Spacetime and the Trinity
Published: 25 May 2013 (GMT+10)
Is Jesus intrinsically bound in spacetime? Robert B. from the United States writes in response to Modern science in creationist thinking:
Wow!! John Hartnett. You and Russell Humphreys solved the longstanding dilemma of how the Bible could be true in spite of the apparent age of the cosmos. Thanks.
In “Starlight, Time and the New Physics” you gave a nod to Humphreys momentous contribution and said:
“We needed to be reminded that Relativity has long taught us that time and space are not universal absolutes…”
Which brings me to why I’m writing here. I’ve stumbled upon something similar and believe you might be someone equipped to understand.Jesus is the eternal creator of all things.
We need to be reminded of the theological implications of God creating space and time. He is transcendent and not contained by space and time. Heaven and the Universe are created, temporal realms that as it states at the end of Revelation, will “Pass Away” to be replaced by a New Heaven and New Earth.
A scriptural case for the following can be made:
The Father is the I AM of God dwelling beyond spacetime.
Jesus is the I AM of God within spacetime.
The Father and Son can exist in different places and do different things at the same time because IT ISN’T THE SAME TIME!!!
Time related concepts don’t apply to the Father, the do apply to Jesus. The scripture “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” relates to His constancy to character not whether He experiences the flow of time.
There is some really cool understanding that spring from this, but the best is that it was really God who gave up His life on the cross. Skeptics have characterized the crucifixion as a cruel and capricious tyrant venting His wrath at me against a hapless third party: Jesus.
The reality of God’s Love is more apparent to me with this understanding than ever before.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thank you for your encouraging words. It is great to hear when our work helps somebody grasp the truth of the Bible.
Concerning your ideas about Jesus and the Father, I unfortunately cannot be as enthusiastic. Your case rests on these statements:
The Father is the I AM of God dwelling beyond spacetime.
Jesus is the I AM of God within spacetime.
However, the statements by themselves raise a crucial question: is Jesus intrinsically bound or contained in spacetime? If the answer is yes, as the direction of some of your subsequent reasoning seems to indicate, then we deny that Jesus is God because God as the creator of spacetime is not bound in or by it, as you said before these premises. However, Jesus is the eternal creator of all things: John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:2, 10–12. Please see Jesus Christ our Creator and Our Triune God.
Now, Jesus as a person does indeed experience the flow of time. He is human, after all. But it is only as a human that He is subject to the flow of time. Jesus is not subject to time as God. Jesus is one person with two distinct natures: divine and human (see The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?). Jesus is fully God and fully human (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 2:17). There is no contradiction here because we are talking about the same referent (Jesus) in two different senses (his humanity and his deity).
Moreover, we can’t say the Father is never bound by time in anything He does. Consider Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). The voice that spoke from the cloud (v. 35) is clearly implied to be the Father—not the Son, the Spirit, nor any created person. For the Father to speak to humans, He must make His words audible and give them a chronological sequence, and they must be acts done by Him personally. This does not make the Father intrinsically bound by time; it just means that He must act in time to have any personal/relational interaction with us. This doesn’t contradict John 1:18 either because that talks of seeing the Father, not hearing the Father. Jesus is not intrinsically bound by spacetime, and the Father is not forbidden from personally acting in spacetime.
Note also that I have referred to Jesus and the Father as distinct persons, each capable of their own distinct personal agency. This is always in the context of God’s indivisible unity (Deuteronomy 6:4), but the personal distinctions are real (Jesus prayed to the Father—John 17), irreducible (only the Son became a man—2 Timothy 2:5), necessary (the persons are distinct even in single name of God by which He identifies himself—Matthew 28:19), and eternal (the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) and the Son (Hebrews 1:10-12) are eternal). The Father is not just the manifestation of the eternal God and Jesus is not just the manifestation of God in time, as if they are just two modes of God’s existence. The divine persons are distinct but not divided in essence.
With regard to the Cross, this all means that Jesus as the divine-human person gave up His human life on the Cross. God in himself is indestructible—Jesus can’t give up His divine life (John 5:26). And it wasn’t the divine life that had to be offered up for sin; it was the human life. Why? It was human life that had been ruined by sin and subject to death which Jesus came to redeem. Jesus can save through His human life and death as many as will come because His human life has a divine dignity, since He is a naturally divine person. This makes Jesus not a third party but our mediator because He is a genuine (and legitimate) representative of both parties. He is one with the Father in His deity (John 10:30), and one with us in His humanity (Hebrews 2:17). The argument here mirrors Hebrews 1-2; Jesus’ deity is first established in chapter 1 so that when his humanity is established in chapter 2 we recognize that Jesus’ genuine human life has a divine dignity (and thus divine power to save) because Jesus is God.
The Trinity and the Incarnation can be difficult doctrines. That is why we need to stick very closely to Scripture in expounding them.
I hope this helps,
Creation Ministries International
I don't think that Robert was thinking what you cautioned against, but you can never be too careful when you are dealing with God's character.
Interesting article, I'll have to buy Dr. Hartnett's book.
I think it's more a case of muddled thinking than anything else. However, the reasoning if taken to its logical end is either subordinationist (Jesus is lesser in being than the Father) or modalist (Jesus and the Father are just two different modes of expression of a unipersonal god). The problem is that his two key premises are at best incomplete, and at worst false.
Thanks, Shaun, for this great response.
It is invaluable, for Trinity understanding, to start inductively from the Bible: (1) There is only one God, no other “god” exists (Is. 45:5-6, etc.) (2) Each of God (the Father), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit, God’s Spirit) is: (a) Eternal: Father-Ps. 90:2-4; Son-Jn. 8:58; Holy Spirit-Heb. 9:14; (b) All-Powerful: Father-Gen. 18:14; Son-Heb. 1:3; Holy Spirit-Lu. 1:35; (c) All-Present: Father-Jer. 23:23-24; Son-Mt. 18:20; Holy Spirit-Ps. 139:7,10; (d) All-Knowing: Father-Ps. 147:5; Son-Col. 2:3; Holy Spirit-1 Cor. 2:10-11. (3) Each has intellect, emotion and volition (choice of will) [i.e. personality] (various Bible texts). (4) These three coexist eternally and in relationship-John 17:24 (for Father and Son). (5) That eternal co-existence includes the following actions (from John 14-15): “ask, give, live, love, come, send, teach, remind, go, command, remain, obey, call, learn, choose, appoint, testify” (6) Including John 17, related pronouns and possessive adjectives within the Trinity are “me, I, he, him, he, I, me, my, myself, we, I, me, my, he, I, me, my, his, I, me, my, he, you, your, yours, we”, while the collective 3rd-peson pronoun for God in the Bible is always “he”.
These Biblical data (among many others) construct our (limited) understanding of the Trinity.
Conclusion: (1) There is one God. (2) God is one being, three persons (or, three centres of consciousness). (3) The being of God is undivided & unconfounded. (I.e., Each person in the Trinity is fully God [in a way where there isn’t a confounding ‘interference fit’ between the persons] while there is only one God).
Dear Robert, please confine your explorations within these Biblical constraints.
Incredible. So many answers in such a short article. But I'm having a difficult time trying to find answers to some important questions like these:
1. I agree that Jesus was God and that God is indestructible. I agree that He had a human nature when He incarnated. How come He paid for the sins of (probably) millions who would had endured and eternity of pain in 3 days? It's like the quality of sin changed dramatically when talking about Jesus.
2. My sin condemns my flesh and my soul to death, yet the sin of so many believers condemned Jesus' flesh only?
3. Was the Trinity broken at the time when Jesus said "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"? Where there two Gods then?
These are some important questions that I asked many christians and they didn't had a clue what to say. I'm afraid that there will come a day when I'll be asked for a reason for my belief and I'll have no idea what to say too. I don't think though that not understanding God's work is a reason not to believe it, but it would be helpful to have an answer. Can we explain it? Please help.
Great job as always, brothers, I can't wait to meet you all in heaven (or maybe here too, who knows)! Praise God! May He bless all of you at CMI.
In answer to your questions:
- It’s not about the amount of pain the sufferer endures, but the quality of the sufferer. It’s the depths of shame to which Jesus voluntarily plunged from His natural glorious estate that counts for our salvation (cp. Philippians 2:5–11, 2 Corinthians 8:9). We dishonour God with our sin, and so the appropriate response for God is to shame us e.g. by casting us from His glorious presence. And yet God graciously wants to restore us to His favour. But how to restore us justly? God (the Son, at the Father’s behest) was willingly shamed (in the worst possible way—death by crucifixion) in our stead. Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve. But think about that: God was shamed? Willingly? In the worst possible way? Even the everlasting shame of countless mere men cannot compare to the quality of the divine person who suffered such shame and death as a man to save us. Therefore, since the sinless sufferer was (and is) divine, the payment is more than sufficient to save as many as will come.
- Salvation is not about the need for a certain quantity of sufferers; it’s about the need for a certain quality of a single sufferer. Only a divine sufferer will suffice because (1) only a divine sufferer is of acceptable quality to God for the salvation of many, and (2) only a divine sufferer can stop the glory of salvation going to someone other than God (as per Isaiah 42:8).
- No, the Trinity cannot be ‘broken’ in any literal sense. Jesus uttered those words in reference to the whole of Psalm 22 (they are the first words of the Psalm), a messianic Psalm expecting vindication after suffering. See Was Jesus in despair on the cross? (offsite) for more information.
That God transcends space time in every aspect can be born out by this verse, Rev 1:8 I am the Alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. This led me to the thought that God exits every when simultaneously. This could be why the many prophesies are given in the past tense, even though to humans it might be in the future, to God such terms as past , present and future were created for his created beings because only God can deal with it all at the same "time" while also existing completely out side time as well.
After reading this article, I was overcome with the desire to pray. God is just so unspeakingly awesome that praise is necessary when words begin to express who He is. THANKS
Spiritual things must be compared with spiritual. We find God's creation to be so understandable on the surface. The more we study it, the more complexity we find. We can talk about who God really is, but to understand His essence is out of our realm of physical/scientific phenomena. This we know - He is awesome.
This letter brought up a "side" issue which I would love for you to expand on as well. Robert B. writes : "Skeptics have characterized the crucifixion as a cruel and capricious tyrant venting His wrath at me against a hapless third party: Jesus."
That quote sounds very familiar... not from skeptics, but from many of your own articles. In the ariticle at http://creation.com/good-news I find (Jesus) "...
must be fully Divine to endure God’s infinite wrath ". I find this to be quite blasphemous. Jesus said clearly that He would suffer at the hands of men - not at the hands of the Father.
This is a serious, if controversial doctrine, that needs some clarifying. (Isa 53:4 - "... but we thought that He was smitten of God...". Apparently some people still think so.)
Galatians 3:13 provides the answer: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”. A quick check of Deuteronomy 21:23 shows that this curse is from God: “a hanged man is cursed by God”. Isaiah 53:10 is even more explicit: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief”. That Jesus was punished by God (i.e. the Father) for us with the punishment we deserve is an unavoidable truth of Scripture. And since we are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), one way to describe Jesus' sacrifice is as propitiation; i.e. a wrath-bearing sacrifice. The punishment Jesus undergoes for us is the definitive expression of God's wrath against sin. Only a divine sufferer could take such a punishment and save us, as well as live to tell the tale. This is all we mean by ‘enduring God’s infinite wrath’.
Great article on a very difficult subject. Jesus lived as a man but taught as God. Because we are caught in spacetime we view persons as occupying separately and it is hard to think of the Trinity otherwise. Where there is no spacetime three persons cannot be separate because separateness requires spacetime. We cannot begin to truly visualize such a relationship. Even the terms God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit do not characterize it completely, but God gave us those terms to help us get a glimpse of His relationships. How awesome is our God!!
While Jesus was on this earth he was bound by space and time and yet still one with the Father-after the Resurrection his mortal body was transformed into a Heavenly body not constrained by space or time -
Remember though that we will be like Christ when He returns (1 John 3:1–3). We will have tangible bodies. Jesus' resurrection body did indeed exhibit some unusual qualities (unusual for us at present, anyway), but the accounts we have give us very little to go on regarding it's exact capabilities. However, I do think that time travel is not one of the capabilities granted to resurrected saints (see Time travel and moral implications). As such, our resurrection bodies will be temporally situated.
I think the response and comments thus far is a bit hard on Robert B.
He has build up his statement to make a really good point "... but the best is that it was really God who gave up His life on the cross. Skeptics have characterized the crucifixion as a cruel and capricious tyrant venting His wrath at me against a hapless third party: Jesus."
Although Robert's contentions might fly against Biblical teaching, the essence of his letter has not been sufficiently treated.
The assertion of the atheists re the Trinity is fundamentally flawed. Obviously their treatment of the Trininty is to ridicule and build strawman arguments, and therefore they (atheists) need to, a priori, regard three separate persons and not Trinity.
On these false presuppositions the atheists mock the Gospel by stating that "the father" is mad at "us", the offenders, and instead of annihilate the offenders (like a just judge would do), "the son" has to take the brunt to satisfy "the father's" wrath.
Now, if the atheists presuppositions were correct (three separate persons - quenching of wrath - etc) it would sadly be a hollow "gospel".
And this is what Robert B. has made the primary thesis - God, being a Trinity, has offered to take the righteous judgement on Himself, through Christ Jesus, and has not (as the atheists assert) taken out his wrath on His Son.
Maybe the primary thesis need more treatment in order to give justice to Robert B.
His main thesis concerned the relationship between the Father and the Son, not the atonement. And if his comments “fly against biblical teaching” that is reason enough to rebut them. The atonement only comes into his comments as an implication of his theory about how the Father and the Son relate. Concerning the atonement and God’s wrath, I offer the oft-quoted words of theologian John Murray (1898–1975):
“It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving. That would be entirely false. It is another thing to say that the wrathful God is loving. That is profoundly true. But it is also true that the wrath by which he is wrathful is propitiated through the cross. The propitiation is the fruit of the divine love that provided it. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (I John 4:10). The propitiation is the ground upon which the divine love operates and the channel through which it flows in achieving its end.” [Murray, J., Redemption—Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 31, 1955.]
It's amazing to me that nobody seems to get this. It's difficult to express & I was hoping that someone could do a better job of it than me. People reflexively oppose the concept thinking that there is something non-orthodox here. There isn't.
It's just that statements that try to assert some nebulous distinction between the terms "being" and "person" are meaningless gibberish to me. God's repeated use of His name (I AM) in various contexts is less ambiguous and more meaningful than any "Precise" formula that we concoct and then try to teach from. Even the drawing above though clever and precise, doesn't help much.
The reference to "centers of conscienceness" DOES kind of convey something useful though. If we are speaking of seperate realms ie; Within Spacetime and Outside of Spacetime, you have the beginnings of what I'm going for.
I don't pretend to comprehend the Triune God and certanly the Holy Spirit is beyond these musings but 2/3rds of the Triune "mystery" is in better focus.
If we allow that Jesus was beggotten like the Bible says and that He is the SAME "I AM" as the Father, then the existence of the "center of concienceness" called Jesus was begotten when time began in Heaven. Whether we should say that was 6000 years ago, 14 billion years or eternity past I can't say.
That may seem to contradict some "tried and tested formulas" but it's NOT contrary to the Bible.You can tie yourself in logical and linguistical knots by adherance to extra-biblical formulas and statements of faith.
I agree that Jesus is begotten of the Father. I agree that Jesus is the same ‘I am’ as the Father (so long as a real personal distinction between the Father and the Son is preserved). But I disagree that “Jesus was begotten when time began” because this does not follow from the two previous premises. In fact, the opposite follows—i.e. Jesus had no beginning. It’s the notion the Son’s begetting can be described with a “when” that is problematic. If so, then it implies that “there was when the Son was not”—a central thesis for Arius, and one which the church rightly rejected. Now, if Jesus truly “is the SAME ‘I AM’ as the Father”, then Jesus’ begetting by that very fact cannot be described literally with reference to time. The begetting of the Son is eternal because the Son is eternal as the Son (Hebrews 1:10–12) and is the same “I am” as the Father (John 8:58, 10:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6). Therefore, Jesus had no beginning just like the Father.
My pastor said something I thought was fantastic on this potentially confusing subject a while back...
If the Father is eternal and the Son is not, this means the Father has not always been a father. A father is only a father when he has a son. Since the Father has always been a father, it is a necessity that He has always had a Son.
I guess the fact that humans only become fathers when their sons are conceived can confuse a lot of people, thinking that human father-son relations are exactly symmetric with the Divine one. But there is just no good reason to think they are. As all human fathership is transient, Divine Fathership is by necessity eternal.
To my mind the Trinity manifests in Light. God created on the first day, (the Alpha), 'Let there be Light' Gen 1:3. John writes of Jesus as the Word bringing light, John1:1-9 and that Jesus himself testifies to being 'the Light of the World' John8:12. Revelations 21:22 and 22:5 speak of the Lamb who is the Light of the city, which did not need the sun or the moon. We measure space-time in light-years because it is a measurement useful for calculating vast distances. The third person of the Trinity manifested as tongues of flame (light) on each of the Lord's followers Acts2:3. It is apparently confronting to long age scientific Christians that the Sun & Moon and starry heavens were created on Day 4. Gen1:14. God's glorious Light is still needed everywhere to bring us out of darkness.
Your response seems to indicate that the “begetting” issue is at the heart of your concern. Directly relevant scriptures start with Psalm 2:7—YHWH to the Son [also YHWH], “today I have begotten you”. The most relevant NT scriptures—referencing Psalm 2:7—are three: Heb.5:5—Jesus appointed a High Priest by the Father; Heb. 1:15—Jesus (involving his created human being) being superior to angels, and the clearest of all, Acts 13:33. In the latter is an explicit numbering of the psalm, an explicit usage of “fulfill”, in connection to **the Father raising the Son from the dead—a point-in-time event.**
(The label of “only begotten Son/of the Father” is used multiple time of Christ. These labels might be eternal. Similar labeling of Isaac son of Abraham points to a “most important/central” relational concept, not a point-in-time concept.)
Vital balancing scripture: Col. 2:9. Jesus is fully God. God is a self-existent entity. Self-existence requires existing from eternity past. Thus (the divine being of) Jesus, in eternal co-relationship with the Father and the Spirit, is not created and did exist **before the creation.**
Dear Robert, if you focus on the Acts 13:33 point-in-time fulfillment of Christ’s “begotten” being his resurrection, they you are freed up to see the vital truth of Jesus being fully God before the creation began.
From reading Acts 13:33 quite some time ago, and simply taking it at face-value, I concluded as you have, Shaun, that Christ was 'begotten' at that first Resurrection Sunday.
Of course, Christ's Deity preceded that, as seen in John 1:1 "¶ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
I believe Acts 13:33 refers to Christ's Resurrection, but that doesn't mean I think Jesus only became a Son in the Resurrection. However, He is the eternal God as the Son, since Hebrews 1:8–12 refers specifically to the Son as the eternal Creator. I therefore agree with e.g. the Nicene Creed when is says Jesus was "begotten before all ages". See Trinity: analogies and countering critics for more information.
To Robert's latest reply, something that may help is to realize that God always foreknew that the Son would come as a human. That birth was as a son, literally, so the label "Son" is appropriate. So no beginning of existence needs to be invoked to understand that eternal relationship.
And the Son's qualities go beyond just the Father-Son relationship; he is also called the Word. A human father will speak long before having any children. If a father existed eternally, having no beginning, then so would his capacity to speak.
Also, I notice that your depiction doesn't explain the nature of the Spirit in the Trinity; you depicted a Duality actually.
What I have noticed is that the Bible does seem to imply that each of the three Persons has a -focus- on one of the three well-known "omni" descriptions of God.
Jesus once contrasts his (taken-on, human) limitation of knowledge with the Father knowing when Jesus would return, so the Father may -focus- on being unlimited in time, knowing everything (omniscience). The Spirit is in all believers' hearts, so his focus may be omnipresence. And John 1 says everything was made through the Word (the Son; Jesus), and he's the Savior and frequent worker of miracles, so his focus may be on omnipotence.
Still, you can find exceptions, as pointed out above, to any of this, so even if I'm on the right track here it would only be a focus, not an intrinsic limitation. All three Persons are God and thus have all these traits. But perhaps the -focus- on these traits explains why God is a Trinity (not a duality, etc.)?
Finally, we need not understand the nature of the Trinity to know that such accusations of cruelty are false and motivated out of sinful rebellion. God is Holy; God is Love.
I would suggest that looking for distinctions between the persons in the divine attributes is not particularly helpful. We see the distinction between the persons most clearly in their distinct roles in salvation: the Father plans and sends, the Son takes on flesh and accomplishes salvation, and the Spirit applies Christ’s work to us and indwells us. Even in these ministries the persons don’t operate alone, but they are distinctly attributed to each person in something like this way. And since God represents himself faithfully to us, these roles in salvation speak something important concerning the intrinsic relations between the divine persons. The names ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ tell us something definitive about each person; not just in their roles in history and salvation.
Yes, John 1:1 and other passages teach us that Jesus came to us as God. However, the same writer of John 1:1 states in John 20:17 that Jesus has the same God that the disciples have, namely the Father. So here, we see that Jesus came to us as God, but resurrected and ascended into heaven having a God, the same God believers have. Clearly, a change in the nature of Christ had occurred. He came to us as God, yes (John 1:1 et al) but left us now having the same God believers have, namely the Father (John 20:17) et al. There are many other New Testament passages teaching us that Jesus now has the same God believers have. Here is a partial list of New Testament passages teaching Jesus has the same God we believers have:
1). John 20:17---Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that the disciple’s Father is His Father, and that the disciple’s God is His God.
2). Romans 15:6---Shows that the Father is Jesus' God.
3). Ephesians 1:3---Shows that the Father is Jesus' God.
4). Ephesians 1:17---Shows that the Father is Jesus' God.
5). 1st Peter 1:3---Shows that the Father is Jesus' God.
6). Hebrews 1:8&9---There is a GOD of God, that is, the Father of the Son.
7). Revelation 3:12---Jesus states (four times in one verse!) that He has a God.
The church does not teach us this, this has to be searched out by believers. The reason the church avoids teaching this biblical fact regarding the change in nature of Jesus Christ is because they adhere to their biases, which as we know, are difficult to break, even when evidence demands it. What the church doesn't realize is that the Great Sacrifice was not just Jesus dying for our sins, as horrific for Him that it was, but that He, forever, gave up being God! He gave up His Godhood, to win our Salvation. He now has the same God we have.
‘I am who I am’ does not change (Malachi 3:6). Jesus is the great ‘I am’ (John 8:58, Romans 10:8–13). Why then call the Father “his God” (even as in John 20:28 Thomas emphatically declares that Jesus is his God)? Jesus is not just one with the Father (John 10:30); He is also one with us (Hebrews 2:17). We are Christ’s brothers and sisters, and He is our example of what worship and faith should be. In becoming human Jesus’ divine nature did not change because he took on human nature without melding it with the divine nature. Please see The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? for more information.
Interesting article, as always, and, again, as always, thought provoking. As a physicist, I tend to think that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are oustide of spacetime. He created it after all, so, by definition, He, in all three Persons, HAS to be outside spacetime. He can certainly manifest Himself in spacetime if He so desires - e.g., the burning bush, Christ's coming, the transfiguration, Pentecost, etc. - in one or more of His Persons. But being "intrinsically bound in spacetime"? I don't think so. It would seem to be inconsistent with God's nature (omnipresent, at the very least). Anyway, the Trinity is a compex spiritual subject. I thoroughly enjoyed not only the article, but also the comments. I personally accept it wholly on faith. I doubt that I will ever be able to fully wrap my mind around it until I get to heaven and see God face to face. I really appreciate this web site and its answers to the many fallacies that appear in the mainstream media.