Comings of the Lord Among the Nations

by Robert Brow
Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1998

Chapter 7

Trinity: Three Persons Working For Us

As we come to the last chapter of this book we need to correct the impression that it is only the eternal Son of God who is at work in our world. Jesus said, "My Father is still working, and I also am working" (John 5:17).

We have tried to learn the language of the Son's coming to judge, correct, liberate, heal, redeem. He does that, both in the personal lives of his people and among the nations. But we now need to see how the Father and the Holy Spirit are also at work among the nations. All three Persons of the Trinity come and intervene in our world, but in quite different ways.

Before proceeding in this direction we need to answer the objection of Unitarians, Muslims, and Jehovah's Witnesses that the idea of the Trinity is a contradiction in terms. "One plus one plus one makes three gods." A facetious answer is that with God you don't add but multiply, and one times one times one still only makes one. But that is only a trick of mathematics.

A more helpful approach is to explain that we are all agreed about the oneness of God. But oneness is of many different kinds. Absolute single oneness is the first assumption of mathematics. In life nothing is simple. The oneness of the simplest atom is pictured as a proton, a neutron, and an electron held together by atomic force. In India I used to explain that the skin, and stone, and flesh of a Mango do not add up to three mangoes.

As we talk to practicing Christians from many denominations it seems that there is a typically Trinitarian experience of God. We experience the Father as a loving parent metaphorically above us. We know the Son as a friend, leader, healer, forgiver beside us. And we experience the Holy Spirit inspiring, guiding, giving wisdom, creating love, and praying from within us. Each of these experiences has to be pictured in metaphorical language, but this universal Christian experience points to an eternal and essential complexity within the oneness of God.

How can we think of such complexity? We could begin by reminding ourselves that Christians all begin by explaining that God is love. And God did not begin to be love when our world was made. God was love eternally. But it is very hard to imagine the love of a single unitarian unit. That is why a Trinitarian model pictures the essential reality of the universe as a oneness of three persons in constant conversation and interaction with one another. Why should that be more perplexing than matter, or energy, or chaos, or the evolution of complexity by random chance, as the ultimate reality?

An original oneness of Persons is suggested in the first chapter of Genesis. "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness ... so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26, 27). As we read the Bible we meet a God who cares and sets up our environment like a loving parent. We also encounter God as the Lord who intervenes in our world and calls us to serve Him as a Friend who wants to walk with us. And there are many references to God as Spirit inspiring and empowering us at the depths of our being.

In the New Testament the interrelated oneness of these three Persons is assumed in the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22). The great commission to baptize and teach in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity is obeyed by Christians all over the world (Matthew 28:19-20). It is also hinted at in many other New Testament texts where the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are spoken of in one breath. The early Christians took the idea for granted, presumably having learned to think of God in this way from Jesus Himself (See, for example, Luke 1:35; Acts 5:30-32; 7:55; Romans 8:9-17; 2 Corinthians 3:13; Ephesians 2:18). This is why all branches of the Christian church accept the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, which are so decisively Trinitarian.

As we deal with the Trinitarian work of God there is no need to be concerned about addressing our prayers to the right Person. The Father is not going to say "Sorry, you have got the wrong number. Only the Son deals with that kind of situation." But on the other hand getting a clear picture of how each of the three Persons of the Trinity works in relation to the others makes it much easier to understand the Bible, and it helps us draw on all the resources that we are given.

Next we remind ourselves that the three Persons of the Trinity work together in the long history of each nation to achieve their ultimate object. We defined this as perfecting us in love to be in God's image as his children. This object could not be achieved by forcing us. We had to be free to learn and choose from our own experience and that of others. There are admittedly babies who are mysteriously taken into God's perfection without knowing the richness and joys of this life. But for most of us, learning to love requires a lifetime in the messy situations of this world.

By the time we began to think about the meaning of life and death, we had already faced a traumatic day of the Lord when we were born. We were loved or ignored or abused as children, learned a language and dialect, and were indoctrinated in a particular culture with rules that we did not invent or approve.

In due course we faced other traumatic events such as losing a parent, being humiliated at school, sickness, being raped or mugged, the family being broken up, having to move, the ravages of war, becoming refugees. We also discovered we were citizens of a nation with a long history, and we heard we were involved in a life and death struggle to survive against the encroachment of others. Like plants we had to grow, or get squeezed out of the garden or forest where we were planted. But the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were working in and around and for us, mostly without our recognition of their presence.

We have taken six chapters to consider some aspects of the work of the Son in our world. And many books have been written about the Fatherhood of God and the inspiration of the Spirit. The problem is that our theology is too individualistic. There is nothing wrong with a personal experience of the Father as a loving parent who sets up our daily environment, or like a mother planning the day of her child. It is important for us as individuals to trust the Father to protect us, and we run to him like a frightened child.

What we miss is that in the Old Testament all the references to the Fatherhood of God are national (an exception is the simile in Proverbs 3:12). The idea of God as the Father of the nation goes back to the call of Moses. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh . . . Israel is my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22). At the end of his life, reminding the people of their recent national experience, Moses said, "You saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place." And "[k]now then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you" (Deuteronomy 1:31 and 8:5; as in 14:1; 32:5-6, 19-20).

In Isaiah it is not individuals, but Israel as a people who say "O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8). Similarly, "You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us" (Isaiah 63:16).

The original Creator-God of the Aryans was known among all the Indo-European nations. His first name was the Sanskrit Dyaus Pitar ("Divine Father") which is the same as the Greek Zeus Pater, and the Latin Jupiter (See Religion: Origins and Ideas [1966, 1972], on this website).

This is confirmed by the work of anthropologists who have discovered the idea of an original benign Father God in many primitive tribes. People may follow the witch doctors in fearing evil forces that must be appeased, but they dimly remember a loving Creator behind the scenes.

What does it mean for a nation to recognize the Fatherhood of God? Obviously the word "Father" is used metaphorically. Little children run to their parents when they are afraid. Later they discover they originated from their parents. When they themselves become parents they see how they are concerned to set up a secure environment for their children to grow and learn.

Similarly great nations have a sense of divine origin and destiny. They call upon God when they are in danger. Like a human father, it was God who brought them into being. They have a sense of permanence because they know God has set up their environment. As Paul said to the Athenians, "He made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live" (Acts 17:26). This gives a reason why some nations can survive two thousand years of being defeated and overrun by enemies. Who could imagine the extinction of the national identity of the French, or the Russians, the Greeks, or the Jews ? America became one nation under God only recently, but it began with a clear sense of God's Fatherhood.

Paul also reminds the Athenians that idolatry is disastrous for a nation. "For 'in him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.' Since we are his offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals" (Acts 17:26-29). Idolatry was the first step down in Paul's explanation of the decline of Greek civilization. "Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four footed animals or reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23). Idolatry disintegrates a civilization. The opposite occurred six hundred years after Paul when Muhammad managed to rid the Arabs of their tribal idolatries, and they were forged into a powerful nation.

The corroding result of idolatry was noted over three thousand years ago in the law of Moses. "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God punishing children for the iniquity of parents . . . but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me" (Exodus 20:4-6). Human parents would be jealous if their children made little idols, put them up in a corner, and talked to them instead of running to their father or mother and cuddling in their laps. It is not surprising that God is angry and jealous, and assigns severe consequences, when a tribe or nation turns to idolatry instead of trusting in his Fatherhood.

In human families loving parents give us the sense that food will be on the table. In the Lord's prayer we say, "Our Father . . . Give us this day our daily bread." We know that we will be tucked in for the night, and will be safe till morning.

I still remember the angst of the years when the newspapers and millions of ordinary people were obsessed by the threat of MAD (Mutually-Assured Destruction). Any moment some idiot could push a button that would result in thousands of atomic missiles being launched from both Russia and America. But in that looming terror those who knew God as Father assumed that He would not let things get out of his control. And very miraculously he didn't.

As we saw in the last chapter, that does not deny that innocent people are killed in war, and thousands died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But grasping that we are a nation under our Father God gives us a sense of stability, hope and courage. Where there is no God, or the gods are capricious we are anxious and confused. This was the problem with Greek polytheism. Greece became a mere pawn being played in a merciless game with no rules.

The focus of our first six chapters has been the interventions from time to time of the Son in his Kingdom. But we cannot even think of God intervening if everything is unpredictably driven by forces that we do not understand. Apart from giving us the personal assurance that God is in control, the continual care of our nation by God the Father provides a necessary backdrop if we are to recognize the coming and days of the Lord of God the Son. Faith needs both a sense of stability and the assurance that there will interventions when the situation requires them.

Finally it is good to recognize and honor the work of the Holy Spirit among the nations. "When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and renew the face of the ground" (Psalm 104:30).

In chapter 2 we spoke of our experience of the Spirit in personal terms. He comes to give wisdom, guidance, assurance of acceptance as children of God, prayer, fruit of the Spirit, various gifts of the Spirit. Artists have always known that inspiration was needed for artistic creativity (see Exodus 35:31-34). We are comfortable with the language of his coming in our hymns: "Come down, O love divine . . . Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire . . . Come gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove, with light and comfort from above . . . He came sweet influence to impart, a gracious, willing guest."

But we also need to recognize the coming and work of the Spirit in our nation, and other nations. Good government requires leaders who look to the Holy Spirit of God for wisdom and courage to serve their nation. Before the Jewish people had a king, judges were raised up to deliver them from marauding enemies. "When the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the Lord gave King Cushanrishathaim of Aram into his hand" (Judges 3:9-10). Faced with the overwhelming armies of Midianites and Amalekites "the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded a trumpet" (Judges 6:33-34; see 11:29; 13:25).

The greatness of King David was not that he was sinless in sexual matters. What counted was his prayer. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:10, 11).

A sure sign that a political leader is inspired by the Holy Spirit is that he or she has a genuine concern for the weak and oppressed among his people. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn" (Isaiah 61:1-2. Here the day of vengeance refers to the vindication of those who are unjustly treated, as in 1:17, 23).

To some extent this was evident in the life of King David. But Jesus, "filled with the power of the Spirit," read this very passage in the synagogue of his home town (Luke 4:14-19). This indicated that intervening for the downtrodden was an essential part of his Kingdom. It would characterize his reign as Messiah. And it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why one of the early signs of the Christian Church beginning to act as leaven in a country is a concern for the poor, the oppressed, and political prisoners.

In passing we note that the Nicene Creed says "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father." Roman Catholic theologians prefer to say "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." But, whichever way we want to think of the Spirit proceeding, Trinitarian Theists all agree that there is a mysterious interrelationship and organic interaction of each of the three Persons within the Oneness of the Trinity.

In addition to leaders who look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, a nation needs prophets who take time to wait on God, see the signs of the times, and interpret what is going wrong, and how it can be corrected. "All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:20). Nathan the prophet was able to rebuke and correct King David (2 Samuel 11:26-12:13). We have seen how the Old Testament prophets were often warned of a coming day of the Lord in judgment. God took them into his confidence, and shared his secrets. "Surely the Lord does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

In the previous chapter we noted the importance of the Lord's royal priesthood in every city. By the Spirit their task is to serve the spiritual needs of the people in their area. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). They are to be "ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6. Here the letter refers to legalism and literalism).

But the Lord's priests are not to work in an individualistic way. "Like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices" (1 Peter 2:5). Rather they are to function organically like members and parts of a body. "In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13).

And by the Spirit each Christian is to perform a different function. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." Then after listing some of these many functions in the body, Paul says, "All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses" (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

Greek Orthodox theologians think of the church in each place opening up windows into heaven, and making visible on earth the theiosis work of the Holy Trinity. "Theiosis" means making like God, or perfecting us in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We have seen that this is the meaning, and object in mind, of all that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are doing in our world to bring many children to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

What the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the Protestant denominational hierarchies, all need to learn is that the royal priesthood cannot function effectively as a one man solo assisted by women and acolytes. It needs a large community of priests each animated by the Spirit like the many members and parts of a human body. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17; 3:13).

We began this book with the preachers who say that nothing much will happen to solve the problems of the world till Jesus' second coming. We have explained some senses in which God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all mightily at work as they come to intervene in our nations and in our lives. Much more needs to be explored. But this final chapter has reminded us that the Son not only comes again and again into our world, but every intervention is in loving cooperation with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the awesome mystery of the eternal Trinity.

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