Can we talk about God?
Can we really talk about God?
That seems like a silly question for someone in Seminary to ask, but its an honest one. Can we really talk about God? In the words of one of my professors, “Can we make referential statements that are non-metaphoric concerning God?” Or are we reduced to “our metaphor that art in Heaven, hallowed be your name (whatever your name may be)”.
Often you’ll hear people talk about the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, being merely a metaphor for who God is. Or just something that is a mystery that we really can’t understand but just believe it anyway. Yet I think both of those positions misunderstand the fullness of Christian theology.
It is, in my observation, and that the Western impulse is to believe in one God, a Unitarian God at that. There is no reason for this really, after all human cultures throughout times have varied in their beliefs in God, from polytheistic masses to a unitary God, so one cannot argue (in my opinion) that part of human nature is to believe in one God. I think that the only thing that can be said is that part of the natural human impulse is to realize that there is something outside of the natural world that is a force, and this has become known as God. As I interpret Calvin’s writings in Book I of the Institutes, he has it right. The creation certainly does display God’s glory but with just creation you can say little more than “God is” and that’s it. In the Western world we’ve translated this into believing that there is indeed one God, and many people view the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as one that unnecessarily complicates things or again is just a mystery that no one can really understand.
I frankly disagree. I think the problem is that people are too trapped in a Post-Kantian world, where logic and reason rule the day. Simply because One God, three persons, one in being and substance but distinct in personhood, defies logic and reason does not mean it can be cast off or rejected as mere mystery. There are many things in life that defy logic and reason, yet we accept them. Take love for example, love is in my opinion the most irrational thing I’ve ever done. After all, why would someone ever, thinking rationally, subject themselves to the possible pain and hurt that love could cause? Seriously, why would anyone do that? No one thinking rationally would take such a risk. But yet we do it for irrational reasons.
Everyone has presuppositions and this is inevitable no matter who you are or where you are. But we must always be willing to have those presuppositions questioned by what we experience or learn. In biblical studies this is critical. While I approach the text with presuppositions, I must allow the text of scripture to test and question my presuppositions. Do the presuppositions make sense based on the nature of what I am reading? Such is the case with the Doctrine of the Trinity.
You will hear people correctly say, “The Trinity isn’t biblical” and this is true. One cannot find the word “trinity” anywhere in scripture, and thus when someone says its not biblical they are in one sense correct. What is incorrect is the assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity fell out of Greek philosophy and never had any place in the early Christian tradition. The bible, the whole bible (including the Old Testament) make the Trinity implicit. The New Testament is full of Trinitarian language (John 1 and Matthew 28, Luke 10:22, and Matthew 11:27, John 13-17 come to mind just from the Gospels) and even amongst the earliest writings of the New Testament (from Paul) we find talk of “From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” which is unmistakably Trinitarian. Why? Because Paul, who was no dummy when it came to Jewish tradition, used theos (God) and kurios (Lord) in the same sentence. But, in the Old Testament we find theos being used for Elohim, one of the Hebrew words for God, and kurios being used for Yahweh (Lord).
All that the early church did was to take the implicit pieces of evidence found in scripture and make them explicit in scripture, and that’s something that is done in every circle that I’ve been in, especially science. You take a whole bunch of evidence and from it you make explicit (in the form of formulas and theories) what is implicit in data. If this method works for describing God’s works, why wouldn’t we expect it to work when assessing what God has revealed through scripture?