‘God’ always includes the Son

There is a refrain I hear from some leaders in our churches and teachers in our seminaries about Jesus. It goes something like this.

Jesus Christ is the lens through which we read the Bible.

This notion gets deployed frequently when people are trying to wrestle with the passages in the Bible that depict God calling for blood and unleashing wrath and devastation on the people of God or on other nations.

In broad strokes, I hear people saying that we should use what we know about Jesus Christ to help us interpret these passages, which often means that we should conclude that those passages don’t actually show us a true picture of God but are the creation or projection of the men who wrote those parts of the Bible. In short, we use the lens of Jesus to help us dismiss those passages as not reflecting the true nature and will of God.

This is not the only way that notion of “Jesus as the lens” gets used, but it certainly gets used that way.

This makes no sense to me.

It makes no sense to me because Jesus Christ in the New Testament does not shy away from talk of wrath, fire, and punishment. The “lens” of Jesus that we are offered in this exericse is usually not a complete image of the Jesus of New Testament. The lens itself is an edited view of Jesus. It is not Jesus but our own ideas about who Jesus should be that shapes both the lens and work we do with it in the rest of the Bible.

But it makes no sense to me for an even bigger reason.

It makes no sense to me because I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.

Orthodox Christians worship God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three-in-one and one-in three. In other words, there is no mention of God anywhere in the Bible that is not inclusive of the Son. When God unleashes snakes on the people of Israel or demands the blood of entire villages, the Son is doing those things just as much as the Father and the Holy Spirit. There is no Jesus lens through which we can view the God of the Old Testament because the God of the Old Testament is fully present in Jesus. They are the same. If we think that one some how corrects or screens out the other, we misunderstand what we claim to believe when we sing “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” and recite the creeds.

This does not make it easier for us to grapple with God as revealed to us in the Bible, but that is okay. Making it easy for us rarely seems to be God’s primary motivation.

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He was there from the beginning

A Trinitarian question.

For a Christian who confesses God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, isn’t the idea of pitting Jesus against the portraits of God in the Old Testament a misunderstanding of what we mean by the word “Trinity”?

Don’t we confess that the Son — the eternally begotten one — was fully present, active, and revealed in the Old Testament as well as the New? In Genesis 1, the son was present. At the burning bush, the son also said “I AM.” Through the whole story, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three-in-one.

Or am I getting my Trinitarian theology wrong here?

Jesus in the Old Testament

They did not destroy the peoples
    as the Lord had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
    and adopted their customs. (Psalm 106: 34-35, NIV)

I remember the day I was sitting in a Bible study and someone said God would never command the destruction of entire towns. The person was objecting to the Jericho story in Joshua. The argument boiled down to the claim that Jesus would never do that.

Here is the rub, though. We are Trinitarians. When the Bible refers to God, it is talking about Jesus. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three-in-one, are God.

Jesus in the New Testament is not a filter that we run the rest of the God stories in the Bible through to strain out the parts that don’t appear to us to fit. Jesus is the incarnation of the God who commanded the destruction of Jericho. Jesus, the Son of God, was the same God who sent the angel of death to wipe out the first born of Egypt. Jesus the eternal Word rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Psalm 106, we read of the mighty and terrible deeds of the Lord. Jesus of Nazareth knew those Psalms well. They tell his story.