Saturday, 16 March 2013

Limitations of the Social Trinity

I was going to write the post below as a reply to Glen Scrivener's excellent Christ the Truth, but thought better of it.  It's too long and rambling for that, and also would be an unfair response on my part to the purpose of his original post.  Anyway, here is what I wrote once I got going.

I very much like the idea of the social Trinity, in the sense that it locates the image of God in mankind as being modeled on the relational.  I do have a few queries though, because the model of Trinitarian relating doesn't seem as perfect a fit as it first appears.  Am sorry for such a long and speculative reply, but your piece got my thought juices flowing (:D).  

- Does the theology of the social Trinity tend to reduce our vision of God to being essentially all about us?    

- Given that God is transparent to himself in his perichoretic unity, is it fair to transplant such a model onto finite male/female relationships?  

- And lastly, as fleshly beings we are opaque to one another in a way that love seems to increase rather than dispel.  

Love seems to obscure as much as it clears the way for us in our dealings with each other: love makes profound knowledge of the other possible, while at the same time opening up the way to all sorts of fantasy projections.  This seems to be built into our finite and limited reality as physical beings.  The more we love, the more we know, the more we are confronted by the unknowable paradox of the other - love can only take us so far before it reaches the brick wall of otherness which confronts it.  Our love and knowledge of one another is inherently limited and partial, in a way that God's is not.  I don't think that this is a bad thing at all, but it is distinctly different from Trinitarian perichoresis.  So, while I think that an analogy can be made between us and the Trinity in terms of love, knowledge, and sex, it must come with strong reservations.  To have sex, to "know" another person in this sense is more a distant echo of divine love and inter-penetration, rather than a direct analogy (primarily, of course, because sex does not involve inter-penetration between partners).  Fundamentally, it is sexual difference itself which seems to incite love and desire between men and women, whereas in God the difference between the Father and the Son appears to be more one of repetition, of difference in and through sameness.  You could argue that sexual desire is brought about through a similar process (we are after all the same species), but it is clearly not identical.  Also, the model of man-woman-child as an analogy between the Father, Son and Spirit is clearly faulty in that the child's existence is far more than the reality of the love between a man and a woman, which exists whether a child does or not.  This is not to deny that they are comparable, however.    

I'm just speculating now, but it seems to me that the closest we can come to attaining any sort of Trinitarian perichoresis - to know one another without reservation in the same way that God knows God - is through faith.  Not just through faith in Christ (obviously that!), but literally through making an imaginative leap over the chasm which separates us from the ones we love.  Faith working itself out through love gives us knowledge of the other, not in a certifiable way, but by providing a space in which we can meet that would otherwise be left blank.  This is the faith that the other is lovable in the absence of certainty.  Such faith actually produces the lovability that it posits as true in advance of knowledge - that is, we love through being loved, and we become loved because someone believes we are lovable, etc.  Only faith can create this cyclical logic of love for finite beings.  God's love for us (i.e. 'we love him because he first loved us') is not based on any kind of faith in our lovability, but is instead based upon his own nature.   What for God (the Father) is complete knowledge and love of the other (the Son), for us is a fragile commitment to one another in the darkness of uncertainty about whether we are actually worth loving.  This commitment allows that in the other (their lovability) which can only be known through such commitment to come to the fore - and in this way faith generates knowledge, bridging the gap between the known and the unknown.  Because our knowledge and our love is partial it needs a strong element of faith to bridge the gap.  In this sense, because no member of the Trinity needs to rely on faith to know and love any other member, our relationships with one another are not wholly comparable.  The difference between us and God in terms of perichoretic unity is fundamentally based upon our limitations as finite beings, and I suppose I think that the theology of the social Trinity would work better if it explored this difference more rather than focusing on the similarities.    


  1. Here's a link to an interesting discussion on the Social Trinity over at Ben Myer's Faith and Theology blog. Unfortunately the link to Halden's blog no longer works.

  2. David, write again. It's been too long.....