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Some accounts of God make it sound as if the Father was the Creator, the Son that came to earth to save us, and finally the Spirit who opens to us the new life.  This too is a kind of modalism, but played out historically, in three phases or eras. In such an understanding, we live in the Third Age, of the Spirit.  You can see how this would appeal to our modern notions of being more advanced or enlightened, but you can also see how such ideas are debunked by the horrendous aspects of our world. (It should also be noted that Muslims too think they live in the third or new era of the final revelation, that of the Koran and Islam. This way of thinking easily falls into a notion that we have moved beyond the former revelation involving Jesus Christ!)

By contrast the traditional doctrine of the Trinity understood the actions of God to be one and indivisible, since the Actor Himself is one and so all His actions equally attributable to Him. The classic formulation comes again from St. Augustine: ‘all the works of God are indivisible.’ This is confirmed for example, by the affirmation in the Creeds that Jesus Christ is the one ‘through whom all things were made.’  If this is true, you can see how inclusive language naming God as ‘creator, redeemer, sanctifier’ is more confusing, and says less, than one might at first suppose.

As an addendum to this truth about the Trinity we should say that, sometimes, one person of the Trinity has a role that seems to us more prominent or discernible. The Father creates with the Son uttered and the Spirit hovering, the Son redeems as He hands Himself over to the Father and is raised by the Spirit- each involves all but in differing ways. We can see that in some cases the one work of God may be spoken most accurately by a kind of shorthand that focuses on the role of one person in that work. The tradition called this the doctrine of appropriation.  It does not compromise or undercut the prior truth that the persons always act in concert.

Read Revelation 21 and discuss how the persons cooperate in the indivisible work of God

Priest and Victim

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Understanding Jesus the Messiah involves understanding both who He is and what He has done; the two are intertwined. Understanding the latter requires us to think about a central Biblical theme: sacrifice. The Gospels tell us His death coincided with Passover. Hebrews says He is the one, eternal priest; on the throne in Revelation is the wounded lamb. Now sacrifice was of course not exclusive to the Jewish people. It has been practiced the world over, and through its reasons are many and complicated, they include opening access to the lifeblood, and making a substitution symbolically of offerer for victim. While it is more rare in the modern world, it still lies deep in our collective psyche.

The death of Jesus and His resurrection should be thought of as a single event, His identification with our whole predicament and its vindication. The early Church accordingly spoke of its yearly remembrance and celebration as a single event, the Triduum, the three-days. At the most basic level we can say that our salvation happened, and so cannot be undone any more than any other event can be undone.

Let’s use the two senses of sacrifice: access and substitution. These apply well to the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. He ‘broke down the dividing wall’ (Ephesians 2:14), He gave us access to the Father (Romans 5:2): both involve an overcoming, a victory (here see Gustav Aulen’s famous book ‘Christus Victor’). He did so by taking on himself our wrongful condition - this is why every theory of atonement, though they feature different metaphors (from the law court, the pawn shop, etc.) has a dimension of ‘trading places.’ Both are God's costly work here on our behalf.

Sing ‘At the Lamb’s High Feast...’ and discuss the atonement.



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