Chapter 2: THE GODHEAD


Seventh-day Adventists Believe...

There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of

three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful,

all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and

beyond human comprehension, yet known through His

self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration,

and service by the whole creation. --Fundamental Beliefs, 2

 

THE GODHEAD

At Calvary almost everyone rejected Jesus. Only a few

recognized who Jesus really was--among them, the dying thief

who called Him Lord (Luke 23:42), and the Roman soldier who

said, "`Truly this Man was the Son of God!'" (Mark 15:39).

When John wrote, "He came unto His own, and His own did

not receive Him" (John 1:11), he was thinking not merely of

the crowd at the cross, or even of Israel, but of every

generation that has lived. Except for a handful, all

humanity, like that raucous crowd at Calvary, has failed to

recognize in Jesus their God and Saviour. This failure,

humanity's greatest and most tragic, shows that humanity's

knowledge of God is radically deficient.

Knowledge of God

The many theories attempting to explain God, and the many

arguments for and against His existence, show that human

wisdom cannot penetrate the divine. Depending on human

wisdom alone to learn about God is like using a magnifying

glass to study the constellations. Hence, to many, God's

wisdom is a "hidden wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:7). To them God is a

mystery. Paul wrote, "None of the rulers of this age knew;

for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord

of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8).

One of the most basic commandments of Scripture is to

love "God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with

all your mind" (Matt. 22:37; cf. Deut. 6:5). We cannot love

someone we know nothing about, yet we cannot by searching

find out the deep things of God (Job ll:7). How then can we

come to know and love the Creator?

God Can Be Known.

Realizing the human predicament, God, in His love and

compassion, reached out to us through the Bible. It reveals

that "Christianity is not a record of a man's quest for God;

it is the product of God's revelation of Himself and His

purposes to man."(*1) This self-revelation is designed to

bridge the gulf between a rebellious world and a caring God.

The manifestation of God's greatest love came through His

supreme revelation, Jesus Christ, His Son. Through Jesus we

can know the Father. As John states, "`The Son of God has

come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him

who is true'" (1 John 5:20).

And Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they may know

You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent"

(John 17:3).

This is good news. Although it is impossible to know God

completely, the Scriptures afford a practical knowledge of

Him that is sufficient for us to enter into a saving

relationship with Him.

Obtaining a Knowledge of God

Unlike other knowledge, the knowledge of God is as much a

matter of the heart as it is of the brain. It involves the

whole person, not just the intellect. There must be an

openness to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to do God's

will (John 7:17; cf. Matt. 11:27). Jesus said, "`Blessed are

the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8).

Unbelievers, therefore, cannot understand God. Paul

exclaimed, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar?

Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made

foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of

God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was

pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save

those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:20,21, NIV).

The way we learn to know God from the Bible differs from

all other methods of acquiring knowledge. We cannot place

ourselves above God and treat Him as an object to be

analyzed and quantified. In our search for a knowledge of

God we must submit to the authority of His

self-revelation--the Bible. Since the Bible is its own

interpreter, we must subject ourselves to the principles and

methods it provides. Without these Biblical guidelines we

cannot know God.

Why did so many of the people of Jesus' day fail to see

God's self-revelation in Jesus? Because they refused to

subject themselves to the guidance of the Holy spirit

through the Scriptures, they misinterpreted God's message

and crucified their Saviour. Their problem was not one of

intellect. It was their closed hearts that darkened their

minds, resulting in eternal loss.

 

The Existence of God

There are two major sources of evidence for the existence

of God. The book of nature and the Scriptures.

Evidence From Creation

Everyone can learn of God through nature and human

experience. David wrote, "The heavens declare the glory of

God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). John

maintained that God's revelation, including nature,

enlightens everyone (John 1:9). And Paul claimed, "Since the

creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly

seen, being understood by the things that are made"

(Rom. 1:20).

Human behavior also gives evidence for God's existence.

In the Athenian worship of the "unknown God," Paul saw

evidence of a belief in God. Said he, "The One whom you

worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you" (Acts

17:23). Paul also said the behavior of non-Christians

revealed the witness of "their conscience" and showed that

God's law is written "in their hearts" (Rom. 2:14,15). This

intuition that God exists is found even among those who have

no access to the Bible. This general revelation of God led

to a number of classical rational arguments for the

existence of God.(*2)

Evidence From Scripture

The Bible does not prove God's existence. It assumes it.

Its opening text declares, "In the beginning God created the

heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The Bible describes God

as the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of all creation. God's

revelation through creation is so powerful that there is no

excuse for atheism, which arises from a suppression of

divine truth or from a mind that refuses to acknowledge the

evidence that God exists (Ps. 14:1; Rom. 1:18-22,28).

There are enough evidences for God's existence to

convince anyone who seriously tries to discover the truth

about Him. Yet faith is a prerequisite for "without faith it

is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must

believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who

diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).

Faith in God, however, is not blind. It is based on

sufficient evidence found both in God's revelations through

the Scriptures and through nature.

The God of the Scriptures

The Bible reveals God's essential qualities through His

names, activities, and attributes.

God's Names

At the time the Scriptures were written, names were

important, as they still are in the Near East and Orient.

There a name is considered to reveal the character of the

bearer, his true nature and identity. The importance of

God's names, disclosing His nature, character, and

qualities, are revealed in His command "`You shall not take

the name of the Lord your God in vain'" (Ex. 20:7). David

sang: "Praise to the name of the Lord Most High" (Ps. 7:17).

"Holy and awesome is His name" (Ps. 111:9). "Let them praise

the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted"

(Ps. 148:13).

The Hebrew names El and Elohim ("God") reveal God's

divine power. They depict God as the strong and mighty One,

the God of Creation (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:2; Dan. 9:4). Elyon

("Most High") and El Elyon ("God Most High") focus on His

exalted status (Gen. 14:18-20; Isa. 14:14). Adonai ("Lord")

pictures God as Almighty Ruler (Isa. 6:1; Ps. 35:23). These

names emphasize the majestic and transcendent character of

God.

Other names reveal God's willingness to enter into a

relationship with people. Shaddai ("Almighty") and El

Shaddai ("God Almighty") portray the Almighty God, the

source of blessing and comfort (Ex. 6:3; Ps. 91:1). The name

Yahweh,(*3) translated Jehovah or LORD, stresses God's

covenant faithfulness and grace (Ex. 15:2,3; Hosea 12:5,6).

In Exodus 3:14, Yahweh describes Himself as "I am who I am,"

or "I shall be what I shall be," indicating His unchangeable

relation to His people. On occasions God even revealed

Himself more intimately as "Father" (Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16;

Jer. 31:9; Mal. 2:10), calling Israel "My Son, and My

firstborn" (Ex. 4:22; cf. Deut. 32:19).

Except for Father, the New Testament names for God carry

equivalent meanings to those of the Old Testament. In the

New Testament, Jesus used Father to bring us into a close

and personal relationship with God (Matt. 6:9; Mark 14:36;

cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

God's Activities

Bible writers spend more time describing God's activities

than His being. He is introduced as Creator (Gen. 1:1; Ps.

24:l,2), Upholder of the world (Heb. 1:3), and Redeemer and

Saviour (Deut. 5:6; 2 Cor. 5:19), carrying the burden for

humanity's ultimate destiny. He makes plans (Isa. 46:11),

predictions (Isa. 46:10), and promises (Deut. 15:6; 2 Peter

3:9). He forgives sins (Ex. 34:7), and consequently deserves

our worship (Rev. 14:6,7). Ultimately the Scriptures reveal

God as Ruler, "the King eternal, immortal,invisible, the

only God" (1 Tim. 1:17, NIV). His actions confirm that He is

a personal God.

God's Attributes

The Writers of Scripture provide additional information

on the essence of God through testimonies about His divine

attributes.

God's incommunicable attributes comprise aspects of His

divine nature not given to created beings. God is

self-existent, for He has "life in Himself" (John 5:26). He

is independent in will (Eph. 1:5), and in power (Ps. 115:3).

He is omniscient, knowing everything (Job 37:16; Ps.

139:1-18; 147:5; 1 John 3:20), because, as Alpha and Omega

(Rev. 1:8), He knows the end from the beginning

(Isa. 46:9-11).

God is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 4:13),

transcending all space. Yet He is fully present in every

part of space. He is eternal (Ps. 90:2; Rev. 1:8), exceeding

the limits of time, yet is fully present in every moment of

time.

God is all powerful, omnipotent. That nothing is

impossible to Him assures us that He accomplishes whatever

He purposes (Dan. 4:17,25,35; Matt. 19:26; Rev. 19:6). He is

immutable--or unchangeable--because He is perfect. He says,

"I am the Lord, I do not change" (Mal. 3:6; see Ps. 33:11;

James 1:17). Since, in a sense, these attributes define God,

they are incommunicable.

God's communicable attributes flow from His loving

concern for humanity. They include love (Rom. 5:8), grace

(Rom. 3:24), mercy (Ps. 145:9), patience (2 Peter 3:15,

NIV), holiness (Ps. 99:9), righteousness (Ezra 9:15; John

17:25), justice (Rev. 22:12), and truth (1 John 5:20). These

gifts come only with the Giver Himself.

The Sovereignty of God

The Scriptures clearly teach God's sovereignty. "He does

according to His will....No one can restrain His hand" (Dan.

4:35). "`For You created all things, and by Your will they

exist and were created'" (Rev. 4:11). "Whatever the Lord

pleases He does, in heaven and in earth" (Ps. 135:6). So

Solomon could say, "The king's heart is in the hand of the

Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He

wishes" (Prov. 21:1). Paul, aware of God's sovereignty,

wrote, "`I will return again to you, God willing'" (Acts

18:21; see Rom. 15:32), while James admonished, "You ought

to say, `If the Lord wills'" (James 4:15).

Predestination and Human Freedom

The Bible reveals God's full control over the world. He

"predestined" people "to be conformed to the image of His

Son" (Rom. 8:29,30), to be adopted as His children, and to

obtain an inheritance (Eph. 1:4,5,11). What does such

sovereignty imply for human freedom?

The verb to predestinate means "to determine beforehand."

Some assume these passages teach that God arbitrarily elects

some to salvation and others to damnation, irrespective of

their own choice. But study of the context of these passages

shows that Paul does not speak about God's capriciously

excluding anyone.

The thrust of these texts is inclusive. The Bible clearly

states that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to

the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). He is "not willing

that any should perish but that all should come to

repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). There is no evidence that God has

decreed that some persons should be lost; such a decree

would deny Calvary, where Jesus died for everyone. The

whoever in the text, "`For God so loved the world that He

gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him

should not perish but have everlasting life'" (John 3:16),

means that anyone can be saved.

"That man's free will is the determining factor in his

personal destiny is evident from the fact that God

continually presents the results of obedience and

disobedience, and urges the sinner to choose obedience and

life (Deut. 30:19; Joshua 24:15; Isa. 1:16,20; Rev. 22:17);

and from the fact that it is possible for the believer,

having once been a recipient of grace, to fall away and be

lost (1 Cor. 9:27; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29)....

"God may foresee each individual choice that will be

made, but His foreknowledge does not determine what that

choice shall be....Bible predestination consists in the

effective purpose of God that all who choose to believe in

Christ shall be saved (John 1:12; Eph. 1:4-10)."(*4)

Then what does Scripture mean when it says that God loved

Jacob and hated Esau (Rom. 9:13) and that He hardened

Pharaoh's heart (vv. 17,18; cf. vv. 15,16; Ex. 9:16; 4:21)?

The context of these texts shows that Paul's concern is

mission and not salvation. Redemption is available to

anyone--but God chooses certain persons for special

assignments. Salvation was equally available to Jacob and

Esau, but God chose Jacob, not Esau, to be the line through

whom He would take the message of salvation to the world.

God exercises sovereignty in His mission strategy.

When Scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart it

is merely crediting Him with doing what He allows, and not

implying that He ordains it. Pharaoh's negative response to

God's call actually illustrates God's respect for his

freedom to choose.

Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

Some Believe that God relates to persons without knowing

their choices until they are made; that God knows certain

future events, such as the Second Advent, the millennium,

and the restoration of the earth, but has no idea who will

be saved. They feel that God's dynamic relationship with the

human race would be in jeopardy if He knew everything that

would transpire from eternity to eternity. Some suggest that

He would be bored if He knew the end from the beginning.

But God's knowledge about what individuals will do does

not interfere with what they actually choose to do any more

than a historian's knowledge of what people did in the past

interferes with their actions. Just as a camera records a

scene but does not change it, foreknowledge looks into the

future without altering it. The foreknowledge of the Godhead

never violates human freedom.

Dynamics Within the Godhead

Is there only one God? What of Christ, and the Holy

Spirit?

The Oneness of God

In contrast to the heathen of surrounding nations, Israel

believed there was only one God (Deut. 4:35; 6:4, Isa. 45:5;

Zech. 14:9). The New Testament makes the same emphasis on

the unity of God (Mark 12:29-32; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6;

Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5). This monotheistic emphasis does not

contradict the Christian concept of the triune God or

Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; rather, it affirms

that there is no pantheon of various deities.

The Plurality Within the Godhead

Although the Old Testament does not explicitly teach that

God is triune, it alludes to a plurality within the Godhead.

At times God employs plural pronouns such as: "`Let Us make

man in Our image'" (Gen. 1:26); "`Behold the man has become

like one of Us'" (Gen. 3:22); "`Come, let Us go down'" (Gen.

11:7). At times the Angel of the Lord is identified with

God. Appearing to Moses, the Angel of the Lord said, "`I am

the God of your father--the God of Abraham, the God of

Isaac, and the God of Jacob'" (Ex. 3:6).

Various references distinguish the Spirit of God from

God. In the Creation story "the Spirit of God was hovering

over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). Some texts not only

refer to the Spirit but include a third person in God's work

of redemption: "`And now the Lord God [the Father] and His

Spirit [the Holy Spirit] have sent Me [the Son of God]'"

(Isa. 48:16); "`I [the Father] have put My Spirit upon Him

[the Messiah]; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles'"

(Isa. 42:1).

The Relationship Within the Godhead

The first advent of Christ gives us a much clearer

insight into the triune God. John's Gospel reveals that the

Godhead consists of God the Father (see chapter 3 of this

book), God the Son (chapter 4), and God the Holy Spirit

(chapter 5), a unity of three co-eternal persons having a

unique and mysterious relationship.

1. A loving relationship.

When Christ cried out, "`My God, My God, why have You

forsaken Me?'" (Mark 15:34) He was suffering from the

estrangement from His Father that sin had caused. Sin broke

humanity's original relationship with God (Gen. 3:6-10; Isa.

59:2). In His last hours, Jesus, the One who knew no sin,

became sin for us. In taking our sin, our place, He

experienced the separation from God that was our lot--and

perished in consequence.

Sinners will never comprehend what Jesus' death meant to

the Godhead. From eternity He had been with His Father and

the Spirit. They had lived as coeternal, coexistent in utter

self-giving and love for one another. To be together for so

long bespeaks the perfect, absolute love that existed within

the Godhead. "God is love" (1 John 4:8) means that each so

lived for the others that they experienced complete

fulfillment and happiness.

Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Some may wonder how

the qualities of longsuffering or patience would apply

within the Godhead, who had a perfect loving relationship.

Patience was first needed when dealing with rebel angels,

and later with wayward humans.

There is no distance between the persons of the triune

God. All three are divine, yet they share their divine

powers and qualities. In human organizations final authority

rests in one person--a president, king, or prime minister.

In the Godhead, final authority resides in all three

members.

While the Godhead is not one in person, God is one in

purpose, mind, and character. This oneness does not

obliterate the distinct personalities of the Father, the

Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nor does the separateness of

personalities within the Deity destroy the monotheistic

thrust of Scripture, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

are one God.

2. A working relationship.

Within the Godhead an economy of function exists. God

does not unnecessarily duplicate work. Order is the first

law of heaven, and God works in orderly ways. This

orderliness issues from and preserves the union within the

Godhead. The Father seems to act as source, the Son as

mediator, and the Spirit as actualizer or applier.

The incarnation beautifully demonstrated the working

relationship of the three persons of the Godhead. The Father

gave His Son, Christ gave Himself, and the Spirit gave Jesus

birth (John 3:16; Matt. 1:18,20). The angel's testimony to

Mary clearly indicates the activities of all three in the

mystery of God becoming man. "`The Holy Spirit will come

upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you;

therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be

called the Son of God'" (Luke 1:35).

Each member of the Godhead was present at the baptism of

Christ: the Father giving encouragement (Matt. 3:17), Christ

giving Himself to be baptized as our example (Matt.

3:13-15), and the Spirit giving Himself to Jesus to empower

Him (Luke 3:21,22).

Toward the end of His earthly life Jesus promised to send

the Holy Spirit as counselor or helper (John 14:16). Hours

later, hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out to His Father,

"`My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matt. 27:46).

In those climactic moments for salvation history the Father,

Son, and Holy Spirit were all part of the picture.

Today the Father and the Son reach out to us through the

Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "`When the Helper comes, whom I

shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who

proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me'" (John

15:26). The Father and Son send the Spirit to reveal Christ

to each person. The great burden of the Trinity is to bring

God and a knowledge of Christ to everyone (John 17:3) and to

make Jesus present and real (Matt. 28:20; cf. Heb. 13:5).

Believers are elected to salvation, Peter said, "according

to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of

the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of

Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2).

The apostolic benediction includes all three persons of

the Godhead. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the

love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with

you all" (2 Cor. 13:14). Christ heads the list. God's point

of contact with humanity was and is through Jesus

Christ--the God who became man. Though all three members of

the Trinity work together to save, only Jesus lived as a

man, died as a man, and became our Saviour (John 6:47; Matt.

1:21; Acts 4:12). But because "God was in Christ reconciling

the world to Himself" (2 Cor. 5:l9), God could also be

designated as our Saviour (cf. Titus 3:4), for He saved us

through Christ the Savior (Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; cf.

Titus 3:6).

In the economy of function, different members of the

Godhead perform distinct tasks in saving man. The work of

the Holy Spirit does not add anything to the adequacy of the

sacrifice that Jesus Christ made at the cross. Through the

Holy Spirit the objective atonement at the cross is

subjectively applied as the Christ of the atonement is

brought within. Thus Paul speaks of "Christ in you, the hope

of glory" (Col. 1:27).

Focus on Salvation

The early church baptized persons into the name of the

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). But since it was

through Jesus that God's love and purpose were revealed, the

Bible focuses on Him. He is the hope foreshadowed in the Old

Testament sacrifices and festivals. He is the One who

occupies center stage in the Gospels. He is the Good News

proclaimed by the disciples in sermons and writings--the

Blessed Hope. The Old Testament looks forward to His coming;

the New Testament reports His first advent and looks forward

to His return.

Christ, the mediator between God and us, thus unites us

to the Godhead. Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life"

(John 14:6). The good news is centered in a Person and not

merely a practice. It has to do with a relationship, not

just rules--for Christianity is Christ. We find in Him the

core, content, and context for all truth and life.

Looking at the cross, we gaze into the heart of God. On

that instrument of torture He poured out His love for us.

Through Christ the love of the Godhead fills our aching,

empty hearts. Jesus hung there as God's gift and our

substitute. At Calvary God descended to earth's lowest point

to meet us; but it is the highest place where we can go.

When we go to Calvary we have ascended as high as we can

toward God.

At the cross the Trinity made a full revelation of

unselfishness. There was our most complete revelation of

God. Christ became man to die for the race. He valued

selflessness more than self-existence. There Christ became

our "righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1

Cor. 1:30). Whatever value or meaning we have or ever will

have comes from His sacrifice on that cross.

The only true God is the God of the cross. Christ

unveiled to the universe the Godhead's infinite love and

saving power; He revealed a triune God who was willing to go

through the agony of separation because of unconditional

love for a rebel planet. From this cross God proclaims His

loving invitation to us: Be reconciled, "and the peace of

God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your

hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7, NIV).

 

References

1. Gordon R. Lewis, Decide for Yourself: A Theological

Workbook (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, l978),

P. 15.

2. They are the cosmological, teleological, ontological,

anthropological, and religion arguments. See, e.g., T.H.

Jemison, Christian Beliefs (Mountain View, CA: Pacific

Press, l959), p. 72; Richard Rice, the Reign of God (Berrien

Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, l985), pp. 53-56.

These arguments do not prove God's existence but show that

there is a strong possibility that God exists. Ultimately,

however, belief in God's existence is based on faith.

3. Yahweh is "a conjectural transliteration" of the sacred

name of God in the Old Testament (Ex. 3:14,15; 6:3). The

original Hebrew contained the four consonants YHWH. In time,

out of fear of profaning God's name, the Jews refused to

read this name aloud. Instead, wherever YHWH appeared they

would read the word Adonai. In the seventh or eighth century

A.D., when vowels were added to the Hebrew words, the

Masoretes supplied the vowels of Adonai to the consonants

YHWH. The combination produced the word Jehovah, which is

used in the KJV. Other translations prefer the word Yahweh

(Jerusalem Bible) or LORD (RSV,NIV,NKJV). (See Siegfried H.

Horn, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, Don F.

Neufeld, ed., rev. ed., [Washington, D.C.: Review and

Herald, l979] pp. 1192,1193).

4. "Predestination," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia,

Don F. Neufeld, ed., rev. ed., (Washington, D.C.: Review and

Herald, l976), p. 1144.