Monday, December 05, 2005

Three is a magic number

The three men I admire most
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
---Don McLean, "American Pie"

We as Christians accept a certain set of truths at face value. At least in theory we do. Jesus came, he saw, he died and rose again; there is a God who is three, yet one; stuff like that. What a lot of Christians don't do is ask questions about these beliefs. The cool Christian bloggers out there have it all together and know the answer to every question, and ridicule those who ask why (just read Triablogue's commentary on my essay "What Would Jesus Flood?" ). But those who know me know that I have a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I used to ask questions at Bible studies like "Is Judas in heaven?" just to spark a conversation and get people to think.

So here's what I've been thinking about lately. I believe in the Trinity, that God is one yet three; that doctrine is on my very short list of essentials. If you don't believe that Jesus is God then we have issues. But here's my question: I know that the Trinity is, but why? Why three? Why not 4, 6, 20? The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the nosy next door neighbor? The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, the nosy next door neighbor, the aunt who came for a day and stayed two years, and the brother-in-law who borrowed your table saw and just won't return it? I know of the existence of the trinity, but what of the function of the trinity?

I have no answer to this question, but I have read some things recently which seem to make sense, that give me some insight into the subject. I've been spending a lot of time in the writings of Witness Lee lately, and in his book The Economy of God he discusses God's plan to dispense Himself, his divine life into the believers as being the reason that God is Triune, three in one. (The entire book can be read online here; the quotes I'm looking at are here.)

God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are one God expressed in three Persons: God is the source, Christ is the expression of God, and the Holy Spirit is the transmission bringing God in Christ into man. Thus, the three Persons of the Trinity become the three successive steps in the process of God’s economy. Without these three stages, God’s essence could never be dispensed into man. The economy of God is developed from the Father, in the Son, and through the Spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 9-10

So why couldn't the Father just dispense himself into us directly? Witness Lee goes on to explain that the Father is invisible and unapproachable. "No man shall see me and live" (Exodus 33:20) In the incarnation God came down to earth. Jesus was fully God and fully man. "In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9) The unapproachable God is now approachable in the person of Jesus Christ. "Through the incarnation of the Son, the unapproachable Father is now approachable to man. By this, man can see the Father, touch the Father, and commune with the Father through the Son." (The Economy of God, pp. 10-11.)

So Christ is the embodiment of God who lived a human life. Witness Lee coined the term "the processed Triune God", which sounded strange when I first heard it, but it made more sense when I actually read his explanation. First of all, God the Son came to earth and lived as a man for 33 years. He experienced all the common and ordinary things that make up human life. He ate; he slept; he thirsted; he was angry; he wept. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Christ died. He didn't pass out; he wasn't revived by the disciples later; he wasn't faking it so Mel Gibson could make a great movie later and some people in the Phillipines could hammer nails into their wrists every Good Friday. He died, like all of us will someday. BUT... whereas we will stay in the ground for a few centuries first, he passed through death and came out on the other side, resurrected. And even though he did some supernatural things after his resurrection, appearing in locked rooms and such, he still bore the marks of his humanity. He invited Thomas to put his hand in the wounds. He cooked up some Fish McMuffins for the disciples on the beach. He later ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God.

We need to remember, then, the seven wonderful elements that are in Him: the divine nature, the human nature, the daily human life with its earthly sufferings, the effectiveness of His death, the resurrection power, the transcendent power of His ascension, and the enthronement. All these elements are mingled in this one marvelous Christ.

God, however, cannot come into us through the Son. According to the first stages of His economy, the Father placed Himself in the Son, and the Son has the seven elements mingled within Himself. But we still need another stage, a third and final step, for God to dispense Himself into man. The first step was that the Father embodied Himself in the Son; the second step was that the Son became incarnate in humanity to have all the seven wonderful elements mingled within Him; the third step is that both the Father and the Son are now in the Spirit. All that is in the Father is in the Son, and both the Father and the Son, containing all the elements in Christ, are brought into the Spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pg. 13.

So God is the source of all things, and Christ is the embodiment of God who also lived a sinless human life. He ascended into heaven with his human body intact; where he went in a human body is beyond my understanding, but the fact that he did go is indisputable. What next? Why the Holy Spirit?

Notice the following verses: “One God and Father…who is in all” (Eph. 4:6). “Jesus Christ is in you” (I1 Cor. 13:5). “…His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). These three verses reveal that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are in us. How many Persons, then, are in us? Three, or one? We should not say that three separate Persons are in us, neither should we say that only one Person is in us, but that the Three-in-one is in us. The three Persons of the Godhead are not three Spirits, but one Spirit. The Father is in the Son, and the Son with all His seven wonderful elements is in the Spirit. When this wonderful Holy Spirit comes into us, the Godhead is then dispensed into us. Because the three Persons are in one Spirit, we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within us. Later, we will see that the Triune God is in our human spirit to be our spiritual, inner life. This is the very mark of God’s economy, and this is the method whereby the Godhead is dispensed into us. The goal of the divine economy is to dispense the Triune God in one Spirit into our human spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 14-15.

So that's his explanation. The Father is the source, the Son is the embodiment, and the Spirit is the means of transmission. Although Witness Lee has taken a lot of flak, with some accusing him of having led a cult (he died in 1997), his explanation seems as good as any for something that is a mystery to the human mind.

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets

And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
---Joan Osborne, "One of Us"


Blogger Tessa said...

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4:15 AM  

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