On Sunday, my wife and I made the two-hour trek to North Jersey to visit my sister, Deborah. We had Mario’s Famous Pizza–far and away superior to anything in PA that might somehow be called “pizza”–and spent some time at Barnes IgNoble, sipping (or slirping) some java from Fourbucks.
Deb and I talked a bit about what makes Christianity different from other religions. She remarked that the notion of grace, free grace to the extent of a supreme God sending his Son to earth to die on our behalf, sets the Christian faith apart. This is certainly true; I can’t think of any other religion that simultaneously has such a strong doctrine of sin with such a vast gift of grace.
I brought up the Trinity as a key Christian distinctive, and I’d like to expand a few of the reasons here. The doctrine of the Trinity, as far as we can understand it, is truly unique among religions. It is difficult to understand, and impossible to adequately analogize–every heresy since Christ can be traced back to either a faulty understanding of the Trinity or the Incarnation (which of course overlap to a great degree). Any attempt to explain it must be taken as provisional. There is nothing in our experience that can be both one and three, the one and the many.
The doctrine of the Trinity is so important because it allows God Himself to be community. God the Father loves and directs the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves and reveres the Father and the Spirit, and sent his Spirit to complete his project; the Spirit works personally to accomplish the will of the Father on the basis of the Son’s work.
Consider for a second that which makes you you. Aristotle observed that one’s every thought or encounter with another being changes oneself–your memories and experiences define you. If a god is perfect and immutable (unchanging), Aristotle reasoned, then he could only ever sit and contemplate his own greatness, since to do otherwise, to interact with any other person or thing, would change him from his ideal, perfect state, and he would thus cease to be god. This god eventually became the god of Mohammedanism.
On the other hand, a God who is Three in One can and always is, by definition, focused on that which is other. God wants and rightfully deserves honor and glory–but because He is always right, each Member of the Trinity must also love, cherish and honor the other Two. The Father does not seek his own joy and glory, but the joy and glory of the Son and the Spirit; the Son seeks the joy and glory of the Father and the Spirit, etc. And, as Jonathan Edwards has pointed out, these Three are eternally happy and content in community. Yet, the Trinity chose to create, redeem, repair and re-create this world in order allow others to enjoy itself/themselves. The Father is most happy when we contemplate (and live in light of) the greatness and work of Jesus, animated by the power of the Spirit. And so on…
John Piper likes to say that God is most glorified when he is most enjoyed. The “other-centered-ness” of a Triune God makes this possible, and actually natural. The focus on that which is other starts with who God is, and extends outward into creation, culminating in the redemptive plan for humanity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!