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Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Theology Q&A

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Dr. J. Rodman Williams answers theological questions, exclusively on

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3. God - the Holy Trinity

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I know the Bible says God is omnipotent, but I was recently told that He is neither omniscient nor omnipresent. I am interested in your view.

To say that God is neither omniscient nor omnipresent is contrary to the biblical witness. I suggest the careful and prayerful reading of Psalm 139 for vindication of the high view of God's knowledge and presence.

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You stated that you believe that Jesus is God and shares the Godhead with God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. Then how can you say this is monotheistic?

This is a monotheistic statement because there is only one God. In the one God there is a trinity of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who exist in a mutual relationship of love. Whereas there is a distinction of persons, there is no division so that all three are fully the one God. There is mystery here, but Christian faith gladly proclaims in the words of a familiar hymn, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."

For more on this subject, see my book Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 4, "The Holy Trinity."

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In Psalm 29:1 KJV says: "Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength." How do we give God strength? Is the author referring to us worshipping God?

Yes, the Psalmist is referring to our worshipping God wherein we ascribe (NASB) to Him glory and strength. In "ascribing" to God we recognize that all glory and strength belong to Him. Read on to verse 2: "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in holy array."

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I have been wondering how God can tolerate: always having been in existence, not having anyone else around like Him (except the Trinity, of course), not knowing where He came from, knowing that He is the only one like Himself, knowing that there is no end and no beginning to His existence? How can He stand not knowing where He came from, that He will never end, and that nothing else is like Him?

I'm feeling sorry for God. What an awful position to be in! I know our thoughts are not His thoughts, but it still seems pretty awful to have no roots or to be the "One and only" of His kind in the universe.

You have raised a number of searching questions about the existence of God. However, there is no need to feel sorry for God in that He is the very essence of joy and beatitude. Always bear in mind that since God is a Trinity of persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- that He abides in eternal fellowship with one another. Though God is God alone, He is not a lonely God!

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My friend posed this question to me the other day. I would like your response. Does God need help from us?

God has need of nothing. He is the All-Sufficient One. Thus He is our helper in every situation and circumstance. This does not call for less zeal on our part but living and acting with the assurance that God is already there to help in whatever is needed. "God is a very present help," says the Psalmist (Psalm 46:1). What is there to fear?

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To me, some people (including many clergy) misunderstand the mystery of the Trinity by thinking that in heaven we shall only see one personality representing God and Jesus. In my understanding, however, we shall see both God the Father and Jesus Christ to whom the Father has given all power.

I would only add that we will also see God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. As one of our best known hymns puts it, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." The mystery of the Trinity is beyond our understanding: not two persons but three. The Holy Spirit is a unique person and hard to visualize, but He is as much God as the other two. Praise God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!

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God is omnipotent and omniscient. Therefore, when He puts you through tribulations in life, does He know that you will endure to the end or give up eventually?

Since God is both omnipotent and omniscient, He knows who will endure to the end or give up. His knowledge and power does not, however, mean that He is responsible for our actions. God sovereignly overrules our destiny without coercing it.

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If God is the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, He knows who will do what, and before people are born He will know who will go to heaven or hell. So if He knows who's going to hell, then why create them?

Though God knows all things including our future, this does not determine our destiny. We are free to make our own choices over which God's sovereignly rules.

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Some people teach that "God needs permission" before He can do anything on the earth. "God gave dominion to Adam," they say, "so God can't do anything without man's permission." This seems to contradict so many scriptures! Surely God's authority is not subordinate to man's authority. God isn't on a leash, is He? Please, I would appreciate a candid, clear answer to this question! Is this a false teaching?

A false teaching indeed. It undercuts the appreciation of God as almighty. The fact that God gave dominion to Adam over the earth does not diminish God's sovereignty. God does not need man's permission to do anything. This would be tantamount to making man into God. Perish the thought!

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Throughout the OT and NT God has always been exalted as "one." The "trinity" theory is contrary to the Bible. Many scriptures such as 1 Timothy 3:16 declare one God. Did not the trinity theory come about in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? The apostles didn't teach it, did they?

The basic thing to realize is that the apostles experienced God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their lives and ministry. They came to recognize God as Father in their daily contact with Jesus, God as Son in the presence of Jesus, and God as Holy Spirit through the experience of Pentecost. The Trinity is more than doctrine. It was and is to enter into a life-changing experience. None of this diminishes the fact that God is one.

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I am a Christian and was stunned the other day when a friend told me that there is not one scripture in the Bible that says there is such a thing as the Trinity. She said the Trinity was started by the Catholic Church many years ago. I've prayed and searched, but need your help to find scripture validating my belief in the Trinity.

Let me give you two verses-and there are many others-that validate Christian belief in the Trinity. First, there are Jesus' own words in Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Second, there are Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 13:14: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." Incidentally, the Catholic Church did not start the doctrine of the Trinity.

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Where did God come from? We know so much about His characteristics and how He wants us to live, but where did He come from?

God is the everlasting God. He is without beginning or ending. Human beings are temporal creatures whose days on earth are limited in number. With God there is no such limitation. Thus does God transcend everything in His creation.

God is the great "I am." He speaks to Moses: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:14). God is the eternal contemporary, the everlasting now.

For more on this, see my Renewal Theology, 1: pages 56-58.

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In Genesis 1:26, it reads, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." What is meant by "Let us" and "in our"? To whom is "us" and "our" referring in this passage?

The "us" and the "our" points to a plurality within God. God is one as the only God but exists as threefold: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Trinity is strongly intimated at this early stage in the Bible. Note that a plurality of persons is also suggested in Genesis 3:22 and in Genesis 11:7. See Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 4, "The Holy Trinity," for further elaboration.

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Even before He created heaven and earth or man and woman, God has always been. My husband and I both have wondered before this creation what God did all by Himself? We have always been curious but have never gotten a good answer.

God was never alone even before His act of creation. In the mystery of the Trinity, God always existed as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As such, in the one God there is fellowship eternally. In that sense, the one God is a society of persons. Yet each person is the one and only God. Love is the very nature of God. Each person of the Godhead eternally loves one another. This is all true long before there was a creation.

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Why did God blind the Jews (John 12:40) and not enable them to hear the word regarding His Son Jesus Christ?

The "blinding" of the Jews was not an arbitrary action on God's part but rather the result of their turning from His revelation in Christ. Jesus Himself gave them ample opportunity to receive the word but in general they refused.

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Some Christians pray to God the Father, praying in the name of Jesus the Son. Other Christians pray to Jesus. Whom should we address in our prayers? Some Christians say that The Lord's Prayer is our instruction in this. But Jesus was still with the apostles when He instructed them to pray "Our Father..." He couldn't have told them to pray to Him when He was still there. So this instruction doesn't seem to apply to Christians today.

Since God is Triune -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- we may equally well pray to any of the three. One helpful way is to pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit: to God as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier.

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ow can we absolve God of responsibility when the facts are as we apparently know them to be?

We understand God to be all knowing, past, present and future, as well as being the Creator. That being the case, God had to know in advance what the result of creating man would be. I understand God's love and man's free will, but how can we absolve God of responsibility when the facts are as we apparently know them to be? It seems like if there is an original sinner here, it would be God Himself. Don't you agree?

No, I do not agree. God truly knows in advance but is in no way responsible for sin. Sin originates in the freedom God gave man and angels. God is sovereign over the creatures' freedom but in no way coerces it. God knows the past, present, and future in detail, but such knowledge is not the same as responsibility for what happens.

For a fuller discussion of God's Omniscience, see Renewal Theology, 1, pages 73-77.

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If God is omnipotent how come he can't do evil?

Because God is altogether holy; therefore, He will not do anything that contradicts His character. God is totally without sin. God the Almighty One is also God the All Holy One. In His omnipotence, He can do everything consonant with His holy nature and nothing in contradiction.

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If God is sovereign, but I must choose His plan of salvation, then who is in control of my destiny? God or me? If the answer is me, then is God sovereign?

In answer to your question, you must bear in mind the paradox between God's sovereignty and man's response. Both are included in a true understanding of salvation. It is a paradox because it seems contradictory to speak thus of a divine-human relationship. However, God and man are not on the same level. God remains sovereign throughout. Man remains responsible for his actions.

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  Recently I had a non-Christian friend ask, "Who created God?" I tried to explain to her the best I could, but I think she left even more confused. How would you answer such a question?

In Isaiah 40:28 are the words about God where He is described as "the Everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth." God as creator is everlasting. If the creator were not everlasting, there would always remain the question, "Who created the Creator?" God is the great "I AM" (Exodus 3:14), without beginning or ending. There is mystery here to be sure, but unless God is everlasting creation could not exist.

· We know God is a triune entity, can there be any intellectual conceptualization of His nature or must we accept the Trinity on faith?

Intellectual conceptualization of God as triune-one being in three persons-is limited because we are reaching beyond what the human mind can comprehend. A material analogy, sometime drawn, is that of the one substance water which exists in three forms as liquid, ice, and steam. However, God is all three forms at the same time, and every form is a person. A frequent human analogy is that of man as the union in one being of body, soul, and spirit; however, God is both one being and three persons. Perhaps a better analogy is that of a human family consisting of father, mother, and child, thus three persons; however, the three persons are not one being. All such analogies are inadequate. We must accordingly turn to Scripture and Christian experience. Scripture bears witness both to God as one (Deuteronomy. 6:4, Mark 12:29) and three persons (Mark 1:10-12, Matt. 28:19). Further, in a full Christian experience, we are aware of there being only one God but also three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each of whom is wholly God. Thus it is not only a matter of accepting the Trinity on faith, but also of Scripture witness and the confirmation in Christian experience. See Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 4, "The Holy Trinity."

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  Each member of the Godhead has theological significance; what is their relation to us and to each other?

In regard to the three members of the Godhead and their relation to us, God the Father is the Creator, God the Son the Redeemer, God the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. In each case the other two persons are also active (for example, the Father creates through the Son and by the Holy Spirit), for God is one in being. We can say little about the inner relation of the persons of the Trinity to one another. However, since God is love (1 John 4:8), there must be the deepest possible relationship of love uniting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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  Does evil in the world preclude the existence of God? It has been said that evil in the world precludes the existence of God, or at least takes away from His divine nature. Is this reasoning flawed and if so, why?

Evil in the world does not preclude the existence of God, but it might seem to preclude the existence of a holy and righteous God. God, however, is not the source of evil. It is the result of the sin of angels first, then man, who in the freedom God gave them were disobedient to Him and thereby brought evil into God's creation.

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  Could you explain the term "begotten" found in the Scriptures and in various creeds as applied to the Second Person of the Trinity?

Jesus is described as "only begotten" (Greek, monogenes) in John 1:14 and 18; 3:16 and 18; and in 1 John 4:9. Most familiar is John 3:16: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." The "begotten" refers to an eternal begetting: there was never a time when the Son did not exist, for He is also God. In John 1:18 He is described as "the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father." In the mystery of the Trinity, both Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) are the one and only God; however, along with this essential identity there is a distinction of personhood; one God in three persons. The Nicene Creed speaks of "the one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father before all time…true God of true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father." As "only begotten," Christ is secondary to the Father, hence the Second Person of the Trinity; but as "true God of true God" He is as fully God as the Father: both are the one and only God. See Renewal Theology, 1: page 93, especially footnote 34.

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  Does God's omnipresence include hell and the lake of fire?

Hell is sometimes described in the Bible as a place of "outer darkness" (Matthew 8:11-12; 22:13, 25-30). It is therefore a place totally removed from God who is light. Omnipresence does not include hell, which is wholly the absence of God. The same thing is true of the lake of fire, which represents the agony of separation from God.

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  Why does God let bad things happen?

I have some friends who just lost their 3-week-old baby daughter due to a heart defect. If God is sovereign why would he let this happen? I know the Bible says so that His glory can be shown. It seems to me with my limited human knowledge to be a rather cruel way to show His glory. How can one keep from coming to the conclusion that they should blame God for taking her away? I do not believe Satan took her. She was being lifted up in prayer all over the world.

There is no simple answer to your question. God and His ways are often mysterious. The words of Job may be helpful: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21). " Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (verse 22). God in His power and love could have saved His own Son on the cross, but in the mystery of His divine purpose He did not. Should we blame God for allowing His Son to die? No, through an innocent death God fulfilled His purpose. Likewise, we must trust God in an innocent baby's death to be fulfilling His mysterious purpose. We may not know why, but we do trust him.

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  How does God's unchanging nature and His repentance relate to each other?

God is One who does not change. The universe is constantly undergoing a transition from one stage to another and human existence is marked by continuing alteration. With God there is no such mutability. "For I the LORD do not change" (Malachi 3:6). Thus does God transcend everything in His creation.

God is the Rock. He does not fluctuate from one event to the next. There is constancy and stability in all that He is and does. Hence, he is not evolving from one stage to another. There is no movement from some "primordial" nature to a "consequent" nature in any aspect of His being. God is not a becoming God, a growing God. God does not change. He is "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change [literally "with whom…change has no place"] (James 1:17). Likewise, the New Testament declares that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). God, whether Father or Son or Spirit, is One who changes not.

In God there is dependability and constancy in His being, acts, and purposes. The Old Testament sometimes speaks of God as "repenting" or changing His mind (e.g., Exodus 32:14). From the overall picture, the outward "repentance" does not signify a change in God's activity, but only His dependable response to man's behavior. God invariably acts the same: when man is obedient, God blesses; when man disobeys, God punishes; when man confesses his sin, God forgives. He "repents"; that is, He turns in the other direction.
Hence, God's repentance is not really a change in God, but it is His bringing to bear on the human situation some other aspect of His being and nature. God remains the same throughout.

It is important not to view God changelessness as that of hard, impersonal immobility. God is not like a statue, fixed and cold, but, quite the contrary, He relates to people. He is not the "unmoved Mover" but constantly moves upon and among men and nations. The flux and flow of life are not far away and far beneath Him. Indeed, He freely involved Himself in the life of a fickle and inconstant people to work out His purpose, and in the Incarnation he plunged totally into the maelstrom of human events. God in His own changelessness has experienced all the vicissitudes of human existence. This is the God-far from immobile and distant-who does not change.

See Renewal Theology, 1: pages 58-59.

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What is meant by "the glory of God"?

The climactic word to be spoken about God is that He is the God of Glory. The Scriptures abound with their declaration of the glory of God. In the Psalms are found, for example, such expressions as these: His glory is "above the heavens" (8:1); "the heavens declare the glory of God" (19:1 KJV); "the LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!" (24:10); "be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let thy glory be over all the earth!" (57:5); "the LORD…will appear in his glory" (102:16); "his glory is above earth and heaven" (148:13). But this is only a beginning; God's glory is attested throughout Scripture.

What then, is the glory of God? Perhaps the best answer is that the divine glory is the radiant splendor and awesome majesty of God Himself. Glory is not so much a particular attribute but the effulgence of splendor and majesty that shines through in every aspect of God's being and action.

Man, it should now be added, finds his highest fulfillment in relation to the divine glory. There is a deep desire in human nature to break through the limitations of finitude and to behold God as He is in Himself. Moses on one occasion cried out to God, "I pray thee, show me thy glory" (Exodus 33:18). Despite all that Moses had seen of God, he yearned to go yet higher and further. When Christ came to earth, says the fourth Gospel, "we…beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). Paul declared that God "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). So for the Christian there is more than Moses was able to receive during his life. But even for those who know Christ in this life, there is yet the consummation of glory in the world to come. For there at long last, the profoundest yearning of mankind to see God Himself will be gloriously fulfilled: "they shall see his face" (Revelation 22:4) throughout eternity!

God is the God of glory. Let us ever live to the praise of that glory. See Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 3, "God."

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  Explain John 14:28 when we believe in the Trinity with all persons being God?

This was put to me recently and I couldn't explain it and wish to understand it so I could explain it to others. It concerns Jesus' statement in John 14:28, "If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." How is this to be understood when we believe in the Trinity with all persons being God?

In order to answer, Jesus' words in John 14:28, "the Father is greater than I," may be compared with His words in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." This second statement clearly affirms His oneness in essence with the Father and that Jesus is also God. Note the following accusation of the Jews against Jesus "for blasphemy" "because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God" (verse 33). Also, the Jews wanted Jesus killed because He was "calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18).

Does John 14:28 teach otherwise? Does Jesus' statement about the Father being greater than He deny also His identity and equality with the Father? Not at all. In the Trinity there is both oneness of being and distinctness of persons. The Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, but the subordination is not the essence of their being. To understand this, it is to be noted that the relationship is one that inheres within the one divine reality. In other words, the Son is subordinate to the Father not in essence but in relationship. Both statements are true: "I and the Father are one" and "the Father is greater than I."

Greatness does not mean that God the Father is more divine in the Trinity than the Son, but that in personal relationship they exist in mutual reciprocity of giving and receiving. This is not unlike the relationship of earthly fathers and sons in which the priority belongs to the father rather than the son.

Finally, we may rejoice in both statements of Jesus: "I and the Father are one" and "the Father is greater than I." Both are important to maintain in a truly biblical understanding of the Triune God.

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