The Father and the Son

PFA83070We continue our short series on the “Glory Be.”

The word “Glory” took us into the grandeur and beauty of God. We would do well to dwell on that one word. But the prayer immediately takes us even deeper, into the interior life of God.

God is Father and Son. It all comes down to that.

The theological tradition insists that we pay attention to the words themselves. The Trinity is not just Persons One, Two, and Three, not just three “somethings.” The Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But what do these names mean? We will talk more about the Holy Spirit next week. For this week it suffices to notice that his name is generic. The Father is Holy and the Son is Holy, and they are both spirits. Whatever the Holy Spirit is, he is what they have in common.

But Father and Son name difference, and relationship. The two names push off against each other: what makes a Father a Father? A Son (or daughter). What makes a Son a Son? A Father (or mother). Father and Son name not two things, but a relationship.

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So, what does it mean to be Father and Son? It means to be the same kind of thing, but for the Son to receive everything from the Father.

“Same kind of thing” is funny when you’re talking about God. The Son would not be a Son if he had a beginning, or anything that came “before” him, because he would not be God. That’s bizarre. It’s hard to fathom. But see that this is what it means to say “Son of God”: that he truly is God. Anything less than God would not be a Son. That means something for us, too – we’ll talk about that next week.

The sameness of Father and Son means there are an awful lot of things we can’t say about the Son: not “after,” not “lesser,” etc. That in itself is helpful: in a way, it helps point out to us that we don’t have such a grasp on God. The Trinity is a helpful reminder that, among other things, God transcends our thoughts.

But on the other hand, there is one thing, and really only one thing, that we can say about the Father and the Son: that they love one another. It is a love of giving and receiving. To say, “the Father and the Son” is to say “God is love.” And it is to say slightly more, slightly deeper: it is to say “God is giving and thanksgiving, joyfully offering everything, and joyfully receiving everything.” God is a superabundance of goodness and happiness that can’t help but give and joyfully receive.

This is what we affirm when we say, “Glory to the Father and the Son.” God, the God of glory, is love, gift, thanksgiving.

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We can clean up a couple little problems. First, we should hold the word “person” very lightly. Person is merely a substitute word, and it is not what the Bible reveals. Augustine says, “what does ‘person’ mean? Just what there are three of.” It doesn’t mean anything; it shouldn’t give us pictures of what they are like. It’s just a place holder, to remind us that there is, somehow, a kind of threeness in God. But rather than talking about persons, we do much better to talk about Father and Son. It all comes down to Father and Son.

Of course, we should also hold the gender thing lightly. Here’s two ways to think about it. First, we say “Father and Son” instead of “Mother and Daughter” mostly just to be Biblical. It’s a recognition that this isn’t our ideas, that we don’t make up our own God. It’s not that we think God is revealed to be masculine – to the contrary! It’s that we stick with the words we are given, and ponder them.

But second, if there is any good reason for saying Father instead of Mother, it is perhaps that Mother says too much. Mothering is a much richer concept than Fathering. We’re not using masculine language to build up men. We’re using it to limit how much we say about God. All we know is that he is giver and receiver.

But what a fabulous image of God to consider: that God gives and receives everything. That is he is love, and communion, and friendship.

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Could you love God better by spending a moment, now and then, pondering “Father and Son”? Would you be enriched at all by pausing at those words in the Glory Be?

eric.m.johnston

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