The Trinitarian God

But what do we mean when we refer to God, whose attention is focused on us, as God-in-Trinity? Let me first admit that, following Aquinas at this point, talk about God as Trinity is an example of where language comes to an end of its power. It is God who reveals himself in human experience to be a Trinitarian God; the doctrine is not a conclusion of rational inquiry, even though by the same token, it cannot be affirmed to be irrational. Language may come to the end of its authority, but recognizing this may liberate one into the very framework that informs what one grasps after. This is an important point made by Fronda in his intriguing exploration of Wittgenstein’s approach to religious language (Fronda, 2010; cf., Putnam, 1992, pp. 134-57). The language of the Trinity grounds our experience of God and helps us to make sense of it, though it is of course nonempirical and launches us into further and deeper imaginative inquiry.

The Trinitarian God is understood in Christian theology to be the Creator who in creating does not simply engage in certain activities but gives himself to the world through Christ in concerned and courteous attention to its flourishing. God is a gracious, self-giving God, who in creating would deny his true nature if he were not himself involved in the profoundest relationship with that which he was making. Christians develop their theological understanding of this when they refer to God’s commitment of himself as redemptively creative: God’s creative presence in Christ literally characterizes the world he is making. It may “fall from grace”—that is, lose any sense of living in the presence of God—but it can never put itself beyond the God who is utterly focused on the world’s flourishing, a fact that is contained within the notion of God as Holy Spirit. Any interpretation of the world of our experience that fails to take account of this fact is not simply incomplete, it is false.

But that is not all; for in coming to terms with what it means to be human, we have also to engage in some hard theological work if we are to understand the character of our humanity. The phrase with which we have to work, as we have seen previously, is that humankind is made in “the image of God.” By this we mean that just as God gives himself once and for all to inform and enliven the world’s life, so can the animals we know ourselves to be as human beings. But the character of these animals, these creatures made in God’s image, will only be experienced as and when they give themselves attentively to the world’s well-being. This means that the condition of being truly human is characterized by the willing ability not just to do things but to be someone who gives himself or herself to the world’s flourishing. To live with any other focus for life is to live a lie. In Christian terms, it is to deny the image that is within us and to live in sin—that is, unaware of the truth that is within us.

However, if people are to know themselves redeemed by God’s grace (as indeed they are) and discover what it means to give themselves in wholehearted service, it will be necessary for them to attend first to the Person of God and to learn to love him. An awareness of the relationship with God that God graciously has given us will nourish our capacity to be ourselves. The character of that relationship is friendship, which means the sharing of a common will, as Aquinas emphasizes frequently in his Summa and elsewhere (Schwarz, 2007, ch. 3-4). Friendship requires an assumed equality of persons in the relationship, which can only be the case for God and humankind because of God’s gracious invitation, as recalled in the words of Jesus: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jn. 15:15). True friendship implies a common willing, hoping, and sharing of purpose, a genuine possibility, given God’s gracious presence.

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