Friday, 19 May 2017

The "being" of divine space and the challenge of Indifference

I have to confess to feeling a low ebb of motivation right now theologically. Over the past three years that has been rarely the case, but receiving the rejection from Wipf & Stock, a fresh ankle sprain, internet woes and very little take up on my insights into the Trinity development have left me wondering what to do. My last post about unsuccessful mutations, which seemed like one of my most insightful posts to date, received a measely 10 hits. In the blogosphere that's like saying "don't bother".

However, that very fact alone is theologically interesting. That is to say, why should a theologian theologise? If no-one is interested in your questions, are you still willing to pursue them regardless of the public interest that might generate? How will you cope with indifference? Perhaps this is another place where the dividing line of faith becomes relevant to theological work. If you believe that God really is there, listening, encouraging, pleased with your heart: then that might be enough. That should be enough. God is not indifferent - not the God of the Bible.

So, with some difficulty, let me try to suggest something about the Trinity and the "being" of God. Some of the better theologians around today recognise that our words are not really very adequate when it comes to speaking about God. N. T. Wright mentioned this again recently at the 2017 BioLogos conference (or it might have been his panel session around his book launch of The Day the Revolution Began), and therefore the need to speak wisely and humbly. This is especially important to note with divine beings, because there is at least one being, according to Trinitarian orthodoxy, who comprises/comprise three persons. See - we are already in a difficulty with verb conjugations. If the issue hits our grammar, then something might not be right about our approach to the subject matter.

The supreme Christian divine being, God, is not just the Father, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Blessed Trinity. There is no other being like him/them. But which is it? "Him"? Or "them"? Let's switch to human beings for a moment, which should make it immediately apparent why the language is not working well for Triune-God advocates. Can there be any difference between a human person and a human being? No, there is none. A human person is identical to a human being. If I point to my Mum and say here is a human person (although that would be a strange thing to say!) then it is the same thing as saying she is a human being. A being just is a person in every other case, billions of times over. Even in the realm of mythological antiquity, the gods were personal and single personal entities. They were "he" and "she". In English, we apply grammatical rules, like in Greek, that are by definition governed by the number of persons involved. So a third-person singular conjugation is about a single (third) person. If you wanted to refer to more than one person, you would need to use a third-person plural form. Some languages like classical Arabic have a special third-person plural for precisely two persons and a separate form for three or more. Regardless, the number of persons is crucial to knowing what grammatical form to use.

What about the God of the Bible? Does "he" ever receive a multi-person verb form? No, he doesn't. With the God revealed by the Bible and through Jesus Christ, you do not need to use quotes around the "he". He is not revealed as a "they". Later, however, by the fifth century, the plurality of persons comprising the "godhead" would be worked out, even if sentences were usually formed that avoided the difficulty of personal pronouns. But is that not ducking the issue? If God is the only divine being to not be identical to the divine persons "within" "him", then what do we do? Good question. What do we do? Fortunately, the Bible still influences our way of thinking deeply as Christians and we continue with the third person singular and do not encourage confusion. God is thus maintained as a simple personal being and trinitarian issues are bracketed.

My recent posts and work on the Triune Hub have encouraged a new stance. I have been encouraging a new way through for trinitarianism which revolves around quasi-physical space. It should be readily granted that the first century provided fertile soil for new emergence of theological perspective. Christianity emerged from **within** Judaism for instance, radically redefining various aspects of Jewish belief, not least of which was permitting that a human figure be worshipped alongside God. The point is that prior to that time, the person of God and the being of God were viewed (I would claim) in a way similar to human persons and human beings - that is to say: identically. God was a Divine person. God was a divine being. Another way to put this in quasi-spatial terms from the perspective of a second temple Jew would be that his person filled the central divine space. The middle, the centre, the core, the heart, the hub of the Jewish faith was God himself.

Before the close of the first century A.D. that central space had been radically redefined to now include the Messiah and the Spirit. That is a monumental shift. But you can see how this divine hub that used to be just God, but is now revealed to be occupied by Father, Son and Spirit, could indeed be later understood - with the best words available of the time - as the being of God, and not his person, which Scripture bolts firmly to the Father. What is really fascinating to ask is why? Thus far, I haven't seen any other hypothesis that matches the explanatory power of the Triune Hub model. But I'm open! Theories can usually be improved, and my own work has seen a lot of fine-tuning over the last six months.

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