Trinity and Love

Trinity and Love November 5, 2019

Dale Tuggy recently offered a counterargument to the claim that Trinitarian thinking is correct, or at least a useful image of God, because without a plurality of persons there cannot be mutual love. By way of response, Tuggy said that one could do the same with forgiveness and say that God cannot be eternally forgiving unless there is someone to forgive, and thus there must be an eternal sinner in the godhead if this logic is sound!

What do others make of this argument? I confess that the one thing that has kept me appreciating the imagery of trinitarianism (even though the Trinity is not a concept that is found in or even emerges in a straightforward way from the New Testament) is the way if offers an image of God as eternal love and eternally loving. I don’t think the argument works that this must parallel God being eternally forgiving. If God is eternally capable of perfect forgiveness, does it have to be actualized, which would require there being a sinner eternally present in the Godhead to be the object of forgiveness? Indeed, mightn’t eternal love provide sufficient basis for forgiveness once appropriate objects appeared? To be eternally loving, on the other hand, seems to require more than one person. The claim is that God is love, and that God is forgiving. Yet the view that God is merely capable of loving but had no one to love until creation seems different than the view that God was always capable of forgiving and ready to forgive, but there was no one as yet in need of forgiveness.

Of course, if one accepts that any language that ascribes personhood akin to that of humans to God is idolatrous, one will recognize that these are at best metaphors and symbols, and at worst idolatrous anthropomorphisms. The question for me is not whether God is “really” three persons, but whether tripersonal images of God point to something about the mystery of the divine that unipersonal imagery lacks.

Either way, the meme in this blog post was worth sharing, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you see it below…

new co-authored paper: “Dormant Dispositions, Agent Value, and the Trinity”


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  • Although certainly not the same, there is some similarity between the Buddhist Trikaya and the Christian Trinity:
    Nirmanakaya is the Buddha in human form (Jesus)
    Sambhogakaya is celestial Buddha (God the Father)
    Dharmakaya is the formless essence (Holy Spirit)

    Few Buddhists or Christians would agree with that analogy.

    • Ron I agree with you and think your analogy is right on. Thank you for bringing the different terms together expressing the same unity in different way.

    • John MacDonald

      I don’t know much about Buddhism, but your “threefold” analogy makes a lot of epistemological sense. One of my areas of interest is Philosophy and how we understand things. There is great explanatory power in a “threefold” explanation. In outlining concepts, we like to get an 1 example, 2 exemplar, and 3 avatar. So, in understanding basketball, we need to be able to think of examples of basketball players, exemplary players that exhibit all the traits of a good player, like Larry Bird, but then to fully conceptualize we need an exemplary player like Michael Jordan who so fundamentally understood the game that he changed how the game was played, and in that difference co-posited what basketball meant (his play exhibited the Essence of basketball). Gretzky did something similar and hockey, and no one had a more revolutionary impact on the world than Jesus. A threefold interpretation is a very powerful interpretation to foster understanding: Ecclesiastes 4:12 said “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

  • Ron and James salutations to the Divinity within you and may we continue to search and spread our enlightenment with others. I really enjoy the concept of the Trinity and have meditated on it for many years. I hope I don’t bore you with a few details as I like to go deeper in the details but am afraid it might be boring to others.

    In my mind the Trinity is a Christian term or symbol that expresses duality in unity like a chord with three notes making one sound, therefore the Holy Trinity, which is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are in equilibrium in God the Father like three notes are harmonious in one chord. God the Father is an undivided and indivisible Whole, a pure consciousness that fills all time and permeates all space similar to one big ocean of pure consciousness. This makes our purpose not to find God, but to realize God’s presence everywhere and to understand that this all pervading consciousness is always with us. This life force flows up from the inside where the Divine Presence is springing up from within us. When we realize this, we recognize that this all-pervading consciousness is responding to us from every person, thing or event that transpires. The Divine Presence is everywhere so let us awaken to the realization of this Presence.

    The second force in the Holy Trinity contains the force that freezes the water in the ocean of pure consciousness so that it may manifest itself in the form of icebergs so pure consciousness may materialize. The Holy Trinity is; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and is the Christian symbol for God from which the universe emanates, has its growth, realizes pure consciousness and merges in the end. When the Holy Trinity is in equilibrium it transcends the limitations of time; past, present and future; the genders; masculine, feminine and neuter; and the mind; conscious, subconscious and unconscious. When the equilibrium is disturbed, each principle of the Holy Trinity has the opportunity to express itself. This is the emergence of being from non-being or what we refer to as creation.The primordial waters are a theoretical expression showing the creative spirit of God bringing order out of what seems to be chaos which is only in our mind because it is beyond the mind. In creation there is still oneness, but the awareness of this oneness in all things becomes lost in the individual awareness of the parts.

    One God is revealed in three aspects in the Holy Trinity, which is an expansion of the rudimentary idea of God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are the Generator, the Operator, and the Destroyer that does away with the delusion, the deception that we are separate from God. The generator is the Father that creates the universe while the operator is the Holy Ghost, which is the energy that maintains creation. The destroyer is The Son who is conscious of the all-pervading consciousness that sacrifices the physical life for the spiritual life of being one with the Father as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.

    The Holy Trinity represents God from which nature comes, maintains it’s growth, and into which it dies and merges in the end; thus, this triangle is the strongest force in nature. The Father is all encompassing and is both in the world and beyond it so everything is within this Body and nothing is outside of God the Father. As all ice comes from water (pure consciousness) so also all forms of this creation come from the Father or ocean of pure consciousness.

    There is always oneness in the all-pervading consciousness, but it becomes lost in the individual awareness of the parts. Jesus says, “I and The Father are one,” so after productive experiences in evolution our individual parts again become aware of the affinity and unity of all things. Eventually, the individual again merges in the ocean of pure consciousness to sit at the right hand of The Father in equilibrium. “I and The Father are one.”

    I just came back from South Korea where I felt one with the Koreans even though I physically am separate. I think this unity is what all religions strive for and explain in different ways to bring our different minds into unity and harmony via love that is beyond the mind. God bless

  • Ron and James salutations to the Divinity within you and may we continue to search and spread our enlightenment with others. I really enjoy the concept of the Trinity and have meditated on it for many years. I hope I don’t bore you with a few details as I like to go deeper in the details but am afraid it might be boring to others.
    In my mind the Trinity is a Christian term or symbol that expresses duality in unity like a chord with three notes making one sound, therefore the Holy Trinity, which is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are in equilibrium in God the Father like three notes are harmonious in one chord. God the Father is an undivided and indivisible Whole, a pure consciousness that fills all time and permeates all space similar to one big ocean of pure consciousness. This makes our purpose not to find God, but to realize God’s presence everywhere and to understand that this all pervading consciousness is always with us. This life force flows up from the inside where the Divine Presence is springing up from within us. When we realize this, we recognize that this all-pervading consciousness is responding to us from every person, thing or event that transpires. The Divine Presence is everywhere so let us awaken to the realization of this Presence.
    The second force in the Holy Trinity contains the force that freezes the water in the ocean of pure consciousness so that it may manifest itself in the form of icebergs so pure consciousness may materialize. The Holy Trinity is; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and is the Christian symbol for God from which the universe emanates, has its growth, realizes pure consciousness and merges in the end. When the Holy Trinity is in equilibrium it transcends the limitations of time; past, present and future; the genders; masculine, feminine and neuter; and the mind; conscious, subconscious and unconscious. When the equilibrium is disturbed, each principle of the Holy Trinity has the opportunity to express itself. This is the emergence of being from non-being or what we refer to as creation.The primordial waters are a theoretical expression showing the creative spirit of God bringing order out of what seems to be chaos which is only in our mind because it is beyond the mind. In creation there is still oneness, but the awareness of this oneness in all things becomes lost in the individual awareness of the parts.
    One God is revealed in three aspects in the Holy Trinity, which is an expansion of the rudimentary idea of God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are the Generator, the Operator, and the Destroyer that does away with the delusion, the deception that we are separate from God. The generator is the Father that creates the universe while the operator is the Holy Ghost, which is the energy that maintains creation. The destroyer is The Son who is conscious of the all-pervading consciousness that sacrifices the physical life for the spiritual life of being one with the Father as Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.
    The Holy Trinity represents God from which nature comes, maintains it’s growth, and into which it dies and merges in the end; thus, this triangle is the strongest force in nature. The Father is all encompassing and is both in the world and beyond it so everything is within this Body and nothing is outside of God the Father. As all ice comes from water (pure consciousness) so also all forms of this creation come from the Father or ocean of pure consciousness.
    There is always oneness in the all-pervading consciousness, but it becomes lost in the individual awareness of the parts. Jesus says, “I and The Father are one,” so after productive experiences in evolution our individual parts again become aware of the affinity and unity of all things. Eventually, the individual again merges in the ocean of pure consciousness to sit at the right hand of The Father in equilibrium. “I and The Father are one.”
    I just came back from South Korea where I felt one with the Koreans even though I physically am separate. I think this unity is what all religions strive for and explain in different ways to bring our different minds into unity and harmony via love that is beyond the mind. God bless

  • Sean Garrigan

    I think that the argument that God must be multi-personal in order to instantiate perfect love ultimately leads to an infinite regress. I think it was Swinburne who argued that two is better than one, but that three is better than two, and so at least three persons are needed for perfect love. But wait, if three is better than two, then wouldn’t four be better than three, and five better than four, and six better than five, etc., etc., etc.? Taken to where this seems to necessarily lead, to really instantiate the ultimate love would require a God comprised of an actually infinite number of divine persons. It turns out that Trinity is not enough, there must be an Infinite-inity to really get to where this argument is designed to take us.

  • Mark

    Forgiveness and mercy are modes or forms of love, you’d think. First I have to find the ‘attribute’ not a form or mode, before I start such an argument. I don’t want an argument that there is eternal forgivingness-of-red-haired-murderers.

    All of the above together are opposed in the tradition – eg in rabbinical writing, in Marcion etc. – to justice. It’s hard to see how either can get going without ‘separateness of persons’ as Rawls puts it.

    But there have been other attempts to prove that the idea of an essentially solitary person or ‘self’ is incoherent. What is this thought that just stares into the nothing? It’s not that you need plurality for love; you need it for coherence. McTaggart in ‘Some Dogmas of Religion’ argued that theism was false on this ground. (He thought reality was atemporally a bunch of reciprocally loving persons who misperceive themselves as material and in time etc.) It somehow didn’t occur to him that trinity or a like doctrine of an internal otherness might evade his argument against The Alone.

    It is also attractive to argue more generally that the idea of there being just one ‘thing’ or ‘being’ or ‘substance’ is nonsense. How (eg) could anything be true of it? Whatever I say will mark a distinction and thus appeal to others, or potential others. ‘A being without an object (eg of interaction) is a non-being’ Marx says in a would-be atheistic passage. Again if one could make the best one could if such arguments against solitary existence it would be interesting if doctrines like trinity could preserve unity but evade them.

  • Hmm, I’ve struggled with the Creedal doctrine of God since a teenager, 55 years ago. When I first encountered the formal doctrines of the Trinity, at about 17, I found them to be incomprehensible, that the Bible didn’t seem to be the textural basis of the doctrines. that the doctrines often led to persecution, oppression, burning at the stake, etc. by Christians against those of other religions and contrary versions of the doctrines by Christians themselves. And that the highly abstract doctrines were often avidly believed by humans who utterly failed to follow Jesus’ basic moral guidelines!

    As I recall, Jesus Wars by the historian Philip Jenkins shows the tragic results of such Christian theological arguments.

    The concept that God must be 3 in order for God to be in essence “love,” while intriguing, doesn’t seem to be necessary for love to exist.
    For instance, even one finite human primate can have inner love–love (as opposed to selfish grasping) of him/her self. And that love of oneself is then the solid basis for loving others. As is often mentioned, one can’t really love others if one doesn’t love oneself.

    So God loved himself.

    That isn’t a completely satisfying answer to why the concept of the Trinity isn’t necessary in Christianity. But it does avoid so many of the theological contortions and juggling that Trinitarians get caught down in–such as if Jesus is God, then why didn’t he share germ theory with everyone immediately and thus spare billions of future humans horrible suffering and death in the next 2,000 years?

    Of course, the answer that one branch of Christianity came up with was that Jesus was 2 natures–in one Jesus was God, in the other Jesus was human. But that created an incredible amount of conceptual problems, so another group of Christians came up with a contrary answer. And then the 2 groups fought and killed over it:-(

    Also, there are so many textural problems where the NT doesn’t match the Trinity, and so various texts had to be re-interpreted to fit the later theological doctrines. The last time I studied through the Bible, I was again shocked how different God is presented in the book from the Creeds.

    If abstraction speculation about God is important, God can be seen as more than an ‘inadequate’ singular by thinking of God’s immanence and God transcendence.
    On a human scale, most psychological theories view an individual as a complex unity, not an inadequate singular.

    Side Note: After 55 years of dealing with so many contradictions within organized Christianity, including the doctrine of the Trinity, I have become convinced that doctrinal Christianity can’t be true.
    So now on the daily, real life level, I am a follower of Jesus’ many moral ideals, and in philosophical speculation, I am a Process theist.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I’m not sure whether there has ever been a detailed theological treatment of self-love and monotheism. If not, there should be! I myself am a panentheist and so any of this imagery is metaphor and symbol for me. The question in that case becomes which symbols and images point most helpfully to the inexpressible reality of the divine.

      • Intriguing. I do recall a couple years ago you wrote in a comment that you were a panentheist.

        If you have time, I have a question for you on panentheism. Since at least denotatively, the term seems to say that God is in all, correct?

        Then, I worry about the meaning of that–God is in all. Doesn’t it then mean that God is in cancer, in abusers, in natural disasters?

        The reason I’m asking is this is what one thinker told me–that God is even in cancer:-(

        Thanks for some excellent blog posts this week.

        • Technically all is in God. And thus one way of thinking about evil is akin to cancer. Cancer is when cells “selfishly” replicate at the expense of the wellbeing of the organism. Thinking about cancer presents challenges because the cancer is both oneself and other/enemy. There’s probably a lot that could be written exploring that analogy. Once again I find myself wondering how much has been done already that simply hasn’t come to my attention…

          • Thanks for sharing your perspective. I will have to continue reading more on the topic. Right now I am still only part way through the cosmology book, The Elegant Universe by astrophysicist Brian Greene. Very difficult, but it is expanding my mind:-)

  • Russell

    In his beautiful book “The Mystery of Christ” and also his new work that challenges the social trinity, “Christ and the Cosmos,” Keith Ward challenges the notion that God must be a community of persons in order to be eternally loving. Can’t God love from all eternity the beauty and intelligibility of the divine mind, the Logos, which he calls “philokalia,” without being in community with other divine persons? It may be God’s nature to love and necessarily so, but God doesn’t have to love as we think God must love. That sounds a lot like we are projecting on God what we desire God to be and what we need. And besides, what kind of love can exist between perfect and eternal persons? I thought love was redemptive, cross-like, agape love that reaches out to a genuine other, an other marked by difference. The only love I know is the kind of love that gives its life for its friends. I hardly think that sacrifice exists between eternal persons.