In dealing with the cults perhaps the subject for which we are called to give an apologia more than any other is that of God’s nature. Without exception, the traditional Trinitarian view is rejected,oftenridiculed, by the cults. There are three simple points I wish to make concerning the way we think about God, especially when speaking to a cultist.
1. God is a mystery
This may seem obvious, but consider the objections raised against the Trinity doctrine. Surely the most popular one is that it is hard to understand. In their book Reasoning from the Scriptures Jehovah’s Witnesses criticise early church councils for describing the Godhead as “incomprehensible.” Quoting the words of Jesus in John 4:22 “We worship what we know,” they insist that God is no mystery to the true believer.
Of course, there is much about God that we do know and understand because God, in his infinite grace, has chosen to reveal himself to us, through his creation, through prophets and, finally, through His Son (Romans 1:19-20; Hebrews 1:1-2). But however much we know, or think we know, it is well to remember that although “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccle.3:11). Paul, in his letter to the Romans declared, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:33-34). In presenting my apologia, or “reasoned defence”, of the Trinity I always find it useful to start by showing that if there are things about God that we cannot understand we are in good company.
2. The Revelation of God is an unfolding Revelation
As we have already noted, God’s revelation of himself unfolds as he reveals himself through creation (Romans 1:19-20); through prophets, and finally through his Son (Hebrews 1: 1-2; John 14:9). To start with the idea of the Trinity and work backwards is problematic because we can be accused of reading things into Scripture (eisegesis) instead of taking our doctrine from Scripture (exegesis). By the same token, to say that we do not understand, and therefore it cannot be true, is also to read back into Scripture our conclusions instead of seeing what the Bible has to say. It is important that we avoid these two errors, don’t you agree? The New Testament writers and early church leaders did not have a complete and polished view of Jesus as God, but “discovered” the Trinity as they thought about the undeniable witness of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection, and the claims he made for himself. If we start where they started and travel the same road of discovery we will likely arrive where they arrived. Isn’t it good that we have found a way to avoid reading things in to the Bible?
3. In Jesus we see God’s clearest revelation of Himself.
As Jews, the first Christians would have known the words of Deut.6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”. They would have been familiar with the great prayer of Nehemiah chapter 9, one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible. It is a prayer of confession and repentance; a prayer that describes the God of Israel, his character, grace and power. As we consider the God of Israel and the person of Jesus we find some remarkable parallels.
On one occasion Jesus was walking through the cornfields on the Sabbath. – Matthew 12:1-8
Jesus often referred to himself as “The Son of Man.” And here he is declaring himself to be Lord of the Sabbath. But in Nehemiah 9:14 we read, “You made known to them your holy Sabbath…” It is the Sabbath of Israel’s Redeemer/God. Jesus is Lord of God’s Sabbath.
When Jesus was approaching the hour for which he came into the world, the time when he would be taken from his disciples, he made them a special promise. – John 15:26
In Nehemiah 9:20 we read, “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.” It is the Spirit of Israel’s Redeemer/God, sent by God to lead God’s people in God’s ways. Here Jesus is saying, “I will send the Spirit of truth…he will testify of me“
In Nehemiah 9:30 we read “By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets.”
After his resurrection Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were puzzled by recent events in Jerusalem. In Luke 24:27 we read “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.”
Here we see that God’s prophets, sent to lead God’s people in God’s ways, “all the prophets” spoke of Jesus.
In Nehemiah 9:7 we read of Israel’s Redeemer/God, “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.”
John 8: 51-58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this they picked up stones to stone him.
Here we have Jesus apparently claiming to have existed before Abraham was born. Abraham, to whom God gave the name Abraham. Here, and again in John 8: 24, he is applying the name of God to himself. I am, is the name of God, that he revealed to Moses, as we read in Exodus 3:14.
What are we to make of these claims Jesus made for himself? Where did his authority, that so impressed his hearers, come from? ‘Where did this man get these things?’ They asked. ‘What is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?'” You can understand their confusion, can’t you?
In Nehemiah 9:6 we read,
“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry hosts, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”
In John 5: 21,26 we find Jesus claiming to give life and to have life in himself, and in John 10: 22-30 “I give them eternal life” Jesus is the life-giver – a role reserved for God alone.
As monotheists the first Christians would have found the very idea of Jesus being God unacceptable. Yet, when they thought about what he said and did, the evidence of his life seemed to challenge their traditional views. What were they to make of these claims by Jesus to be Lord of the Sabbath, God’s Sabbath; giver of the Spirit, God’s Spirit; focus of the prophets, God’s chosen prophets; to be the life-giver, and even the great I am? Is Jesus God? He certainly is not the Father. That much is clear from the relationship he has with the Father. One of the objections raised by those who reject the orthodox view of the Trinity is that Jesus cannot be God because if he was he would have been praying to himself. And Jesus certainly prayed to the Father. But he speaks like God, acts like God, and declares, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” What were those first disciples to make of him?
The inevitable conclusion is perhaps best summed up in the opening words of John’s gospel: John 1:1-4, 14. So we have the Father and the Son. God the Father and God the Son.
Having accomplished what he came to do, Jesus returned to the Father, to sit down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. But before he went Jesus promised two things (1) Matt.28:20 I will be with you always; (2) John 14: 15-18 I will give you another Counsellor – the Spirit of truth. Another Counsellor here means “Another of the same kind” “Another like me.”
The Spirit would lead the disciples into all truth. Here is the guiding force of the future church. But who is the Spirit? Well we have already seen that he is “Another like me.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 declares, “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” Is the Spirit God? Verse 6 makes plain that “the Spirit gives life.” Who alone gives life? And, just as we saw with Jesus, the Bible ascribes to the Spirit all the characteristic of Godhood. He is omnipresent – Psalm 139:7-10; All knowing – Isaiah 40:13-14; Sovereign – 1 Corinthians 12:11; Eternal – Hebrews 9:14.
Jesus said that the Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17). In 1 Cor.3:16 we read, “God’s Spirit lives in you”…and again in 2 Cor.6:16 “We are the temple of the living God” c.f. Ephesians 2:21-22.
So we have Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
How are we meant to think about these things?
The Bible makes it clear that God is one. That there is one God, and only one God. Jesus himself taught Deut.6:4 “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Mark 12:29. Yet the Bible also clearly shows a plurality in God’s being. That is there is one God, but there are three persons who are God. There is one God. This one God has a plural nature. This one God is called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all distinct personalities, all called God.
One commentator has said:
“The doctrine of the Trinity is not ‘irrational’; what is irrational is to suppress the biblical evidence for Trinity in favour of unity”
In other words, just because we cannot fully comprehend what scripture is telling us we should not reject what scripture is telling us. Is this evidence conclusive? For many probably not, but given the standard set by Doug in the first article in this series, I believe it proves the case beyond any reasonable doubt. As Doug also pointed out, our reasoned presentation of the case is simply a framework that accommodates the study of these things. It is the work of God, the Holy Spirit to open hearts, convince and convict. As we present, then, we must also pray for hearts to be opened and lives transformed by a growing knowledge of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.