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Our faith forebearers remind us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge or knowing (Proverbs 1:7). That means thinking about the God of the Bible begins with acknowledging that he is holy—utterly other than and beyond what we know. We speak of him, therefore, analogically (by way of analogy).
For instance, God designed gender, but he has no gender, he is beyond gender. It is entirely appropriate to speak of him in the masculine sense because the essence of the masculine is that which creates, initiates. The essence of the feminine is to receive, to respond. God, as our creator, initiates grace, which his loving pursuit of us in Jesus, who is the head of his church. We all, then—male and female—are feminine with respect to him; we are the bride of the Messiah.
But ultimately, we are speaking by way of analogy.
When it comes to defining the essence of God, we can make truthful statements. However, when it comes to explaining the essence of God, we must fall on our face and say, "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh." The distinction between defining and explaining, my friends, is critical. Said another way, we can make truthful statements that define relationships within the Godhead by way of analogy, but we cannot penetrate and explain the essence of God.
That puts us in a place of tension. We are not comfortable with it so through centuries of church history (continuing to this day) there are various attempts and efforts to resolve that tension. Some in the Jewish-roots movement believe they can resolve it by using what they think are Hebraic categories. The result turns out to be a restatement of historical heresies, just dressed in tallits rather than togas. (I go in-depth on this subject in my series, One God and One Lord)
We need humility to accept that the church fathers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak truthful statements out of existential and spiritual necessity, defending the integrity of sacred Scripture's witness against the many errant views circulating in their day. They spoke accurate statements in the creeds that helped define.
But watch this, they never attempted to explain the Godhead.
The Trinity, as it is classically called, does not explain the Godhead. Instead, it seeks to make truthful statements that accord with the entire witness of Scripture.
My point is this, beware of the inclination—either yours or that of others—to try and make things clear-cut and clean. At the end of the day, the revelation of the One God in the fullness of Father and Son and Spirit should engender awe and thanksgiving. I pray that we would more fully embrace, celebrate, and enter into the mystery.
All this does not mean you give up studying, heaven forbid. As I said before, what it means is that you study to revere, not to explain or to control. You do not need to run from the tension, nor feel like you have to explain it. The truth is this, it is the Spirit who teaches you to think more biblically, more relationally. The result opens your eyes to wonderful things in his Word.
For example, consider the mysterious waters of baptism. Yesterday my wife made an interesting observation on a familiar yet oft-misunderstood text,
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)
Notice it is not Father, Son, Spirit. The English translation of the Greek here rightly reflects the original Hebrew language and its use of "and" (vav). Transformed disciples from all nations are to be immersed into the name (a Hebrew idiom) of the Father AND the Son AND the Holy Spirit. This is not a formula; it describes a relational reality! Matthew validates and emphasizes this reading as he continues to recount Jesus' words, "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
There is an important Hebrew word that helps keep all this in perspective, hesed. It is translated lovingkindness in Hebrew and comes into the Greek language as grace (charis). On the one hand, it speaks of God's redemptive initiative. God is a god, because of his hesed, who seeks you out. He wants to overtake you with his goodness and his grace. He pursues you.
On the other hand, once you enter into a covenant relationship with him, hesed speaks of God's faithfulness, his loyalty to the covenant. In short, God initiates and keeps his covenant.
Hesed. It is a term of relationship. It is a staggering thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob invites us into a new covenant relationship, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that is but is not only the mercy of a vastly superior being to we who are so inferior. I praise him for his mercies. But beyond this, hesed goes to God's very intent—he desires to enter into a relationship, into a covenant partnership. And to that end, he gives you his Holy Spirit.
What an extraordinary honor!
This teaching comes from an amazing 8-part audio seminar, recorded at a Haverim School of Discipleship conducted by Dwight Pryor. For your edification, these live recordings are on sale in our store.