How the Trinity Shows God’s Love

Arguably one of the most important teachings in the Bible is the proclamation that “God is love,” which is found in verses like 1 John 4:8 and 16.

This brief, powerful statement is laden with theological implications. I’ve also found it helpful when discussing how God loves people with those who hold non-Christian, yet theistic conceptions of God (God as a single, solitary person and being).

Because “God is love,” one of the most attractive features of my faith as a historic Christian is the Trinity. For God’s triunity reveals that there is a plurality of persons within the one divine being of God. And that means that God is analogous to a loving human family. Theologian Gerald Bray sheds further light on the love shared among the members of the “divine family” so to speak:

“God cannot be love unless there is something for him to love. But if that something were not part of himself, he would not be perfect. The Bible does not teach us that God needed the creation in order to have something to love, because if that were true, he could not be fully himself without it. So Augustine reasoned that God must be love inside himself. To his mind, the Father is the one who loves, the Son is the one who is loved (the ‘beloved Son’ revealed in the baptism of Jesus), and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and binds them together.”1

I think what makes the Trinity so important for Christians to appreciate is that it allows God to “be love” within himself and therefore not in need of finding love outside (in his creation). This idea came out in a recent dialogue I had online with a Jehovah’s Witness. I think this dialogue concerning the triune God and love might be helpful for all of us.

Debating God’s Nature Online

Me: If Jehovah as a single solitary God is also loving, whom did Jehovah love in eternity past before he created Christ, angels, and human beings? Was Jehovah lonely? Did Jehovah have to create to get love?

JW: The Almighty God Jehovah doesn’t have needs. Would that not conflict with being almighty? Appeal to sentimentality cannot reconcile your clearly unscriptural doctrine. Christ will always be in subjection to his father.

Me: Love is not mere sentimentality. If Jehovah is a loving God then he has to give that love to someone. Love is defined by giving. But in eternity past, Jehovah [on the JW view] had no one to love. True love is not narcissistic. As a single, solitary God, wasn’t Jehovah either needy or loveless? The Trinity, on the other hand, has loving equals.

JW: All creation had a beginning including Jehovah’s firstborn [Jesus]. God had no beginning, but has lived forever into the past. He was not lonely, or needy as you imagine. He began creating because he wanted to, not because he had to. He has no insecurities, and no equal.

Me: True love includes both giving and receiving. Jehovah [according to the JW view] had no equal to love and no one to give him love in return. Love requires another equal person. It seems a God with no one to love means either God was desperate or loveless. Neither qualifies as a true God of love.

JW: Love is what moved God to begin creating. He obviously put a lot of thought into it. You’re trying to warp the Scripture. It says God IS love, that doesn’t imply that before he created his firstborn, he was not in love with the concept of creating. It took love to create.

Me: Since the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), how is Jehovah a loving God when before creation he is all alone without someone to love? When you knock on people’s doors as a JW, do you tell people Jehovah is a loving God? What if they ask how? It is OK if you don’t know. Ask the leaders at the Watchtower.

Using the Trinity

I had been interacting with this person off and on over a couple of days online about the Trinity, but it seemed to me that the interaction changed when I asked about God being love. The respondent became more candid and reflective. It was no longer just a cerebral doctrinal debate. I’ve had similar dialogues with Muslims and Jews about a unitarian (single, solitary being; one God, one person) deity and the issue of love. Those who affirm a unitarian God (non-Christian theistic religions) have trouble responding to this argument about love. Non-trinitarian conceptions of God—a supreme, perfect being without needs—put him in a position of lacking someone to love and therefore requiring his creation for fulfillment.

Maybe the reason that this conversation takes on a unique dimension is that all of us want and need love, and especially the perfect love of God.

Think about this argument carefully and consider using it with those who deny the Trinity.

Reflections: Your Turn 

How does God being a Trinity make a difference in your life as a Christian?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Gerald Bray, “8 Things We Can Learn from Augustine,” Crossway, November 16, 2015, crossway.org/articles/8-things-we-can-learn-from-st-augustine.

  One thought on “How the Trinity Shows God’s Love

  1. May 26, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Roman:

    I’ll allow you to leave one comment only on my blog site but without the links and then I’ll respond to your comments.

    I’m not comfortable with JWs leaving links on my site.

    I also don’t have the time for an extended discussion.

    So adjust your comment or remove it all.

    Ken Samples

  2. May 26, 2020 at 11:48 am

    (JW here, I don’t know how to edit the links out of the earlier comments, so just delete it, sorry). Karl Rahner’s maxim, which many theologians have followed, is that the immanent trinity IS the economic trinity.

    What I think follows from this is that the distinction between the persons is only intelligible in the economy of creation, redemption, and salvation.

    So EVEN IF “God is Love” is in relation to the trinity, it is still dependent on creation, since the distinctions of the persons depends on creation.

    So if one interprets “God is Love” as his outpouring of being in creation, his sharing of existence with others, including the Logos through which all things are made, you don’t lose anything.

    What I would say is that ALL of our knoweldge and language of God is in his relating, so God is love can be an ontological claim about God, in that God is God through his relating to us, his sharing being with us.

    Love, as various philosophers have understood (Zizek, Badiou, for example), is not just giving and receiving, it’s an encounter in which two attach each other to one another, and it also, in a sense, depends on it’s contingency, what makes creation a display of love is that it was not necessary but purely the result of God’s will.

    If God is a Trinity, and his being Love is the relationship between the persons, but if God is necessarily trinity, then we don’t have the vital aspects of Love, its contingency, its ascent (one ascents to love, it isn’t necessarry), its dependence on difference (the Trinity is differentiated ONLY in the economy of creation/redemtion/salvation), then the phrase “God is Love” is only analogous to what we mean by love if we squint really hard, and even then it’s dependent on creation. If “God is love” refers to his choosing to relate to others through creation (if we think about it, God is only God through his creating that which is not God, I think that was Hegel’s insight), then it’s actually analogous to what we mean by Love, and it can mean that our love is a participation in God who is love.

    • May 26, 2020 at 1:21 pm

      Roman:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for your interesting comments.

      Because of my busy work schedule I don’t have the time for an extended discussion. My dialogues with JWs over the years have been lengthy and drawn out but that can’t happen here. Therefore this will be our only interaction. I have to set appropriate boundaries.

      1. Critics of Christian orthodoxy (skeptics, heretical sectarians [JWs]) often quote progressives and liberals within broader Christendom to critique conservatives but only when it serves their purposes. I doubt you would be quoting the inclusivist Catholic theologian of Vatican II Karl Rahner except because you think on this very narrow theological point it helps your cause. But please remember that Roman Catholicism affirms the truth of the Trinity and the Watchtower views Roman Catholicism as a false religion. Also Rahner would fundamentally differ with the Watchtower’s theology.

      2. Some conservative theologians actually think Rahner’s Rule (on relating the immanent and economic Trinity) actually leads to more confusion than clarity: See evangelical Christian theologian Fred Sanders https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-is-the-economic-and-immanent-trinity

      3. If one properly distinguishes between the Triune God’s eternal nature and the Triune God’s actions in creation and redemption then your points about God’s love being only intelligible and dependent from the vantage point of God’s actions (economic Trinity) is logically invalid.

      4. If the Jehovah of JWs is a single, solitary being in eternity then you LOSE EVERYTHING. For you have a God with no one to love thus God is not love in himself and is desperate to create (neither loving nor sovereign).

      5. Even if one grants that the giving and receiving of love may not be a sufficient condition for love (of which I have my doubts), it is a necessary condition. Thus the Jehovah of JWs lacks the necessary condition for love itself.

      6. The fully equal persons with the divine Godhead make love equal, dynamic, and complete. Again something the Jehovah of JWs clearly lacks.

      7. Your attempted critiques of the Trinity don’t rescue the fundamental unitarian God (Jehovah of JWs) from lacking love in himself and thus being dependent upon creation to fulfill himself.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Sincerely,

      Ken Samples

  3. brendon Biggs
    May 27, 2020 at 5:49 am

    I think this is a good argument and have used it myself. If God is not a Trinity, He would be dependent on His creation for love and therefore He would not be a maximally great being that is complete within Himself. The Triune God creates to share the love the 3 persons already had. Also the greatest love is self sacrifice (John 15:13) and when the second person added a human nature to lay down His life for us, He was demonstrating the greatest love. Only God is the savior (Is. 43:11) so there is no 3rd party atonement with a created being.

    • May 27, 2020 at 9:32 am

      Thanks, Brendon.

      Ken Samples

  4. July 5, 2020 at 9:49 am

    If Jesus would be the unchangeable invisible God of the Bible then everything is a farse and big lie; Because Jesus was seen by many, was born (had a beginning) was tempted (though Scripture tells us God cannot be tempted), was bullied and tortured by men, even until death (though the Bible tells us man can do God nothing and God cannot die).

    Your god seems also a very -unloving God,, having waited so many thousands of years before playing his act of being so-called a human who went three days in hell (what had God to look for there) to stand up then and leaving us behind <ith no proof at all that man can get out of the dead forever. All the people Jesus and other prophets called out of the dead died later again. He also must be a very cruel being not telling the truth, because in the Bible He claims to be a God who tells no lies and knows everything, but when Jesus is asked when the end times would come and when he returns or who would be seated next to him he tells them he does not know that because it is only given to God to know such things, but you claim Jesus to be God, so then he would have known but now wanted to tell them and told a lie, which makes of Jes and God liars and Christians fools if they believe in such characters.

    Luckily the Trinity is false teaching and people may have hope in the real Christ (Jeshua) and the real God (Jehovah), looking forward to a better life when the living and the dead shall be judged by Jesus Christ and the few who believe in the real son of God shall be allowed to enter the small gate of the Kingdom of God.

    • July 5, 2020 at 10:42 am

      Marcus:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Unfortunately, I think you have some basic misunderstandings about historic Christianity.

      First, the historic Christian doctrine of the incarnation teaches that Jesus was both God and man (a single person with both a divine and human nature). Thus the limitations and challenges that Jesus encountered were through his human nature not his divine nature. I have a chapter on this topic in my book linked below that helps provide some explanation.

      Second, God revealed himself in creation, conscience, and to the ancient Hebrew people long before Jesus Christ came into the world (Ps. 19; Rom. 1). So Jesus’s incarnation was the fulfillment of earlier revelation.

      Scripture says that God is love (1 John 4:8) and as I indicated in the article above, the Triune God is love in himself and doesn’t have to create to fulfill himself (unlike unitarian forms of deity [traditional Judaism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians]). Moreover, the unique love of the Triune God is available to us through faith in Jesus Christ. I have an extensive chapter on the Trinity in the book below illustrating that it is derived from Scripture and explaining why it is so important to affirm its truth.

      I invite you to consider reading my book below. I think you might learn a lot about historic Christianity.

      If you are a Christadelphian, consider reading my book as a helpful exercise and feel free to critique it.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

      • July 5, 2020 at 9:31 pm

        I know about “historic Christian doctrine of the incarnation” that teaches “that Jesus was both God and man ” which is totally against Biblical doctrine and historically there always have been true worshippers of god who never went for those human doctrines but continued to worship the God of Jesus Christ Who is a Singular eternal all-knowing God Who no man can see and live.

        When God is all-knowing and Jesus would be God, then that god is a liar because Jesus says he does not know when he comes back (which is a very important event) or who is going to be seated next to him. He even says that is only to be known to God, but when he is god he would know and hold back the important information when the end-times would come.

      • July 5, 2020 at 11:41 pm

        Marcus:

        You say you know about historic Christian doctrine but you ignore how it answers your common Arian-like Christology objections. You’re welcome to reject the Trinity and the deity of Christ but recognize that your position rejects historic Christian orthodoxy.

        When Jesus said he didn’t know the time of his Second Coming he was speaking from the standpoint of his human nature. From the vantage point of his human nature, he had real limitations.

        Some people challenge the idea that the Bible supports God’s Triune nature. However, six simple statements show how this doctrine is indeed derived from Scripture:

        1. There is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; John 17:3; Galatians 3:20).

        2. The Father is called or referred to as God (Psalm 89:26; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:2–3; 2 Peter 1:17).

        3. The Son (Jesus Christ) is called or referred to as God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13).

        4. The Holy Spirit is called or referred to (or granted the status) as God (Genesis 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 13:2, 4; Romans 8:11).

        5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and can be distinguished from one another (the Father is not the Son; the Father is not the Holy Spirit; and the Son is not the Holy Spirit) (Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 15:26; 16:13–15; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

        6. The three persons (Father or God; and Son or Christ or Lord; and Holy Spirit or Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equality (Romans 15:16, 30; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Galatians 4:6).

        For more on the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

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