The self-giving God

Whereas Western theology tended to begin with the unity and nature of God and then sought to explain the three persons, the East began with the three persons and then sought to resolve the nature of their unity. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, therefore, it is out of the Godhead’s personal relatedness that all else flows: the creation of angels, man in the imago dei, and the great plan of redemption — all in order that finite beings might enter into the joyous fellowship of the Holy Trinity. Put another way, creation and salvation begin and end with God’s self-givingness, both internally (each to the other within the Godhead) and externally (the Triune God to all creation). And so, in the most profound sense as Trinity — and finally only as Trinity — God is love.

. . . If God were selfish, it would be hard to understand why he would create something outside himself. Perhaps a God who is only one person would create in order to satisfy his own desire (or need) for glory, for relationship or so that he might exercise his sovereignty. But in an eternal Trinity where each member glorifies the other, where profound interpersonal relationships already exist and where God is completely self-sufficient, what would be the motive for the creation? As has been alluded to earlier, various scholars conclude that the Triune God created the vast realm of heaven — with its diversity of angelic beings — and our immense universe and tiny earth — with its vast diversity of plants, animals and people — as a overflow of the life and creative love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This divine overflow is not in pantheistic or deterministic senses, but rather God’s creative artistry that gives being to the other while maintaining God’s own freedom and independence. If such a deduction is true, then all creation exists as the result of God’s own self-giving beyond the internal personal relations of the Godhead. As Luther said, creation is grace.

If earth’s very existence owes itself to divine self-giving, then the local church created in the divine image would seem called to give itself to the world as well. Believers are called to manifest the saving presence of Jesus Christ through their own collective sacrifice among a hurting and hopeless humanity.

. . . In Beasley-Murray’s words, this is “the law of the kingdom of God: life is given through death,” exemplified powerfully by Jesus giving his own life for the sins of the world. The Savior emphasizes the principle of daily sacrifice of oneself in love and obedience to God — a continual letting go of life that daily refills the believer with the life of God. Cuban evangelist B. G. Lavastida put it this way: “There are three paradoxes of the Christian life: You must give in order to receive, you must let go in order to possess, and you must die in order to live.” Together with the commands to love wholeheartedly the Lord God, our brothers in Christ and our fellow human beings, the command to let go of self is one the most repeated of all the Savior’s admonitions.

–adapted from J. Scott Horrell

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