“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4: 9-12, NRSV)
The God of Israel was radically different from the gods of the pagan empires (i.e., Babylonian, Sumerian, Syrian, Greek, Roman, etc.). The pagan gods required sacrifice, gifts, and loyalty from their subjects. In contrast, throughout the Old and New Testaments, our God is the One who makes sacrifices to demonstrate his love, who gives gifts to his children, and who promises to be faithful regardless of whether his created ones are faithful or not. There is no other god like our God!
One of the factors explaining God’s self-giving is that God doesn’t need our love, admiration, or even respect. God welcomes it, but God doesn’t need it. The other gods seem to need the devotion of others desperately and get very angry when they don’t get it from their subjects. God doesn’t need love, admiration, or respect because God has a healthy relationship with himself. What do I mean by this? God loves himself most appropriately, and therefore, God receives our love without needing our love.
So how is it that God loves himself? God exists in community with himself. We can only come to know God through the conceptual understanding of his trinitarian nature. God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or, for those who prefer, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer). Within the Trinity, all three expressions of his being reveal the fullness of God. Through the Trinity, we see God’s interaction and relationship with each aspect of his nature—in essence, we see God in a relationship with himself. The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Each loves the others equally. The love that exists within the Trinity is not rooted in egoism, or selfishness, or conceit. It is perfect love that delights in what each of these three expressions brings to the interrelatedness of our triune God. You might envision this as an equilateral and equiangular triangle (as opposed to any of the other triangles that don’t have equal sides).
Grasping God’s loving interaction as central to his being brings the trinitarian nature of God into sharper focus. God does not exist in isolation, but in love through an interrelated community with himself. There is no tension or conflict, for all three, though distinctive, are still One! God is perfect love, and perfect love creates a perfect community. With this communal aspect of the Trinity, we could add a series of three interlocking, equally-sized circles over the top of the triangle mentioned above to illustrate the Trinity.
This view of the Trinity ties in with our experience because if we want to learn to appropriately love our Selves, aside from egoism, selfishness, or conceit, we must also recognize that we are made for community. It is in our relationships with others where we learn how to love our Selves. While absent in the Trinity, tension, and conflict often reside in our relationships as we grapple with autonomy, boundaries, and competition; however, as we grow in the likeness and the image of God, we grow in our ability to see the “other” as equal. If you’re struggling in a relationship, or even finding a place in your community, then maybe it’s time to “be like God in the Trinity” and sacrifice out of love for another, give good gifts to those in need, and commit to doing good regardless of how others treat you. After all, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”