It’s often said that God is love. I suggest this is glibly said because for God to love he must have someone else to love throughout eternity.
In a highly patterned and repetitive piece of writing, the first book of the Bible introduces six stages of God’s creating work with, ‘And God said, “Let there be…”’ However, in the second part of verse 26 of Genesis chapter 1 this symmetry is broken. A significant plural verb is introduced, “Let us make…”. The break is emphatic. The us is not simply a royal plural. The decision to create men and women is the outcome of a conversation within the Godhead.
The Old Testament consistently says there is only one God. Yet, there is constant reference to the Spirit of the Lord. Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Gospel records speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. John the Gospel writer speaks of the Word, who was with God and who is God, coming amongst us in human form (John 1:14).
Which brings us to Jesus’ words to his disciples as he walked with them towards the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Jesus knew they dreaded the very idea of his departure. As so often happens, self-pity blinded them to the hidden, but greater purposes of God.
‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth’ he said, ‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (16:7). One of the Spirit’s tasks would be to awaken and convict men and women to the reality of their broken relationship with their creator – the God who is just in all his ways.
Furthermore, Jesus continued, ‘The prince of this world stands condemned’. Satan’s attempt to usurp God’s throne was confounded when Jesus was crucified (Colossians 2:15). The Spirit convicts us of sin, of the standard and triumph of righteousness, and of Satan’s defeat.
One God in three persons. We begin to see something of the significance of God being one, in three persons. He is a God of love who, in his love for us, is passionate about us loving him.
Can we be sure of this? ‘I still have many things to say to you,’ Jesus said, ‘but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:12-15).)
These words explain why Jesus never wrote anything down. Most of the Old Testament prophets wrote up their messages, but Jesus didn’t. He didn’t pick up a pen because he knew that the Spirit would ensure that the special revelation he had brought would not be forgotten or muddled.
Earlier Jesus had said, ‘He, the Advocate or Helper, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:26). The Spirit inspired the first disciples, the apostles, with accurate recall and a clear and correct interpretation of Jesus’ person and work.
Now, in chapter 16, Jesus says the Spirit would guide the disciples into all the truth – not some of it. Subsequent generations would not be inspired to fill out more of the picture. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit would ensure that the apostles would receive and rightly interpret all the truth about the person and work of the Christ.
Significantly, at the end of their ministry, we don’t find them telling God’s people to look for other apostles and prophets to reveal new truth. Rather, they warned their readers against false prophets and urged God’s people to transmit faithfully what they, the apostles, had taught and delivered to God’s people (Jude 1:3).
The speaking God. We can see the logic of all this. If we are made in the image of God, if Jesus is God in human form, then God is not just a remote, powerful intelligence. He is a speaking God. He is about building relationships in the way that we do – through verbal communication.
All this helps us in our study of knowledge (epistemology). It means that amongst the sources of knowledge there is revelation as well as human discovery.
A Chinese English professor who was in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, told me that when he saw the guns of the people’s army turned on the people, Marxism and Maoism within him died. ‘If there is such a thing as truth,’ he said, ‘I realized it had to come from outside human inspiration and thought’. That night, he told me, he went home and read the New Testament from cover to cover. ‘Here is the truth’, he said.
How then does God’s Spirit work within us today? We need to distinguish inspiration and illumination. The Spirit inspired the apostles to preach and write God’s truth. He now illuminates our minds as we read what the apostles have written – hence Paul: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16); and Peter: …No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,… but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20f).
The God who is love. Can we be sure that God delights in us knowing him? The answer is found in our understanding that God is love because he is a Trinity. Throughout eternity the three persons in the one Godhead love one another. When we begin to understand this we will sense the beauty and goodness, the generosity and overflowing love of God. Our life and our relationships, our lifestyle and our future hang on loving the one, ever true and eternal God who exists in three persons.
A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason