March 6, 2011

Simple Divine Partnership and Functional Limits of the Incarnation

This brief article outlines development of my partnership law model of the Trinity and my restrained power (functional limits) model of the Incarnation.[1] [2] Also, this brief perspective of the Trinity and Incarnation is consistent with the ancient church ecumenical creeds and my creed I Believe that includes the following:

I believe in one God, the only uncreated, always existing with maximal power, knowledge of all possibilities, unlimited love, justice, and as three distinct persons of one indivisible divine nature. The three divine persons eternally and equally share the same indivisible glory, honor, and ability.[3]

I briefly described how United States general partnerships provide an analogy for the Trinity. [4] A general partnership is a single entity with multiple persons who each represent all of the contractual powers of the partnership. In the case of a partnership with three partners, one partner has the same powers as any two or all three of the partners. Likewise, in some sense, each partner is identified as the single partnership. Moreover, this analogizes the ancient church fathers understanding of God as one indivisible divine essence existing as three distinct persons.

The analogy of a general partnership helps to explain the mystery of the Trinity with caveats. For example, general partnerships are a complex composite union with a beginning in time and an end while the Trinity is primarily simple with no beginning in time and no end. I describe the Trinity as "primarily simple" instead of the classical belief in absolute divine simplicity because primary simplicity evidently describes God and his relationship to creation. For example, Christ incarnated, which involved a person of the Trinity unifying with a specially created human nature. Likewise, the incarnation is a complex revelation of God to humanity. The divine nature never changed while God related to humanity with complex revelation.

This model imagines God apart from creation always existing as one simple God, three distinct persons, perfect love, justice, complete self-consciousness, exhaustive knowledge of all possibilities, and almighty power within physical consistency. All of these attributes of God are not parts of God, but God is a primarily simple entity. Also, God created the substance of everything else that exists while God personally relates to creation.

I also briefly compared the Incarnation to a power ratchet wrench with variable power settings for torque:
For example, a particular power ratchet wrench has a maximum torque of seventy foot-pound force while the wrench torque adjusts from one to seventy foot-pound force. In some uses of the wrench, the seventy foot-pound force would destroy the bolt so the wrench is sometimes set to a lesser torque such as ten foot-pound force. Likewise, for a particular job, the wrench operates at no more than ten foot-pound force while the wrench was fully compatible with working at seventy foot-pound force. The wrench never lost its full power, but temporarily used a setting of a lesser power. Also, when the wrench goes back to it full power, it never loses its ability to operate at lesser powers.

The example of the adjustable power ratchet wrench is a powerful analogy for the incarnation. The Son of God, the Almighty, temporarily limited his power to human limits on earth while remaining fully capable of creating new universes and knowing all possibilities. There is no impossibility, self-contradiction, incoherency, absurdity, or unintelligibly in this analogy of the Incarnation. In fact, it appears absurd to insist that a maximally powerful deity could not temporarily limit himself to a finite human life on earth. [6]

The particular power ratchet wrench always has the same potential while functioning at different modes of power at different times. Likewise, the wrench is always a seventy foot-pound force wrench regardless of the foot-pound force in use.

I still need to clarify various details of my perspective of the Incarnation. I'll begin by looking at biblical visions of Christ in Philippians 2:5–8 and Hebrews 1:1–4:
(5) Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
(6) who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
(7) but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
(8) he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5–8 NRSV)

Philippians 2:5–8 teaches that Jesus Christ was both God and human. He also emptied himself to servanthood and obedience to the Father.

(1) Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, (2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (3) He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (4) having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4 NRSV)

Hebrews 1:1–4 teaches the following: the Son of God and the Father created the worlds; the Son sustains all things by his powerful word; the Son sat at the right hand of the Father after the Son made purification for sins. This vision of the Son as creator and sustainer of all worlds indicates that the Son is omnipotent (almighty power within physical consistency), omniscient, and omnipresent.

These biblical visions also include tension:
1. The Son of God is omnipresent yet took on human nature in the image of God with a finite-sized human body.
2. The Son of God is omniscient yet during his earthly ministry professed ignorance compared to the Father (Mark 13:32).
3. The Son of God created all things and sustains all things yet during his earthly ministry professed ignorance compared to the Father.

In the case of the omnipresent Son, some may suppose that omnipresent nature is logically incompatible with a finite biological human body. However, the incarnate Son in no way was composed only of his biological body. There is no inherent incompatibility with an omnipresent nature joined to a finite biological body. Also, there is no inherent incompatibility with a human nature in the image of God extending omnipresently, regardless that human nature typically belongs to a finite creature.

My favorite analogy that helps to explain the mystery of the Son's omnipresence involves gravity. Gravitational force exists omnipresently in the spacetime universe while the root source of gravity is undetectable to science. In this case, theoretical physics speculation includes that the source of gravity exists in an empirically undetectable hyper-dimension. Also, the ubiquitous empirical evidence of gravitational force in the universe with an undetectable source resulted in science designating gravity as one of the four fundamental forces. Additionally, gravitational force from a body with a finite mass extends without limits.

In the case of the omniscient Son, some may suppose that omniscience is logically incompatible with temporary functional limits of knowledge (ignorance). However, there is no reason why an omniscient person cannot figure out how to temporarily function with limited knowledge for a special mission.

My model of functional limits in the incarnation pictures the ancient creedal interpretation of the Son incorporating human nature to his divine nature, which consequently resulted in the Son having a mind with two unified natures. The earthly life and death of the Son served multiple purposes that include exemplifying genuine dependence and obedience to the Father. The Son could always access to his omniscience but restrained his mind to limited knowledge while modeling dependence to the Father for our example. Also, a lack of temporary limits on the Son's omniscience might have trivialized his biological and emotional human experience.

Human long-term memory provides a powerful analogy for the temporary functional limits of the Son. Healthy adult humans have a large storage of long-term memory while most of that memory is never consciously thought about on a day-today basis. This vast storage of typically unconscious long-term memory helps to analogize how the Son remained omniscient while functioning with limited knowledge in his human body.

The mystery of the Son sustaining the universe during his earthly ministry remains unclear. The Son temporarily emptied himself and knew less than the Father about cosmic rule. Eventually, the Son mysteriously ascended back to consciously ruling and sustaining all things.

1. James Goetz, "The Partnership Law Model of the Trinity" (2010) URL =

2. James Goetz, "Restrained Power Model of the Incarnation" (2011) URL =

3. James Goetz, "I Believe" (2011), URL =

4. Goetz, "The Partnership Law Model of the Trinity."

5. Goetz, "Restrained Power Model of the Incarnation."

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 James Edward Goetz

No comments: