For this week’s Searching Sabbath blog and vlog, I get to tackle a nice, uncontroversial subject that has never given Christians any trouble at all … THE GODHEAD.
That’s right, the very nature of God. Three-persons-in-One, divine Son of eternal Father etc etc etc … the topic that caused the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and can still get a few people in an Adventist Sabbath School class hot under the collar today. One of the single most divisive issues in all Christianity.
The Adventist statement of fundamental belief about the Godhead is quite strictly and traditionally Trinitarian and fits well with most of mainstream Christian belief. While there were some early Adventist pioneers who weren’t sure about the divinity of Christ, our official statement of belief for a long, long time has expressed belief in the eternal unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (For the record, as I say in the video above, I do not understand why some Adventists today have a problem with the doctrine of the Trinity, or with the term “Trinity” even if they claim to believe in the Godhead. If anyone wants to use the comments here to enlighten me about their theological issues with the Trinity, go for it).
The church’s statement of belief about the Godhead devotes very little space to reasons for believing in the existence of God, preferring to take that mostly as a basic assumption and to talk about God’s nature and character. As Scriptural evidence for a belief in a Triune God, Adventist doctrine relies on New Testament texts that mention Father, Son and Holy Spirit (such as the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14), showing that early Christians used this trinitarian formula to talk about God.
In light of my questions from last week about the authority of the Bible, it’s interesting to note that the most explicitly Trinitarian text in the New Testament — 1 John 5:7 — has a very messy textual history and is considered by some to be a later interpolation (and is not, as far as I can see, referenced anywhere in the chapter on the Godhead in Seventh-day Adventists Believe…., suggesting that the editors of the book were well aware of the problems associated with that text). The overall sense given by the New Testament is of early Christians not so much developing a doctrine as struggling to find a formula that included ideas about God that were surprising even to them. Jesus’ original followers were all strictly monotheistic Jews, yet they had met this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, and somehow come to believe HE WAS ALSO GOD. How could they make that fit into their Jewish theology?
Strangely (given how many things I have questions and struggles about), while I strain at gnats I have no difficulty swallowing the camel of the Trinity. I mean, I can’t understand it or explain it. And there are certainly many things about the nature of God that I find hard to understand (as I’ll unfold in coming weeks, since we have a statement of belief not just on the Trinity but also ones on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit individually). But the basic idea that God can be three Persons within one Divine Being … that doesn’t really faze me. I guess because I don’t feel like I have to understand it. I’m OK with a certain amount of mystery in my faith.
I figure whatever God is, God has to be something much bigger and, frankly, much stranger than we can comprehend. When we get to heaven I expect to learn that comparing our little “Three in One” formula to God’s true nature is a bit like comparing a child’s ABC compared to the collected works of Shakespeare. The concept of a Triune Godhead, which seems to arcane and convoluted to us, is probably actually the incredibly watered-down, simplified version, while Reality is no doubt much, much weirder. And that’s good. I want God to be big, wide, and weird. In the meantime, let’s try to be a little nicer to each other, and a little bit humble about our theological formulations, so that we don’t end up burning at the stake those who reach different conclusions. We’re dealing with stuff here that is meant to be complex and beyond our understanding. Calling each other “heretic!” because we understand it differently seems, well, kind of small.