“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

C. S. Lewis on the Trinity

I expanded this post into a series of eight posts on the Trinity, starting here.



In part IV of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the doctrine of the Trinity:

“[T]he mysterious something which is behind all things must be more than a person…something superpersonal…The whole purpose for which we exist is to be taken into the life of God.”
Lewis uses the analogy of dimensions in space, describing how God’s “dimension” is at a higher level than ours; we cannot to fully comprehend the Trinity:
“As you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you don't leave behind the things you found on simpler levels; you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you couldn't imagine if you knew only the simpler levels…On the Divine level, you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being…Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube.”
When thinking about the Trinity, we should not think it is an impossible contradiction or bad math (1+1+1=1).    The idea is that there are three distinct persons, so tightly knit together that the three are united as one being.  "Being" is something different than "person."  We do not know exactly how, and these words are no more than imperfect analogies to our human experience.  All we can say is that the life of God is both more complicated and simpler than the human experience.  There is both unity and diversity in the being of God; God is "the One who lives as three."  And to a large extent, we must be content with not knowing how this works.  After all, we are talking about God; we cannot expect our minds to be capable of fully grasping the infinite.

In a later chapter Lewis describes the three persons of the Trinity in more detail. He says that although there was never a time when the Father existed and the Son did not, the Father is nevertheless the cause of the Son*, and that this is what is meant by “begotten Son” or the Son “proceeding” from the Father. The Son is “streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp…He is the self-expression of the Father.” As the author of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Lewis goes on to say, “God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama.” He then comes to the third person of the Trinity. “The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is a Person.” Lewis goes on to describe how this can be, and he describes the different roles of each person in the Trinity in bringing us humans back into the life and love of God (how the Trinity brings about this history of the redemption of a fallen world and humanity). The Son, “streaming forth from the Father” enters the world and becomes a man; he is the Mediator, the bridge between us and the Father, and our way of knowing what the Father is like. The Holy Spirit is within us and acts through us. Like the Son, the Spirit reveals God to us, but in a different way. Understanding the Trinity also helps us to understand how “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Even before the creation of the world, there was love within the Trinity, and it is out of this life and love that creation came to be.

*I am not quite sure I agree with the idea of God the Father being the cause of God the Son. The idea of causality is, well, not as simple as it seems, I think. I think we should be careful when saying something is the cause of something else. It seems to me a strong word with which to describe this mysterious relationship between the persons in the Trinity.

4 comments:

  1. Hey elliot. just happened to come across your blog. very nice-incredible actually. my question is this: what do you say, or how do you respond when some one makes the claim that the bible(namely the new test.) isnt to be trusted b/c is wasnt authored by the people theyre is named after (like matthew, luke john, etc)?. - Gerard (gradswitch007@yahoo.com)

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  2. Hey Gerard,
    Glad you like the blog. I am no authority when it comes to the history of the books of the New Testament. The one name that comes to mind is N. T. Wright – he is an expert in things like this. As far as authorship of NT books I am not aware of any conclusive evidence that they weren’t authored by the authors accepted by tradition, and even if we’re not 100% sure who wrote them, this isn’t grounds for mistrusting them. I think that even if they were authored by someone other than they claim to be, it doesn't follow that the whole thing is inaccurate or not to be trusted. The Gospels definitely present themselves as historical accounts of factual events – they make extraordinary claims, but they are written in a sober, straightforward matter, ie., this happened and then this happened, etc. They include embarrassing details (like the failures of the disciples and women being eyewitnesses of the risen Christ) that one would not expect in fabricated legends. Although the Gospels differ in some regards, even to the point of apparent contradictions, they are similar enough that it is clear they are recounting the same historical events (a good book on this is The Four Gospels by Richard Burridge, especially in describing how historical claims and thus apparent contradictions must be examined in light of the theological themes and aims of each author, and in light of the genre of ancient biography). I wrote some more on this topic and related topics in several posts entitled “Evidence for the Resurrection” – basically a summary of a book on the historicity of the resurrection. Ultimately, it seems to me that one of the greatest defenses of the NT and the Gospels is the story they tell and the character of Jesus they describe – such a beautiful story, such a compelling person, such a huge effect in the lives of the apostles, it is hard to deny that something extraordinary happened in history.
    -Elliot

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  3. Dear brother, what do you think of the "Eternal generation" of the Son and the "eternal procetion" of the Spirit?

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  4. I wrote a little about this topic in this post:
    http://www.elliotnelson.net/2010/07/creation-reflects-pattern-of-trinity.html,
    which is part of a series of posts on "the pattern of reality."
    -Elliot

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