“How can you believe in three gods?” asks my Muslim neighbor. It’s then that I come face to face with a common misunderstanding about God as I understand him.
Recently, I was given the book, The Good God (Michael Reeves, Paternoster, UK, 2012) from a pastor friend in London, England. It is a small book. And after a brief thumbing, it appeared to be packed with theology and quotes from church fathers. I shrugged it off as another colorless treatise on the Trinity. However, as I began to delve into the pages they began to delve into me. I gained a fresh veneration and love for my God in a book I’d dub as both practical and devotional. The fog surrounding the Trinity vanished and what appeared was God’s incomparable beauty and love.
The thrust of the book is that God is love because God is Trinity. It goes on to say that if God was not Father he would not be loving. “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.” (vii) The love between the persons of God help one to understand the triune God better.
What was God doing before creation?
A Christians understanding of God is built on the Son who reveals him (4). God as Father helps you to know how he loves. If you don’t start with Jesus the Son, you end up with a different God who is not Father. Richard the Scot said, “If God was just one person, he could not be intrinsically loving, since for all eternity (before creation) he would have had nobody to love…being triune, God is a sharing God, a God who loves to include. His love is not for keeping but for spreading.” (14-15) Luther said, “Only when God is known as a loving Father is he known aright.” (60) And John Owen said, “God is our most loving Father…The greatest unkindness you can do to him is to refuse to believe that he loves you.” (77)
Over the past few years, I have observed a culture of a single-person god among Muslims in North Africa. I can echo Reeves observations when he says,
“Oneness for the single-person God would mean sameness. Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences? Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia and Indonesia are made deliberately and increasingly, the same. Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating—even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing. Oneness for the triune God means unity. As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same. Created male and female, in the image of God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.” (84; also see 1 Corinthians 12:4,17-20)
Single-person gods—having spent eternity alone—are inevitably self-centered beings. If this is the kind of god one worships, they become like what they worship. “If God is not triune it gets even worse: for if God is not triune, it becomes difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it.” (39) Thus how God the Father loves the Son helps one to understand how God loves creation, hates evil, and his love does something about it.
What is God’s work in salvation?
It is because God is triune that the cross is such good news. Friedrich Nietzsche boldly said, “God is dead.” By this he meant that belief in God is simply no longer viable and faith is no longer needed. However, Reeves adds “‘God is dead’ is where true faith begins. For, on the cross, Christ the Glory puts to death all false ideas of God; and as he cries out to his Father and offers himself up by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), breathing out his last, he reveals a God beyond our dreams.” (105) At the cross we see a God who is infinitely better: unconditionally loving, darkness hating, tremendously glorious.
Since God is a lover from before creation (of his Son), he created humans to be lovers too. Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God. This is when sin entered the world. Naturally, man is bent in on himself and takes hellish delight in his own supposed independence. However, God as the supreme lover atones for sin himself via the Son. God gives himself. What single-person god would do this? Especially when you think of the reckless and storied lives of the Greeks and Romans.
“Strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean. Instead of a life bursting with love, joy, and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving Father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart-change, no joy in God could that spirit bring.” (82)
Without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father. If God is alone, he is not truly loving. Thus he has no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.
Reeves says, “My new life began when the Spirit first opened my eyes (light) and won my heart (heat) to Christ… And as he stirs me to think ever more on Christ, he makes me more and more God-like: less self-obsessed and more Christ-obsessed.” (73) Again, we become like what we worship.
When I go and share the knowledge of God’s great love with others I reflect something very important about who God is. I share the missional, generous, image of God. As Reeves continues, “The mission (of God) comes from overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of fellowship (with himself and others).” (86) Who is to love? What is my example to be loving to others? It is found in God as Father.
I would highly recommend this book to a new believer, seminary student, small group, and missionary to Muslims. It is a book that fosters love for God and greater appreciation for his love for us. This truly speaks more to my Muslim neighbors than a powerful apologetic. As I think of God as Father and relish in the love of the Son and the life with the Spirit, it sincerely affects my love for my neighbor. My only caution is for those who desire a beefy book with slam-dunk comments to defeat opponents of the Trinity, it’s not that kind of book. Neither is it an exhaustive book on the Trinity. It is sufficient enough to give a good defense why God is triune. It satisfies ones longing to know and love God better.
Note: The book also goes by the title Delighting in the Trinity for those who live on the US side of the pond.