Book Four: Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
Reading theology is not the same thing as experiencing God, in the same way that a map is not the sea. If you want to cross the sea successfully, however, a map is indispensable. Christianity says that Christ is the Son of God and that his death saves us from our sins. It also contains many other doctrines, some of which are hard to understand. Modern physics is very hard to understand — reality is difficult to comprehend. Why would we expect something else when it comes to God? Christianity claims that Christ was begotten not made. Begetting produces something of the same kind (mice beget mice, people beget people), whereas creating produces different kinds of things (people can create a variety of objects). God created the world, but he begets a Son. People beget people; God begets God. God created human beings in his likeness, so they are more like God than anything else in the world. They have physical life (Bios), but they are also invited to share in God’s spiritual life (Zoe). People who enter into Zoe are like statues that come alive.
God is beyond personality, not because he is impersonal, but because he is super-personal. In a one-dimensional world you can draw straight lines. With two dimensions you can make flat shapes (like a square). With three dimensions you can combine flat shapes to form a solid body (six squares can be configured into one solid cube). As you move up the level of dimensions, you do not lose the properties of the previous ones, you add to them. On the human level, one person is found in one being. In God, there are still personalities, but they are combined in ways that we in our lesser dimension cannot understand. Six squares remain squares even though they form one cube: in God, three persons remain persons even though they form one being. In our experience, we can know that God is in us helping us to pray to God — his being and our being can interpenetrate.
Everything that we experience is in a time-sequence. God, however, is not in time: he experiences everything as an eternal “now.” He sees every moment as the present, and thus has infinite attention for everyone. An author is not in the time-stream of events in their novel, and God is not in the time-stream of events in his creation. We lose pieces of ourselves that slip away into the past, but God never does. The whole of his existence is eternal. The incarnation of Christ was not a slice out of his history — God has no history, since his whole life is an eternal present.
The Father begets the Son, but he does so for all eternity. Imagine two books on a table. One book lies on top of the other one, so it is supported by it. Now imagine they have lain there for all eternity. The top book still rests on the bottom book, but there was never a time when they were not in that relationship. The Son is like heat coming from a fire: it is not added to the fire, but exists for the same time that the fire exists. The Bible uses the language of Father and Son because this is the best way of communicating God’s rich love and delight in his internal relationships. To say that “God is love” requires that there be more than one person in God. When people gather together, there is a “spirit” that characterizes their gathering. In God, the gathering of the Father and Son produces a Spirit. They live in a divine drama or dance, full of joy. Then they invite us to enter into this spiritual life, this Zoe. When we do, we become like Christ, and we can spread this “good infection” around to others, leading them to embrace God’s life, too.
“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our race has fallen into sin, and rejected God. As a result, our Bios resists Zoe. We do not want to enter into spiritual life, since that will mean the death of our self-centered wills. Children often play with toys and wonder what would happen if the toys began to live. What would they do if their toys fought against them and resisted entering into full life? What God did was become a man who killed all of his human desires for comfort and preservation, and who died on the cross for his rebellious creation. But then Christ rose from the dead. Because he was the first human being to enter fully into Zoe, his resurrection sets him apart as the first real man. His life affects the entire human race. Now we can all participate in it, by drawing close to him. God didn’t want to create robots: he wanted to create beings with free will who would desire to enter into a relationship with him. We are all invited to join him.
Christ taught us to pray by saying “Our Father.” When you do this, there is a sense in which you are pretending, you are dressing yourself up like Christ: you are acting as a son. This is not hypocrisy. If you want to like people, the way to do it is to start acting in their best interests. The more you act like a son, the more God turns you into one. Christ is with us and helps us, shaping us to be like him. As he does we find that our particular sins are of less concern than the character that generates them: God is more concerned with who we are then with the particular things that we do. It does not take us long in our Christian life before we realize we are incapable of doing anything without God’s help. So God, in a sense, also pretends: he pretends we are really like Christ and accepts us, and Christ works to make it so. Acting like Christ is completely different from following a moral code or being good. If we only try to be good, we will either give up or be angry and bitter martyrs. Christianity doesn’t just ask for moral reform: it will not prune a few branches, it will cut down the whole tree. You must give your entire self to Christ and receive his own self in exchange. This is the hardest thing any of us can ever do, but in the long run it is the easiest thing for us. The universe was created so that we could be drawn into the life of God.
When I was a child and I had a toothache, I would hesitate about telling my mother. I wanted aspirin for the pain, but I knew she would give it to me and then make an appointment with the dentist. I wanted relief, but not the pain of getting everything taken care of properly. Many people want God to help them with one or two sins, but they don’t want him to work on everything. Yet Christ is only aiming at making us perfect: nothing less will do. We are called to count the cost, because this process is painful. A father is pleased when his child begins to walk, but he expects the child to become a better walker as they grow. God is pleased with our initial faltering attempts, but he expects us to grow. If we think God only wants to reform us in certain areas we have made a fatal mistake. God will push us and use trials to make us more than we could ever dream. George MacDonald says that God comes into our house and starts fixing it. We knew the roof needed patching and the drains leaked, so we weren’t surprised when he repaired them. But then he started knocking down walls and expanding and building. We didn’t expect that, nor do we want it. His building plans make us excruciatingly uncomfortable. Yet God is not content to leave us as the little cottage we want to be: he is building a palace. He is making us into his royal residence, and intends to come and live in it.
None of us will be made perfect this side of death, because death is a major part of the treatment. But many people wonder why — if Christianity makes such a big difference — many non-Christians are nicer than Christians. Christ takes people where they are and starts working on them. Some people are much further behind than others. The real issue is what kind of difference Christ makes in someone’s life. A wretched person may improve with Christ but still be behind a nice person who doesn’t know Christ. Factory A might not produce much, but if we knew the condition of its machinery we might be amazed that it produces as much as it does. Factory B might produce a lot, but it might be producing far less than it could, given its condition. Some people are in very rough shape when Christ starts renovating. Furthermore, to be a Christian one needs to recognize their sinfulness. This is not easy for good people to do. In this sense, we should not be surprised to find people with problems turning to Christ while those who are self-content in their manners and goodness do not.
God’s goal is not to make us into good people: his goal is to make us into a new kind of man. He is not taking horses and teaching them how to jump fences: he is taking horses and helping them grow wings. Eventually they will soar over fences that no horse could ever clear. People are wondering what the next stage in evolution is going to be. In a sense, it is already here. Christ is the new man and invites us to enter into the new humanity. It is not a gradual, biological step, but a categorical leap. Christ is not merely the first new man, he is the new man who gives this life to all. When we give up our old lives we find not just a fresh life, but a new kind of life. In Christ we find our full personalities — in fact, we begin to have real personalities for the first time. A principle of life is that if you try to keep something you lose it. Only what we give away is really ours, and only what we give away can be saved. Give away your old life and be saved in Christ’s new life. And in finding Christ, you will find that everything else is given to you as well.