God is one.
I’m spending a fair amount of time reading about different approaches to the Trinity. I’m quite fond of an approach traditionally linked with the early scholars of the Greek Orthodox Church, later developed and known as the “social” doctrine of the Trinity. This view emphasises that there are three distinct ‘persons’ in the Trinity, whereas the Western Church has tended to instead emphasise the oneness of God’s being. Both views are trinitarian, but the models are different.
The question for the ‘social’ theorist is how God can still be one.
Watching this 4 min video brought the question up for me again. The speaker emphasises that God has one mind, which before watching this I would’ve been hesitant to affirm, as, according to the social doctrine, God has three centres of consciousness – the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, albeit in closest community and of the same essence in a way that no human persons are. However, pondering this, as I understand it I can still hold that the three persons of the Trinity really are of one mind – that God’s will is not split when it comes to God’s thoughts and actions.
The main point I wanted to make in this post was to draw attention to two passages in Scripture (verses I refer to collated here). This probably isn’t original (not if it’s any good anyway), but I don’t recall these being emphasised as helpful pointers together, in the reading I’ve done.
The first is commonly referred to in Muslim-Christian dialogue. In the Gospel according to John, 10:30, Jesus says “I and the Father are one.” (Interestingly, similar to Mark 12:29, where Jesus quotes the Shema, the famous declaration that God is one, found in Deuteronomy 6:4.) The usual response made by Islamic apologists to the claim that this verse suggests that Jesus is claiming divinity is that Jesus merely does God’s will, so in some way the wills of the two are ‘one’. Yet, if we are to be consistent and if this really is a good response (and I think it’s a fair one, insofar as part of Jesus’ claim is indeed to be of one will with the Father – though in the context it seems to me that Jesus also identifies, for instance, his hand, speaking metaphorically of his hold on believers, with the hand of the Father; John 10:28-29), this kind of view could I think help to explain how Christians can say that God is ‘one’, as when Jesus quotes the Shema; there is one Lord (perhaps the favourite verse of Muslim apologists in the NT). For, the three persons of the Trinity are, similarly, of one will; though also one in a more fundamental relational sense as well. In any case, following this quotation of the Shema in Mark’s Gospel is the account of Jesus claiming to be the divine figure, the “son of man”, who is described as David’s Lord. More here – particularly interesting are the OT quotes where God speaks of no-one being able to deliver out of His hand and how this relates to Jesus’ words in John 10:28.
The second, which sprung to mind when I watched the clip was Philippians 2:2 “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” We are called to be of one mind with each other. It makes sense to say that multiple persons can be of one mind; it is hence perhaps not too much of a stretch to say that the three persons of the Trinity, uniquely related to one another, have one mind. Yet, I don’t see a need to emphasise this; there are more important aspects to keep in mind in our worship of the one true God.
Some other ways that the three persons of the Trinity constitute one God:
There is only one proper object of worship, as the persons are not worshipped solely by themselves; the NT shows the closeness of relationship in particular between God the Father and Jesus, His Son. Reference is properly made to Jesus and the Spirit in worshipping God the Father; and likewise for the other persons.
The three persons act together in creation, redemption, etc. There is in effect only one final cause.
’Perichoresis’ – the three persons of the Trinity mutually indwell each other in a unique way.