In the context of Trinitarian studies
It is true enough that this study could easily be placed in our understanding simply as favoring an economic understanding of the Trinity which understands God through divine actions, rather than an immanent understanding of the Trinity which seeks to understand God in his inner being. I view the image of God as he is in himself to be inherently incomplete and, taken by itself, to be essentially misleading about the nature of God – the very thing it intends to describe – and the nature of the world.
God as he is in himself has no actions and no intentions towards us. God as he is in himself does not reveal himself to us. God as we know him acts on our behalf, reaches out to us, and reveals himself. It follows that "God as he is in himself" is God as we hypothesize and imagine, rather than God as we know him. Our revealed glimpses into the life of God before creation are slim. In the act of creation, God disavows his isolation in favor of an outward-focused love of creation. Again in the act of Incarnation, God rejects isolation in favor of involvement. One more time in the coming of the Holy Spirit, God meets us within our own hearts and minds and comes to remain with us. In the intended future, the isolation of God – and the isolation of man – will be ended forever, with the people of God as the bride and with God himself as the bridegroom. Then the involvement of God with man will reach its consummation. This perspective is lost when we portray God in isolation.
While we may make able arguments for this perspective showing God in isolation, I would submit that this perspective cannot legitimately claim the place of the ultimate knowledge of God. The quest for the Immanent Trinity is a quest for God as he is in himself, without regard to creation. This is an attempt to pierce beyond this world, an attempt which shows our inclination to see this world as not quite real or not fully worthwhile, as fundamentally divided and separated from the realities of God. It is a perspective which assumes that the world is not essential to the understanding of God, and may even be an obstacle. Our solution is to strain beyond the world, beyond creation to find God there. God’s solution is the opposite: he draws the world to himself, and rather than draw us into an eternal abstraction, he draws the world –and himself – into an eternally realized incarnation. Our view of a world fundamentally divided and separated from the realities of God is precisely the kind of world that God’s actions seek to transform. The God that we know – the God who acts in history – acts to overcome that division and separation through his repeated acts of reaching out towards us and establishing fellowship with us, acts that he makes a lasting reality in the world.
This submission, then, is not only about these two approaches to knowing the Trinity, it is also about moving the proclamation of the Trinity forward from its veneration as dogma back out into the streets as kerygma: the proclamation of the goodness of God and the involvement of God as the foundation of the promise of the world’s redemption. It is difficult to proclaim or preach God as he is in himself; God as he is in himself has no interactions with us that need proclamation. However, the message of God in context, God in action is a message of the God who touches us, who transforms our lives. In a continuation of the act of creation, God transforms the world itself from something we need to get beyond in order to understand God, into something which bears and reveals the presence of God.
Thank you for the patience of all who stayed with me while I serialized this year's Trinity Blogging Summit submission. Many thanks to Nick Norelli for hosting and organizing the event; may there be many more!
As a footnote to the whole submission, I should mention that I am sympathetic to the goal of knowing God's essence, the persons and relations among them; and that I consider this to be an appreciably different enterprise from knowing God "as he is in himself" -- for reasons I hope I've explained. I hope that will be my topic at the TBS in a future year.