Publications: Articles - Theology
Who is the God of the Christians?
The most fundamental claim of the Christian Church is its belief in the one true and living God.
"Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one God; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be placed upon your heart, and you shall teach them to your children…" (Deut. 6:4)
This claim was not simply born out of any religious need to relate to something superior out of psychological needs for security in the face of the unknown nor was it only a result of a thirst for truth and true knowledge arising out of logical necessity. Rather for the Christians and indeed for the Hebrew people the starting point for God was a concrete historical event. While it was an intimate personal encounter with Abraham that verified God's existence to the Israelites, for the Christians it has been the ultimate intervention God in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
God revealed himself to Moses and spoke with him "face to face" as one person speaks to another person (Ex. 33.11) and revealed the mystery of his name.
"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." (Ex. 3.13)
God proclaims Himself to be the one who IS, the "Existing One", the one true and living God. This name for God, "I am who I am" means that God draws his existence from Himself existing eternally without beginning and without end. For the Israelites, this God whose name was "I am who I am" was the one true and living God who remained so faithful that he formed several covenants with his chosen people continuing to fulfil all his promises to them. According to the Scriptures, the name of God was so sacred that it was never mentioned.
The Orthodox Christian tradition teaches that the one true God is the perfection and super perfection of all that we know to be good, true, wise, just, all-powerful, righteous and loving without God ever being exhausted by these attributes. These characteristics of God cannot be compared with those of our experience since He is beyond all these. So, for example, while it is true to say that God exists, yet He is 'above existence'. Ultimately Orthodox theology would claim that God cannot be defined as "existing" or "not existing" since He is not a "being" who exists the way that created human beings exist. However God offers himself to our existence with the amazing an immeasurable intimacy in a relationship of person to person. Yet this familiarity does not exhaust our understanding of who God is. And since we cannot easily grasp who God is, He remains forever the cause of our wonder and astonishment.
It is this one and true living God who in a concrete historical framework sends His son, Jesus Christ, who now makes the almighty God known and experienced as "Father". Jesus continues to emphasise the uniqueness and oneness of God but also underlines that he has a unique relationship with this God – he is the Son of God. Jesus, who is able to call God "father" because he is the only begotten Son of the Father, also allows us to relate to God with the intimate title of "abba" which means "father". In fact even though the word "abba" is an Aramaic word meaning father it carries with it a nuance of familiarity and intimacy bringing it close, in meaning to the term "daddy". With Jesus, not only can we pronounce the name of God, but we are now commanded to pray using this intimate name for God. This was unheard of for the Hebrew people who would not dare even to pronounce the name of God let alone refer to him as "abba".
Furthermore, by the sending of the Spirit, we can continue to this day to refer to God as "father and therefore can dare to pray in the following manner: "Our Father in heaven…": on this way making us also sons of God.
"For when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!". So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir of the eternal kingdom of God. (Gal. 4.4-7)
In stressing the personal dimension of God, the Church wanted to show that we cannot draw near to God simply by learning certain facts about Him. That is to say that since God is a person, knowing him implies much more than being able to reiterate certain facts. Rather we approach God by means of a personal encounter and experience with him. Since the one God is our Father – a person, not an idea - we are called to place our trust and hope in him and ultimately to love Him just like we do other persons around us. And even though today we may not have directly encountered the historical person of God as revealed in his Son Jesus, slowly we surrender ourselves in trust since others before us, whom we consider trustworthy – the apostles, fathers, prophets and saints of our Church – guarantee his credibility. In this endless journey of lesser to greater trust in this personal meeting with God, the birth of love gives rise to an absolute surrender, self-offering and uninterrupted astonishment at the unquenchable thirst for Godwhere intellectual and logical certainties become superfluous.
In contemplating this mystery of who God is we therefore come to conclude that God is personal; he is Father. And this leads us to the claim that God is at same time one in three persons and three persons yet one God. However, how this is so we will examine in later issues of this column.
Academic Secretary and Associate Lecturer,
St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College