[Yesterday, my good friend Austin Ricketts kicked off this two-part post, part of my own Lent series, talking about how the “disposition” or “intention” of God is Love, firstly exercised towards God’s own Self in the Trinity. And this Love moves away from the lover toward the loved as it is given. Therefore….]
Update II: In an interesting twist, Austin has since recanted these comments, though I still entirely agree with these original ones. So….I’m going to keep them up, but with this comment.
death & distinction in God
The reason why death is an appropriate notion by which to understand this relation, then, is that death entails separation or distinction between two or more things that otherwise belong together.
Death is not an end of life, necessarily, but rather a limit and transition. For humans, the Bible points out that there is a limit and transition that occurs at material death. At that time, humans exist as a bodiless soul, at least until the final resurrection.
Death is a separation or distinction between two or more things that naturally belong together; in the case of humans—a body and a soul.
Considering God again, “separation” can’t really be the right word. Distinction is more orthodox. I mentioned earlier that it is incorrect to see a “lessening” of the Father’s being when transitioning to the Son. That’s because there isn’t a lessening of being at all. Quite the opposite.
to die is gain: begetting the dying Lord
The Father sends out His divine spirit intending to love. In love, He “gives His spirit forward”: He dies; He begets. This spirit includes the mind; it’s a whole spirit. With the mind comes self-consciousness among other mental actions. With self-consciousness comes the knowledge of a distinction between self and another.
So, with the begetting of divinity comes the dying that is a part of the mind of God, the recognition of distinction, the noticing of something that is you and isn’t you. If you will, death occurs in the mind of God.
Yet ironically, this death yields a gain: more self-consciousness! For the Father never ceased to live, even enduring death.
The Father’s act of love conversely becomes the Son’s act of love. The Son is conscious of Himself and then looks away from Himself to the Father, thus establishing the Father’s Person; the definition of the Father is that He has a Son; the Son’s is that He has a Father. A very similar relationship exists between the Father and the Spirit, though not between the Son and the Spirit.
The Father is the cause. The Son and the Spirit recognize each other as sharing in the Father’s-spirit-intending-love. All are co-eternal, co-equal in the Father’s-spirit-intending-love. But they are distinct in that this spirit-intending-love entails a self-conscious mind.
And that is the death, the limit, the distinction in God.
Who is the Trinity?
Considering biblical revelation, it is the relationship between Father and Son that is emphasized. But to be clear, the Holy Spirit is not a mere by-product of the Father’s begetting/dying into the Son. The Holy Spirit is the personification of the Father’s act of proceeding from Himself. Although I do not want to say this, it would be more Orthodox to say that the Son is the by-product of the Spirit. But neither the Son nor the Spirit is a by-product of the other; the Father is the cause of each.
All three persons actually need the other persons in order to be who they are. Their relations to each other determine their being. The procession of the Spirit is the Son’s possibility; the Son is the goal of the Spirit—I speak in human terms.
The mystery enters here: although I and the Eastern Orthodox use the term “cause”, we cannot mean that there ever was a time when the Father was without the Son and Spirit. There simply was not. The event that I have set forth above is not temporal in the sense of a before and after, which would certainly yield to subordinationism.
Being the Being of God
Having allowed the term “cause” to run its course, it is time to switch to a better conception—relation. “Cause” is useful for setting forth early discussions of the Trinity, but once it’s understood, its time has ended.
Being is being-in-relation (“Being” is never isolated). Good Being is being in the correct basic relations.
There is a real connection, and there are real distinctions in the Godhead. And it is the formal concept of Love that brings this to the fore. God’s being is Love. The basic relation of God, which defines the Being of God, is the Father’s-spirit-intending-love for the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is good, true, and beautiful. Thus, the main attributes of God.
Just to be sure, I’ll stress this point—death and life are two sides of the same coin in God. I’ll stress it another way: We cannot consider the Being of God apart from the Persons. True, there is something common among the Persons, something that binds them together, a common spirit that passes between them.
But this is the “beginning”, not the end, of the Being of God, because the Being of God includes the distinctions. The commonness, the Father’s-spirit-intending-love, demands the distinction of Persons in order to be what it is. The whole God, considered as God, is the commonness and the distinctions, spirit and persons, in one whole triune God, nothing more nor less.
So, God is a single Spirit with three self-consciousnesses.
(As I finish, I feel a slight need to defend myself against the charge of tritheism, given that I’m demanding three self-consciousnesses.
In my defense, I would add that it is one Mind that exists in three self-consciousnesses. Saint Paul speaks to many Philippians (who had different minds) saying: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Similarly in God, the three self-consciousnesses are united in one Mind to one purpose: Spirit-intending-Love.)
applications & implications
To close, I’ll offer what I take to be some implications of this position (with some links to relevant posts):
- God remains immutable (unchangeable), because God’s death is a self-directed, essential, relational aspect of God’s being. (Besides, biblically speaking, immutability has to do with God faithfully carrying out His intentions rather than with a metaphysical scheme.)
- God can create. And God can create without that creation being pantheistic or occasionalistic, because God can limit Himself.
- Individual human minds are possible.
- The Son can incarnate Himself without changing God’s essential being.
- The death of God envisioned above does not entail psychological torment that would have to be recapitulated into creation, inescapably, as some schemes that set forth a death of God seem to have to do. In other words, whereas my scheme does entail a certain form of death in creation (the death of change), before the Fall that death would not have been a torment; it would not have stung with a “God separation”. Rather, it would have been a peaceful malaise in anticipation of a final resurrection. We would have always remained united to God, even in our sleepy Sheol state.
- Evolution, therefore, with death as the driving engine, is not a threat to Christianity; it never was.
- God is not the author of evil.
- And, ironically, it’s God’s death that allows Him to be a living God. The Persons are free to move in exchange between one another, on this view, without compromising God’s unchangeability.