In my last post, Suffering Produces Perseverance? I hope the message communicated was that suffering happens according to the will of God alone. It does not come about because God wants us to learn something about ourselves, make us better, or because we deserve to suffer, but that God is the proven victor through all suffering.
We learn from Job that God’s will is circumstantially permissive. In reflecting on Job’s story, it is clear that God handed Job’s life over to Satan so that Satan could exercise his own will over Job. Suffering was not God doing or causing the affliction, but God allowing the affliction. God permitted Satan to afflict Job in accordance with His (God’s) Will, which was the Will to be faithful, just, true, and victorious, through redemption. That is the same story we have revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He suffers and dies, but is resurrected to eternal life, proving God is victorious over sin and Satan. It is finished.
Before I continue, as a quick tangent, I want to go back to the story of my grandpa and remind all Christians: pastors, teachers, leaders, theologians and lay people that making a minor adjustment in syntax or diction, such as, “God let my grandpa die” versus, “God allowed my Grandpa to die” may change the meaning of the sentence, but it does not change the way a person feels about an event or God. So it needs to be understood that when speaking of God’s Will, the person making any assertion about it is dealing with much more than a challenge with language (which is limited), but is dealing with the nature of God, which classically has been regarded as incomprehensible and not fully known to us.
That in mind, I want to begin with a classic Christian statement of belief; God is one. This Christian belief has always been upheld by our tradition, even though at times the belief was called into question by some heresy’s put forward in the formative years of the early Christian church. However, this idea of monotheism did not begin with Christianity, it began with Israel. Israel worshipped “the one true God” one who was living, invisible, eternal, relational, transcendent (inconceivably great, Holy, terrifying, and far away) and immanent (inconceivably near, close, and loving). Even though Christians agree with this statement about God that Israel makes, and no doubt the Bible makes it clear that the Christian God is the same God of Israel, Christian tradition has added the phrase, who exists in three persons, to the statement God is one.
So, now we have made a giant leap, from suffering to doctrine, and I admit it was a quick jump with very little explanation as to why, but it was all for a purpose (pun intended). With this leap though, we have arrived at the Doctrine of the Trinity.
Because Christianity draws on the monotheistic tradition of Israel, (because Christians believe in the same God) the belief we convey when we describe God tends to be that we believe God is one. Christians however do not use language that suggests this. Christians use language that suggests that God is Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit. However, the question that arises is how? How are Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit all God? To be honest with you, I don’t know. There are some really great words in Greek like Perichoresis or Homoousios that you might find interesting if you want to know what Christian scholarship has to say on the matter, but for now I want to emphasize that Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father, are not all the same.
Before you go and unsubscribe or throw a fit, the reason I am saying this is to remind people that Jesus is not the father, and the father is not Jesus—but I maintain that they both are God. They are both God, but they are also somehow different from one another. Let us consider John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Notice, “the Word was with God.” So it is clear from John that Jesus is distinctly different from God in this phrase, present yet not the same. However, John continues and says, “the Word was GOD”, so Jesus is also distinctly God.
Here in John we have a beautiful unveiling of something paradoxical. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different from one another. This is what Christian’s call the Trinity; it is mysterious. This statement, in some way, will always cut against the grain of our reason.
In the clearest way possible, and without condemning myself a heretic, I hope to explain what I think to be one of the major differences between each person of the Trinity.
I think we find the most obvious difference between each person of the trinity in the matter of their will. Jesus tells us in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Again, we have similar, but this time implied, statements by Jesus about himself, as John made about him in John 1:1. Jesus says as He hears and judges, His judgment is just, but it is not because of His own will, but because He knows the will of the Father. More importantly, Jesus seeks, or wants and desires, the same will of the Father. We see here also that Jesus alludes to His “own will.” Jesus is submitted to the Father, but as has already been made apparent, He is submitted because He wants the same thing as the Father.
We see Jesus’s submission in another place in the Bible, but it stands out much more profoundly because, from the perspective of the outsider, or according to critics of Jesus, that He is acting like a slave. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus fighting hard against His own will. It is hard to know for sure what He is thinking, but often I like to entertain the thought of Him wondering if the cross is necessary for redemption.
There Jesus is in the Garden, and during his three year ministry He is witnessing His own miracles that are the product of the Fathers will and the Holy Spirits power, He is seeing people give glory to God, and watching sinners repent. I think sometimes He wondered if maybe He could have just kept doing that ministry? If maybe He felt like He could have continued to do ministry and heal people and somehow bring redemption through more works? “If there is any other way,” He cries out. But being informed by the father that redemption must go deeper than His ministry on earth and needed to extend to ministry through His death, Jesus realized, because redemption is Our will, then, “your will be done.”
This signals us to the truth that Jesus had His own will, desire, freedom, or whatever you want to call it, that was distinctly separate from the Father’s. But because the Trinity is about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is easy to reconcile these different wills through how much They love one another. The Son loves the Father and so He is pleased to do that will. The Son wants what the Father and the Holy Spirit want, the Holy Spirit wants what the Father and the Son want, and so on.
And so, I think that this deep understanding of the Trinity helps to inform us in regards to suffering. Suffering, like all things, unveils something beautifully paradoxical.
I wrote before about how I believed suffering is all about God. Well now, after this long exploration of doctrine, I get to clarify that statement; add to it. I am probably still wrong, but at this point here are my thoughts.
Suffering is all about God— sometimes God the Father. But suffering that is unique to God the Father is like the suffering explained in Job. It is all about Him. Through our own suffering our character does not really matter, what matters is that God always proves Himself faithful.
But, because we know that the three persons of the Trinity all have different wills, I think it is appropriate to break away from that limited, although still equally true, view of suffering. Because I believe suffering, as experienced by us, and also explained by the bible, is also a great blessing. I wrote about this in my first blog, Us like Him, not Him like Us, that it brings us to the understanding that we are being made like Jesus as we experience hardship.
But I want to add also that God, who is loving and personal, is definitely concerned with our character. Our character is who we are. If we suffer without transformation, then we equate value to the action of suffering. But that is not true with God. God is primarily concerned with our being, or identity, rather than our works. But a transformed inner life then manifests itself through what we do. So we can take the obvious biblical evidence that we have and be assured that God is transforming our inner life, so that we can have a transformed outer life for all to see.
Now I can’t pinpoint if it just the will of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit that help to open our eyes to this truth that suffering brings about changes in our character, all I can do is go back to the simple truth that the Trinity is in unity because of each Person of the Trinity’s love for the other. And so, if the Spirit wills to bring about change in character or faith through suffering, then through love, the Father and Son agree. The same is true for the other persons of the Trinity
One thing I can say for certain is this, our call to love God as Christians is to love God the Trinity, and relate to the Trinity how each of its persons relate to each other. This means love and love for the same will. It is easy to see in Job how the affliction God allowed proved to give God glory alone. But I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Job was transformed through that circumstance as well. Even though God was the one who proved to be faithful, He, in a personal way, also proved it to Job. And because Job recognized that the suffering was all about God, his perspective and attitude were therefore changed. Once his perspective changed I’m certain he worshiped God in a whole new way, which after all the dust of pain and anguish had lifted brought God great Joy. This is glory out of suffering.