Our Three Relationships With God

In Him we live, move and have our being.   Acts 17:28

“Dr. Doctrine” is a wonderful comic book series that can be found on the shelves of many theological libraries right alongside the classic tomes.  The series sets up dialogues on complex theological issues in the idiom of a comic strip, a form that suggests that it’s geared to a much more fun-loving audience than a classroom lecture.

The issue dealing with the theology of the Trinity for instance begins with a patient who comes into Dr. Doctrine’s Theology Clinic  and asks for a Trinidectomy.  He wants to have his Trinity removed from his doctrine because he doesn’t really use it that much.  Dr. Doctrine throws his hands up saying, “What!  That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.  The doctrine of the Trinity is vital to your whole spiritual well-being!  To cut it out would be like removing your heart!”  The patient confesses that he really doesn’t understand how his Trinity works in such a vital way so the doctor writes out a prescription to help him.  He instructs him to simply read the gospels while paying close attention to the life of Jesus, and watching for signs of the Trinity.

It doesn’t take very long for anyone reading the New Testament to see that Jesus’ self-understanding is as someone who lives in divine community, in close relationship to the Father, as well as to the Holy Spirit.  This relationship is also revealed as one of perfect unity when, for instance, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one,” (Jn 10:30) or when He speaks of the Holy Spirit saying, “He will not speak on his own…He will take what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn 16:13).  We also see how oneness in the Godhead is articulated in terms of shared purpose and presence in relationship to us.  Our subjective relationship to the Trinity might actually be the best perspective from which to gaze into the mystery of the “Three in One.”

In our experience of God we are related in three distinct ways.  We relate to God as “above us,” “with us,” and “within us.”  In the gospels, the Father is often referred to as God “above us.”  Jesus, on the other hand, is called Emmanuel—God “with us.”  And the Spirit is identified as God “within us.”  Growing in the knowledge of God then means coming to know God through three particular expressions of our interaction with the Trinity—how, in God we live, move, and have our being.  Of course we must also keep in mind that we are not talking about a separateness in God, but only in the ways we experience God.

People who lack a Trinitarian theology often end up over-emphasizing one aspect of God over others.   Many people, for instance, experience God mostly as  “God above us”—as a principle or overarching truth of life.  They believe in God but don’t have much of a personal relationship with what they believe God to be.  Others might know God mostly in terms of Jesus’ purposes on earth.  They are actively involved with serving those purposes, but often without a strong need for submissive prayer or worship in their faith.  And others know God more exclusively from the perspective of their own inner sense of the divine.  They might have a growing relationship to God within them, but are not very aware of Christ in the world, nor of God as Other, with whom they are also related through objective prayer and worship.

Growing in our knowledge and experience of the Trinity then is not a matter of getting the algebra right or the correct grammar as much as knowing the fullness of our experience of God in these three expressions.  As “God above us,” our Father stands apart from us.  He is the Transcendence under which we live.  In this relationship we pray and relate to the Father just as Jesus did—as Divine Other.

As the Son, we experience God as “with us.”  Jesus, Emmanuel, is incarnate in our fleshly experience of life, in the very circumstances and human history in which we move.  He is the Lover of our souls who accompanies us, shepherds us and is with us to the end of ages.  It is Jesus’ saving mission that we seek to serve on earth.  And it is the Church, as the bride of Christ, that we gather to become in order to be with Him forever.

And finally, in our experience of the Holy Spirit, we recognize God as “within us.” As the immanent ground from which we have our being, the Holy Spirit purifies us in our relationship with the Father and moves us to love and serve the purposes of Jesus in this world.

Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus was that they would be able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep our God really is.  He desired that they would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).  May we too receive the apostle’s prayer.  As the fullness of the knowledge of God matures in our lives may we too grow in our appreciation of how wide and long, high and deep our God really is.