In response to the maxim: “Jesus is God; but God is not Jesus.”
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
Imagine a world in which your life although not devoid of hardship – offers you the reward of contentment at the close of each day. Imagine this life; where although not wealthy in material goods, you are rich in things that are eternal: a close family, a loving spouse, a belief and trust in a loving God. Now let us remove but one factor from this scene – but one. The sun now sets – and it does not rise the next day. When you awake – you are shrouded in darkness; you hear the cry of your child to be fed – but you stumble tripping over your furniture. You hear the voice of your spouse – but you can only trace the angle of their beauty with your finger tips. This is the first day. On the second – you begin to imagine that evil lurks in the corners of your once cosy room; you are unsure of what or who has entered your house; are you alone – or are others in the room? On the third day – you begin to doubt your very life – am I dead? Is there a God – for if I am dead, then all there is – is darkness. Then you think to yourself: I cannot be dead – for I can still hear the beating of my heart, and I am conscious of my own breathing. I shake and shudder – for devoid of the sun – the world has become frozen – and the clothes that I am wearing are not adequate to sustain heat. I sit and wait – in the hope that the sun returns. Eventually it does. Now when I look at the world – everything seems unrecognizable – it is as if I am seeing the world for the very first time. My courage returns as I now see that there are no wild animals or strangers in my home; my zest for life returns. Where before I stumbled – now I walk with confidence. As the day begins to warm – I bask in the sunlight – invigorated by the energy that radiates upon my skin. My eyes are closed – so I can concentrate on feeling the goodness of the sun; I feel the life returning within my very being. Never have I been so happy as this moment – deprived of the sun – I rejoice and appreciate it the more. Where there is no light and only darkness – life begins to dim. The Light comes into the world not only to dispel darkness – but also to give life. (cf. John 1: 4).
The Trinity for want of a better analogy can be compared to the three primary colours shining forth from a cinematic projector. But these colours are of course not God – and how could I have expressed the Holy Trinity prior to the advent of a cinema projector? We seek to find God in Created things – but always our words are never sufficient – it is almost like trying to capture the oceans in a bucket – our minds are feeble – despite the ardour of our hearts.
Yet it would be wrong to say that all we have is darkness – the Incarnation provides us with a light to illumine the ignorance.
For this reason Christianity should be simple – for we fool ourselves to believe that what we capture in our minds is God.
The God of the universe, Who is above all speech and all thought and all reasoning, cannot be committed to writing, being ineffable in His power. (p. 284).
286 SAYINGS AND EXTRACTS
For as man in his potentialities falls short of God, so too his language is weak and faltering, even in speaking not of God Himself, but of the attributes of God and of the divine Word. For the language of man is in its nature weak and incapable of expressing God I do not mean the mere name, for the use of the name is common not only to philosophers, but also to poets; nor do I mean the essence, for that is impossible but I mean the power and the works of God. (p. 286)
- How GOD MAY BE KNOWN
“Things admit of being expressed in words either from their attributes or from their relation to one another. But we can lay hold of nothing of this nature in the case of God. Neither is He apprehended by demonstrative knowledge, for this is made up of prior and better known elements, but nothing has prior existence to the Uncreated. So, then, it is only by divine grace and solely through the Word which proceeds from Him, that we can apprehend the Unknowable.” (p. 286)
SAYINGS AND EXTRACTS 307
” I am the door,” He says somewhere. This door, if we would understand God, we must learn to know, that He may throw open to us abundantly the gates of Heaven. For the gates of the Word are gates of Reason, and they open by the key of Faith.” (p. 307).
The theory of colour and light can be used to perhaps resolve a seemingly perennial intellectual problem in attempting to find an example that helps teach the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
To begin: When one sits in a cinema to view a motion picture, on the vast majority of occasions our attention is aimed toward the screen; naturally so as this is the whole reason for us to be there, we have paid to be entertained, seeing images painted by streams of light issuing from behind us. We take enjoyment in created things – and have little heed for their source. Every single possibility of creation can be drawn on the screen – everything that an individual can imagine, can be illustrated for all to see. Yet all these colours and all these images emanate, from a singular source – a projector that divides the images on the film into three lenses: red, green and blue – the three primary colours, known by the abbreviation: RGB. This RGB light has the capacity to create all other hues – yet for RGB to create the white light, one aspect of human physiology must follow – that being that the cones in the human eye, which are of themselves solely of RGB character, must be stimulated to exactly the same extent – each of the cones, all at the same time – Red – Green and Blue.
In the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, we are taught that there are three distinct persons: God the Father, who is Creator of Heaven and Earth; God the Son, Who is the Word of God – the only begotten Son of the Father; and God the Holy Spirit, Who Proceeds from the Father through the Son. Together this Holy Trinity of Persons are distinct – but yet we are told they are also indivisible in unity. As with the RGB projector shining white light – every person of the Holy Trinity, radiates a power. Together, everything that is possible in Creation, can be Created by a union of these powers. Similarly as with the RGB projector it is possible if one looks in a certain manner at the Holy Trinity, to do so by highlighting their distinctness, such as looking at the RGB lights at the back of the cinema, to see Red, Blue and Green. By doing so way we may be attracted to emphasize the beauty of one or all of the lights individually, such as emphasizing, in theological and symbolical terms: God as the Creator (Blue light – symbolizing the vaults of the oceans and the sea); or emphasizing God as the Son (the red light highlighting the Passion of Christ); or the Green light (symbolizing in the Eastern Christian tradition – the Holy Spirit). The RGB light has the capacity according to the frequencies emanated by each of the distinct primary colours – to create an infinite myriad of images. Similarly, all that has or can be Created by the Holy Trinity – has been Created by an indivisible blending of the attributes of the Holy Trinity. Remove one of the colours from the RGB trinity, and it is impossible to produce white light. In like fashion, remove one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity – and it is impossible for God to be God. As RGB is required to bring white light – so God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all required for God to exist. But this is but a starting point.
If we take this analogy one step further when we look at the white light on the cinema screen, we are actually not seeing white, but a combination in equal proportion of Red, Green and Blue. Similarly when we see the Holy Trinity in a Christocentric (Christ-centred), Pneumocentric (Holy Spirit centred) or Theocentric (God the Father centred) manner – then we are in fact doing so, stressing the distinctness of the Persons. There is nothing inappropriate by so doing – outside from the fact, that it is critical also to see the Divine interplay of these persons – for alongside the distinctness of Persons, it is just as important to attempt to fathom the Trinitarian unity of God; for God is not only Three – but He is One. To expand: as one can sit in the cinema and believe that what is on the screen is in fact reality, without casting a glance at the projector which informs us about the limits to this reality on the screen – so too, it is important for the Christian to try and approach God not only as Three Persons (seeing the individual lenses of the projector) – but as Three in One and One in Three (observing the marriage of the Three Persons, as in the case of the RGB forming white light). By reflecting on both, the Three and the One, our limited understanding can begin to grapple more with both the source and the end-goal of our senses and our love.
Thus we now turn to the modern maxim that: “Jesus is God, but God is not Jesus”. Such a comment can be seen as being equivalent to: “Red is colour, but colour is not red.” But is this truly so, in the case of Jesus and the Holy Trinity?
In the New Testament Christ provides a rider as to the distinction of Persons within the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity viewed as a unity of these Persons. Christ being the Son of God is God – because God’s son cannot be anything else but God. Therefore Christ speaks to his audience with these words: “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.’” (John 14: 9 – 11, RSV)
This Truth is self-evident – for a Divine Being that can beget a Son without any recourse to another being outside His being can only produce God, and God in exact likeness. The same can be said of the Holy Spirit, that Person can only be God – as He is sent from God, not as an external messenger – but as a Being from within the Holy Trinity.
Thus to extend the analogy of RGB light to the Holy Trinity, we must think as follows. We are required to look at God both as a Holy Trinity – the white light; as well as the distinct Persons, the RGB. Due to our human limitations we cannot perceive the RGB in the three elements at the same time, as we are looking at the white light – but nonetheless we know that they are hidden or blended equally within the whiteness of the light. When we think therefore in a manner that attempts to go beyond our human limitations of complete comprehension – we think in a Trinitarian formula, for we know by turning to the back of the cinema we see three lights. Similarly we need to have recourse to the distinct persons of the Trinity in order to comprehend what we know exists but what we cannot grasp fully.
Therefore when we look at the maxim – it is correct, but only to a limited extent, from the particular viewpoint that wishes to emphasize that there are three distinct persons in the Holy Trinity. But if we turn toward the blending of the lights and look toward the Holy Trinity as a unity, then the maxim collapses – for in seeing the Trinity, we must acknowledge that each Person of the Holy Trinity, like the RGB light shining white light on the screen, still exists as a distinct Being, but can also be seen in the other; for example when we see God the Father, we also see God the Son, and the Holy Spirit – in the same manner that if it were possible for the human eye to do so – we would see at one and the same time the RGB light and the white light; or further still as in optical illusion where at one and the same time we see a single portrait that now is a young woman, and now an old woman. For in looking at the white light on a cinema screen – a person could indeed say they were seeing the red, or the blue, or the green – and not be incorrect, for these colours are in the white light. But moreover, in the case of the Holy Trinity, it is also possible for one to say that red is white – for unlike the RGB, there is never a point in time when there is separation in the Holy Trinity – therefore Christ in John 14 – saying that He and the Father are one is an absolute Truth; as well as what follows with his statement of having seen the Father in the Son. For if God the Son is one in being with the Father, it must also mean that God the Father is one in being with the Son – and that both are one in Being with the Holy Spirit. If all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are One in Being with each other – than by seeing One – you are in fact seeing all three simultaneously. That is why when we receive Christ through the Eucharist – we receive God in all His glory. Thus as the Holy Trinity cannot be separated or amputated from one another – in seeing one Person, as was the case when Christ was made Incarnate and preached on earth – so also we see all Three. The only way in which the maxim: “God is not Jesus”, would be true, is if there was a potential for the Holy Trinity to be separated. God cannot be more than Christ alone – for there can never be any more than the absolute maximum – and in Christ there is also – the Father – and the Holy Spirit; in the same manner as white light (Unity), always contains RGB (Diversity). The same can be said of each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity – in turn. In each we see the other Persons of the Holy Trinity; as such Jesus is God – and God is Jesus – for with Jesus, we also have God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; or as is prayed by the Faithful in the Byzantine Liturgy, just prior to the pronouncement of the Creed: “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in Being and undivided.”
Following from this analogy of the RGB light and the Holy Trinity we must surely acknowledge that there exists serious limitations for the human intellect to understand not only the physical light we see – but the God we love and feel.
This post is also available in: Ukrainian