Like Gangrene on a Bullet Wound

September 21, 2008

In the comments section of the “What Makes Him So Sure?” post, I acknowledged my own inability to diagram exactly how God can both ordain whatever comes to pass and remain untainted by the guilt of sin.  I believe He can and does, just to be clear, because I believe this to be the undeniable declaration of scripture.  But don’t ask me for a schematic.  And, as I said in my comment to Kevin, the same goes for the Trinity.
I bring attention to this now because I just so happened to get into an after-dinner discussion with a Roman Catholic priest the other day about the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of Divine Sovereignty, during which I made the same reference to the Trinity.  I don’t know how it is, says I, but I can’t deny that it is.  I’d like to share part of his response to this, and why I found it blogworthy.
The priest asked if I wouldn’t rather hold a view that I thought was more intellectually satisfying.  I had to admit that I would prefer to have a schematic rather than not, if given the choice, but that we’re not always given the choice, as with the doctrine of the Trinity.  The priest replied by saying he could think of an illustration that was analogous to the Trinitarian view of God, but could think of no analogous illustration of Calvinistic sovereignty.  And his for-example illustration of the Trinity was this:  The Father is the sun in the sky, the Son is the reflection of it on the windowpane, and the Holy Spirit is the bright spot on the hardwood floor.
Now unfortunately our conversation had to be cut short, so in fairness to the priest, know that he hasn’t had a chance to respond to what follows.  Stay tuned for updates on that.  But since I’ve got your attention, here’s my reaction.  I think this is a terrible illustration of the Trinity, and I do not find it intellectually satisfying in the least.  And the great big day-glow orange warning flag that for the life of me I can’t figure out why isn’t flapping wildly in the priest’s head is homoousios.  As any Roman Catholic apologist will gladly tell you, the Nicene Creed formally defined what we nowadays call the Trinitarian nature of God, testifying that this was the truth to which revealed scripture demanded we submit.  The controversy driving the council of Nicea was the teaching of Arius, that heretic who denied the Deity of Christ.  It was chiefly Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria who, in order that the church leave no room for Arius’ heretic views, tirelessly insisted the phrase homoousios (of one substance) be included in the description of Christ: “We believe in… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…”   The problem I have with the priest’s sunspot illustration of the Trinity is that it appears to leave no room at all for homoousios.  The reflection of the sun is NOT the sun, any more than the air warmed by the sun is the sun.  For this and many other reasons, I find this illustration decidedly not intellectually satisfying.
Now I mention this here because, at the premature closing of our conversation, the priest promised me an intellectually satisfying way to illustrate the nature of Divine sovereignty.  I’m all ears, and I mean that sincerely.  I mean, hey — if you say you got a map, I’ll look at it.  But I have learned the hard way that the sin of presumptuousness grows on theological systemization like gangrene on a bullet wound.  We must be always mindful that we cannot know the mind of God unless He reveals it to us by His Spirit, and there are just some things that He plays close to the chest.  Quite often the fact is revealed, but not the how-to manual.  That’s not our end of the stick to whittle on.  God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

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