If a sampling of Christians were asked to list God’s essential attributes, love would likely be included by all of them. Not only is God loving, as John 3:16 says, but 1 John 4:8 proclaims that God is love. But this simple declaration brings up an interesting question. Before God created anything, whom did he love? Love is not a state of being, it implies expression, the existence of a lover and a beloved. An easy answer would be that God loved Himself. But self-love, if it can be called love, is the shallowest of all loves. There is no putting someone else’s needs before your own, seeking their happiness, delighting in them, or obeying. Self-love falls short of the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Humans self-love, or the turning in on one’s self, always lead to a bad end. Narcissus doomed himself.
Were love something that God put on when he created angels and humans, then it couldn’t be one of his core attributes; like make-up instead of the shape of a nose. God would become dependent on his creation in order to love. We would worship a God who could decide to ceasing loving. Whom then did God love before the founding of the world?
Christians know God to be a triune being. From all eternity He had someone to love. The Father loves the Son and Spirit, the Son loves the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and Son. Were everything but God to cease to exist, He would no longer be wrathful, but he would always be loving. This puts relationship at the core of our faith, in a way unique to all the religions of the world. Humans were designed to be in relationships; it is not God’s intention for us to be individualists. But neither were we designed to have our identities’ absorbed into one, so that the individual doesn’t matter. Instead, the Trinity presents us with diversity within unity. All theology of relationships should come from this point. Our understanding of this aspect of God has far reaching implications.
Whether we believe submission and hierarchy should exist in relationships and marriage is likely a result of whether we believe they exist in God, or vice versa. How we see church, both in structure and function, is affected by our understanding of the Trinity. Family dynamics are clearly implied in the Father-Son relationship. Jesus’ earthly submission and dependence on the Father is the model for our own obedience to God.
The United States is known as a nation of individualists. This is clearly reflected in the teaching about the Trinity in many churches. Non-Pentecostals virtually ignore the existence of the Holy Spirit (A pity since the Church began when the arrival of the Holy Spirit), while the Father is marginalized. I think the last time I heard a prayer that mentioned the Holy Spirit was at a Catholic Mass. Instead, evangelicals like to use the names Lord, God, Jesus, and Lord Jesus. The result is churches which are either attractional or missional without becoming truly relational. And we fall short of the loving relationship that exists between God.
Any attempt to come up with an analogy for the Trinity inevitably falls short. It is the finite mind trying to encircle the infinite. Likewise, the closer the human relationship, the more complex it becomes. Marriage, that one-flesh relationship, which is perhaps the best earthy example of the Trinity, verges on a mystery. Therefore, it is only through the power of the Trinitarian God that true relationship can develop and exist. Only through obedience to the Father, the reconciliation of the Son, and the inner presence of the Holy Spirit can diverse individuals form a whole and holy unity.