Monday, August 11, 2008

Mystery, Paradox, and the Lamb


Our language is limited. You can only study theological matters so much and then you just have to stand back in awe. The Lamb on the Altar doesn't really make sense. The Lamb is conquering by being slaughtered. Is this a mystery? A mystery can usually be solved by gathering clues and and piecing them together. Paul uses the term "mystery" in reference to the Lamb on the altar in Romans 16 and elsewhere. Paul says that the mystery has been revealed. Certainly the mystery of how God would save has been revealed but we are still left with the question of "Why?" Why would God want to save us miserable sinners?

The modern church doesn't really care about the Lamb on the altar. All of the major controversies in the early church dealt with who the Lamb on altar. Is he man? Is He God? Is He half-man and half-God? These questions were not abstract questions only significant to men in ivory towers. These questions were asked because they deal with our salvation. How can the Lamb save us if the Lamb is not fully God and fully man? The church rightly confessed on the basis of Scripture that the Lamb is fully God and fully man. The church rightly taught on the basis of Scripture that these two natures are united but not mixed and not confused. Every Christian ought to believe this but can any Christian fully understand it?

After the controversy as to the identity of the Lamb was settled, the church debated the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Are they subordinate to one another? Is the Holy Spirit even a person? Is the Son inferior to the Father? Once again, these questions are all tied to our slavation. Once again, the church on the basis of Scripture and the tradition handed down by the Apostles confessed that God is one in being (or essence) and three in person. The debate continues to this day as to how of these terms is to be understood. A modalistic god that is just one person with three modes of existance would be much easier to understand. A modalistic god fits into our brains alot easier. But Scripture is clear that God is one in being and three in person. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, etc. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God (not just a third of God) and yet there are not three Gods but one God. Every Christian must confess this but what Christian can completely understand it? This is not really a mystery. God has revealed Himself as one in being and three in person. There's no mystery to solve. It's not really a paradox. God is one and God is three but He is not one in the same way that He is three. I suppose we could call it a veridical paradox and that might make us sound smart but I don't think that would help us understand God any better. The problem is not in the revelation that God has provided us. The problem lies in our own inability to comprehend it.

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most neglected teachings in the church. It's neglected because we can never fully explain it and we don't like things that we can't fully understand. But could a god that we could fully understand ever be able to save us? The doctrine of the Trinity is a necessary starting point for an understanding of all other aspects of theology. It's easy to start with the doctrine of election or the doctrine of eschatology and find inventive ways to twist passages to fit your system and make pretty graphs and maps. It's impossible to do this with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity and the Lamb on the Altar force you to recognize how insufficient and stupid you really are. When you look to the Trinity you are forced to affirm what Scripture teaches and deny what Scripture denies without being able to fully comprehend how it works. Since the doctrine of the Trinity provides a foundation for the rest of theology you must do the same with the rest of theology. You can't make soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) fit into a convenient box where everything makes sense in your head. All salvation starts with the Triune God and the Lamb on the Altar.

God is love. God is love within Himself. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Why would the Father sacrifice His only-begotten Son whom He loves for you? He loves you. But why?

1 comment:

Laura Wiese said...

Am I supposed to have an answer for that question? I don't know why God loves me~ I just trust His word that He does!