Thursday, January 21, 2010

From the Incarnation to the Trinity

For monotheists, the idea of the Trinity (the one God being three individuals) can seem like polytheism. A popular model of the Trinity regards each person (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as a relation between the other two, but not only is that quite mysterious, it hardly answers the objection because either such relations are distinct (because what is related is) or else they are not. Still, God is presumably more real than the mundane world, if He created it, and it may seem that our relationships are what make us truly real, more than mere things. And if we think of the Creator of the world as to us a bit like a dreamer is to his dreams, then again we have the sense of Him as more real than we are. And furthermore, even the Trinity may then come to seem less objectionable.
......Let us assume that there is a God who created us and the world around us ex nihilo. Such a Being (the ground of being) might be apprehended philosophically, although to many even this sparse conception of God seems paradoxical. Many have preferred to think of creation in terms of emanations from God's being, or of the forming of an energy (formless matter) that coexisted with God from eternity. But maybe God is, to the world, not too different from how we are to our daydreams. Our dreams are hardly real, but the thought is not that the world is just a dream, but that as we are to our dreams so God is, in some ways, to us (and the material world). God is, then, more real than what we ordinarily think of as real (the obvious objectivity of our world deriving from its dependence upon Him). And then we do not have to think of how mere matter could give rise, in some arrangement, to mind, because the original Being was Spirit.
......Let us add to that rather philosophical picture the idea that God became a man, Jesus. Many religions have stories of avatars of gods or goddesses, or even of God, and the divinity of Jesus did occur to the early Christians for some reason. But again, God's incarnation seems impossible (or blasphemous) to many. Still, it is quite reasonable to think of ourselves as spirits in a material world (and it is up to God what He does with His creation). That dualistic approach to psychology is unpopular amongst scientists at present, but modern science actually supports it (and there is an underlying monism for theists) because chemistry being fundamentally quantum mechanics all but solves the old problem of how spirit could interact with a human brain to give us our human minds. So, if God is also Spirit (a spirit more real than we are) then it is not unthinkable that He might similarly incarnate, giving Him a human mind (and body).
......A problem with the idea of God incarnating is how He sustains the universe while He is wandering around as Jesus. But how does the Incarnation look if God is (in some ways) to the world as we are to dreams? Well, dreams come in a great variety, but some end in something more like a daydream, in that the dreamer can deliberately alter them as she wakes up. Such dreams can be very vivid, so they seem very real to oneself, inside their world (so to speak) to begin with. The self in such a dream is at home in the dream, and can even be quite unlike the waking self. But one might surprise oneself in a nightmarish dream, for example, by falling and then finding that one can fly. In later dreams, flying might seem a realistic option, within the dream (whereas other daydreamish possibilities might not). But the more vivid one's control over one's dream, the less realistic the dream seems, and the more one wakes up. There seems to be a play-off in our dreams, between losing oneself in the dream (it seeming real) and one dreaming of whatever one wants (it being like a daydream).
......Now, God is presumably not much like us (or any created thing), but we do have something like a threefold aspect with respect to our dreaming. There is the theme of the dream, which we may have more control over as we wake up (cf. the Father), the dreamer aware of herself as lost in her dream (cf. the Son), and the person one is when awake or daydreaming (cf. the Holy Spirit). Since dreams naturally happen to us, the theme is naturally an unconscious aspect of our dreams, as is the mechanics of how we dream. And unlike God we do not create other people by dreaming. But if God incarnating as Jesus is a bit like our being in our dreams, with something like that sense of two different selves, then the difference that creation involves created people like us could plausibly be associated with what we would perceive as the glory of the Holy, the paradoxical presence in creation of the transcendent ground of being, revealing Himself to us as directly as any of our perceptions could be. It seems that it is by such theophanies that prophets become aware of the God of Abraham, and in similarly direct ways that we become aware of the reality of the Holy Spirit amongst us. We may then wonder how this more real than real personal presence could be related to the creator of the world, the ground of all mundane beings, and to the life and history of the works of Jesus.
......Still, this is only a vestige of the Trinity (if the Trinity is real), not a good model of it. E.g. it hardly helps us to think of the one God being three selves simulataneously. But these Selves are not like created selves. And one can become aware, as one wakes, of the three aspects to one's identity when dreaming being all oneself and being all coexisting, even if one can only do so by switching one's agency and awareness between them. And since that is not like acting in three different ways, not like one's character going through three stages as one grows up, but like being in three different ways, in relation to the same dream, and since this is only an analogy, so one might see how the one transcendent Creator ex nihilo might be, in relation to His creation, what we would naturally perceive as three people. Of course, to see that possibility one must examine such experiences as one wakes up, and then think about them analogically (under the assumption that God has made us in His image and incarnated with us and is amongst us now).
......There can be a moment (which can be protracted into a series of moments) as one wakes when one is not aware of oneself in bed, in the world, but one is aware of the dream as a dream, when one can go back into the dream and continue with it, or change the dream, and go back into it, or think about why the dream was as it was. If dreams were not something that happens to us, but we were more in control of the dreaming process (as we are when daydreaming, or when walking around the real world), as God is presumably in control of His creation, then one would also at such moments be aware of oneself behind the unconscious aspects of dreaming, the creation of the dream landscape and the other characters. So if those other characters were as real as oneself (in the dream), and if one was not unconscious of much of the dreaming process, there would be something like a threefold structure to such moments, corresponding very roughly to the Trinity.
......As creatures we never relate to a God who is not relating to His creation, so it is highly speculative how He would be without creation. But presumably He would have begun then with His responsible ability to create other spirits (centres of awareness and action), and so perhaps with a Trinitarian structure (cf. one's orientation upon waking). Now, realistic thoughts about the revealed God (Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit) are difficult enough, and thoughts about the Trinity as it is in itself are plausibly beyond us, even if the Trinity has been revealed to us in history. But it is at least possible for us to see how we do not have to think of the Trinity as merely how the One appears to His creatures as He reveals Himself to them (to us).
......Suppose that we exist in a 2-dimensional world, Flatland, e.g. as thoughtful triangles, and that transcending our world is a 3-dimensional object, a cylinder. As it shows itself to us by passing through Flatland, it might appear to us as a circle suddenly appearing and disappearing, or as a rectangle slowly appearing from and disappearing into a line. As triangles we would naturally think of the reality as a circle or a rectangle, appearing from nowhere. But the reality is more than that, and the claim that the circle and the rectangle were the same being is not the claim that a circle can be square. And nor is it the case (fictionally) that the being is two shapes (like the plan of a cylinder), or an intrinsically shapeless thing that can take on the form of any shape as it appears to us.
......I don't think that either analogy, the cylinder or the dream, will yield a very accurate model of the Trinity, but they may help us to see that the Trinity might be realistic, by resolving some of the paradoxes we find with other analogies (e.g. the relational Trinity). I'll have to think about it some more (and I'd be glad of your thoughts). The world is not a dream; and God is not much like us, whether we are awake or dreaming. But all our thought about the world involves analogical reasoning, and we might expect that a good grasp of transcendent truth would involve even more of it. If God really incarnated as Jesus, why should that not give us a Trinitarian view of God? And why should God not incarnate in His world? Why should He not create people (if He could) to whom He could reveal Himself like that? Even the creation of a pebble ex nihilo can seem impossible to us, but to God it is plausibly as possible as a daydream of the seaside.
(PS: This post is linked to in the Christian Carnival CCCXII:)


Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Martin Cooke

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

enigMan said...

Many thanks for the link; I have a lot of time for the relatively reasonable view that Jesus was a prophet of the Holy One. It is surely significant that the scriptural evidence is as you say. I'm unable to watch video's via the internet at the moment, but I've been looking at some of your posts against Trinitarianism:

I remain intellectually agnostic for such reasons as in my post, which make me think that the Trinity might be the revealed truth, and the scripture quoted in your Can God be a human? does not seem to me to show that God cannot incarnate, only that He was not then incarnate, and that were He incarnate Divine Command metaethics would remain true.

The first quote of your Is Jesus really God? (Matthew 24: 36) does imply that Jesus was not omniscient, but that does not mean that He was not the incarnate God. Similarly, when you are dreaming and know that the things around you in your dream are such and such, that you are not in bed (in the dream), that does not mean that you are not really you, in bed (and would know you were if you woke up).

Similarly with the other points of that post; e.g. the second, cf. how in a nightmare you can feel utterly powerless in a hostile world, even though it is all your own making and you can use supernatural powers to evade danger (in the dream) if the dream allows you to. But as I say, yours does seem to me to be the obvious interpretation of the scriptural evidence. That is why I wonder why we have the doctrine of the Trinity, whether there might not be some less obvious but realistic (if not true) thoughts behind it.

enigMan said...

Regarding Matt 24:36 ("Is Jesus Really God?"), the idea of speech about the divine is, I think, even more obscure than the idea of the Incarnation, to which it is intimately related; and I personally find the thought of saying apophatically that God does not exist as monotheistically objectionable, prima facie, as the thought of the Trinity. Nevertheless, the analogy of creation with dreaming can even make sense of such apophatic talk. Suppose you are dreaming, and in the dream you are on a big boat, sailing on an infinite ocean...

Suppose you are talking to other characters on the boat in the dream. Arguably that is a bit like Jesus talking to his disciples. Now, Jesus was inspired (by his self-awareness, or by the Holy Spirit of prophecy) to speak to them of his Father in Heaven. That is a bit like you talking to the other characters in your dream of your waking self in bed (which you have recalled because you are waking up, or because of something in the dream). Suppose that in the dream you all sleep in hammocks, so that there is no word 'bed' in your language there. You might say that there is something like a hammock, somewhere beyond this infinite ocean. We would say that those hammocks were not real, like the bed is, but that is our language (cf. the language of the angels in Heaven). For you in the dream the hammocks are real (and 'hammock' is meaningful in the language there), and the bed is not real like that.

I happen to agree with Duns Scotus that 'exists' is univocal, and that both Jesus and God exist. But even so, there is that ambiguity about our language, when it comes to talk of the transcendent. Cf. how it sounds wrong to say that the hammocks exist. So one could make some sense of apophasis via this analogy of creation with dreaming. Cf. how one can also say that only God really exists, but that in this language that sounds like the clearly false denial that the chair you are sitting on exists.

Furthermore, even in ordinary language there is some ambiguity about how we use 'knows'. When you walk into a room, you may not notice that the ceiling is there, but of course, you do know that the ceiling is there (e.g. you would have noticed had it not been there). The fact is not conscious, but we say that we know it. But if you cannot recall some fact immediately, which you had earlier learnt, you may well think that you do not know it. So, when you are asleep, do you know that you are in bed? In a sense you do (cf. knowing that the ceiling is there), but in another sense you do not, and may rather think you are in a hammock (or know that you are in a dream-hammock, via the word 'hammock' in the language of the dream).

Language is a surprisingly obscure subject, and especially when it is religious language. Not only are there the niceties of translation from ancient languages and ways of life (of reference and meaning), there is the metaphysical problem of referring to the transcendent. Suppose I said in a dream that no one knows how soon the dream will end, not you (the other characters in the dream) and not me, but only the person in the thing like a hammock but unlike anything (in any dream, and who is me sleeping) who always wakes up (by habit) a bit before the alarm goes off.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

We live in a time when all of the Sacred texts of the entire Great Tradition of Humankind are freely available on the internet--and every possible Spiritual and religious point of view too.

So from that broad and deep perspective what has the so called "trinity" and the so called 'incarnation' of "Jesus" got to do with anything?

Have you or anybody ever seen this 'trinity'?

If not you are talking through your hat.

And besides which your current meat-body personality is going to die---guaranteed. And believing in 'Jesus' wont make the slightest bit of difference to what happens to you when you die--or during the dying process.