Gary Deddo, God’s Plan to Share His Love
Gary Deddo has a PhD from the University of Aberdeen. He is president of Grace Communion Seminary.
In this interview, Dr. Deddo discusses God’s plan to share his love throughout the universe.
JMF: Last time we were talking about the essential question – the “who” question – who is Jesus Christ? That gets us pretty quickly to the concept of who is God with us, and us with God, and the Trinity. But the Trinity is not most people’s favorite doctrine. It’s not clear to most people even what it is and what it means. I’d like to talk today about what difference that doctrine makes. Why is it important? What does it tell us about us, and who we are with God and God with us, that makes it worth knowing about?
GD: Right. Many people are beginning to ask that question, and they realize it has huge implications. In the New Testament we discover that Jesus is telling us, and the apostles and the writers of the New Testament tell us, that Jesus came to not only tell us about who God is, but to show us, in person, face-to-face – to answer the question, who is God in his being? The primary answer that Jesus gives us is that who he is, is the Son of the Father.
Often we describe God in terms of attributes – God is omnipotent, God is infinite, God is good, or merciful, or righteous or holy. But in the life of Jesus and in the teaching of Jesus, and in his whole being and character, in the New Testament – who is Jesus? Jesus describes himself – he is the Son of the Father. That’s who he is.
And then, who is His Father? He is the Father of the Son. And who is the Spirit? The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. He names God in Matthew, the Great Commission. We’ll see the one name – if we’re going to talk about who God is, what name does God give himself? We’re to go out and to baptize in the name – that’s singular, in the Greek – the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The God that we discover in Jesus Christ is the Father-Son-Spirit God. There is no other God except the Father, Son, Spirit God. That’s what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity – that who is God, the essential, rock-bottom, most concrete personal way to refer to God is “the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.”
JMF: That’s getting on to something important, because typically we grow up going to church listening to talk about God, reading the Bible, we get the idea that the Father is God, and he’s way out there in the sky somewhere on his throne, watching us – just like the song, God is out there watching us, from a distance. Jesus comes as his Son and he has a different idea, a better idea – he does away with the law and the judgment thing, and he brings hope and salvation and assuages the Father’s wrath. There’s two different minds going on – attitudes toward humanity. God is pretty mad about us breaking the law, but Jesus is getting things patched up.
But the doctrine of the Trinity, as Scripture unveils it, helps us see that there’s no such thing as a Father “out there” who isn’t the one who loves humanity so much that he sends the Son. There’s no such thing as Jesus Christ who isn’t one with the Father and they are feeling, thinking, being the same way toward us. If we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the Father, and we don’t have to worry that the Father might be different from the way Jesus is.
GD: Yeah. We don’t realize fully the implications, and so our reflecting on this, theologically, is to pay very careful attention. Jesus is saying, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Or Jesus tells us, “I only do that which I see the Father doing.” So we think, in “persons,” there’s some kind of difference or slip between one person or another, between a father and a son, or between one friend and another, or between a husband and a wife. What Jesus is telling us is there is no slippage – “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” “Whatever you see me doing, I am doing what the Father is doing.”
Theologically, what we say is they’re one in being and in action – they are united. There isn’t any slippage. Jesus is showing us the heart of the Father. Why did the Father send the Son in the power of the Spirit? So that Jesus might show us the Father and take us to the Father and give us his Spirit. The Christian life is sharing in the life of the Trinity – to know Jesus, is to see reflected in him, the truth about the Father.
JMF: What difference does that make? The life of the Trinity – what is that? What are we talking about?
GD: It means that there’s no God behind the God revealed and acting in Jesus. There’s no difference, there’s no slippage. We often want to think the Father is of a different attitude than the Son. Or has different priorities, or different concerns. No. There’s no slippage. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” “To love me is to love the Father.” “To know the Father is to know me.” “To know me is to know the Father.” “To do the things I had to do is to do the things that the Father is doing.”
There isn’t any slippage – in Jesus we have the self-revelation of God to humanity. The only way to know God is to know God in and through Christ. Otherwise, we’re engaged in theological speculation – just making up in our own minds, independent of what God reveals. Jesus is here to show us the Father, that we might love the Father with the same love with which he has, and that we might receive from the Father, the same love he has in the Son. This is all throughout the Gospel of John.
JMF: We tend to think of God loving us only if we do well enough, if we behave well enough – then he’ll love us. If we change our behavior and say the sinner’s prayer, then he’ll love us. He mad, but he’ll change his mind toward us if we believe in Jesus and then he will say, “Ok, now, I love you.”
But that leaves us with the fear that, if we fall short again, or we have a day of doubt, or we don’t have the kind of faith we had at the moment we did that – he’ll get mad at us again. It depends on our level of behavior and faith, but it isn’t always that great. So, we’re never sure that he’s on our side or loves us right now, especially if we’ve done something we ought not to do. But Jesus being human, and us having some kind of union with him through that humanity, how does that work?
GD: God turns out to be not a lonely God, but a God who lives in the fullness of holy and good fellowship. Jesus, from all eternity before he was incarnate, the Son of God, lives in fellowship and communion with the Father and in the Spirit. God himself is communion – is fellowship. God has never been a lonely God, all by himself, or looking for someone to love… “so I had to create a universe.”
God is the fullness of loving, holy communion, and fellowship and togetherness. So Jesus talks about the love he has known from all eternity – and he is returning to that. God is the fullness of loving fellowship and communion – such that if God were not that loving fellowship and communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God would not be God. The only God that is, is the Father, Son, Spirit God, who is loving, communion and fellowship.
When God creates, he has nothing other in mind – to create something that would also experience a part of that love – God is in fellowship and communion – a right relationship. It is right, it is good, it is holy fellowship – loving – or even a covenant relationship.
When God creates, he creates for the purpose of fellowship and communion. To bless us with all the fellowship and communion that the Trinity has. I picture it like this: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit says, “It’s so great, our fellowship, and communion, and love for each… is so holy, is so good, it’s so full of life. There’s so much loving in our communion that it could fill a universe.” Then they think, “Oh, wait a minute. There isn’t a universe yet. But it’s just overflowing, it’s kind of going to waste. Can we do something about that?” The idea of creation was for God to create something to love with the same love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have with each other.
Now, it’s not God – we can’t return that love in exactly the same way. But it could be loved by God. And so creation is the overflow of the fellowship and communion of God. To create that which is not God, and yet love it in the same way, with the same love – so God creates that. So creation is created for the purpose and the end and aim of fellowship and communion – to be together with God and to belong to God. This is why God says to Israel, “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” It is for that fellowship, communion and love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have had from all eternity – they extend that, to that which is not God – which is amazing!
Now, when this creation resists that love and that fellowship – the Fall – then does God give up on that plan – to have fellowship and communion with the creation that he loves with the same love that the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son? No. He doesn’t give up – because, why? Because God’s love is faithful – he makes a promise, he is true to his word. So when we resist that, what does God do? God has an eternal plan – and it’s as if from all eternity, the Father and the Son think, “If we create this creation, it’s not going to be us. It’s going to be something other than us, it won’t be able to return that love in exactly the same way. And what if it resists, do we know what to do with that?” The Father, Son, Holy Spirit says, “Yeah, we know how to fix that, even if that goes wrong. We know what to do about that.”
But… “Are we willing to pay the price? If that goes horribly wrong, and they end up being deceived about the very love with which we’re loving them, and they won’t receive it and reflect it back, are we willing to pay the price?” And the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit say, “Yes, because we love it, we are perfectly willing to pay whatever price, even if it costs us pain and suffering even in our own relationships. We will bear that cost.”
In that overflow of love, God anticipated even things going wrong. God creates in love, and God anticipates and is prepared to redeem that creation, if and when it goes wrong. God did anticipate and knew what would go wrong, and said, “Nevertheless, we will love it, we will redeem it, and we will bring it to perfection.”
JMF: The love of God brings the creation into existence, the love of God redeems the creation, where is there a place for God not loving the creation? It sounds like there is no such place, that’s what it’s all about. Jesus enters into it as a human being, as one of us, he says, “If I’m with you, I’ll draw everyone to myself.” In him, with his union with him that we have, we are drawn into this relationship – Father, Son, and Spirit, by being in union with the Son, in that relationship. What does that mean for us practically, right now and in the future?
GD: When the relationship is broken off, it needs to be restored. But it needs to be restored from the inside out – or all the way down to the bottom of our very being. When the relationship is broken off, it affects our very nature, our very being. God opposes that. God opposes whatever opposes his good purposes, for us to be in right relationship with God, to enjoy that fellowship and communion that is a reflection of the fellowship and communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So God says, “No” to whatever resists his eternal good purposes for his creation.
God says “Yes” to humanity – that is, “I will be your God, you will be my people and we will enjoy a fellowship and communion together.” When we say, “no” to that, God says “no” to our “no” to him. But notice, he is not changing his mind. His “no” reinforces his “yes” – in other words, his “no” negates our “no.” Which is to say, “I said ‘yes’ and I mean it.”
In order to restore, to reconcile us to God, he has to do something very radical. He has to not just tell us words from heaven, or give us instructions. He actually has to connect himself up with the very root of our being, and transform us from the inside out. He did this in sending the Son – he actually joins himself up with humanity. In and through humanity with all of creation, makes himself one with us at the very level of our being.
This is what we mean as the Son of God who is one with the Father and the Spirit – we say that’s his divinity. Then he becomes one with humanity. Who is this Jesus? He is the Son of God, one with the Father, therefore divine, and one with humanity, therefore fully and truly human.
So God connects himself up to the root of our being, with who we are, in order to transform us, renew us, restore us and bring us back into that right relationship, so that promise fulfilled, I will be your God and you will be my people, might come to fruition. But what’s wrong, so radically wrong that he has to have a radical correction – nothing less than God himself linking up, hooking himself up and uniting himself with humanity at the root of our being. Jesus is one with us, and we belong to him, there at the root of our being.
So the Incarnation becomes an amazing thing that shows the extent of the love of God. That to heal us, to redeem us, to bring us back in right relationship, he unites himself to us at the root of our being. He not just says something from on high, or sprinkles fairy dust on us from a distance – but he heals us by becoming united to us, one with us.
JMF: Then this union is true of all human beings, whether they’re believers or not. What is the difference in the way this union plays out between a believer and unbeliever?
GD: We have to go all the way back to creation. As the apostle Paul reminds us, everything was created from the Father through the Son, and everything is through the Son, for the Son, and to the Son, from all eternity. Creation belongs to God by virtue of creation, whether people recognize it or not. No human life takes place without God giving it life. We don’t have life in ourselves. The life we have, even of those who are resisting God, is coming from God. God is lending them life. We belong to God by virtue of creation.
The history of the human race is resisting God, and resisting that relationship, which means resisting receiving from God that life, and even righteousness itself. Right life, right relationship, we resist that. The relationship is broken. But everyone, everything belongs to God, and it has no power to get life from somewhere else – or to cut itself off entirely, totally or absolutely, where we cease to exist. Existence itself is a gift of God. Nothing exists in and of itself, by itself – as if it was an Energizer Bunny, with its own life-giving and existence-giving battery pack. When it breaks itself off, renewed life also comes from God as a gift. What God is doing in Christ is renewing and restoring that relationship so that we might belong to God in a deeper way – to be reconciled to God – and that it might lead to a third phase, of a glorified union.
When we’re talking about our relationship with Christ – it’s a relational dynamic – it has a beginning – creation. It has a middle – Fall and Reconciliation. But it has a future that we haven’t reached yet, which is a Fulfillment and Consummation. It’s a relational dynamic, rather than a static thing. Our relationship with God has these three phases.
The initiative is with God, the reality is established. All creation belongs to God by virtue of creation – and that is through the Son of God. But it also belongs to God by virtue of redemption. God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos, the world to himself [2 Corinthians 5:19]. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
God is reconciling to the world now by the Holy Spirit – we are then where we receive that reconciliation. God has made up his mind – not only about creation originally – but a resistant creation. He will love us, and love us till the end. That’s what we see of Jesus, washing even Judas’ feet. He loved them to the end. God has made up his mind about us. Jesus is not changing the mind of the Father. He is representing the mind of the Father, who comes to us, unites himself to us, to lift us back up, to transform us, and to send our sins to hell – to condemn the sin and yet rescue us from ourselves, back into right relationship, to share in the Son’s perfect relationship with the Father as Jesus’ brothers and sisters to do that.
Now, will we participate in that right relationship? Will we trust that God has reconciled himself, that he has nothing against us, because it’s all been made right by God himself through the Son and in the Spirit? God offers his word of reconciliation – you are forgiven, you are atoned… because God loves…
JMF: And that’s true before you ever come faith…
GD: That’s right. We’re offered his forgiveness. We’re offered reconciliation. We’re offered the right relationship.
JMF: And yet, it’s a reconciliation that is already so, we’re offered to receive what is already true…
GD: Right. Do we trust that word, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”
JMF: Every believer was once an unbeliever.
GD: Those who are believers are those who are telling the truth. God is the great creator, God is the great reconciler, God is the one who has atoned for all sin, God has reconciled humanity. I accept that, receive that, believe it and live by it and in it. So the order is: because God loves, God atones, he extends forgiveness to us.
Believing is accepting the forgiveness that’s offered to us in and through the person and work of Christ. When we confess Christ, we’re telling the truth about who God is. God is the creator, God is the reconciler, God is the one who’s made atonement. I am trusting and loving that. So I repent of my unbelief, I repent of not trusting in God being the reconciler. I repent of not trusting God to be my good Creator.
What then should we do? What behavior follows? What response follows the offer of forgiveness? It is confession of sin, it is repentance. It’s turning around and saying, “I trust your forgiveness. I trust your eternal purposes. I want to live in the middle of that right relationship that you have for me.” Our forgiveness does not change God’s mind about us. Even Jesus’ atoning work does not change the Father’s mind. The Father sends the Son because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit love us and want to be in right relationship with us. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all of one mind. “We want our original creative purposes to be fulfilled, and we have done everything necessary for that to take place.”
In the power of the Spirit, as we submit to that, we repent and we believe to receive the gift that’s already there for us. When we repent, we are admitting our guilt, but it is God’s forgiveness. He doesn’t say, “If you repent then I forgive you.” He says, “I forgive you, so repent.”
“The kingdom of God is at hand,” Jesus says, “so repent.” Peter preached in Acts the whole work of God from Creation through Redemption, and then those listening said, “What then shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent.” Repenting is receiving the gift of the completed work of Christ for us. That represents the mind of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. To deny that the Father and Son are of one mind and purpose, is to deny the divinity of Christ, is to tear apart God and make three Gods differently. No, Jesus shows us the Father and takes us to the Spirit. The whole God is the redeeming, atoning, and forgiving God, and in the power of the Spirit, we receive that.
JMF: So our repentance doesn’t change God’s mind. It’s a change of our mind to accept the truth of what it is.
GD: Right. It’s to put our trust or faith in it and to stop trusting in ourselves – especially stop trusting in our own efforts to change God’s mind about us so that he accepts us.
JMF: There’s a certain rest in that.