Three Persons in Communion
In our Western culture we are very individualistic. That means we see ourselves as individuals and we even relate to God as if he were an individual. But God is not an individual. His Oneness is not the oneness of a self-contained individual. It is the unity of a community of persons. God is a Triune Community.
We use the word “community” in different ways. The word may mean all the people who live in a particular area or place. He is well liked by people in the community. The word may also mean a group of people who are similar in some way. We talk about the black community and the business community. Community may also mean friendship between different people or groups, and a sense of having something in common.
All of these fall short of what we mean when we say that God is Community. With that in mind, I want to look at God as Three Persons in Communion. The term communion takes us into a deeper personal oneness.
We can consider this communal life of God in two ways.
(1) Mutual Self-giving
God is love (1 John 4.10). John does not say God has love or God is loving. He says, “God is love”. God loves because that is who he is.
When we hear the words “God is Love” we usually think first of God’s love towards us. However, before we see God’s love to us we must see God as love within himself. Our God is love because he is three persons in love relationship. The Father has always loved the Son. The Son has always loved the Father. These two have always loved one another in the love of the Spirit.
Love expresses itself in self-giving. And that is how God is love within himself. The Father loves the Son and always gives himself to the Son. The Son loves the Father and gives himself to the Father. The Spirit gives himself to both the Father and the Son.
Royce Gruenler writes about this self-giving love within God as three persons. He says that within God’s love relationship there is what he calls “disposability”. Each of the three persons is at the disposal of the others. The Father is always at the disposal of the Son making himself available to him. He is always there for the Son expressing his delight in him as the beloved with whom he is well pleased. The Father is glad to put the spotlight on his Son as the one he wants to honour. The Son always at the disposal of the Father deferring to the Father by seeking to do his will in all things. He always looks to see what his Father is doing. He always listens to hear what his Father is saying to him. His face is always turned towards the Father in desire and delight. He is always actively serving the Father to advance his purpose in the world. He defers to the Father out of self-giving love for the Father. The Spirit is always at the disposal of both Father and Son by making himself almost anonymous as he serves them. He seems only to desire that they be honoured by all. The Spirit is honoured most as he enables others to forget him and glorify the Father in the Son.
In Jesus, we see God as three persons in self-giving love towards one another. That points us to what God has always been and always will be. There has always been within God a movement of love between three persons.The three are always towards the others and for the others in mutual self-giving. We are glad to see God is love towards us. But what God is towards us flows out of what he is within himself. All three persons give themselves freely and fully to us as the overflow of their self-giving love within themselves. All three persons are there for one another as they put themselves at our disposal
Kevin Giles writes about God as a “fellowship and communion of equals who share all that they are and have in their communion with each other, each living with and for the others in mutual openness, self-giving love, and support; each free not from but for the others”.
(2) Mutual Indwelling
Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Therefore, to see the Son was to see the Father. He also said, “I and the Father are One. They are one because Father, Son and Spirit indwell one another. The Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father and the Spirit is in the Father and the Son. They are in one another mutually.
The church came to speak about this mutual indwelling as “perichoresis”. The word has the idea of one thing containing another. The Son contains the Father. The Father contains the Son. Both Father and Son contain the Spirit and the Spirit contains both Father and Son. All three persons contain one another fully and yet they remain distinct as persons. The Son contains both Father and Spirit wholly within himself. Yet the Son remains the Son distinct from Father and Spirit.
Perichorises is mutual indwelling. Each person penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Each person fully contains the others and is contained by them. This isn’t easy to grasp. A can contains soup but soup does not contain the can. We dip a bucket into the sea so that the sea contains the bucket and the bucket contains the sea, but this is not the same as three persons wholly containing each other.
The distinct Persons of God actually live IN each other! They so mutually indwell and contain one another that each person is whole God indwelt by whole God.
This mutual indwelling means that we cannot think of the three without thinking of their Oneness.
It also means that we cannot think of the One without thinking of the Three. Gregory of Nazianzus said that, “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One”. So we cannot ever think of any one person of the Trinity without at the same moment thinking of the other two.
Because the three persons so interpenetrate and indwell each other, when one is present the other two are present also. It is impossible to encounter one person without also encountering the others. To meet Jesus is to encounter the Father and the Spirit through him. When you see the Son you have before you whole God because whole God indwells him. As the Holy Spirit indwells you, whole God indwells you because whole God indwells the Spirit. That’s how the Father and Son make their home within you by the indwelling Spirit.
Kevin Giles writes, “The unity of God is not to be thought of in terms of one substance but rather as the most intimate, the most loving and most profound triune communion…What grounds this divine union and communion is the mutual interpenetration of the three divine persons.”
So we see Triune Communion as mutual self-giving and mutual indwelling. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in one another and exist for one another in such a way that each is who he is only in his relations with the others.