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The first person of the Trinity: the Father

By Peter Sellick - posted Monday, 16 October 2017


The first problem that we face when conceiving of the Father is that He is identified as God without regard to the other persons of the Trinity. This is as true for Christians and non-Christians, for atheists and theists. We all have in our minds a supreme being who is "out there." We inherit this conception from Greek thought through the idea of the prime mover, or the demiurge.

While it may seem rationally urgent to posit the existence of a being who set the planets in their orbits, this is not a concept to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures even though we inherit two creation stories in the first chapters of Genesis. Neither of these stories amount to a theory of cosmogenesis but are rather theological statements that outline the nature of humanity as creaturely.

We must remember that Israel was a pre-scientific culture that had not searched for the laws of cause and effect that underlay natural phenomena and whose conception of the universe was dominated by theological thinking. Thus, poetic expressions of God as being in command of the creation such as the following from Job, are hymns to God and not statements of cause and effect.

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..who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
(Job 9:7-9)

However, during the time of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century England the new natural philosophers, all, to a man, subscribed to the idea that God was active in the universe. This was particularly true of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle.

Newton, at some time in his life thought of God as being like the ether, a substance spread throughout the universe a bit like Tertullian's thinking gas. The outcome of this was that God became objectified as part of the mechanics of the universe despite the ancient warnings, particularly in Judaism, and also in early Christianity, that God was beyond the objective.

This use of God by scientists to fill the holes in their knowledge contributed to the rise of atheism because, as scientific work continued, (read Darwinian evolution) it was found that God was not needed to fill the gaps and was therefore surplus to requirements.

The objectification of God meant that the Trinity was replaced by monotheism. It is significant that this coincided with a resurgent Anti-Trinitarianism expressed as Unitarianism or as a deficient Trinitarianism that reduced the status of the Son and had no place at all for the Spirit. In this regard, the names of prominent English intellectuals are significant: John Locke, Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, John Tolland, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury and William Whiston, who followed Newton as Lucasian professor of mathematics.

The twentieth century saw a resurgence of Trinitarian theology that preserved the unknowability of the Father other than through the Son by the Holy Spirit. This means that the character of the Father cannot be merged into the speculative character of the god of philosophy or religious wishful thinking. The Son, as we discover Him in the history of the nation Israel and in Jesus of Nazareth, is the narrow gate through which God is revealed to us.

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If we return to Augustine's psychological analogy of seeing an object, the Son is the object that we see, the Father is our image of that object and the Spirit is the ongoing memory of the object. From this we understand that it is the image of the Son (for Christians ultimately, Jesus) that is the Father. Of Jesus the author of Colossians writes: "He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.." (Col.1:15)

When we consider the image of Christ, what do we see? We see a man of his time but out of time in that he refuses to be defined by religious or civil power. He is defined by something outside of himself that allows him to welcome tax collectors, sinners and unattached women to table fellowship. By doing so he represents forgiveness and justice and the inclusion of all humankind into fellowship with God.

We see him tempted by the devil (Mat. 4:1-11) resisting all temptation to power. In this he represents personal authenticity and freedom.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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