Saturday, July 31, 2010

John Vest answers my questions and I reply

This posting is an answer to a posting that John Vest wrote as he answered some questions of mine. It may seem scattered if you do not go to his post and read it. See: Thoughts on Jesus and the Trinity

Thank you John,

You have given me a good day because I can delve into my favorite subjects Christology and the Trinity. You have also raised some important points about the humility of Jesus and how that relates to the Trinity. And another subject that I have noticed turning up often in post-modern Christian conversations is about the seeming lack of attention to the Holy Spirit.

I think that I would first start with the symbol of the Trinity that you have with your posting. In actuality the symbol contradicts your words about the Trinity and I believe that here is the beginning of misunderstanding. (And here I am writing about your thought that Jesus is ‘part’ of the Trinity.) The symbol is meant to show three things:
1. That God is One
2. That God is known in three distinct persons
3. That each person is fully God

The point here is that no person in the Trinity is a ‘part’ of the Trinity, but all are the Trinity, otherwise there are three gods. The other important point concerns your thought that each person of the Trinity relates to humanity in a different way. I believe that is turned around. Each person of the Trinity relates to each other in a different way, that is, the Father begets the Son, and the Son is begotten, while the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (That is the great distinctiveness of the Trinity.)

But toward humanity all, both one and three, are involved in creating; all are involved in the redemption of humanity. And all of that focus of both creation and redemption is on and through the Son. I am thinking here of Colossians 1:15-20. For instance all things hold together by the “beloved Son.” He made peace through the blood of his cross. All things are created through him and for him. Etc.

And what of YHWH? Is YHWH not both one and three? And isn’t each person fully the one God? So didn’t YHWH take on flesh? (I know that is a mystery.) But consider, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him …” (Col 1:19a) or “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him,” (John 1:18) which reinforces “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14)

Now about both the humility and the worship of Jesus Christ. It is certainly true that what we know of God we know through Jesus Christ. And Jesus was humble. But it is Jesus who defines that humbleness. He is the one who took the time to set little children on his lap and bless them. But he also chased the money changers out of the Temple with a whip. He called some people really bad names. And he allowed many to worship him, including Thomas and the woman who broke the jar of perfume and poured it over him. He did not discourage the children who shouted “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”

What he did do was turn worldly values upside down. Leaders were to be servants. Those who considered themselves sinners and turned to God were forgiven. Those who thought they were righteous because of their works were not forgiven. Little children were important. One should always take the low seat not the high and important one. Etc.

So it is how we see Jesus in the Biblical text that shows us how we are to understand God. As Thomas Torrance writes, there is no God behind Jesus Christ. And it is in worshipping Jesus that we worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is, as Dale Brunner writes, the shy member of the Trinity. He writes, referring to John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8f., 13f., “The work of the Holy Spirit is the honoring of Jesus Christ. The work of other spirits is the honoring of themselves or other realities. We are not necessarily in the presence of the Holy Spirit when we are in the presence of a great deal of talk about the Holy Spirit. But wherever a Church or a person centers thoughtfully … on honoring the person, teaching, and work of Jesus Christ, there, we may be quite sure, we are in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit’s work is the thoughtful honoring of Christ.”

Brunner goes on to point out that the other members of the Trinity are also shy; each one pointing to the other. But then he concludes by asking where we should focus our attention. Brunner points out that by doing a proper constant exegesis of the scripture using Jesus Christ as our focus we will always be Trinitarian.

For instance you mention Psalms as praise to God, and this is how Bonhoeffer, who did write about the humility of God, writes about one particular psalm: “The much –disputed Psalm 45 speaks of love to the Messianic King, of his beauty, his richness, his power. Upon marriage to this King the bride is said to forget her people and her father’s house (v. 10) and to pay homage to the King. For him alone she is said to adorn herself and to be led to him with joy. That is the song and prayer of the love between Jesus, the king, and his church which belongs to him.”

I realize I have gone on far too long. But just one more thought. Jesus is not just an expression of God’s revelation. He is God’s revelation.

[1] That is from a wonderful tiny book that Bonhoeffer wrote and published despite the fact that the Nazi government had told him not to. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.


Anonymous said...

Great! Really helpful reflections. but they DO make me want to go sing, "Holy, Holy,. Holy"! :-)

Viola Larson said...

Yes, thats funny. After I copied Vest's paper out to read, one of my notes was Holy, Holy, Holy.

Pastor Bob said...

There are a whole bunch of hymns to the Holy Spirit in the 199(2?) Presbyterian Hymnal. Just like it added a bunch of hymns on the sacraments. One has a very simple name: "Spirit."

But if you use older hymnals there is less.