Reimagining Adventism, 5b: The Trinity and Absurdity

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Reimagining Adventism, 5b: The Trinity and Absurdity

If there’s a God, why’d he make me? All of these flaws is all that I see. –Illenium & Call Me Karizma

The ontological self-abandonment of God reveals that God is far from the self-interested being many religionists have made him out to be. Instead, God is other-centered. And yet, this very revelation drives us toward an ethereal riddle that transcends our material inhibitions.

 

In this mystery, we discover that God is three and yet one, a singular-plurality, a simultaneity of individuality and a community of oneness. Though uncanny, this vision alone provides us with the foundation for divine other-centeredness—for apart from the Trinity, the most one could say of God is that he is loving. However, scripture goes beyond this to affirm that he is the very essence of other-centered love who has existed for all eternity, in the synchronicity of “oneness” and “otherness” (John 10:30).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity?

 

The next step in our exploration of God is to plunge into the historical application of what has, up to this point, been primarily metaphysical. That is, how does the doctrine of the Trinity speak value to the absurdity of life’s daily incoherencies and traumas? It is at this point in which we need to combine God’s ontology and essence into a narrative of virtue that can both sway meaningfully with our chaos and redefine our prosperity. This leads us into a conversation I have engaged countless times in which the seeker first encounters the historical God of scripture. That is, rather than mere intellectual and philosophical deliberations of Christian theology, God’s narrative of virtue is essentially the story of God’s heart in motion through the daily angst of life.

 

This is the stage of the journey in which we begin to unravel exactly what God is like and how his story steps into ours and ours into his. We move away from theology and all of its abstractions and step into chronology and all of its realness–and as the seeker sees God’s story step into their own story, the very act beckons their heart to move with him and to engage him in a rhythmic back and forth, a divine-human cogitation that is as transcendent as it is immanent. We will now explore this briefly by turning our attention over to God’s inherent narrative of virtue.

 

God’s Inherent Narrative of Virtue

 

In God and Absurdity parts 1 and 2, we explored two main ideas: God as inherent and God as virtue. In that space, the entire approach had to do with posture. In this present article, we move away from posture alone to what I have already labeled as “history” or “his story”. Now that we know that God is inherently worth knowing and that he is to be known by way of his virtue (not his “claim”) we need to ask what narrative his inherence and virtue communicate to us. So far, we have seen that this is best approached via the Trinity for in this doctrine we are given the most essential building blocks of God’s character and essence–love and community. But now we bring this all together by moving from this abstract idea of God and into the experiential invitation that affects our lives in real, tangible ways.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: What Can We Know About the Holy Trinity?

 

Once again, an exploration at this level is necessarily specific so for the remainder of this article I will share how I introduce God’s inherent narrative of virtue to the seekers I interact with in my particular secular context. Keep in mind that you must incarnate in whatever context you occupy and adjust accordingly—sometimes even from person to person. In my context, the most effective way I have found of engaging secular sojourners with the story of God’s heart is to focus on three simple outflows of that heart in real-time. The first is God’s altruism, the second his differentiation, and the third his uncomfortable withness.

 

God’s Altruism

 

God’s altruism is explored via one simple question–Why on earth do you exist? This universal question plunges us into what Italian philosopher Nicola Abbagnano refers to as “the investigation of the meaning of [b]eing”–an act that is “continually faced with diverse possibilities.”[1]

 

What this means is that in an existential and secular sense, why a person exists is a question with multiple possibilities and answers. No one singular resolution exists but many and it is up to the individual to determine which path holds the most meaning. Thus, for some, the journey naturally leads toward humanism or nihilism, for others theism or atheism. The simplest way of looking at it is this–to the question of my existence there is not one but multiple solutions and it is up to me to self-determine what I perceive to be the most meaningful answer.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: What Happens When You Abandon God

 

The impact of postmodernity amplifies this diversity of possibility. But more to the point, it facilitates a negative reaction toward any idea that claims to be supreme in the quest for meaning. Thus, the traditional evangelistic approach in which other perspectives are discounted on the one hand and serenely ridiculed on the other (truth as stagnant) is a sure way to repel the secular explorer.

 

Consequently, rather than discount or compete with the diversity of possibilities I enter the conversation within the diversity of possibility and trust the Holy Spirit to lead the seeker to come to a faith-driven conclusion (truth as flow). This allows the journey to proceed without threat but it also exemplifies the very perspective on God I am about to reveal—his disinterested selfless concern for the well-being of the other—that is his altruism.

 

Why on earth do I exist? The question has many layers of meaning and is often amplified by dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and suffering. Musical artists Illenium and Call me Karizma echo this in their cynical romantic song “God Damnit” with the question, “If there’s a God, why’d he make me?”[2]—a question the poet finds difficult to navigate in light of his “flaws”. But when we peel the layers back we find there are only three options within the God-possibility.

 

1. The first is that we exist because God accidentally created us, or as the agnostics would say, he “wound up the clock” and left it to tick on its own. These perspectives are so far removed from scriptures narrative that we can lay them aside in the biblical exploration.

This leaves us with only two other options within the biblical interactive model where God appears supremely interested in the affairs of men.

2. The first of these two reasons we can give for our existence in this interactive picture of God is that God needs us somehow. Perhaps we were made to be slaves tasked with performing some menial thing God couldn’t be bothered engaging with himself. Or perhaps we exist because God was lonely and needed company. Or perhaps we exist because God needed a race of sentient beings through whom he could stroke his ego through demands for worship and adoration. In this view, we are essentially here to remind God that he is really cool.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Jesus, the Prayer & Praise Receiving God

 

As ridiculous as these notions appear—they are not too far from the kind of God most Christians present to the culture–especially when we use the posture of God as claim in our evangelistic proclamations. Phrases such as “We exist to worship God” or “God alone is worthy of worship” or “God made you to worship him”—even the popular mantra “it’s all about Jesus, he alone is worthy, etc.”—are interpreted by the secular mind as “God is an egotistical child who created an entire world in order to perpetuate his adoration and when we fail to comply he has a hissy fit and drowns people”.

 

However, the Biblical narrative presents a more nuanced and complex picture divine-human interaction. Here we discover a God who existed for all eternity in a community of agape love. Such a being would never be lonely. Likewise, such a being would never require anything. Thus, the Psalmist quotes God’s comical overview of his need of men when he writes:

 

If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it (Psalm 50:12).

 

Paul the apostle emphasizes this point when he writes:

 

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (1 Corinthians 10:26).

 

The prophet Moses attested to the same in Deuteronomy 10:14 when he penned,

 

Behold, to the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, and the earth and everything in it [an idea once again expressed in David’s poetic excerpt] he stretches out the heavens like a tent (Psalm 104:2).

 

But perhaps my favorite is found in scriptures most existential book where God asks its main character Job,

 

Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Everything under heaven is Mine. (Job 41:11)

 

In the same sense, the God of scripture transcends the physical universe meaning there is nothing in our realm of existence too difficult for him because he is not bound by its limitations.[3] Therefore, the idea that God created us to fulfill some task he doesn’t want to do is easily dismissed. In the same breath, we can discount the notion that God created us to stroke his ego, for according to the physician Luke “human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs.” (Acts 17:25)

 

To the contrary, Luke adds,

 

He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.

 

Therefore, the notion that humanity exists in any way to offer something to God he does not already possess is faulty. God is love—perfect love—and has no need. We do not exist to stroke his ego for perfect love has no ego. The apostle Paul defines this love as “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 11:5) but always other-seeking. Thus, God is, in the fullest sense, altruistic. His acts are always other-centered. Therefore, if God did not create us to take something from us, we are left with only one logical possibility

 

3. That he created us to give (as Luke has already pointed out in Acts 17:25) something to us.

 

What would an eternal being who is love in his ontology and community in his essence want to give to a temporal creation? If you exist, according to scripture, it is because God birthed a self-directed and autonomous consciousness to freely offer something to you. What could this be? When these questions are laid before the secular seeker, amazing things happen.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Idol of God?

 

In this stage of the journey, the altruism of God emerges in this simple revelation—that we exist to be recipients of God who is love. He created us to give us himself: love—not love as sentiment, for God is more than mere sentiment and not love as energy, for God is more than mere energy. Love as consciousness. Love as being. Love as act. This is the love that God, in eternal community, has always been. And in the act of creation we emerge from his imagination into historical reality to be partakers of the eternal love and from that love to forge a society that operated according to the divine rhythm of other-centeredness. The God-possibility thus introduces us to this radical idea—that we exist, not to do but to be and to be recipients of self-abandoning love.

 

God’s Differentiation

 

The introduction of this idea naturally leads people to recoil to some degree. It is too pure, too free and can come across as potentially too good to be true. Here is where I emphasize God’s differentiation.

 

Differentiation, according to psychologist Dr. David Schnarch,

 

[is] the dynamic process through which you can live in close proximity to a partner and still maintain a separate sense of self.[4]

 

The differentiation of God, therefore, means that God is capable of affirming his virtue without dependence on other people to do it for him. This is not the same as narcissism in which a person thinks too highly of themselves. Differentiation simply means that a conscious being recognizes his or her value irrespective of the affirmation of another.

 

In human relationships, for example, non-differentiated people often leech significance and meaning from the people around them. We see this in those friends who can’t remain single and jump from one relationship to the next or in codependent parent/ child relationships. In these scenarios, people lack differentiation—they are unable to affirm their existence and instead need others to approve of them constantly and make them feel important on a perpetual basis. God has no such need. He does not need us to stroke his sense of self-importance. To the contrary—and in a non-narcissistic sort of way—God affirms his existence. Thus, John 12:28 records a conversation between God the Father and God the Son in which the Son says to the Father, “Father, glorify your name!” To which the Father responds, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Trinitarian dynamic of worship

 

This is an example in scripture of God’s differentiation. He does not need us to glorify him in the sense that he derives his sense of self by perpetually requiring our adoration. God glorifies himself. And in the same vein, he has created us to be autonomous beings who justify our existence independent of any created entity. Our reason for existing has nothing to do with our lover, our children, or our community. My reason for existing is because I am me and as such, I was brought into reality to partake of the eternal love of God. This makes me infinitely and irreplaceably valuable. No amount of trauma, angst, or suffering can ever take this away.

 

Failure to recognize the differentiation of God leads to errors in not only our evangelistic proclamation (which tends to focus on God as necessity and claim) but also in our practical Christian living. For example, when dealing with the topic of lust many well-meaning preachers will say “when you lust after a woman (for example) you devalue her. When you are tempted to lust remember that this woman is someone’s daughter, sister, mother, etc. How would you like it if someone did that to your daughter…?”

 

The tragedy with a view like this is that in attempting to elevate the value of the objectified woman the preacher has unintentionally upheld her lack of value. How so? By attaching all of her meaning to others the preacher insinuates that a woman’s value is tied only to them. Thus, her self-value is derived entirely from the others that surround her. But such is not the case. The woman is of value, not because she is a daughter, mother, sister, or friend but simply because she is she. Nothing more! Her value is not derivative but inherent. And this is the same point we are making about God. God is a differentiated being—he does not derive his meaning from what he can provide (God as necessity) or from what humans offer him. God is worth knowing because like you and I and every other sentient being he has an inherent value that affirms itself.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth

 

Thus, to bring home the point we make it clear that we do not exist to feed God’s ego for he affirms his existence. We exist to be the recipients of his ontological being and to dance with a reality that was designed to reflect the rhythm of other-centeredness. All of our worship and adoration is, therefore, an act of other-centered love, not a ritual coerced by an ego-driven creator.

 

God’s Uncomfortable Withness

 

So far we have seen two basic points that communicate one central idea:

 

1. We exist to be in relationship with God

2. We do not exist to affirm God’s existence as though he needed us.

 

Together, both of these ideas paint a picture of a God who is relationally other-centered—a being who truly values our individuality and created us uniquely to experience his being in diversity. This idea redefines our existence from one of doing to one of being. It redefines how we interpret our suffering as well as our life’s trajectory by providing us with the most foundational and fundamental element of existence—community with the divine. However, what does this community look like? Is it an abstract, sensory experience? Is it a rational, cognitive one? Or is it something more?

 

Because God created us for relationship and other-centered love, then God’s presence in our lives is necessarily historical. You cannot be in an other-focused relationship from a distance. Nearness, withness, immanence are all required here. Thus, at this part of the journey, I introduce the seeker to the Sabbath.

 

In traditional Bible studies, one would never do this. You first have to deconstruct the theological assumptions people bring from their denominational upbringing before entering into a discussion on Sabbath. But modern secular people generally have no denominational upbringing. Many have never set foot in a church. Therefore, there is no prior commitment or structure that needs to be dismantled. They are seeing Sabbath for the first time, and in my experience, I have never had any pushback from secular people—to the contrary, they tend to really like the concept of Sabbath.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Going Counterculture

 

This is another tragedy we continue to perpetuate in our evangelistic preaching. Our sermons introduce the Sabbath in an apologetic sense—complete with a list of assumed anti-Sabbath contentions that we answer one by one. Those contentions, however, hardly exist in the post-church society in which we currently reside. As we proudly demonstrate our answers to these questions few people are asking, we miss the opportunity to present the Sabbath in a truly meaningful and non-reactionary way.

 

However, because I will visit the Sabbath in more detail in a future article I will withhold any further comment. Suffice to say that I introduce the Sabbath as a narrative marker that reveals God’s historical presence in the human story. Not only has he made man intimately and personally, but now he sets a day apart to be with them. He is a God of withness—present in the unfolding of life’s events.

 

In light of these foundations, I gently introduce the most counter-cultural aspect of God: his uncomfortable withness. What is meant here is that God is not simply with us as some friendly coach here to enable us to live our best life. To the contrary, God is “with” as a companion yes, but an autonomous one. This introduces us to a God who is active and who communicates with content that may at times affirm us and at times offend us.

 

A historical God, a God with autonomy, cannot be forced into a box with presets. While the modern god of energy (‘the universe’ being the most popular) may be appealing to a culture that wants to believe in something greater without committing to it, a God of energy cannot interact with the absurdity of being. And yet, this is precisely what the God of scripture does. He is, as Mr. Beaver noted in CS Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,

 

the Lion, the great Lion.[5]

 

He cannot be tamed. He has an identity, a personality, and a self. He interacts with intention, has ideas and self-knowledge. As a result, God, if he is to have any relational value whatsoever, must necessarily be capable of acting on his values and interests. He cannot be a shadow of human desire but rather a self-governing and self-legislating entity. This means God has the capacity to debate, to appreciate the perspective of the other and to—in times of need—relentlessly annoy us.

 

As desirable as a god who simply affirms us—an energy or essence in the cosmos that we can tap into to acquire the desired outcome and forget when convenient, the truth is relationships are only valuable when there is tension, wrestling, and an uncomfortable withness that exposes and irritates. Outside of this, all you have is a product you can use. Within it, you have a relationship that, when regulated through healthy interdependence, can drive you toward your true humanity.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Love of God

 

As mentioned in my previous article, our evangelistic series often skip this picture of God. We are consumed by religio-centric verbatims that sound fake. Thus, in many of our sermons God is simply explored in terms of majesty, sovereignty or glory—all perspectives which, while true, are meaningless in a secular culture and consequently fail to connect with the western mind. I am not saying we ought to abandon these perspectives of God but simply that they should not form the basis for how we introduce him.

 

Scripture also affirms a God who wrestles, who values man’s rational capacity, who weeps and regrets, waits and acts, speaks and listens and who is an ever-present, historical friend whose acts can be discerned and at times, resented. The biblical characters understood this autonomous God as is evidenced by scenes such as Abraham debating with God (Genesis 18:16-23), Jacob wrestling with him (Genesis 32:22-32), Job and David questioning him (Job 7:20, Psalm 13), and even Jesus—God in human flesh—tasting doubt in his darkest hour (Matthew 27:46).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: What is the Meaning of Life?

God’s uncomfortable withness means that he is love—true love—and as such he will neither manipulate nor be manipulated, coerce nor be coerced, determine nor be determined. Rather, his identity is separate and secure as is ours and his invitation is to engage him in an interdependent relationship in which we experience his active presence in our lives, a presence that can at times call us to new seasons despite the comfort of the old and new heights despite our familiarity with the depths.

 

All of this boils down to a simple exploration of God in a way that connects and challenges the secular mind. God is ontologically love—a community of being—and his story is inherently and autonomously virtuous. When we encounter him, we therefore encounter, not a God who has been absent, but a God who is ever-present and invites us to journey with him with an authenticity that embraces even the uncomfortable withness that comes from daily walking with this historical and self-validating God.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Trinity in Seventh-day Adventist History

 

As I close this segment on the Trinity and Absurdity I would like to call our evangelism toward a deeper, and more meaningful exploration of God. Enough of the cookie-cutter sermons that sound more like theological sales letters than genuine displays of his heart. And enough of rushing toward Revelation at the expense of Genesis. It’s time we stepped away from evangelistic sermons that aim for end-time theology and recognize that present truth for a secular world is not Revelation 12 but Genesis 1:1. And to this end, we must work to give our world a solid foundation of who God is to offer them a meaningful conceptualization of existence, chaos, and meaning within the parameters of a God who is not simply romantically relational, but historically so.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Reimagining Adventism.

______

Notes.

[1] Nicola Abbagnano, “Existentialism.”

[2] God Damnit lyrics © Kmr Music Royalties Ii Scsp, 8 Bit Monster, CALLMEKARIZMA LLC

[3] Isaiah 40:28.

[4] David Schnarch, “How To Grow Up: The road map for becoming an authentic adult is also a blueprint for putting passion back in relationships.”

[5] CS Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.