“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

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Trinity in Redemptive History

As distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Spirit play unique roles in the history of the redemption of a fallen world and in God’s act of bringing us humans back into the life and love of God. God’s actions are rooted in his ontologically foundational, eternal, and diverse yet united Being, so although each person plays a unique role, the united Being of God acts to achieve redemption without any tension or conflict within himself (that is, between persons in the Godhead). The purpose of the Trinity is one.

First, the Father begins history with the creation of the world and chooses the Israelites as a starting point for spreading salvation and knowledge of God to the whole world. God the Father sovereignly directs redemptive history and gradually reveals more and more of himself and his plan for salvation to his people Israel. Finally, God the Father gives his only Son in order to atone for our sins and to show us the depth of his love for us (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 3:19). In all this the Father works to raise us from death and return us to the life of being in his presence.

The Son participates in the act of creation along with the Father; numerous verses mention the Son’s involvement in creation in connection with his being the image or reflection of the Father (see John 1:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2). The Son, who, as Lewis writes, is “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. Just as the Son is the image and reflection of the Father in his very being, so he is the supreme revelation of the Father to us, the very face of God revealed to man (2 Corinthians 4:6). Remember Jesus’s words to Philip, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:9-10, see also John 1:14,18, 14:6). Furthermore, Jesus Christ, being both God and a man, links humanity to God. Through his death and resurrection Christ also perfects humanity and is the first man to be what God intended for man to be – the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). The whole great event of death and resurrection is begun in and centered on the Son’s death and resurrection and explodes outwards from the cross over all history and all people. In Christ we too are justified and raised from death – the temple curtain is torn in two and the gates of heaven are flung open. It is Christ who paves the way for our resurrection, and it is him we follow in that resurrection.

The Holy Spirit is the gift given to believers, dwelling within us, working through us, and giving us a knowledge and understanding of the things of God. Jesus said that “[the Father] will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17, see also John 7:39, Acts 1:4-5). The gift of the Spirit, purchased for us on the cross, is the beginning of the kingdom of heaven on earth and provides us with assurance of the final glory that is to come (Ephesians 1:13-14). Like the Son, the Spirit reveals God to us, but in a different, more internal way – through the Spirit we are enabled to understand the things of God and to overcome the sinful nature that has enslaved us (Romans 7-8). Through the Spirit we are sanctified and brought closer to God than we could have come ourselves – the resurrection that began in Christ and is to come fully in the future is begun in us through the Spirit’s work here and now.

Paul summarizes it concisely in Ephesians 2:18: “For through [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” It is important to think about the roles of the Trinity in the atonement and with respect to the cross, the central event in redemptive history. Edwards makes this striking insight:

“The Father appoints and provides the Redeemer, and Himself accepts the price and grants the thing purchased; the Son is the Redeemer by offering Himself and is the price; and the Holy Ghost immediately communicates to us the thing purchased by communicating Himself, and He is the thing purchased...it is God of Whom our good is purchased and it is God that purchases it and it is God also that is the thing purchased…All our good is of God the Father, it is all through God the Son, and all is in the Holy Ghost as He is Himself all our good. God is Himself the portion and purchased inheritance of His people. Thus God is the Alpha and the Omega in this affair of redemption.”
Yet again Romans 11:36 comes to mind. Of course, we must remember that Edwards speaks of the economic offices of the persons of the Trinity and how God is revealed to us, but not necessarily of the transcendent persons in and of themselves. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude that it is only the Father to whom we owe a debt, or that only the Spirit is given, and not, in a sense, the whole being of God, or that only the Son suffered for us and not God in all his Triune fullness.* In a different sense, the whole Trinity must participate in each role by virtue of the unity of God. However, it has been revealed to us that each person in the Trinity is the primary worker in each step in the act of redemption, and we would be wise to think of God primarily as he has revealed himself to us.

*If the love between the Father and the Son is personified in the Spirit, as Scripture seems to suggest, then perhaps we can glimpse what the cross may have meant for the Spirit in Jesus' words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).

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