Life of the Trinity: Self-giving love

trinity

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his Theo-Drama IV: The Action, has an excellent (beware, Balthasar is deep!) explanation of the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. For him, life in the Trinity is the starting point of all theology.

In explaining the life involved inside the Trinity, von Balthasar centers on the “generation of the Son” by the Father. This, to him, is the starting point of the Trinity; it explains and reveals everything else.

Balthasar explains the “generation of the Son” as the eternal action of God the Father in giving of himself in love. Because God is love, he is constantly pouring himself out in love. As a result, this pouring of oneself out demands a Beloved — this beloved One is the Son, who is eternally begotten as a result of the Father’s eternal love.

von Balthasar explains*:

The action whereby the Father utters and bestows his whole Godhead, an action he both “does” and “is”, generates the Son. This Son is infinitely Other, but he is also the infinitely Other of the Father…

So, God the Father’s outpouring of love eternally generates the Son. And this outpouring is such that the Son is eternally begotten, and other than of the Father (other in Person, one in substance).

von Balthasar goes so far to say that,

God the Father gives… his divinity away in such a manner that it is not merely “lent” to the Son: the Son’s possession of it is “equally substantial”

And so, God the Son, as God the Father’s beloved, is consubstantial with the Father. von Balthasar describes this outpouring as the “kenosis” (emptying of oneself) of God the Father. He gives of his divinity, empties himself, such that the Son is equal with the Father as a result of that love.

von Balthasar then explains that the Son, as a result of this love, cannot help but give back:

It follows that the Son, for his part, cannot be and possess the absolute nature of God except in the mode of receptivity: he receives this unity of omnipotence and powerlessness from the Father. This receptivity simultaneously includes the Son’s self-givenness… and his filial thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of consubstantial divinity.

What Balthasar explains is that as the Son receives this “powerless” outpouring, this kenosis, of God the Father, he cannot help but give of himself in an act of eucharistia (thankfulness). And so, the Son pours of himself in kenosis back to the Father. Thus, the Father and the Son give of themselves to one another eternally.

Consequently, this expression of kenotic love between the Father and Son is the Holy Spirit. He is the unity of love between the Father and Son.

Balthasar says that the Spirit is a

seal of that self-expropriation that is identical in Father and Son… [He is] the pure manifestation and communication of the love between Father and Son

So this is the life of the Trinity. It is a Lover, a Beloved, and Love which seals the two. We may call the Trinity a kenosis of love. For each person empties himself for the other. The Trinity is radically other-centered. The Father gives, the Son receives and gives, the Spirit seals and glorifies the other two.

von Balthasar goes on to explain that this doctrine of the kenotic Trinity is the starting point for the rest of Christian doctrine. The doctrines, broadly, of creation, covenant, and cross, are all seen as coming from the Trinitarian life of God.

von Balthasar explains,

We spoke of a first “kenosis” of the Father, expropriating himself by “generating” the consubstantial Son. Almost automatically, this first kenosis expands to a kenosis involving the whole Trinity. For the Son could not be consubstantial with the Father except by self-expropriation; and their “We”, that is, the Spirit, must also be God if he is to be the “personal” seal of that self-expropriation…

This primal kenosis (Trinitarian life) makes possible all other kenotic movements of God into the world; they are simply its consequences. The first “self-limitation” of the triune God arises through endowing his creatures with freedom. The second, deeper, “limitation” of the same triune God occurs as a result of the covenant, which, on God’s side, is indissoluble, whatever may become of Israel. The third kenosis, which is not only christological but involves the whole Trinity, arises through the Incarnation of the Son alone: henceforth he manifests his eucharistic attitude (which was always his) in the pro nobis [for us, in place of] of the Cross and Resurrection for the sake of the world.

This is a favorite passage of mine, because in it, Balthasar ties Christian theology to the life of the Trinity.

For Balthasar, creation itself is seen as an over-pouring of Trinitarian love, in which God creates and gives of himself to free agents. Creation, for him, is “a new ‘kenosis’ on God’s part, since he is thereby restricted, implicitly by creaturely freedom and explicitly by the covenant with its stated terms”. In giving implicit freedom, and explicit covenants, God is thereby binding and limiting himself (even limiting his own freedom) to his creation. Thus, the creation is an act of self-giving love from an overflow of the Trinity itself!

On a deeper level still, the cross is an expression of Trinitarian kenosis; because in the cross, Jesus pours himself out — he empties himself (Phil 2:7) — on behalf of mankind. He gives himself as a sacrifice for the sin of mankind, which is a pleasing aroma to the Father (Eph 5:2). Balthasar explains that the the Son’s surrender to death on the cross is a “representation of the Father’s trinitarian, loving self-surrender”. This fits especially with Christ’s words: if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Thus, when we look to the cross — this kenosis of Christ, this atoning surrender — we see the Father in his essence.

And so, Trinitarian self-giving love — kenosis — is the grounding of all Christian theology!

*All quotes come from section III, C, 1

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Why I’m a Complementarian Part 2: The Trinity

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I’m doing a series of posts on why I’m a complementarian. If you don’t know what that is, please read my first post, and I give you a definition of that and also the opposing egalitarian view. In my first post, I considered the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption, and concluded that the narrative itself presents a complementarian view of marriage.

In this post, I want to consider the Trinity. Now this may seem strange to apply the theology of the Trinity to a subject about manhood and womanhood within marriage. But because egalitarians consider it oppressive to define roles within marriage in terms of headship and submission, I think it is completely pertinent to consider how the Trinity functions and operates.

First, I want to affirm that each person within the Trinity — Father, Son and Spirit — is fully and equally God. There are several texts to consider. John 1 for instance says that in the beginning (eternity past) Jesus was with God (the Father), and he is God (John 1:1). Acts 5:3-4 tells an episode in which Peter equates the Holy Spirit with God himself. And also, there are plenty of texts referring to the Father as God (Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:6). Besides this, there are numerous texts in which each person of the Trinity is referred: Jesus tells the disciples to baptize disciples in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:18-20). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. They are all there: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 

All this is mentioned to say that each member of the Trinity is equally God. And, the one God of the Bible would not exist apart from each person of the Trinity.

But what this does not mean is that each equal member of the Trinity has the same function. Equality does not preclude uniformity. In fact, each person in the Trinity has a separate function and responsibility. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us that the Father’s role in salvation is that of choosing. He chooses us in Christ and predestines that in Christ we will be presented holy and blameless before him (vv. 3-6). However, Christ’s role in this salvation is different. His role is to spill his blood that we might have that redemption and forgiveness chosen by the Father (vv. 7-10). But then, the Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s death, and seals us for the day of redemption. From this text, we find that each member of the Trinity has a differing role in our salvation!

And quite remarkably, Christ’s role is subservient to the Father’s, and the Spirit’s role is submissive to the Son’s. Though each member of the Trinity is equal, they have roles which submit to one another. Christ said that he came not to do his own will, but the will of his Father (Jn 6:38). And the Spirit was given to magnify the work of Christ (Jn 16:14)!

If complementarianism is oppressive to women, then we must also agree that Christ’s willing submission to the Father is oppressive. Since we cannot say that, than we also cannot say that headship and submission within marriage is wrong. In fact, as you delve deeper into the Trinitarian mission and mind, you find that the unity and diversity found in marriage models the unity and diversity found in the Godhead!

In marriage, two people become one flesh (Gen 2:24), and yet each person has a different role in that oneness. The male is the head, and the female is the helper. The male leads, the female supports. And, just as it is impossible to have redemption without each member of the Trinity, it is impossible to have a marriage without one man, and one woman.

Equality in worth, diversity in function.

Did God need to create the world to get more glory?

garden eden

Did God need to create us to get glory? In one way, this question is very simple: no he didn’t. But in another way, it’s a little more complicated.

The reason it’s complicated is because the Bible tells us why God created the world: He created it for his glory. In Isaiah 43:6-7, God says, “Bring My sons from far away, and My daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone called by My name and created for My glory”. Psalm 19:1 tells us that even creation and “the heavens declare the glory of God”. Contrastly, Paul explains that sin at its root is failing to bring glory to God — for though mankind “knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude…Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (Rom 1:22-23). And “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). So we were created to glorify God, and humanity fell because we all failed to do this. 

But there is another side to this question that we need to address; because we must assume that God did not have to create anything to be anymore glorious than he already is. Jesus, while praying before his death, says in John 17:5, “Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed“. Jesus makes an important clarification, that the Godhead already had glory before the creation of the world. The Trinitarian community had eternal, infinite, unceasing glory before any of us ever existed. Paul says in Acts 17:24-25, “the God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything”. So God is not served by human hands, and he does not need us. This means that creation couldn’t possibly add to God’s eternal glory even if we wanted it to. God’s glory is totally self-sustained within his triune existence. 

So while the Bible affirms that God created all things for his glory, it also affirms that God has sufficient glory within his Trinitarian being to never create a single thing! How do we reconcile these two truths?

I think the key here is to see creation is an overflow and expression of God’s glory. What I mean is that because God had such perfect love within himself, such infinite fellowship, and such eternal greatness, that it brimmed over. And the triune God wanted to create a world through which to further express and share this glory. So when the Bible tells us that we were created for God’s glory, it means that we were created to express and reveal this triune joy. We were created to be God’s icons, and to manifest the love so infinitely and perfectly expressed in the Godhead. In a very real way, all of creation is an overflow of the perfect triune life within God. That’s why we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). We were created to further manifest, display, and reveal the glory so greatly displayed in the triune God. This also makes sense when we consider God’s first act with Adam, which was to give him a person with which to share love and unity (Gen 2:24). Is not marriage a display of the unity and love found between the Father, Son, and Spirit? I think so. So creation then is an overflow, a brimming over, an expression and revelation of the glory already found in the Godhead.

John Owen explains this well, saying, “The Father’s love for the Son is the fountain and the prototype of all love…and all love in the creation was introduced from this fountain to give a shadow and resemblance of it”. Richard Sibbes also says, “the Father so enjoyed his fellowship with his Son that he wanted to have the goodness of it spread out and communicated or shared with others.  The creation was a free choice borne out of nothing but love”.

For a more expansive view of how this affects our view of the gospel, and the purpose of the Christian life, I’d invite you to listen to this sermon I gave on God’s glory, The Purpose of the Christian Life.

John Piper also has a good small series of videos on this concept over at Desiring God: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/the-devotional-on-glory