GOD IS LOVE
“God is love” I John 4:8. He is neither an idea that we believe in, nor a Supreme Being isolated from mankind in His heaven far away from our world, but He is the Lover of mankind, He granted us His divine knowledge to enjoy His love and to touch His Fatherhood. He would like to be very near to mankind, to unite them to Himself, to live within their souls, and grants us participation in His Glory.
In other words, God reveals Himself to us, not to involve us in theoretical discussions, nor to practice His authority upon us, but to attract us to Himself as children to their true Father in whom they find the essence of life, satisfaction, immortality and eternal glorification.
REVELATION OF GOD
God created man in His image, as the most perfect of His creations on earth. God did not plan to leave man in Paradise alone, but to embrace him as His beloved, to meet him (Gen. 18:17), and to reveal Himself, His nature, His mysteries and His will to him.
God spoke to mankind through nature (Rom. 1:20). As they refused to hear the voice of the natural law, He presented His written Law through Moses and sent His prophets to them (Heb. 1: 1,2). At last, the Incarnate Son of God came to enlighten their inner life and to set His Kingdom within them. He came to reveal the mystery of God, the Lover and Savior of men. His revelation has its effect on our nature and eternal future.
MYSTERY OF GOD
“Mystery” in Christianity does not mean that a believer takes obscure dogmas without understanding them, or that these dogmas are unacceptable to his mind. Our minds cannot conceive this naturally without God’s grace and revelation. Mystery does not oppose man’s thinking but is supreme and inconceivable without God’s help.
God created us as rational beings. He reveals Himself and His deeds to us, not to abolish our minds but to elevate them so that all our human nature can accept Him and acknowledges His mysteries.
MONOTHEISM AND TRINITARIAN FAITH
Our faith in its essence is a call to enjoy the experience of the One God, Lover of mankind. The Old and the New Testaments confirm the belief in the One God, but the Old Testament deals with this matter in its passive aspect, for its aim was to keep the believers away from idols and from practicing the abominations of nations that accompanied paganism (2 Kings 21:2; Chorn. 28:3).
The New Testament witnesses to the One God in a positive aspect, for it does not only declare the oneness of God but it also deepens our faith in God by revealing the “Trinitarian” faith. In fact this faith does not oppose “Monotheism,” but emphasizes it by revealing some mysteries of the One God and giving interpretation to these mysteries.
THE TRINITARIAN DOGMA AND THE BIBLE
The Holy Trinity was referred to at Jesus’ baptism (Joh. 1:27-33). Besides our baptism is fulfilled in the name of the Holy Trinity (Matt. 28:19). St. Paul benediction enumerates the Trinity in 2 Cor. 13:14.
In the Old Testament we find the Trisagion (holy, holy, holy) of Isaiah’s Vision (6:3); and the name of God is mentioned in plural “Elohim,” even in the Deuteronomy 6:4 “unity” passage [see Gen. 1:26, 11 :7].
Is it necessary to believe in the Holy Trinity?
- The “Trinitarian” faith solves many problems which was caused by the absolute “monotheistic” faith. For example, we say that God is love and His love is eternal; does this mean that there was another being whom God loved eternally? We can not say that He loves Himself eternally; this means He is selfish (God forbids!). We cannot say that He eternally loved by power and not by action, and after the creation of the heavenly and earthly beings His love became in action; this means that creation was necessary for God to realize His love and changes it from power to action.What we say concerning love might be repeated in regards to other divine characteristics like peace-making, mercy etc..Truly if we accept the Holy Trinity as three Hypostaseis in one divine essence, this problem will be easily solved. This faith in the One God of three Hypostasies declares the act of love, unity and peace in God as an eternal action of the Holy Trinity. The Father loved the Son and there was no time when the Father did not love the Son. Love as a divine character was eternally in power and in action, for “Love” is God Himself who loved eternally, and was not in need of the creation to declare His characteristic’ s. God’s love to us is an extension of His work and eternal loving nature. Then the Trinitarian faith reveals God as a dynamic, personal and communal Being and not a solid being.
- Someone may say that the “Trinitarian” faith may incline to “polytheism.” We reply that the Son is the Word of the Father; many religions believe that the words of God are eternal. the Word of God is not “outside” God, but is one with Him, as brightness that shines from the light. The Father was not without His Word, as light is never without brightness. Thus our belief in the Son does not mean Polytheism.The Holy Spirit is the “Life,” and the Father is the “Being.” This “Being” is not separated from “Life…”
It is important to believe in God who is “the rational, Being” one essence, eternally simple, for the three are not separated, nor has one existed before the others. They are like the fire which has flame, light and heat at the same time.
- St. Clement of Alexandria states that all expressions concerning God are used because of our weakness and disability. In other words, we must not understand “One” here as a number among other numbers, but it means an unspeakable unity. “Monotheism” cannot be tasted nor understood as “Numbering,” for it makes God as a solid Being subject to numbering. St. Clement says: [God is One, and beyond one, and above the Monad itself].
Let us not understand the Oneness of God in a material manner.
- We should not understand the expression “the Son” in a materialistic way as if the Son had an essence other than that of the Father, but He is the Brightness who never separates from the “Light. 11Can God not bring forth a Son? For we cannot accept God as a solid, being unable to bring forth! Every energetic essence has to bring forth something. Fire brings forth light and radiates heat, the radio element brings forth energy, and the human mind brings forth wise thoughts. God can never be a solid Being, but eternally He brings forth the Son, for He is the “Light” who brings forth “the Light.” Truly a light that brings forth no light is darkness.Bringing forth the Son eternally reveals the nature of God as the Loving Being, who in His infinite love brings forth the Son offering to Him His own divine essence being One with Him.
- St. Athanasius clarifies that the “Son” is called “the Word of God,” to confirm the oneness of the essence, that no one may think in two essences.
- The unity of the Holy Trinity as a unity of love, of continuous movement, has an effect on our lives, for we imitate the Holy Trinity through our unity together in the Holy Trinity.
- The “Trinitarian” faith has its effect on our daily life and on our eternal future. For through it we acknowledge the fatherhood of God, enjoy the divine friendship of Jesus our Savior, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the door of hope in the eternal glories will always be opened before us.
- The Holy Trinity declares the concept of “perfection,” i.e., the perfection of the unity of the Holy Trinity and not the theoretical A the solid perfection which has no movement of love.
THE HOLY TRINITY AND HUMAN MIND
Our Trinitarian faith does not oppose the human mind as someone may think, for if it is called a “Mystery” this is because of our need for a divine revelation to accept it. Even “monotheism” has many mysteries that the mind cannot understand by itself. For example, all religious men say that God fills heaven and earth and He in infinite, at the same time there is a divine throne. Is this divine throne limited? How does it look like in heaven? How can God occupy the whole world and at the same time He is present in every room and in every house of God, not partially for He is undivided, but He is entirely present?
The human soul may be used as an example to explain the Trinitarian faith. Every soul is “Existent,” rational and alive. Although man has one soul and its being is distinguished from its mind and its life, the three are inseparable.
Fire has three self-properties that look like the hypostasis, for ithas flame, the light that is begotten of the flame, and the heat that proceeds from it.
It was very important to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity so that our salvation can be realized. The Father, Lover of men, sent His Word incarnate to bear our sins and pay our debts, and sent His Holy Spirit which raises us to His Glory.
Our Trinitarian faith uncovers the real divine love, for God does not seek our destruction, or have authority over us as some existentialists say, He is “Love,” that longs for our adoption so that we might be united with Him and share in His eternal Glories.
Man and Redemption
MAN IN GOD’S SIGHT
Our faith in God is correlated to our life, for we acknowledge Him as the Lover of mankind who reveals Himself to His beloved creatures, likewise we can’t understand ourselves as human beings, our salvation and our eternal destiny apart from our relationship with God and outside our concept of Him.
Man in God’s view is not just one out of billions of creatures, but God deals with him as His own image, beloved, and His own close friend. He founded all the world for his sake, and gave him authority even over the space. Therefore, when man was totally ruined his spirit and body the Word of God was incarnated to raise him up and to renew his nature. Through Incarnation, God revealed two things:
- God’s honorable sight of man, for the Word of God Himself became man and dwelt among us.
- He granted man freedom which sin had destroyed.
According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, the image of God in which man was created (Gen. 1:26) was his own free will, however, he spoiled it by his disobedience to God, thus he became incapable of interacting with God’s love, freely.
THE HUMAN NATURE
When we speak about “man and his redemption” or about the human nature and its renewal, we refer to man’s soul, mind and body, for Christ came as a perfect Man to renew “man” in his wholeness. Therefore, the Alexandria Fathers argued against the Gnostics who rejected the body and looked at it as an enemy. The Alexandrians were also interested in revealing the sanctification of mind: looking to science and philosophy as if it were not in enmity towards the mind.
GOD’S ROLE IN MAN’S SALVATION
After his fall, man became in need to enjoy the risen life, and at the same time he was in need for One who can redeem him by realizing God’s justice. These two requirements can’t be fulfilled except through the “Incarnation and the Resurrection.” The Word of God descended to us and became our Savior, to realize the following advantages to us:
1 . To declare the Creator’s goodness. He created man and He is able to renew his nature.
2. To join us with Himself (John 17:23).
3. To accomplish God’s sentence of death (2 Cor. 5:14) and to condemn sin (Rom. 8:3).
4 . To undergo death by His victory over death and His resurrection (I Cor. 15:21).
5. To conquer Satan, our enemy (I John 3:1).
6. To raise us up to heaven (Eph. 2:6).
7. To renew our nature in Him, and grant us participation in His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
8. To realize universality of the Church, by joining the Gentiles together with the Jews through faith in one Body.
9. To grant us the true knowledge (Matt. 11:27), for Jesus alone knows the Father.
MAN’S ROLE IN SALVATION
Grace is the center of the Alexandria theology, for God “first loved us” (I John 4:19), foreknew us (Rom. 8:29), chose us, predestined us, called us, justified us and glorified us. He wills, decides and acts for our salvation, but we never enjoy this free salvation unwillingly. God wills that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4), for He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turns from his way and lives (Ezek. 33:11). He offered His Son as the propitiation for the whole world (I John 2;2). Nevertheless, God asked us to choose the way we desire (Deut. 30:15,19), and to declare this choice through practical faith. Thus the good deeds that we practice by the divine grace are necessary and essential.
H.H. Pope Shenouda III, in his book “Salvation in the Orthodox Concept” presents many proofs of the importance of “good deeds” to our salvation:
- Evil work leads to eternal condemnation (Gal. 5:19,21; Eph. 5:5,6).
- Judgment will be based upon our deeds (Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29).
- Works are the fruit of true faith (Luke 3:8, James 2:14).
- Through good deeds we witness to our faith (James 2:18; Matt. 7:16, 17).
- Through our good deeds we witness to be children of God (I John 2:29; 3:9, 10).
- Works make faith perfect (James 2:22; 1: 2 7).
We have to distinguish between many kinds of good works as mentioned in the Holy Bible:
- The works of man’s own righteousness, when man trusts in his own power, his salvation is ruined.
- The works of the Lam), like circumcision, preserving the Sabbath in a solid way etc. If these works are performed literally they ruin the spiritual life.
- Good works which are the fruits of faith: The believer leans on the Lord’s breast and asks for the work of His divine grace under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; these works are necessary to our salvation.