Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Trinity and Perfect Love

I said yesterday that I would probably write my review of Brian Morley’s Mapping Apologetics today.  It looks like I will be postponing that to tomorrow, because today I want to ramble about a particular passage in Morley’s book, rather than writing a review of the whole thing.

On page 207, Morley is talking about the thoughts of Christian apologist Richard Swinburne.  Morley states the following about Swinburne’s views on the Trinity:

“Swinburne explores the a priori evidence that the God of the Nicene Creed (put in final form in A.D. 381) exists.  God, being perfectly good, must also be perfectly loving.  Perfect love is love of an equal, and God thus eternally generates the Son.  Love between two can be selfish, and God would have reason to share love with another equal, which is the Holy Spirit.  The ‘whole Trinity is ontologically necessary because nothing else caused it to exist.'”

Here are some thoughts:

1.  What Swinburne says about love makes a degree of sense to me, in light of my own experiences.  I have had experiences in which I would have a friend, another person would join our group of two and make it a group of three, and then I would feel less loved, or like I was a third wheel, missing the days when the group only had two people and I got more attention and did not feel like I had to compete.  I can identify with Swinburne’s point that love between two people can be selfish, whereas two people sharing their love for each other with yet another person is an act of true love.  At the same time, this point can be abused.  I am sure that Swinburne would agree that marriage, for example, should be between two people.  Yes, monogamy, in part, rests on an assumption that having more people in the marriage can result in jealousy and dysfunction, and I can understand a person thinking that jealousy is not something that should be catered to, which monogamy arguably does.  And yet, God in the Bible does present himself as a jealous God in his marriage relationship with Israel—-and, even if one chooses to translate that as zealous instead of jealous, God seems to get ticked off when Israel cheats on him and goes after other gods.  How to reconcile a God who shares his relationship within a Trinity with a God who wants monogamy and gets jealous, I do not know.  It’s something to think about, though, especially for a Christian apologist who tries to take the Bible seriously.

2.  Swinburne does not prove the Trinity or ground it in any evidence—-unless you actually consider that “a priori evidence” to be real evidence.  What Swinburne says still makes sense to me, though—-it makes sense to me that a God of perfect love would share his love for another with yet a third person.  I would say the same thing about other thoughts in Morley’s book.  Apologist Norman Geisler critiques deism—-the idea that God made an orderly universe and walked away from it to let it run by itself (or so say a number of deists, not necessarily all)—-by asking why God would walk away from a universe that God cared enough to create in the first place.  Swinburne thought that it would make sense that God would care enough for the universe to send Jesus Christ to redeem it.  A few apologists in the book said that Christianity meets certain human needs, such as a desire for justice.  There is no hard proof in these arguments for the truth of Christianity, but they make sense to me.  If God cared enough about a universe to create it and to design it—-and whether or not he did so may depend on whether you buy the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God—-would not God care enough to continue to be involved in it or at least to keep on paying attention to it, or to save it when it went astray?

Of course, when we allow common sense into the discussion, we can venture into territory that some may consider heretical.  If God cared enough to create the universe, for example, would not God try to save everyone in it eventually, rather than consigning people to hell because they had another religion, or no religion?

3.  I have a slight issue with what Swinburne says about the Trinity.  I have a hard time putting it into words, so please bear with me.  It’s like Swinburne is saying that God should be a Trinity because that is more loving, and so God is a Trinity.  But I do not think that God ever decided to be a Trinity, at least not according to orthodox Christian doctrine.  Rather, according to orthodox Christian doctrine, God always was a Trinity.  God never said: “You know, it is more loving for me to share my love with two persons rather than with just one, so I will become a Trinity.”  God always was a Trinity.  Can there really be a rationale for something that simply is, and that never was created?  One could argue, perhaps, that God continues to share this love with the other two persons of the Trinity, a conscious decision on God’s part.  But God never decided to set up the Trinity; it just is, and always has been.  Even Swinburne seems to acknowledge the eternity of the Trinity.  Maybe he would say that perfect love, which is exemplified in the Trinity, has always existed.  Someone who is skeptical may look at Swinburne’s scenario and say: “You know, that reinforces in my mind that the Trinity is made up—-we have experienced that love between two people can be selfish, whereas love among three is better and more selfless, so people decided to make up an image of God that coincided with this insight.”  I guess all I can say is, “Take your pick!”

I may review the book tomorrow, or I may discuss a specific point in the book.  Stay tuned!



UPDATE: This is not my official review, but I should probably mention that I received this book as a complimentary review copy from Intervarsity Press, in exchange for an honest review. 
 

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