Based on human understanding, we know that the First Cause of existence is “right” and “just”; righteousness and justice describe the nature of the First Cause. The Judeo-Christian Bible gives us more details about the First Cause (God).
Most of the characteristics that we attribute to God (merciful, holy, compassionate, all-knowing, all-mighty, etc.) are the effects of His nature. But one of the most prominent characteristics of God in the scriptures as well as popular culture is “love”. One of the first Bible verses kids learn is “God is love”. If you asked the average person to describe God’s most prominent trait, they would most likely say that He is “loving” (followed by “really old”, “really loud”, and “possessing an obscenely large beard”).
Even those who doubt or deny the existence of God acknowledge love as His defining characteristic. On more than one occasion I’ve had some disgruntled person ask “If God is so loving, then why does He allow [universally acknowledged “bad thing”] to happen?” (FYI – I will actually answer that question in two weeks).
Who’s love are we talking about?
So what exactly is “love”? Asking that question leads to a diversity of subjective answers ranging from “a strong affection” to “about $50 an hour”. But since we’re talking about God’s love, we need to go to the Bible to get His definition.
The first Biblical mention of the word love is in Genesis chapter 22, where God commands Abraham to take his precious son Isaac, whom he loves more than anything else in the world. . . and climb to the top of a mountain and kill him as a sacrifice of faith.
Granted, on the surface this seems like an odd way to introduce the concept of love to the reader, but this event is intimately tied to the ultimate example of God’s love which is highlighted in the most famous verse in the Bible; John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
According to many Biblical scholars, the sacrifice of God’s Son took place on the same mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. God stopped Abraham before he completed the sacrifice, but by being willing to faithfully carry it out, Abraham prophetically acted out God’s ultimate act of love.
These two defining “love” moments in the Bible have two important things in common; they involve sacrifice, and they are done for the benefit of another (for God in Abraham’s case, and for all of humanity in God’s case).
A sacrifice is the giving of a value without personally getting anything in return.
So, Biblically speaking, love is giving a value for the benefit of another without the expectation of getting anything in return.
God is Love, Love, Love
God’s love is not only crucial to answering, “What’s the point?” (and we will finally get to that answer in 3 weeks. I promise), it also has a defining impact on another vital aspect of God’s identity.
John 17:24 states that love existed before the universe itself. That presents us with something of a problem. From the definition we have, it looks like love requires the existence of at least two persons – the giver of love and the receiver. We usually refer to this as a “relationship”, but the Bible does not use that word. The Bible calls the love interaction a “fellowship”. However this complicates things even more, because a definitive model of fellowship requires at least three persons, each loving another directly while receiving love indirectly from the third person. (Here is a link that explains fellowship in detail).
So love existed before the universe and requires no less than three persons. But we know that the only thing that existed before the universe is the First Cause. There is only one logical solution to this dilemma: if the First Cause is love, and love requires at least three persons, then the First Cause must be three “persons”.
Once again, the Biblical description of the First Cause reflects this aspect of God’s nature. The Bible gives implicit evidence that God is three persons – specifically called the “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit”. This concept is called “The Trinity”.
Three God’s, or One?
The Father is called God throughout the Bible. The Son is called God in John 1:1-14, 1 John 5:20, Titus 2:13, and Romans 9:5. The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4, and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. All three are credited with the creation of the universe; The Father in Psalms 102:24-25 and Job 38, the Son in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, and the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, and Job 26:13. More detail on this subject is available at this site.
It bears mentioning that despite the Biblical evidence, several religious traditions strongly disagree with the idea of God being three persons for various reasons. Fortunately I’m not religious, so I’m not terribly interested in why the idea of the Trinity runs afoul some religious traditions.
Yet and still, it is reasonable to ask why God is presented both as a singular mind AND three persons in the Bible. How do we resolve this? Well, if the Trinity is the First Cause, then all three persons must have the exact same nature – right and just. If all three persons are always and completely right and just, then they are always and completely in perfect, harmonious agreement. Thus they speak and act as one, whether presenting themselves individually as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or when they present themselves corporately as “God”. What goes for one goes for all. They only seem to differentiate in role and hierarchy, and they’ve all obviously agreed to assume and maintain their roles.
So we’ve added some significant depth to the identity of the First Cause that has hopefully deepened our level of understanding of the principles and providences that existed before the universe. And that’s all well and good, but I have admittedly been dwelling in the realm of the theoretical and existential up to this point and said very little about the practical matter of the physical universe itself.
Yet all the things we see, hear, touch and experience are “real”, not theoretical and conceptual…right? So enough about what the First Cause is, let’s talk about the BIG effect. What is the universe and how did the First Cause, well, cause it? We’ll get into that next week. The answers are guaranteed to surprise you, or your money back.
Love and Atheists
Three Gods or One?
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