Much like the previous, this post is inspired by Book 4 of Mere Christianity, specifically the 2nd through 4th chapters. It was previously discussed that the word begotten in the Greek refers not to "being born" but to the nature of a relationship and the uniqueness of one that is of the same fashion as another (similar to how a son can be of the same substance as his parents). Discussing this relationship often invariably leads to discussion of the Trinity, and being mere men, we often try to frame that mysterious relationship into the nature of our four dimensional thinking ( x, y, and z axes and time). This never works perfectly due to our being trapped in this four dimensional box.
To be honest, I'm glad it doesn't work. If the Godhead could be easily explained within our world, then I would fear we had a religion created within our four walls - this would be a religion created by man. To me, one of the great strengths of Christianity and the Bible is that the faith can not fit into our way of things. God must be bigger, and he must originate outside of our four walls of height, width, depth, and time. Either the Bible is a book with contradictions, or the Bible is a book which very carefully describes a Godhead that exists outside of our four walls to a people who can only personally experience what exists within those four walls.
I often enjoy the analogy of our mirrored selves. If you take a friend and look at yourselves in the mirror, and try to imagine their point of view, the struggle with being trapped in lesser dimensions describing someone of greater dimensions becomes clear. We, the 3-D "gods" look at the 2-D men in the mirror. We see and understand their depth - but what words can be used to describe to them the concept of depth. They are infinitely thin people. They have no concept of fatness as we think of fatness. We can even see in them characteristics that they can not even experience or perceive themselves (we see their depth yet they can not even experience it). If they were to describe us, they would struggle greatly to describe how our bellies stick out in front and our rears stick out in back while we still have a side to side. It is beyond them. They only exist on a perfectly flat plane.
I've known people who greatly struggle with the concept of the trinity. "How can ONE God be THREE people?" This struggle exists because we see separate things as separate. How can separate things/personalities/characteristics/etc. be one? One of the metaphors I've heard is that of marriage - and the two shall become one flesh. This works to an extent to describe how the Father and Son might be of the same mind and work together but this fails because in earthly marriage the two people are still two separate people, even in their oneness. Also, the Bible doesn't describe God's relationship within himself in terms of marriage. He uses this analogy to describe God's eventual relationship with his creation/or at least the new Jerusalem.
I've personally used additive light properties to give an analogy of the trinity (red, green and blue light combine to make white light in a fashion similar to how God the Father, the Son and the Spirit all are one God, represented by the white light). But this is still imperfect, as all three are fully God, but the three colors of light are not full in their spectrums - only the white is.
Lewis acknowledges that we are trapped by our dimensions, and uses the following analogy. Say you had four lines. We see four lines - four separate things. However, if we add a dimension, we can have a square. We still have four lines - four separate things, but we also have one thing - a square. We tend to only see the square. This progresses further when we add another dimension. Say we have six squares - six separate 2-D things. If we arrange them appropriately, we have the six sides of a cube. We (typically) would say we have a cube (a dice/a box). We, by our very nature see that as one thing - a cube. However, it is still six individual squares. This is where our natural understanding of dimensions ends, as it is the end of our experience. Just like the 2-D people in the mirror would greatly struggle with our mysterious "cube," we struggle with whatever dimensions exist outside of our box, and thus we struggle in describing God. We far too often try to 3-D Him when it is clear He is not merely a 3-D being. Up there, outside of our box, where God is in his fullness, there can be a connectedness of a separate three that still maintains a oneness, and each of those separate three are the fullness of the one. We are the mirror people trying to describe what is outside the mirror. We see dimly, and the words don't exist in our language which would be needed to describe God in his fullness.
Because of all of this, we also struggle greatly with the idea of the heavenly begotten relationship because there are no similar constructs in our world. We see things separate, and often this means we see one thing as coming before another. We see a first, second, third and fourth lines if they are to become a square. We seldom see four lines that have always been a square as four lines - we see them as a square. When the teacher asks, "what is this," we say "a square." We don't say "four lines." When we see four lines that are already a square, we only see the square and in our minds we lose the individuality of the lines - it's just the way we think. Lewis gives a good analogy of how Jesus can be God's only begotten, as he is described in the Bible, while still being eternal, which also is described in the Bible. He begins chapter four of book 3 with these words:
I begin this chapter by asking you to get a certain picture clear in your minds. Imagine two books lying on a table one on top of the other. Obviously the bottom book is keeping the other one up—supporting it. It is because of the underneath book that the top one is resting, say, two inches from the surface of the table instead of touching the table. Let us call the underneath book A and the top one B. The position of A is causing the position of B. That is clear?
Now let us imagine—it could not really happen, of course, but it will do for an illustration—let us imagine that both books have been in that position for ever and ever. In that case B's position would always have been resulting from A's position. But all the same, A's position would not have existed before B's position. In other words the result does not come after the cause. Of course, results usually do: you eat the cucumber first and have the indigestion afterwards. But it is not so with all causes, and results.
We live in a very first, second, third world, but God does not live in that world. He lives outside and above and beyond that world. To him, first, second and third could always have been, and they could have all always been first, and have all always been second, and have all always been third. We are stuck on a timeline. We see a beginning and a moving forward. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not yet. We say that if God can predict our tomorrow then he must have to cause our tomorrow, or influence us to force the result he sees, and thus we would not really have free will. It is the way of our world, but clearly it is not the way of God. The Bible proves this in multiple points.
2 Peter 3:8 says:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (ESV).
I love how the scripture is very careful to use the word "as" rather than "is" (this is true in the Greek, as well). The thought is an analogy and not an absolute time comparison. The Bible is not saying that every 1000 earth years is exactly one day with God. The Bible is also not saying that one earth day is 1000 years with God. But this scripture does paint a very clear picture that God does not operate in our linear timeline.
I've heard several people talk about how when God made man and man sinned, God had to come up with a plan to "fix" the unexpected problem. Ultimately, Jesus was that fix. Some say it took God thousands of years to figure it all out. This is very earthly, linear thinking. We see it as such:
While the above fits with our linear thinking - the Bible makes it clear that the truth is completely different. For one, God is all-knowing and nothing surprises him. Nothing. Consider the following.
Psalm 139:1-6 says:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it (italics mine).
Psalm 147:5 adds "Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; his understanding is infinite."
Revelation 13:8Revelation 13:5-9 (ESV)
5And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9If anyone has an ear, let him hear: makes it very clear that nothing in this world, including the original sin and the need for Jesus to go to the cross were a surprise to God. This verse says "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him (the beast - see previous verses), whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Let that sink in. In God's view of things, Jesus wasn't slain approximately 2000 years ago. He was slain before the foundation of the world! Before the very first atom of creation was made, in God's view of time, Jesus had already been slain. Salvation for sinners had already been won. The answer to the problem had already been given. Hallelujah! See also Revelation 17:8Revelation 17:8 (ESV)
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. , Ephesians 1:4Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love , Titus 1:2Titus 1:2 (ESV)
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began , and 1 Peter 1:19-201 Peter 1:19-20 (ESV)
but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you , which reads "but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you" (ESV).
While I will not attempt to give full explanation, and while my earthly sense of justice doesn't understand it, the Bible makes it clear that God knew all about sin and the destruction sin would cause, and with this knowledge, created the world as we know it. He knew there would be many who turned away. He knew many would be lost. He also pre-fashioned the answer for every single person before creation, leaving it up to the created to choose the salvation offered (salvation is withheld from no one; it is always our choice). My thought is that God wanted a people who would love him willingly and without coercion, and this was the only way to accomplish that. Other ways would have resulted in automatons without true free will. And without true free will, there is not true love and relationship.
Regardless, the fact that God did things this way shows that he operates outside of our timeline. With God, all time seems to be "now." Long before us creatures ever saw Jesus, Jesus had already died and rose again in God's eyes (see the many verses above). It's as if God's time is (at the very least) a plane and not a line. From any vantage point on that plane, the entirety of the earthly timeline will be visible and all those times, when viewed from God's perspective, are "now." With this, it is no longer that God is causing us to do one thing or another when he predicts our future in order to make his prediction come to pass. God is simply looking at us in our future, observing everything we have already done and will ever do. Wherever he looks in our timeline is already "now" to him. This is how he saw the sin and saw the need for a savior. In his perfect wisdom that is so far above our own, when he set in mind to make creation, he saw it all in an instant, and what he saw was the perfect way to make a people with whom he could have a perfect relationship. I honestly believe the entire history of the earth and the heavens, past and future, are as a single moment with God - and they can all be seen at once. He can, right now, look at any point in our history, and where God is looking is always now. This is why before he even began creation, he already had taken care of our sin, by "the lamb slain before the foundation of the world." Again, Hallelujah!
This also answers another question often posed by those who struggle with the Trinity. It is asked, "If God holds the whole universe in his hand and sustains it, who sustained the universe while he was the baby Jesus or dying on the cross?" Once you realize that God, by the very words of the Bible can not be trapped into our timeline, you realize that this question does not even need to be asked. When earth creatures saw the second member of the trinity dying on the cross, there was no concern about how God was at that same time upholding the universe because what we were seeing in that moment had already happened before the very world God upholds was even created. It's difficult to wrap our brains around this wonder, but this is clearly what the Bible says. We are just called to accept his Word whether or not it fits into how we perceive things. We are not called to force his Word to fit into our box. It is abundantly clear that the God who is outside our box is describing his ways to people in the box he created. We create our mirror people - but until the time when they break out of the mirror and into our world it will be very difficult for them to conceive of the existence we try to describe to them. In a sense, this is faith, and it is the same with us. Until that day when we meet our Savior face to face, will will not be able to fully experience or explain things clearly described in the Bible - because some of the things described in the Bible simply do not fit in our limited box of height, width, depth, and especially time.