Black Hole Theology
A few years back, the scientific community was in a tizzy over a photograph of a black hole. The aerospace engineering students in my congregation told me it wasn’t really a photograph of a black hole, though. It was a picture of an event horizon that surrounded the black hole. The black hole is an unknowable vacuum from which not even light can escape, so it can’t actually be photographed. Yet a shining ring of condensed, condensing matter forms at its edge; that is the event horizon.
When it comes to the doctrines of the Trinity and Hypostatic Union, analogies are a dangerous thing, Patrick. In my years of teaching, I’ve only found one analogy helpful, but it’s really an anti-analogy. These two doctrines are what I call Black Hole Theology.
When it comes to the doctrine of the trinity, there are 2,000 years’ worth of scholarship and debate, always echoing back to those core principles worked out by the early church in the ancient creeds. We talk about one essence or substance and three persons or subsistences. It’s at the heart of orthodoxy, and those essential truths have huge ramifications for the rest of theology. Volumes can be (and have been) written about Trinity.
But in a way, everything we say is really about what Trinity is not. It’s an event horizon around the incomprehensible, indescribable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. He is not three different gods that are working together, that would be tri-theism. He is not one God that plays three different roles and personalities, which would be modalism. He is not one God divided into thirds (partialism). He is not one God that created two other versions of Himself (Arianism).
We come to these conclusions by balancing all of the different verses of Scripture that describe God. Deut 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is one.” Isa 44:6, “Thus says YHWH, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, YHWH of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” Those verses rule out anything where there’s multiple gods.
Then in the baptism of Jesus in passages like Luke 3:21-22, we see three distinct persons. Jesus is coming up out of the water while the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and God is speaking from heaven of Jesus as the beloved Son. When we tie those into the references to the Spirit of God (like Eph 4:30) and the proof texts for the deity of Christ (like John 1:1), we see that there are three distinct persons. Jesus prays to the Father. Jesus speaks of how He and the Father are one. And on and on it goes… Each verse presents us with a different point on that event horizon defining the edge of the beautiful, unknowable holiness of God. It reminds us that we know God in relation and revelation, but we cannot know Him as He is in Himself. We can’t dissect Him and put Him in a box.
We find the same thing when we try to wrap our finite minds around the nature(s) of Jesus. He is one person with two natures and two wills. He must continue to be God, because the second person of the Trinity can’t stop being God or diminish in His God-ness. He has to continue to sustain creation’s very existence. But He has to be man in the full sense to be our sympathetic mediator and Federal Head. The list goes on and on here too.
As we trace out those key proof-texts about Jesus, we find something similar to the Trinity. He is not just a man. He is not a man possessed by a divine spirit. He is not God who just looks like a man. He is not God with divine flesh. He is not God emptied of His divinity. When we’ve chased out all the avenues of thought and tested them against what Scripture says of Jesus, we wind up right back at the conclusions of those early church fathers. We slowly define the event horizon around the black-hole-mystery that is our Savior whom we know and love because He revealed Himself and loved us first and perfectly.
So rejoice in the Holiness of God. Celebrate the reality of an incomprehensible Savior. The Trinity and Hypostatic Union are not problems to resolve, but mysteries to revel in. It reminds us that these things are not the imaginations of men, but glimpses of the perfect God who loves us perfectly.
Chris Marley is the pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, AZ. Chris has an M.Div. from Westminster Seminary California (from the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies). He is the author of Scarlet and White.