God and Creation, Part 3: Creation and Trinity
That God is Triune is among the most basic of Christian confessions. Christians confess that there is one God – God is “one in essence” – distinguished in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Certainly the idea that “God is one in essence distinguished in three persons” is far easier to state than to understand. As theologian Robert Jensen says, “’[t]he doctrine of the Trinity’ is less a homogeneous body of propositions than it is a task: that of the church’s continuing effort to recognize and adhere to the biblical God’s hypostatic being.”1
It is easy to paint incorrect pictures of what it means for God to be Triune: pictures of three persons of the Trinity having different hierarchical ranks (called “subordinationism”); or pictures of the three persons representing merely different manifestations of God (called “modalism”); or pictures of the three persons as individually separate gods (called “tritheism”). Against these incorrect pictures we need to understand that the persons of the Trinity are equal with and inseparable from each other – that they are “coequal,” “coessential,” “coinherent.”
These word pictures matter because they point us toward the sort of being God really is. Theologian Daniel Migliore says it this way:
To speak thus of God as triune is to set all of our prior understandings of what is divine in question. God is not a solitary monad but free, self-communicating love. God is not the supreme will-to-power over others but the supreme will-to-communion in which power and life are shared. To speak of God as the ultimate power whose being is in giving, receiving, and sharing love, who gives life to others and wills to live in communion, is to turn upside down our understandings of both divine and human power.2
This relational understanding of God has profound implications for how we understand God’s purposes for creation. This is because God acts as God is. In theological terms, we say that the “economic trinity” – how God is in Himself – is the “immanent trinity” – how God acts in relation to creation. God created not because anything compelled or required Him to do so, but out of the same love that characterizes the coequal, coessential, coinherent Triune persons of his being.
Theologian and writer David Bentley Hart summarizes this theme beautifully:
The God whom Genesis depicts as pronouncing a deliberative “Let us…” in creating humanity after his image and as looking on in approbation of his handiwork, which he sees to be good, is the eternal God who is the God he forever is, with or without creation, to whom creation adds absolutely nothing; God does not require creation to ‘fecundate’ his being, nor does he require the pathos of creation to determine his ‘personality’ as though he were some finite subjectivity writ large, whose transcendental Ego were in need of delimitation in an empirical ego; God and creation do not belong to an interdependent history of necessity, because the Trinity is already infinitely sufficient, infinitely ‘diverse,’ infinitely at peace; God is good and sovereign and wholly beautiful, and creation is gift, loveliness, pleasure, dignity, and freedom…”3
Hart continues: “precisely because creation is uncompelled, unnecessary, and finally other than that dynamic life of coinherent love whereby God is God, it can reveal how God is the God he is; precisely because creation is needless, an object of delight that shares God’s love without contributing anything that God does not already possess in infinite eminence, creation reflects the divine life, which is one of delight and fellowship and love.”
Gift. Delight. Loveliness. Fellowship. Love. These words characterize creation because they are what the God who created is in His Triune self.
Creation is gift. It is easy to lose track of this truth in the midst of the violence, anger and war that scars our experience of the world. Have you ever thought it would have been better if you had never been born? Have you ever wondered why God created at all when the result is so much suffering? It is impossible to “explain” suffering and evil, though the Trinitarian, relational understanding of creation points in helpful directions. One important theme is that, even with all its groaning, creation is given freely by God, out of His overflowing perichoretic love, as gift. That we are alive, that we breathe the air of this world and feel its soil under our feet, is good.
Creation is delight. How often do you drink in the simple joy of being? Stand by a window for a moment and feel the warm sun on your skin. This is an expression of God’s own life.
Creation is lovely. From the tiniest one-celled organisms to the inconceivably vast fields of galaxies, creation displays symmetry, light, color, movement, form, shape.
Creation is fellowship. The creatures of the earth and we human beings are bound together in a common share of life. And we as human beings, with all our variety of skin and body types, are fundamentally of the same stuff, sharing the same spark of divinity, made for each other and for God.
Creation is love. Every structure, every particle, everything seen and unseen, all that is, is because of God’s love, and is loved by God. To be loved by the God who is perfected in love within His own being is to be named a thing of unimaginable worth. There is nothing ordinary in the universe or in any universe God has made. Everything that is, is extraordinary and priceless.
Today may you receive with gratitude the gift of being;
May you delight in life;
May you bathe in beauty;
May you know you belong;
May you realize the true measure of your worth, and share in the joyful dance of God’s overflowing, creative love.
1. Robert Jensen, Systematic Theology Vol. 1: The Triune God (Oxford Univ. Press 1997)
2. Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (2d ed. Eerdmans 2004)
3. David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Eerdmans 2003)
David Opderbeck is Professor of Law and Director of the Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology at Seton Hall University Law School. He is also working on a Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology at the University of Nottingham and is Pastoral Science Scholar with the Center for Pastoral Science.