God as Community
Far from being the solitary old man envisioned by most people, the God of the Bible is actually a community of three divine persons in one being of substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Being coequal, consubstantial, and coeternal, these three dwell together in a perfect community of oneness by means of their mutual encircling and interpenetration. Without the principles of the divine community, God simply does not exist.
“Jesus also was baptized, and while he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
Springboard for Discussion
- Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism is significant in that the three persons of God were manifest simultaneously. Discuss how Jesus was witnessed by the Holy Spirit and by the Father when the Spirit assumed a bodily form and the Father spoke in an audible voice from heaven. This manifestation of God was predicted by Isaiah 48:16-17 where the Messiah is sent by both the Lord and his Spirit. How does this event manifest God as community?
- The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit were manifest together when in concert, they as One created the universe. Confirm this truth from the language of the creation narratives by evaluating how “in the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1) by issuing his spoken Word (Genesis 1:3; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16 ) and by moving with his Spirit (Genesis 1:2).
- The heavenly Father is eternally unknown and unrevealed according to John (John 1:18) and Paul (1 Timothy 6:16). Discuss the role of the Word of God (manifest as Jesus in the incarnation according to John 1:1-3, 14, 18) as the revealer of the Father to humanity. Compare John’s description with the Lord’s revealing himself to Samuel by the Word (1 Samuel 3:21). Analyze also the role of the Holy Spirit as the personal manifestation of God who moves upon creation (Genesis 1:2) and indwells believers (John 14:26).
- The most fundamental instruction in Holy Scripture about God is summed up in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Hebrew word echad, which is translated “one,” means utterly unique; however, it also speaks of composite unity in diversity which is confirmed by the fact that echad also has a plural form, ahadim. Also, the Hebrew word yachid means one in the sense of singularity. Paul draws upon this truth as he explicates the Shema thus: “. . . for us there is but one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ . . .” (1 Corinthians 8:6), showing that the Father is Elohim (“God”) and Jesus is Yahweh (“LORD”). Discuss the manifestation of Father and Son in the Shema, the first commandment (Mark 12:29).
- If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are echad, they must be so in absolute oneness. This necessitates their being coequal, consubstantial, and coeternal. Confirm their coequality from Philippians 2:6. If the three persons are equally God, they must be one in substance. What is God’s substance (John 4:24)? Confirm that Father, Son, and Spirit have always existed and will always exist as you read Micah 5:2 (the Son) and Genesis 1:1-2 (the Spirit).
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manifest plurality of person but oneness of substance by means of their mutual encircling, indwelling, permeating, and interpenetrating one another in a process called perichoresis or circumincession (reciprocal existence in one another). Thus, they are not separate beings but the one God of biblical monotheism. Discuss the absolute uniqueness in the unity of the divine community. Is it any wonder, then, that God created humanity as two-in-one to mirror the oneness of the divine image?
- The reason that God is called Father (Jeremiah 31:9; Malachi 1:6) is to underscore two things: 1) God’s personhood and 2) God’s relationality. Confirm the truth that God–Father, Son, and Spirit–manifest both distinct personality and relational mutuality. Analyze for yourself how oneness in the community of faith is designed to image the invisible God, the Three in One, in the earth. Is this how the body of Messiah reveals God to humanity?
The Hebrew word אֶחָד (echad) δοῦλον means “to unite, to join together, to be in unity.” While echad can also be used as the numeral one, it clearly means “the only one; the incomparable.” The Shema, therefore, can be translated as “The LORD [is] our God, the LORD alone.” Since echad describes Adam and Eve as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), it can be translated as “compound unity,” a unity in diversity that makes two (or three) one. The same echad can be achieved in the church in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer to the Father “that they all may be one in us” (John 17:21).
God is perfect relationality, a perfect community. The fact that three persons–Father, Son, and Spirit–dwell together in one being of substance with absolute unity is testimony to the fact that communion within and among the divine community and true mutuality of relationship are central to the very being of the One God of the Bible.