John (Part 58): Holy Spirit in Us (ch 15-16)
The Trinity is defined as one essence and three persons. The Cappadocian Fathers wrote of this. The definition seems to present a difficulty in understanding because we just can’t find an analogy that helps us comprehend it. But it appears that the Cappadocians didn’t have as great a trouble as we in coming to grips with the three-in-one. They said that the Trinity was three persons in the one essence of divinity just like there are multiple persons in the one essence of humanity. At first take, this seems like another failed attempt at analogy. Three humans may share humanity, but they may be so different in intellect, desire, and will that using the analogy for God would seem to lead us into tri-theism. After all, isn’t tri-theism simply the notion of three gods, all of whom of course are divine? Couldn’t you then say that the Greek panoply of gods was poly-inity rather than polytheism? After looking at this idea a second time, however, I came to believe it does have some merit. Coming to that conclusion requires looking more deeply into that one essence of divinity and how it compares (and differs) from the one essence of humanity.
God, we have discussed before is, in his essence, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It is not that he simply acts in truth, goodness, and beauty—virtues that exist as virtues apart from him. Rather, he IS truth; he IS goodness; and he IS beauty. These virtues have their birth in him, coming to be virtues because they are who he is rather than simply what he does.
As we also discussed previously, intellect and will reside with each Person of the Trinity. And it is by this will (or technically these wills) that God confirms in faith his own truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB) to himself. It is also through hope that he confirms his own TGB in assurance of future commitment. Finally, God’s activity of communicating his essence of TGB is in love. We see a definite division of who God is in essence and persons, then, as shown below:
We have also talked on many occasions about how we reflect God in image bearing. Since truth, goodness, and beauty are born in and exist in the essence of God, those three cannot be part of our essence. However, in order for us to have relationship with God (God’s purpose for creation in the first place), we must be able to understand God. Therefore, God created us with the apprehending qualities of conceptual intelligence (to understand his truth), conscious morality (to understand his goodness), and critical aesthetic (to understand his beauty). Then we also approbate that which we apprehend through a concluding faith and a continuing hope. Furthermore, we articulate this TGB that we’ve apprehended and approbated through a cooperative love.
But all those things that I just mentioned—the apprehending, approbating, and articulating—are activities that we are involved in as individual persons, not in our common humanity. That leaves us with the question of what is that common essence as humans.
Before getting to that, however, we need to expand our chart of the essence and persons of God. We had mentioned that both intellect and will resides with the Persons of God and not in the one essence. In our chart we have activities of faith and hope which speak to the will of God, but we left out the discussion of the Persons’ intellect. That intellect would think about and determine anything through use of the common essence of TGB. Therefore, our chart should look like the following.
We notice now that the image-bearing qualities we’ve discussed all match with the activity of the Persons of God:
The essence of humanity is not in truth, goodness, and beauty because that exists in God alone. Our essence is in the physicality or materiality that we possess. Just as God acts (comprehends, confirms, and communicates) in drawing on his essence of TGB, we act (apprehend, approbate, and articulate) using our essence of physicality. We think with our physical brains, and we move and speak and interact with our physical being. There is, of course, a built in limitation in our essence based on this materiality.
Here, then, is how we may understand the Trinity. In his one essence—in his one Being—he holds in common that which provides his Persons their source for thinking and willing and acting. This necessarily results in unity of mind and will. Since the same truth, goodness, and beauty is in infinite source for each Person, and each Person is able to use that source both infinitely and infinitely well, the result has to yield the same conclusions, determinations, and perspectives. So although the three Persons each hold intellect and will, we may speak of the one will of God or one mind of God because the three will always conclude the same. This can’t be said for humans whose source in essence does not include TGB. So, then, although the analogy may hold of one divine essence/three persons compared to one human essence/multiple persons, the limitations of human essence fail to provide humanity with the smooth interacting oneness we see in the unity of divinity. It is only when we humans, as image bearers and Covenant of Life participants, place complete trust in the TGB of God that we can truly be, as Jesus spoke of in John, one together, one in him, one in God, and God in us—which results in the Zion purpose of everlasting love relationship that God envisioned before the world began.
This, in fact, was God’s point in telling Israel, “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4). It was not a claim of monotheism as opposed to Trinity. It was an emphasis of oneness to distinguish himself from humankind. It was a call to realization that the one source of truth, goodness, and beauty by which Israel (and we) should think and judge and evaluate is God himself. TGB exists in no one and no where else.
In understanding the Trinity, then, not as a hierarchical structure, not in role-playing among the three in forced disregard of their equality and resultant similarity in everything, we see Jesus, in the upper room, presenting how his work to rectify covenant unfaithfulness would show itself in covenant communion.
When we read, then, John 15:26b-27, we find Jesus insisting that as the Spirit testifies of these things—this plan—this purpose of God, his disciples, who believe and are born into this new covenant relationship, will also testify (note the articulation in cooperative love specified in the chart above). Here again we see the circle (not a hierarchical structure) of interaction in divine purpose. The Father revealed truth to the Son; the Son will have the Spirit testify to the disciples; the disciples will testify to others. It is not about hierarchy. It is about a common message of dependence on God’s truth, goodness, and beauty that will be held by faith and hope and delivered by love among all the covenant community—which includes both us and the Trinity.
We see this same from one to the next structure elsewhere in the Bible. Revelation 1 starts by expressing that God revealed to Jesus who sends his angel (Greek—messenger, which in this case is the Spirit) to John so that he can tell others.
Notice also that Jesus tells the disciples that they must testify because they have been with him from the beginning. This, in fact, is the purpose for having 12 apostles. These are the ones (as John mentions in 1 John 1:1-3) who have seen and lived with Jesus the man. He was a man—God made flesh. It was because of his humanness that he could represent us in the sin offering to be made. He, as human, lived in perfect righteousness (faithfulness to the covenant). Without sin, he could go to the cross and die not guilty of anything so that that undeserved death could stand for our deserved death because of our covenant brokenness. He had to be human to do that. And these disciples who had been with him from the beginning could testify to that human qualification of our representative who died and came alive again because of his righteous soul.
This section of interaction with the world that started with John 15:18 ends with the first four verses of chapter 16. Jesus says that he told the disciples these things to keep them from stumbling. Then he lists certain persecutions that they would face because of their relationship with him and God through his death and resurrection. Back in 15:11, he had told them that he had spoken these things that their joy would be complete. So he has presented both a joy and a persecution combination of effect that comes with knowing God in covenant relationship. That, of course, is seen again in image as we read in John’s Revelation chapter 10 verses 9 and 10 about the opened scroll—God’s gathering of his children—being both sweet and bitter as John takes it in.
In John 16:4, Jesus also tells them that he didn’t speak of this from the beginning because he was with them. It is because he had not yet gone away—gone to his death with return to life and the Father. All Satan’s persecuting focus had been on Jesus alone. With the rescue accomplished, Satan would turn that persecution from Jesus to his followers. Again, we see this in Revelation as John records in 12:13-17 the dragon’s attempt to stop God’s plan of a Rescuer the male (child) through Israel (the woman). Once the plan has been realized, the dragon turns in fury “to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus.” This is in exact fulfillment of Christ’s words in John 16:4.