“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

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Creation Reflects the Pattern of the Trinity

"The pattern is there in Nature because it was first there in God." - C. S. Lewis, Miracles
…If there is indeed a pattern or theme that can be traced throughout all creation, as I have suggested, then where does it come from? Why is reality structured as it is, and not in some other way? The answer, of course, is that the whole pattern is found in God himself, in his very being, and its presence in creation is derived from its presence in the Creator.*

The doctrine of the Trinity is essential in understanding how this pattern is part of God's nature. God is One being, yet in a different sense, God is three persons, and there is a mysterious order among these persons. First is God the Father - all that God is is ultimately rooted in the Father. The Father is original, and in a deep and not fully understandable way, comes before the Son and the Spirit. All three persons exist eternally and are uncreated, yet the Father is first in this order.

The Son is the image of the Father, his "exact representation" (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15), "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father." The Father's divine nature is shared fully by the Son, but the Son is the "mirror image" of the Father, second in this divine order. In other words, all that God is (his nature, character, attributes) is in the Son just as it is in the Father, yet one can only see it in the Son as the reflection of the Father. The Son bears the same "essence, substance, nature," but is emphatically not a copy of the Father. The Son is utterly unique because of his identity as the image, the second person. So even in the eternal being of God there is no repetition: "never the same thing twice."

The Spirit is the third person of the Trinity - third in this divine order. Many theologians have believed that the Spirit is a sort of outgrowth of the relationship, especially the bond of love (read John 17), between the Father and the Son, between the first One and his perfect image. If this is so, then the Spirit can be thought of as the "new thing" that emerges from the relationship between the first two. We must remember, though, that the Spirit, who is also eternal and self-existent, is not created or caused to exist any more than the Son.

In the very being of God, then, we see glimpses of the same pattern Lewis touches on in Perelandra. There is a beautiful interconnectedness within God, in the way the three persons of the Trinity are deeply related to one another. Each person, though having (in the words of the creed) the same divine "substance," is utterly unique in their relation to the other persons and to creation - Lewis' phrase "all is righteousness and there is no equality" is rooted in the Trinity. And each person is, in a sense, a groundbreaking "new thing." There is something in the second person, the Son, that is completely different and new; the Spirit too introduces a totally new plane of existence. From the rich interconnectedness of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit comes a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: the being of God, three in One, the Trinity itself. Again, to use Lewis' imagery, "not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order," and such is His nature. In the Trinity we find exactly the beautiful, rich, dynamic interconnectedness of the arch image.

Two stones in this arch are the roles of the Father and Son in relation to creation. The divine light of the Father is only seen by us - and by all creation - when it is reflected through the Son, the image. More generally, it is always through the Son that God interacts with creation, whether that is making or entering or redeeming it or revealing himself to it (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 19-20). So the Son, the Word, the image, is the "layer" that reflects the Father - not like a lesser thing reflecting a greater thing, as we saw so frequently in Scripture, but a layer nonetheless. One person as the image, almost a symbol, of the first; the pattern of images and symbols and layers in creation reflects this pattern of image and reflection in the Trinity. The being of God is richly and beautifully layered - both God in himself, and God as we see him.

There is also in God the same pattern of "growth" seen in creation. It would be wrong to call this growth "change" because God does not change as his creation does, and it would be wrong to suggest that it is growth in the sense of the Father causing the Son or Spirit to exist, or anything of that sort. God is eternal and transcendent, yet there is a sequence or order in the Trinity just as there is a definite direction in the Story of creation. There is a sort of starting point, an elemental beginning, in the Father, and there is a sort of outwards "growth" in the eternal begetting of the Son and procession of the Spirit. Furthermore, the love within the Trinity, many have suggested, is acted out in eternity through a sort of giving and receiving and indwelling between the persons of the Godhead - a dynamic activity, a dance if you will. This dance of God is the original light which the dance of creation reflects.

Lastly, the paradoxical pattern of creation growing from the weak and small things is rooted in God himself, who defines this pattern in His own death and resurrection. In emptying himself and becoming nothing, God expresses His love for creation. But the way God interacts with a changing creation reflects the inner life of the Trinity, God in Himself, eternal and unchanging. God’s love for creation grows from the eternal love between the persons of the Trinity (again, John 17), and God’s gift of Himself to creation reflects the eternal giving to one another of the three who live as One – always giving and emptying in love, yet always receiving and overflowing all the more.
In all this, we find in God himself the same pattern that can be seen in the created world and in the story told by Christianity (see previous posts). I suggest, then, that this pattern, which Lewis touches on so beautifully in Perelandra, is best understood and best explained when grounded in the doctrine of the Trinity and seen in that light. Given the pattern, one would expect something like the Trinity as its source and origin, and if indeed one considers the Trinity as a possibly explanation, great light is shed on the observed pattern. All creation bears the image of the Creator, and it is specifically the image of the Triune Creator that this world bears.

At the foundation of existence there is not just any first thing, but the Trinity, the three-in-one Creator, and the patterns and themes we see in creation are a reflection of the pattern of God's own nature. The pattern is defined in God - it is His pattern, and in Him it is exemplified. Lewis, of course, says it best:
“…All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!”

*One might ask in turn: why is God the way he is, and not some other way? But one might as well ask why two and two makes four. In the end, we must accept something as axiomatic, fundamental truth. In my view, God alone can be accepted in this way, and all fundamental truths are defined in Him.

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