, the term lost its ability to correspond with the biblical witness of the God who wants to be known in the shared life of Father, Son, and Spirit.

In light of this, the Simplicity advocates today speak against the Threeness of God being referred to as “three separate centers of consciousness” in the life of God. I think they are partly right. I do not think we can lose “three” and be orthodox, aligned with the revelation of God in Scripture. There exists three of something. “Separate” is certainly an idea to be rejected, in that it implies “individual” in the later human sense, not in the particularity of each person of God within the Triunity. But to shift the focus and say that there are three “communing” or “particular” persons within the One God seems to shift the focus from the persons as “parts,” to the “forever existing in unity of the three.” Thus, there are “three eternally communing persons,” not “separate” ones.

“Centers” is also problematic of persons. It seems to focus on existing as a separated part, without reference to the indissoluble connection with the others. This is to be rejected. “Center” separates by creating a focal point without the necessary systemic interrelatedness that we see in the Bible, and so continues the problem discussed above. It also misses the sense that each person of the Trinity centers on the other two for their source and sustenance of personal life. Who is “Jesus without the Father and Spirit?” and so on. So it is better to say they each live an “interconnected,” “unified,” or “interrelated” life; that is more in line with the economy of God’s revelation in the Bible.

“Consciousness” mostly has a problem in that it is a term perceptibly grounded in human experience. But if we could understand consciousness as firstly something original to God, then see it as an experience humans reflect as those created in God’s image, I think we could use it. To say that God is Creator is to speak of an original, unrepeatable way that God exists. Consequently, we can say we are creative, even sub-creators (Tolkien), as those who take God’s Creation and play with it in ways appropriate to the human. God’s being defines the terms, we use it of humans derivatively and dynamically as those who share the greater reality.

Personal consciousness, or knowing of another, assumes that there is a withness and a second person; another person exists who can be known or the relation is just objective knowing—the knowing of objects. This knowing does not require that the other be separated or distinct, as with another human. The beings-in-relation of God accepts that persons are necessarily constituted with other persons, not merely proximal to or combined with them.

To ask whether the Father is with the Son and knows the Son, and whether this is reciprocally true of the Son and Spirit, seems to require a yes from the biblical record. It is also true to say that each of the persons of the Trinity is with the other two persons at all times, and mutually knows and indwells the other two (perichoresis). I am not saying that the divine “knowing” is exactly the same as human knowing—I think there is an original knowing with God which is reflected in our knowing as a derived reflection. We cannot deny that God knows. Each Triune person knows the others, shares a communing life together, and yet each maintain their particular being as a person. In fact, they are uniquely who they are because of their relation to the other two. They are not repeatable, yet share a common life and being that makes them the one God in three persons.

Personal being only exists as persons exist in relation, and God is the original personal being. Personal existence is most truly grounded in God’s Triune life. It was granted to humans as those created in God’s image. Jesus maintains the true Image of God in human form; we are fallen, relationally distant and damaged, and needing renewal. When we are in Christ, we are new beings; we become those whose gifted in a relation that restores our personhood. As we are reconnected by the Spirit, grace grants what was lost in the Fall. God cannot lose that original relatedness. We as humans can and did. But thanks be to God, it is God’s story that shows us that God’s way of being is a communing that reconciles and restores humanity from its alienation and separation. That is the message and metamorphosis of the cross that opens our eyes to see God, and to see ourselves reconstituted again in the resurrection life to be shared.

So we must affirm One Personal God who exists as the three, communing, interrelated, conscious persons revealed in scripture, whose mission call is that we know this God—in the most personal sense (as defined by Scripture, not psychology). This knowing is to permeate all of our lives as communities who live and love as a participation in God’s renewing life of love, with the one personal God who lives as three in Resurrection Communion.