So, Is Your God Loving?
My Muslim friend and I sat across the table from one another, enjoying gyros at a little Greek spot that had just opened. It was an exercise in co-education, each of us thoroughly convinced of our religious convictions yet wanting to be sure we heard opposing viewpoints accurately. So the Christian and the Muslim sat across the table from one another in conversation, a conversation that went quickly from wives and children to theological matters.
My friend had a big problem with the Trinity, citing the familiar and anemic argument that 1+1+1 equals three gods, not one god. After showing my friend that monotheistic Jews did indeed worship Jesus before his resurrection1 without any pretense of converting to polytheism2, I asked him if his god was loving. He affirmed that his god was indeed loving. I then asked if his god was eternally loving. He asked what I meant by that. I replied that if his god was singularly personal and existed before he created anything then with whom could he have been in a relationship. If a creator god is not multi-personal, then love and the capacity to be in a relationship cannot be a part of that god’s eternal character. That god is deficient, and a religion to him, incredulous.
Flash forward to a small conference room in which an oral ordination exam was underway. I’ve had the privilege and horror of sitting through many ordination exams. It’s a privilege to see how God shapes men for the ministry. It’s a horror, at times, when the man under examination is so under-equipped that we, as the examining committee, would be negligent to unleash him onto an unsuspecting congregation.3 “Tell me about the Trinity from an ontological perspective,” questions one of the interlocutors on our committee. The answer was sufficient, highlighting the full deity of each person in the Trinity. “Tell me about the Trinity from an economic perspective,” came the second question. Again, the candidate responded well, describing how different activities are assigned to individual members of the Trinity without denying the full deity of any of the persons or the perichoresis of the Godhead. Then came the third question, “Tell me about the personal properties of the Trinity.” The candidate had the blank stare that our examiners have come to recognize as an ordination exam train wreck.
What my Muslim friend and our ill-equipped ordinand both lacked was a firm grounding in the personal properties of the Trinity. Our ordinand was especially without excuse since one of our foundational documents, the Westminster Larger Catechism, reads,
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
What this doctrine highlights is that the members of the Godhead have been in an eternal relationship with one another in ways that are distinct to their persons. The begetting of the Father, the begotten-ness of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit are all unique ways that each member of the Trinity interact with the other members. This isn’t a fringe doctrine for Ph.D. dissertations that will never be read by more than the Ph.D. candidate’s committee and wife. This principle is crucial for understanding who God is and how we relate to him as his people.
For example, as I was trying to show to my Muslim friend, the doctrine of the love of God stands on the truth of the personal properties of the members of the Trinity. God did not become loving when he created the universe.7 Love was not a characteristic that he strapped on and began to exude when he crafted Adam from the ground. God wasn’t lonely, twiddling his thumbs, in pre-Creation, eternity-past. God has always been loving because God has always been Trinity. The Father has always expressed begetting love to the Son. The Son has always expressed begotten love to the Father. And the Spirit has always expressed processing love from the Father and the Son. When God created man in his image8, man was loved by God with a truly eternally love, love without beginning or end, because God has no beginning or end.9
Most religions and religious people profess some deity that can love. But that isn’t enough. If your god is loving, prove it.10 Only Trinitarian Christians have the theological backing to profess a truly loving God. “God is love,” is no theological statement sustainable by vapid, liberal theology. To claim “God is love,” requires the full weight of Trinitarian orthodoxy.
Always let your theology drive you to your knees. For our God is the one true God, and there is no other.11
- John 9:38; Matt 14:33 ↩︎
- This is such an important and overlooked proof of the full deity of Jesus. ↩︎
- The majority of our examination don’t end this way. ↩︎
- Heb 1:5-8 ↩︎
- John 1:14, 18 ↩︎
- John 15:26; Gal 4:6 ↩︎
- John 17:5 ↩︎
- Gen 1:26-27 ↩︎
- Rev 1:8; Heb 7:3 ↩︎
- We allow people to say things like, “My god is loving,” without challenging them on it. There are fewer theologically charged and narrow views than to assert the eternal character of love to a deity. ↩︎
- John 17:3; 1 Cor 1:8 ↩︎