January 9, 2009

Jesus = God (Incomprehensible)

The first half of this post is about Math and the Trinity. Don't quit reading! Near the bottom, it's all about Jesus Christ and His Father. Wait for it...

In Mathematics, "equal" means "exactly the same as". Strictly speaking, no two things (or persons) on the earth are equal because they would have to be exactly the same. One. Not two. Down to the last physical atom and neural pathway, I am precisely and absolutely the same as no one else, except for me. Even if I had an "identical" twin, we would be different in many ways. Two. Not one.

In total contrast, however, numbers can actually be "equal". Two plus Two actually does equal Four, because numbers are abstract. There are not two "fours". Two plus Two is just another way to think about what is - actually - "four". If you didn't get that, here's two more simple examples...

Fourth Graders learn that "point-five equals one-half". Those don't look the same, but they are. Tenth Graders learn that two angles can be "congruent" (same shape and size) but not "equal". While the measurements of two angles might be equal in degrees, we cannot ever say two angles are "equal". They are two angles. Not one. They are not absolutely the same. (Not even in the Euclidean plane.)

However, God in his spiritual realm breaks all of these rules. He is One. He is Three. All of our earthly experience says this ought to be incomprehensible. And it is... if we'll only admit it!

Officially, I’ll stand with those who say Augustine got as close as any human being is likely to get on understanding the Trinity. Actually, that’s probably true. Pragmatically, I’ll stand with people like Suzanne McCarthy and Frank Viola (both “laymen” like me, who also happen to stand with Augustine) who say the nature of the Godhead does NOT justify male domination of women OR ministerial hierarchy over the church. (That’s what my heart says, too.) But that’s not the point of this post.

Since Nicaea, and on through today, people have debated HOW God and Jesus are "equal". Equal in substance. Equal in essence. Of one being and substance. Begotten not made. I've never studied Augustine, but any time I see someone writing about the Trinity a part of me just checks out. You can't nuance precisely what no human being can comprehend. You can't explain how they are equal. You simply cannot wriggle around or away from the implicit impossibility of the word "equal" itself.

Only two New Testament passages use this word [in English] about Jesus and God. Neither man tried to explain. John tells us: He said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. It doesn't say HOW they were equal. Just that they were. Two. Yet one. It doesn't say "kind of the same". The Jerusalem Jews didn't try to kill him because he was arguing homoousion versus homoiousion. Equality in essence or being was not his crime. It was simple equality.

Now consider Paul’s tumultuous saga of the Godhead's equality in Philippians 2. Jesus Christ, in the form of God, had equality with God, but lowered himself to live as a man and die, in obedience. Then God raised Him up with a name that is higher than any other name. (Did you catch all that?)

Jesus Christ was equal to God. He became lower. He followed in subjection. Then the Father raised him. At the end, Jesus Christ had a name higher than all other names. Higher than Yahweh. Higher than Jehovah. Higher than Adonai. Equal. Lower. Still Equal. Higher. Yet still giving up all the Glory. Yet still Equal. Two. Yet One. Utterly Incomprehensible.

So throw out your hierarchies and anti-hierarchies. Admit you're as bad as I am at living up to Philippians 2. Pray that some of us can remember in living and active ways that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And most of all, pray for a people who remembers that simple fact as a group, together! If we find such a people, they may only shrug and say, Glory to God!

Such a body would be just like Him who cannot have an Equal. Incomprehensible!

Glory to God.


**For a more academic conclusion, here's one last bit of Math. It's common for many Fourth Grade Teachers to teach that "anything divided by zero equals infinity". Actually, that's false. "Infinity" is a concept. It's just an idea. Valueless and limitless, "Infinity" cannot "equal" anything. So Ninth Grade Teachers teach that "anything divided by zero gives an answer that is undefined". So Ninth Graders learn to write down that the answer is actually "Undefined".

Remember that, all you who seek to define the undefinable. Limitless in every aspect, Equal to no one but Himself, God breaks all rules of human thought. Academically, does Jesus = God? Scholars venture to say yes, then they glide into "yes-and-no". There's a beautiful dance, if you look with your spirit, but with your brain it's truly incomprehensible. Therefore, once again, see my first conclusion, above the asterisks.


Sarah said...

A friend at work yesterday was telling me that her priest told her to "pray to the Holy Ghost, because he's usually not as busy as the other two." I couldn't help myself. I started laughing. I certainly wouldn't have been able to elaborate on the corporate nature of the Godhead, so thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

The math stuff was over my head but:

(1) I think Augustine's Trinitarianism left quite a bit to be desired.

(2) I agree that the Trinity isn't a model for male-female relationships or church government.

(3) I hate to be one of those people who harp on spelling but it's "homoousion" and "homoiousion".

(4) I think the "name that is above every name" is Yahweh.

Oh, and I read this post yestderday in my RSS feed and this bit made me cringe: "but any time I see someone writing about the Trinity a part of me just checks out." Don't check out! Not even in part!!! Perhaps I'm biased seeing as how this is my most favoritest subject in the universe to study, but I think everyone should be like me! ;-)

In any event, good post.

Bill Heroman said...

You both made me laugh out loud! Awesome comments.

@Nick - Thanks for the sharp feedback and kind words also. So nice to know another of my subscribers. Maybe instead of "checks out" I should say the subject makes me feel "over my head".

I've corrected my spelling. Do try to work on your math. ;)

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Bill,

I am convinced it is a mystery that we can't comprehend well. I don't think I could ever solve it, but I do love the history of words. I would like to hear more of what Augustine meant by what he said.

And yes, Phil. 2 is a very important passage and a favourite of mine.

Bill Heroman said...

Amen to all of that, Suzanne. Thanks for your comments.

Peter Kirk said...

This post was an interesting read.

But I wonder if you are confused because you are trying to impose a modern mathematical definition of equality on to biblical texts and ancient creeds. Mathematically, you claim, two things are equal only if they are in fact the same entity. But even in modern English we can say that "All men are equal" without meaning to claim that they are all the same individual, that in fact there is only one man in the universe. In fact we mean that in essence they are on the same level, not distinguished by any ontological hierarchy. I understand the credal statement that the three Persons of the Trinity are equal (actually, "co-equal", in the Athanasian Creed, which is not a genuine work of Athanasius but much later) to have the same meaning: there is no permanent hierarchy in the Godhead.

You might be interested in this post of mine and the discussion on it.

Bill Heroman said...

Hey, Peter. Thomas Jefferson went on to qualify what he meant. Your comment used the words "in essence". And evidently even Asthanatius felt the need to modify his language a bit. However, John 5:18 does not qualify. It just says equal.

You raise a good point about history, though. I wonder what Pythagoras would have thought about language on the Trinity? ;)

Anonymous said...

According to the Bible, the Johannine Jesus was not God, and he never claimed to be God. Jesus was a good monotheistic Jew who endorsed the Shema, that YHWH is numerically one. When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30), he only meant that he and God the Father were united in relationship and purpose, and he fully explained it by saying, “the Father is in me; and I in the Father” (v. 38)–the Mutual Indwelling. Thomas saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (20.28), alludes to this Mutual Indwelling that Jesus again taught Thomas and Philip, in John 14.9-11. So, Thomas only meant that he now comprehends God the Father indwelling the resurrected Jesus. Finally, Jesus prayed to the Father, calling him “the only true God” and distinguishing this one God from himself–”Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17.3). It is a travesty that church fathers became somewhat anti-Semitic and, influenced by Greek philosophical metaphysics, corrupted the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by misinterpreting his being the Son of God to mean that he was God. Rather, Jesus was not God but, solely as a virgin-born human being, became a parallel to innocent Adam before the fall and recovered what Adam lost by becoming Savior from sin to those of us who believe. See my website, SevetusTheEvangelical.com.

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