God Does Not Lend a Helping Hand. God Gives Us Both Hands.

By Commonwealth of Learning (Commonwealth of Learning, [1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/L4C_small.png
By Commonwealth of Learning (Commonwealth of Learning, [1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/L4C_small.png
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Lend a helping hand.” Instead of standing aloof, get involved. Now some people may be tempted to think that God stands aloof and does not lend a helping hand, unless perhaps we call on God to come to our aid. St. Irenaeus challenged that notion back in the second century A.D. In fact, he was not content to say God lends a helping hand. Rather, God is always at work in and for the creation through “His own hands”—the Son and Spirit. Here’s Irenaeus in his rejection of the Gnostic teaching that God needed angelic agents to create the world. According to Irenaeus, he does all things through his two hands, the Son and Spirit:

As regards His greatness, therefore, it is not possible to know God, for it is impossible that the Father can be measured; but as regards His love (for this it is which leads us to God by His Word), when we obey Him, we do always learn that there is so great a God, and that it is He who by Himself has established, and selected, and adorned, and contains all things; and among the all things, both ourselves and this our world. We also then were made, along with those things which are contained by Him. And this is He of whom the Scripture says, And God formed man, taking clay of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26); He taking from Himself the substance of the creatures [formed], and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world. Against Heresies, IV.20.1

God does not simply create the world through his “two hands.” God also sustains and perfects the world through the Son and Spirit. The Father does nothing apart from the Son and Spirit, nor do the Son and Spirit operate independently of the Father or from one another. Their triune work of recapitulation or transformation involves their perichoretic union of mutual indwelling as the one God.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may not believe in angelic mediators that God uses to engage the world so as not to get his hands dirty. But it does believe God remains distant unless called upon by us. Like the rich young ruler of Matthew 19, MTD devotees are led to think God helps those who help themselves. But there is no way in the world the world can help and transform itself given its dissolution and decay. God must enter the world and clothe himself in “tired and soiled matter,” as Colin E. Gunton claims, through his Son in the Spirit in order to reestablish his sovereign order of life on behalf of his creation. (Gunton is picking up and extending Irenaeus’ paradigm. See Gunton, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine {Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002}, page 32).

For Irenaeus, Christ sums up and heals the whole creation, including animals and plants (Refer here for his discussion in Against Heresies, V.33.4. Irenaeus speaks of Christ summing up all things in himself and offers the whole creation back to God. In his rebuttal of the Gnostic teaching that would separate Jesus from Christ, the Word of God…

who is always present with the human race, united to and mingled with His own creation, according to the Father’s pleasure, and who became flesh, is Himself Jesus Christ our Lord, who did also suffer for us, and rose again on our behalf, and who will come again in the glory of His Father, to raise up all flesh, and for the manifestation of salvation, and to apply the rule of just judgment to all who were made by Him. There is therefore, as I have pointed out, one God the Father, and one Christ Jesus, who came by means of the whole dispensational arrangements [connected with Him], and gathered together all things in Himself (Ephesians 1:10). But in every respect, too, He is man, the formation of God; and thus He took up man into Himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering, and the Word being made man, thus summing up all things in Himself: so that as in super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal He might possess the supremacy, and, taking to Himself the pre-eminence, as well as constituting Himself Head of the Church, He might draw all things to Himself at the proper time (Refer here to Against Heresies, III.16.6, from which the quote from Irenaeus is taken; see also Against Heresies, V.18.2-3 for a discussion of Christ and the Spirit’s work).

Jesus does not do it alone, for he does all things through the Spirit. Every action of God is trinitarian, as the Father always operates through the Son and Spirit. From Genesis 1 onward, we find hints of this orientation. There we find God’s Spirit hovering over the waters and God creating all things through his Word. Not only does this pertain to the creation and its renewal, but also it pertains to our own spiritual renewal. God always works through the Son and Spirit who operate in unison.

If God does everything through his two hands, one cannot have the Spirit apart from Jesus, nor Jesus apart from the Spirit. Just like Jesus and the Christ are not separate beings, so the Son and Spirit, though distinct persons in the Godhead, are never separate from one another. They always operate together. Those who deny that Jesus has come in the flesh do not speak by God’s Spirit (1 John 4:1-6). No one who curses Jesus operates according to the Spirit, and no one can call Jesus Lord apart from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Moreover, those who do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to him (Romans 8:9).

What bearing does this teaching have on our lives? The Spirit’s work is to unite us to Jesus and perfect us in him. His gifts are not autonomous, but unanimous in making whole the church as the body of Jesus as well as the entire creation, which Jesus also mediates and offers up to God (See for example the entirety of 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 as well as Ephesians 2:11-22 on the church, and then Revelation 22:17, which mentions the Spirit and the church bearing witness and inviting the entire creation to participate in God’s redemptive purposes).

The Father always works through the Son and Spirit, who always work in harmony with one another. Just as the Son institutes our humanity, the Spirit constitutes it, even as he perfects our humanity in, through and for the Father through Jesus. God will never lend you a hand. Rather, God gives you his two hands—the Son and Spirit, always together, and never one apart from the other. God does not stand aloof. Rather, in Irenaeus-like language, God rolls up his sleeves, gets down on his knees and gets his hands dirty to restore and transform our lives and the entire creation, making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

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