Trinitarian Basics- Part 2

Divine Incomprehensibility

Whenever we talk about the Trinity, we are talking about the being and nature of God, and therefore we are talking about something that is beyond us.  We are talking about something for which we have no full category.  There are no exact earthly parallels.  This is not because there is a problem with God’s revelation, nor does it call into question the trustworthiness of religion.  It is simply because God is God.  He is infinite.  He is outside our conceptions of time and space.  His name is wonderful.

This doctrine is universally confessed by Christians.  Sometimes it goes by other names: unknowability, hyperousia, apophatic, via negativa, etc.  The concept is the same.  God is incomprehensible.  He has revealed Himself in a trustworthy manner, but since He nevertheless remains Who He is, Christianity teaches that human knowledge of God is always analogical.

The argument that in Scripture God accommodates Himself to us through our language directly follows from the admission of divine incomprehensibility.  Like the previous admission, accommodation does not mean that the revelation is deficient.  It simply means that God is God and we are creation.  This position is itself taught by Holy Scriptures, with particular directness in Job 26:14 and Isaiah 55:8-9.  The message of the whole book of Job is essentially this: God’s ways are beyond our mind’s conception.  We can question Him, if done rightly, but we must ultimately be content with what He chooses to answer.

Again, this admission rests on the distinction between God and creation.  It does not mean that God violates logic, but rather that He is beyond our apprehension of logic.  Still, it is not an excuse to do away with the principle of non-contradiction.  Rather, we follow the law of non-contradiction in our thinking and content ourselves to stop when we reach our bounds.  This is crucial for discussions of the Trinity.  To say that the Trinity is incomprehensible, mysterious, or beyond human thought, is not to say that it is a violation of logic.  “Paradox” is not simply a word that we toss into the conversation in order to evade right reason.  Instead, it is the proper ending point of right reason.  Reason always recognizes its limits.

This is also why Trinitarian nomenclature has been careful to keep things distinct.  There is always and only One God.  Never, ever, is there three gods.  There are three persons.  Never are there three people.  The persons are distinct categories from the nature, yet each person always possesses the fulness of that nature.  God.  Nature.  Person.  These words are used because, while we are reaching the limits of reason, we are not conceding to charges that we violate reason.

Modern discussions of the Trinity often get this wrong.  They will use “paradox” as a reason to recast an ontology.  In other words, when reason reaches its limits, it does not stop, but rather it looks back to see what it can modify in order to go further.  Appealing to someone like Thomas Kuhn, they call for the construction of a new paradigm which can better process the paradoxical material.  In other words, it is no real paradox at all, but rather a problem waiting to be solved.

Traditional Christianity does not attempt this maneuver.  It confesses that the Trinity is ineffable.  It is a holy mystery.  What can be said is said and said consistently, and when limits are reached the discussion ends.

This entry was posted in doctrine of God, trinity by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

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