Three Is the Loveliest Number
Which God Will We Have?
It doesn't take the insight of a prophet to notice that hostility to the idea of a personal God is widespread and growing apace in the Western world today. Spirituality of a sort, fine. God? Not so much. Every author knows it: Write a book against God and you're on the fast track to securing a place on The New York Times best-seller list.
But might it just possibly be that the world is actually reacting against a certain sort of God: the concept of a loveless dictator-in-the-sky? Could such popular antitheism be the rumblings of an unknowing hunger for a better God? Certainly in my own experience, when I ask atheist or agnostic students to describe the God they don't believe in, I am usually treated to what sounds like a good description of Satan: a self-obsessed, merciless bully. And if God is not an ever-loving Father, eternally pouring out his Spirit of life and blessing on his Son, then their descriptions are probably pretty accurate. If God is not Father, Son, and Spirit, then he must be an eternally solitary being who has managed to get through eternity without love.
None of this should really surprise us. John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote that the fallen human mind is like "a perpetual factory of idols," in that we all persistently pervert the nature of God in our minds, imagining him to be less beautiful and good than he truly is. But today, given the widespread poverty of knowledge of God, it is especially important that we Christians are not heard to be speaking of "God" vaguely. Christians and non-Christians alike will instinctively shy away from such a being, suspecting a God more Devil than Father.
If we do not expressly proclaim Father, Son, and Spirit, then we do not expressly proclaim a God of love, the sort of God who would have any fellowship to share with us. The gospel we proclaim would then be essentially rootless, disconnected from the God whose gospel it is. And that must ultimately spell catastrophe: No church can survive for long on a superficial gospel, and few outsiders will be persuaded by one.
But if we are specifically and robustly Trinitarian in our talk of God, if we'll start with the Spirit-anointed Son who reveals his Father, then what a God we'll have to know and offer to the world! A God more delightful than human mind has dreamed, a kind Father who draws us to share his eternal love and fellowship, a God who is love.
Michael Reeves is head of theology for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the United Kingdom. He is the author most recently of Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (InterVarsity Press).