This paper has been written by me in the course of my theological studies at European Nazarene College (www.eunc.edu). You may use this text as a part of your work provided that you give credits to its author – Petar Neychev. If you have questions – please, leave a comment or contact me through the Contact Us page.
Probably one of the most discussed topics about the nature of the God of the Christian religion (further referred to as God) is this of his personality. Where does the question “Is God personal?” lead us? On the surface it might even seem easy to defend the doctrine of a personal God using his incarnation in the body of Jesus Christ. This however, leads to the complication of explaining how God the Father and God the Holy Spirit fit under the characteristic “personal”, since the idea of God also incorporates the trinity. If one agrees to accept God as personal, how would they deal with the implications from that? On the other hand, if we say God is not personal, then how do we explain the clear explanation of the Bible about God’s active and results-producing relationship with creation?
Due to the vast variety of questions concerning God’s personality, in the current work I would like to guide the reader through a selected path of understanding the implications of it. Placed in the context of new-born Christians this aspect of God’s nature will inevitably lead to a crucial impact on the understanding of the trinity, redemption and salvation of humanity, and the all-encompassing development of the redeemed through their life.
Thus, I would like to set the foundation of this paper as follows: God is personal, and there is no need of further defense of that statement, although due to the interrelatedness of this presupposition with the inferences from it one may be presented partially. Second, the personal aspect of God’s nature plays a major role in the act of salvation of humanity. In addition, the spiritual growth and the maintenance of the relationship God-humanity and the understanding and implications of the trinity have to do with God being a personal God. These three I would like to discuss in the following pages.
A brief introduction to God’s love and the expression of it in creation is necessary before we continue with salvation and how God relates to people through it. One of the most encompassing aspects of God’s personality is his love. This aspect of itself can also be used for defending the claim that God is personal, because it suggests a certain type or relationship which cannot be accomplished in the interaction between mere substances. Thus, love inevitably comes out (results from) of the nature of the relationship God has with us. One may argue that this is a self-defending claim, but the fact that God initiated this relationship and he restores is must not be neglected, and from that follows that God is the beginning of the circle. Although at times it is underestimated as a significant point, God’s love is the connection between God himself and the salvation of humanity. By carefully examining the account of creation and the overall view of Scripture on it, it becomes clear that God did not need to create an object (creation) in order to be able to practice his love.(1) He could do that within his own person – the trinity.(2) Thus, it can be concluded that God has created out of his willingness to create, but not out of a necessity.
The freeing love of God which is found in humanity, meaning the free will of man given to him by God, has been misused and as a consequence of that the Fall of man occurred. After the Fall God’s love finds an expression in the deliverance of man. In thinking about this, today we tend to connect the terms “God” and “person” through Jesus Christ. This is a sound thinking, but in and of itself it does not embrace the fullness of God’s personal approach to the issue. Looking at the deliverance in the Old Testament story of Israel we see God revealed as a person, but this person is not bound (although it may at times be alluded to with expressions such as: God’s voice, for instance) to the in-flesh understanding which we associate with Jesus. The book of Exodus in its description of Yahwe’s interaction with Moses is painfully clear that God is present personally and through that he brings about the deliverance of the nation of Israel from Egypt. From this we see that because of his being personal in relationship with us in time God cannot be distant from us, although he is not dependent on creation. The result of all this is that God is present with us because he is a personal God.
Another result of the personality of God and his relationship with humanity is the incarnation of Jesus Christ, which was already mentioned. The significance of the incarnation is very much grounded in the fact that through the in-fleshing of God the humanity was and is able to comprehend him on a higher level. Besides the fact that Jesus came in a human body to become the all-satisfying blood sacrifice, simply by his coming he shows the power of God – that there is no limit as to how he is able to come present among us.
Although the applications of God’s “personhood” concerning man’s redemption and salvation are many more than what was said, and in fact beyond the scope of this paper, they are not the only area in which humanity meets God personally. God’s work in a human being is not restrained to salvation alone, but it continues in the cognitive, experiential, and physical development of that man or woman for the remaining of their lives. And in this area the personal incarnation of God in Jesus Christ impacts us on everyday basis. In his exemplary life Jesus stresses multiple times on the aspects of life, which distinguish us as persons.
It is the words of Jesus“love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34, GNB) that verbalize the idea of the interaction of a holy God with the fallen people, which are to seek back conformity to the image of a personal God in which they have been created. In Jesus we see the original image towards the restoration of which Christians are to progress. And this message of Christ does not stay in any opposition to the overall stress of the commandments which God gave to the people of Israel, for they also concern their communal life – the relationships among them and of them with their God. And I believe it is also worth mentioning that even as we talk about the nation of Israel and God’s story with them, we refer to the latter as their God, which suggests belonging and interaction, and these continually. So it is not only Jesus in the New Testament or the God of the Old that was personal to us and made a difference through that – today we still cry out “Our Father!”
In his book called God in the Present Tense D.S. Corlett states it very simple and yet powerful: “we can love an experience, but an experience cannot love us” (Corlett, 43). If there is any ambiguity as to what he means, it should vanish as we clarify that he is talking about entire sanctification – one of the major focuses of Christian life in the Wesleyan tradition. This is to say that nothing is possible with God if we consider him anything less than a person. Entire sanctification is to be a relationship in which we love God and due to his love for us, as we are in his presence we become closer and closer to him. This is in brief how Corlett puts in words the meaning of the personal God with whom we are in a personal relationship. And the practical applications and results of all that become evident in our relationships with the people in our world.
One of the most difficult aspects of God’s personality to comprehend for humans is the one which the doctrine of the trinity attempts to describe. It is also accepted that the Old and New Testament do not provide for us a clear doctrine, although one is needed to explain the mutual existence in compatibility as found in the Scripture of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the trinity is meant to describe how the person of God is in fact not as a human person, but in complicity reaches far beyond. To use a vague language – the trinity is the explanation of how three persons can be one.
As it was mentioned earlier, the relationship of love within the trinity – the way Jesus refers to the Father, and the Father to the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the midst of that, this relationship is a reason why we could say that God did not need to have an object to love because he can exercise his love within himself. It would be beneficial to add that the relationship within the trinity itself is a result of God being a personal God. Multiple times Jesus speaks of the Father suggesting a mutual knowledge, similar to which he wants us to have with him. Although there might be many questions about how things are within the being of God, this aspect of him will inevitably have impact on how we take God as an example for relationships.
As a conclusion of the brief review which was made on God’s personality and it’s meaning to Christians, I would like to mention a few main ideas. First, probably the most vivid result of God being a person is his presence in his creation, which is expressed through the relationship he has initiated and established. Second, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ speaks about his desire to re-establish the broken connection between creation and Creator, and continue to nourish it. Third, only through the relationship between us and God as persons will we grow towards the image humanity has been created in initially. And finally, although we may never comprehend the mystery of the trinity, today we should seek the importance it places on a relationship between persons.
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Corlett, David S., God in the present tense: the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1974
Dunning, H. Ray, Grace, Faith and Holiness. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988
Pinnok, Clark H., Most moved mover: a theology of God’s openness. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001
Strauss, Lehman, The first person: devotional studies on God the Father. Neptune, N. J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1967