This article was written to accompany the ‘The Trinity‘ hangout.
- What was God doing before he created the world?
- What does it mean to be a loving person?
God Is Love
One of the most important statements about God in the whole of the Bible is only three words long. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) This verse doesn’t simply say that God loves or that God is loving, although these things are true. Such a statement would stop short of the point that is being made. Love is not simply something that God does, but something that he is. Love is an intrinsic part of who God is.
This is a difficult claim. Indeed, the way many people perceive God, it would be impossible. How could God be love if he had existed for eternity past without anybody to love? Of course, God could begin to love once he had created the world, but this is merely to say that God is loving – when there is an appropriate object, he will show love. It leaves God dependant on his creation in order for him to be a loving God. And yet the Bible says that God is, by definition, love.
The answer is, of course, the Trinity. God is three persons who are united together in perfect relationships. ‘God is love’ means that for all eternity past the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been loving one another with beautiful, holy, sacrificial love and will continue to do so for all eternity to come. ‘God is love’ is another way of saying ‘God is Trinity’.
The most succinct way of answering the question of what God was doing before he made the world is that he was loving his Son. Jesus made reference to this in his High Priestly prayer, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you have loved me since before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
These loving relationships between Father, Son and Spirit are relationships of mutual honour. Each of the three persons glorifies the others. None of them seek their own prestige. The Father and the Spirit draw attention to the Son, whilst the Son gives glory to the Father. “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
THINK IT THROUGH
- Why did God create the world?
God did not create the world out of need. For all eternity he has been overjoyed in the loving relationships of the Trinity.
Without considering the Trinity, it would be easy to conclude that God made the world out of loneliness or deficiency. In such a scenario, creation would give God the opportunity to experience something that was previously unknown to him – community. It would give him people to show love towards, to receive love from, and the opportunity to explore what it is like to be in relationship with others.
The Trinity, however, gives us a better perspective on creation. It is not that God needed to create in order to be loving. Rather, he created because he already is loving.
For all eternity, God has been engaged in outward-looking, self-giving love. Creation is the overspill of that love. The Father, the Son and the Spirit chose to expand their loving, sacrificial relationships outwards and so they created the heavens and the earth.
LOOK IT UP
Read the following verses and observe how each member of the Trinity was involved in the process of creation.
- Genesis 1:1-2
- John 1:1-3
Though creation is magnificent, God’s glory is only partially shown through stars and waters and animals. His image is revealed much more clearly in the pinnacle of his creation: humanity. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
The language used here is that of plurality. God uses plural words of himself, such as ‘us’ and ‘our’, and he points out the plurality of the humanity that he has created: male and female. Whilst the image of God has many dimensions to it, the one being highlighted here is that plurality. Humanity is like God because we have been endowed with the ability to be distinct persons in loving community. We are capable of relating to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), of relating to one another, and even of creating other persons who can join in that community with each other and with God.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s relationship was perfect. They knew each other. They were naked and unashamed. Just like the Trinity, they were able to engage in a selfless relationship with one another, and they also enjoyed a relationship with God where he would leisurely walk with them in the garden.
In creating Adam, God changed everything. Before that moment there was a community of three persons in perfect, loving relationships. After that moment there were four persons in community, as Adam was invited into relationships with the persons of the Trinity. Then God created Eve and the community of four became a community of five.
- If Adam and Eve had never sinned, what would the world be like today?
The Cultural Mandate
Whether or not the fall had happened, the world would be different today than it was when God first created it.
Many of the changes that have occurred in the world since creation are due to the fall. The perfect relationships that people had with each other and with God broke down. Sickness and death entered the world. Work became toil and God’s presence became barred.
There are other changes, however, that were always intended by God. The world as he created it was a starting point, and God gave Adam and Eve the role of developing that creation. This is known as the cultural mandate. “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…’” (Genesis 1:28)
The mandate was to fill the earth and to subdue it. In the beginning were three persons in loving community, and God had turned that into four persons and then five. He now gave the responsibility to his creations, Adam and Eve, to fill the earth and to expand that loving community to six persons, and then to seven, and then to a billion.
The idea of this mandate was for the Trinity to go viral. God’s purpose was to see the whole earth filled with a community that exhibited relationships with each other and with him that reflected the relationships of the Trinity; a global community with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the centre of it.
At the beginning of God’s story, there is a community of Father, Son, Spirit and two humans in a garden. By the end of the story is a community of Father, Son, Spirit and countless multitudes in a glorious city. The mandate was never only to fill the earth, but to subdue it and take dominion. Humanity was to learn how to use the resources of the earth to build such a community. Culture, music, technology, agriculture and civilisation all come under this mandate given by God.
God’s expansive community has always been what he is about. His end game throughout the Scriptures has never wavered. He is committed to building this global community, and he will do so no matter the cost.
THINK IT THROUGH
- Which parts of the Bible can you think of where you can this commitment of God to build a global community?
The Promises to Abram
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
The promises that God made to Abram frame the whole narrative of Scripture from that point forward. God promised him that his descendants would be a great nation. He promised him a great name. In a later dialogue (Genesis 12:7), God promised the land of Israel to his descendants.
Most important is the reason why God made this promise. He blessed Abram and made his name great in order that Abram would be a blessing. God’s intention was that through him, the whole earth would be blessed. God was still looking outwards, and still working towards the goal of seeing the whole earth as a community that shared in the life of the Trinity.
Just as Abram was supposed to be a blessing to the nations, so was Israel. This nation was not called for its own sake but to shine the light of God to the nations around it. “I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Whilst Israel sometimes succeeded in this role (for example in 1 Kings 10 when Solomon entertained the Queen of Sheba as his guest), they frequently failed. They took pride in their national identity as a people of God rather than sharing the blessings that they had been given. In the book of Jonah, God’s prophet refused to follow God’s command to speak a message of judgment to Nineveh because he was afraid that they would repent and be forgiven by God. Yet God had compassion on the people of Nineveh and desired them to be part of his global community.
The Life of Jesus
- How many examples can you think of from Jesus’ earthly ministry where he brought ostracised people into community?
- What were the kinds of issues that most frequently led Jesus to rebuke people?
Jesus went to great lengths to draw people into fellowship. He lived in a day where many people were excluded and alone, and many of his encounters recorded in the gospels show him cutting against this isolation. From the Samaritan woman who drew water alone at noon (John 4) to the leper who had to shout ‘unclean’ as he went about his daily business (Matthew 8:1-4), Jesus engaged with those people who everybody else rejected. He understood that God’s plan to build to build a global community included these people and so went to great lengths to reach out to them.
As he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus sought to widen his hearers’ definition of ‘neighbour’ from people who lived on their street or in their country to anybody in need. Godly community is not about putting up barriers to shut certain people out but about going to great lengths to draw people in.
In fact, the times in which Jesus rebukes people are usually caused by them claiming to honour God whilst excluding people from God’s community. For example, he warns against the Pharisees, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4)
Jesus is eager to make it easy for people to come home to God’s family.
- What are some of the things that make it difficult for people to come home to God’s family?
The Lost Sheep
Much of Jesus’ teaching and action reiterated his desire to draw people into God’s community. On one occasion, Jesus told a series of stories to illustrate God’s heart for lost people. One of the stories (found in Luke 15:3-7) is about a shepherd who owned one hundred sheep. Even with ninety-nine of his sheep safely in the pen, when one was lost the shepherd decided to leave the ninety-nine, potentially exposing them to danger from wolves or thieves, and he set off to track down the one that was missing.
This story made some of those who heard it angry. They knew that it was a story about them. They were the ninety-nine sheep, safe in God’s fold (at least, that is the way they thought of themselves). Rather than play along with their elitist games, Jesus challenged them to be a truly outward-looking community, and rather than exclude the lost sheep to draw them in.
For Jesus, this was not just rhetoric but reality.
Bringing in the lost sheep proved to be a costly business. It took Jesus all the way to the cross, yet it was a cost that he was willing to pay.
There was a physical element to the price Jesus paid. Crucifixion is one of the most barbaric forms of killing a person in history. Nevertheless, the brunt of the cost was relational.
Divine Community Torn Asunder
For all eternity past, the three persons of the Trinity had enjoyed perfect unbroken relationship with one another, and this fellowship with the Father and the Spirit had continued through Jesus’ earthly incarnation. When Jesus hung on the cross, he not only took the sin of the world but he actually became sin. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In becoming sin, Jesus’ relationship with the Father was transformed from one of love and fellowship to one of wrath and judgment. God is described as “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” (Habakkuk 1:13) In Exodus 19:12, Moses is warned that the people must not come near to the presence of God or they will die. Sin cannot co-exist with the presence of God. This is why the world needed a saviour in the first place.
As Jesus hung on the cross, bearing the sin of the world on his shoulders, the Father turned his back on his Son. In the middle of the day, darkness filled the land and Jesus cried out, quoting an ancient psalm. “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34). The Son was forsaken by God the Father.
The Trinity, which had for all eternity existed in the most perfect, loving relationships, was torn asunder on that night. Rather than bestowing love and glory upon the Son, at this moment the Father poured all of his wrath upon him. Both the Father and the Son had planned this for all eternity. Both were willing participants. God the Holy Trinity chose to have their own perfect relationships ripped apart, so that they could bring people of all nations back into the relationship we were created for.
As Jesus died, his relationship with the Father was not the only thing split in two. A few miles away in the city of Jerusalem, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). That curtain stood as a barrier between people and the place of God’s presence, just as the cherubim had barred re-entry to Eden. It was a demonstration that humanity had chosen to step out of community with God. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn from top to bottom. In this vivid demonstration, God was saying that the way is no longer barred. Because his Son bore our sin, took the wrath and endured broken relationship with the Father, our relationship was restored, and once again we have access to God.
THINK IT THROUGH
Read Hebrews 10:19-25
- What are some of the implications this passage points out about the fact that we have access to God?
The Great Commission
As he created the world, God gave Adam and Eve a commandment to fill the earth with a loving community centred on Father, Son and Spirit.
As he ushered in the new creation by rising from the dead, Jesus re-iterated this commandment on several occasions during the six weeks prior to his ascension. Perhaps the best known of these is the great commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)
For all the twists and turns in the story of the Bible, God’s end game has not changed one bit. He still desires a global community in perfect loving relationships – the Trinity gone viral.
THINK IT THROUGH
- What part does inviting people in God’s community play in your evangelism? Think both in terms of your words and your methods?
The New Jerusalem
God’s end game will come to pass. There will be a day when the entire earth is a new creation, hosting a perfect community centred on God. The garden will have become a city. The three-person community of the Trinity will have become four, and then five and have grown into the New Jerusalem, a city that is over 2 billion cubic miles in volume, full of people living in a Trinity-like community.
The mission will be accomplished.
- The story of the Bible is moving towards a global God-centred community. To what extent are you engaging in and enjoying that community in the present?
- How can we ensure that the communities in our churches share the same outward-looking nature as the community in the Trinity?
- Is there a place in God’s kingdom for the individualism that we often see in the world round us? What would it look like to be counter-cultural in this regard?