A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)
Something Better Than the Gospel
There is something even better than the good news, and that something is God. The good news of the gospel is that God has opened up the dynamics of his triune life and given us a share in that fellowship. But all of that good news only makes sense against the background of something even better than the good news: the goodness that is the perfection of God himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is first and foremost a teaching about who God is, and God the Trinity would have been God the Trinity whether he had revealed himself to us or not, whether he had redeemed us or not, whether he had created us or not.
Obviously, these “whether or not” statements are counterfactual: they are about situations that are not the case. God has in fact made himself known, has redeemed his people, and, to say the most obvious thing, has created us. That being the case, what is the good of asking hypothetical questions about what would have been the case if God had not done these things he has done? Indeed, isn’t it even ungrateful to forget, or to pretend to forget, God’s mighty acts?
No, in this case, far from being ungrateful, it is an opportunity to become more grateful. Hypothetical questions are useful tools for understanding how things really are by imagining how they might have been otherwise.1 They can be used as mental cures for sick patterns of thought.
Trinitarian before Time Began
If you are tempted to think that God’s triunity is something he puts on in order to reach some further goal, or to interact with the world, you can cure yourself of that tendency by thinking away the world and asking yourself: If there had been no world, would God have been Father, Son, and Spirit? If you are tempted to think of Christmas as the time when the Son of God first began to exist, you can cure yourself by asking: If the Son of God had not taken on human nature, would he still have been the Son of God?