Volume 10, Issue 3: Whole Counsel
Unbelievers are just as dependent upon the Almighty as we are. They are able to walk, breathe, and argue against the Faith only because they live and move in God's world. They use the faculties He gave them in all that they do. He has already rendered their so-called wisdom to be folly. The basic task of Christian apologetics is not only to expose unbelieving errors, but also to proclaim that God has already done so.
We Christians too readily dismiss unbelief, and so we miss out on a great means of edification. When approached properly, unbelief provides a great service to the faithful. It can startle us, and oftentimes it shakes us out of our lazy complacency and brings us back to what's important. It can even help us hone our understanding of the faith. The fourth-century Arians illustrate the point well. The Arians professed belief in only one God, and knew that this God was the "Father" of the New Testament. They also understood that Jesus was not the Father; thus, they concluded that Jesus was not God. Here they upheld their logic over Scripture, for they had no answer to Athanasius' biblical case for the deity of Christ. Yet even while the Arians were proven dead wrong on a great matter, their concerns were understandable. How could monotheism be reconciled with an admitted distinction between Father and Son? The answer came forward from the three great Cappadocian fathers: Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory's brother Basil, and their fellow-laborer Gregory Nazianzen. These fathers articulated the distinction between essence and subsistence in the Godhead-Christ and the Father are of one and the same essence, but the two are different and distinct subsistences (persons). This biblically-informed clarification sealed the downfall of Arianism. Gregory Nazianzus was the second president of the Council of Constantinople in 381, the council which secured victory for the Nicene profession of Christ's deity.
Most of the important logical objections levelled against the Trinity were advanced in the fourth century, and they were answered by the Cappadocian fathers. But these old Arian objections rear their ugly heads in odd places. Some of them I have recently seen advanced by Michael Martin, the darling of today's atheism. Their first-glance insights ought to arouse our attention, and they certainly deserve our contemplation. But they've been answered before. Figuring out the answers can help our understanding of the faith. I offer two such objections below.
1. Is God visible? The Bible says that "no one has seen God at any time" (John 1:18). In fact, nobody could survive a viewing of God, as God explained to Moses: "No man shall see Me, and live" (Ex. 33:20). But Moses did see God-he even saw Him face to face (Ex. 33:11-note the close proximity to the contradicting verse 20!). Moses survived. Jacob saw God too, and so did Manoah. Though both thought they would die, they survived anyway (Gen. 32:30, Judges 13:22). How can it be true that nobody has seen God, when Jacob, Moses, and Manoah saw God? And how can it be true that nobody could see Him and survive, if these men saw Him and yet survived to tell about it?!
2. Is God tempted? The Bible equivocally represents God's character. In one place the Bible says that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13), and in another place it says that Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15). If Christians would only take the Bible seriously, and believe what it says, if they would follow these points logically, Christians should deny that Jesus is God. Instead, in their characteristic illogic, Christians affirm that Jesus is God.
A sharp understanding of the Trinity and the nature of Christ removes both objections. Remember that the Word-whom we call the Second Person of the Trinity-is the Person through whom God speaks and reveals Himself. Scripture teaches that the Word is God's clear and authoritative self-disclosure. He actually became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). While it is true that no one has seen God the Father at any time, God the Word-a different subsistence, yet is of one and the same essence as the Father-has disclosed Himself materially and visibly (and other ways besides) numerous times, as the Scriptures testify. This distinction between Father and Word removes the first objection. We make a related distinction in the person of Christ that removes the second objection. Christ has two essences-a human and a divine. These essences subsist in Christ without confusion, without change, without division, without separation as our fathers summarized at the Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451). Christ was tempted with respct to His human nature, but not with respect to His divine nature. (In the same way, He died in His humanity, but obviously not in His deity.)
The mechanism by which the one God is three persons is unknown to us; it is beyond our comprehension. Likewise, how one person can have two natures, human and divine, is a profound mystery. But we do know there is no contradiction here: God is both visible and invisible not in the same respect, but in different respects; nor is His untemptability of the same nature as His temptability. The Christian Faith is wrought with mystery, but it is clean of contradictions. Unbelievers can bring us to reflect upon this, and come to better appreciate the integrity of the Faith. This appreciation makes it even easier for us to expose their contradictions.