Thursday, September 25, 2014

Differences between the Persons of the Trinity

Differences between the Persons of the Trinity

Raymond, a Oneness Pentecostal, challenges the Trinity. If the Father, Son, and Spirit are One in nature and One in substance, how can we tell them apart? If there's no difference, the Trinity must be pointless and a Unitarian God makes more sense.

Oneness refers to the Unitarian belief that God exists as only one Person. Some Unitarians believe that God is a quick-change artist who switches costumes to appear as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Others believe the Father is God, the Son was just a man, and the Spirit is an impersonal force.

Raymond says no Trinitarian has ever answered his question, How can we distinguish between the Persons or personalities of the Persons of the Trinity? With that claim he implies that the Trinity does not make sense.

Differences in Person

The question has two answers because it has two parts. By Person, we mean all that makes up the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. There is no reason to expect any difference in nature (the characteristics) or substance (whatever spiritual stuff they are made of. If there are differences, no mortal mind could grasp them.

We except from that statement the body of Christ Jesus. God translated the body of Jesus from physical form into spiritual form when Jesus ascended to Heaven. So the Son may have that additional "substance."

I'm sorry, but I have to hedge even on the exception. Jesus said, "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). Also, after His baptism by John, Jesus "returned from the Jordan [river], full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1). Therefore, the Father and the Spirit may share the the body of Jesus in Heaven. That brings us back to the Three having identical substance, even during and after the Son inhabited a physical body!

More than one in one

How does one program in a computer differ from another? They share the same hardware. They share access to all the power, interfaces, and data within the computer. Since a computer's existence is limited to the physical universe, the programs have to take turns checking the keyboard buffer, executing instructions in the CPU, storing data to or retrieving data from RAM, displaying information on the monitor, and so forth.

They differ not in substance, but in information. Each contains instructions and data that correspond to their roles. You cannot look at a computer and see the programs. Even if you examined the magnetic states on the hard drive, the logic states in the CPU, or the electrostatic states in the RAM, you would need yet more information to know where to look and to decode it. 

One, but more than One

Since God is spirit in nature, omnipresent, and eternal, it would be unrealistic to think we could "look" with our mind's eye at God or at the three Persons of God, let alone have the ability to recognize differences in what we see. It's not like the Father would have flowing white hair and a bald spot, the Son would wear gold chains and would have his pants hanging down below His butt, or the Holy Spirit would wear a butler's uniform.

The difference until the incarnation would appear to have been strictly informational. The three Persons have self awareness and, although we could not tell them apart, they know each other. Even if there were no differences in nature between the three in their transcendent reality, each would still be able to distinguish the other two because, to the extent that they exercise such knowledge, they know each others' minds (for example, Romans 8:27, "He [the Father] who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit"). 

As a result of accepting different roles and executing the functions of those roles, the three Persons accumulate differentiation in "their" memories. Yet even in that I must again hedge because, since the Trinity shares a common substance, the three Persons can share in each other's experiences.

Differences in Personalities

I would define personality as the aggregate of inward and outward attributes. Inward attributes would stem from one's nature. Having the same nature and shared substance, the three Persons of the Trinity would have identical inward attributes.

Outward attributes would result from the combination of the inward attributes and the Person's role. Whereas inward attributes express the nature, outward attributes put the role into action consistent with the inward attributes.

Listing the personality differences between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rockets past my pay grade (if I had one). Having just enough knowledge to be a danger to myself, though, I'll attempt to name at least one unique outward attribute for each Person.

Personality of God the Father

  • Christ said that not even He knew the day or hour of the end of the age; only the Father knew, so the Father is the Planner.
  • The Father deploys the Son and the Spirit to execute His plan, so the Father is the Coordinator.
  • The Father receives Change Requests from the Son and Spirit and issues Change Orders, so He presides over the Change Control Board.

These tell me that the Father is the Manager among the Three. Although the Father delegates certain judgments, He takes responsibility for the divine plan and its execution. Would He be better than the other two at those roles? No, His leadership does not indicate a difference in nature; but we perceive a recognizable outward attribute that ensues from a difference in role.

Personality of God the Son

  • Since the Father fulfills a role of Leader, the Son and the Spirit fulfill roles as Followers. 
  • Following requires obedience. While the Spirit obeys, the Spirit does not need to obey sacrificially. For a time, the Son forsook the glory of Deity and the comfort of Heaven. He took on the weakness and vulnerability of a child and a man, took upon Himself the weight of the guilt of the world, and suffered torture and physical death. He "learned obedience," not just as a matter of being obedient by nature, as all three Persons are, but by experience.
  • As a follower of the Father, the Son demonstrates humility by representing and obeying the Father.
  • As one who experienced the discomforts, risks, temptations, and agonies of earthly life and death, the Son understands our experience, so He has empathy.

This tells me that, although the nature of any of the three persons would have led to identical behavior, the Son acts with humility and grace in ways that the other two members do not have opportunity to express. Moreover, all three Persons can sympathize, but only the Son can empathize with us because He shared the human experience. As we consider the Son's sacrifice and see His humanity and brotherhood, which presents God as accessible, relateable, and an object of affection.

Personality of God the Holy Spirit

  • The Spirit enlightens man that he might see and births believers into life.
  • What the Son demonstrated, the Spirit enables. The Spirit imbues and empowers spiritual gifts in accordance with the Father's plan.
  • The Spirit glorifies not Himself, but the Son and the Father by teaching, through the Sword of the Spirit, the written Word of God, all spiritual knowledge that we need.

This tells me that the Spirit enacts the quiet humility of a servant, teaching and equipping the saints for their own role in the spiritual economy that they might enjoy the benefits of God's love and glorify their Father and Brother.

The difference is also intuitive

It should be obvious to anyone that, although the Trinity is one in substance and its members are equal in nature, if we relate to the Father as our Father, to the Son as our Big Brother, and to the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, Quartermaster, and King's Messenger, we innately recognize differences of personality, even if we fail to consciously recognize them.

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