Christians recognize and confess God as One in Three Persons according to what has been made known in Scripture: God the Father, God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:8-9). The members of the Godhead exist as distinct “personalities” (John 8:16-18), yet remain perfectly one in nature, purpose, will, and intention: in a word, one in relational unity (John 17:20-23). YHWH, the Creator God of Israel, is One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect unity (Genesis 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 8:58).
The triune nature of the Godhead is indeed a divine mystery, a matter we take by faith based on what God has made known about Himself. Such an understanding has always proven controversial; contentions regarding the nature of God consumed Christendom for its first half millennium, and to this day the triune reality of God is not well grasped by many.
Christians must be careful lest they make too much of the distinctions among the members of the Godhead; God’s unity remains a profound element of His nature, so much so that the Scriptures speak of God in the third person singular even though He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is danger in the opposite extreme as well in entirely conflating the Three Persons of the Godhead. Jesus Himself, as well as the authors of the New Testament, found profit in speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we therefore also do well to explore the Scriptures to see how we as Christians should relate to each member of the Godhead.
The danger of conflation is nowhere more apparent than with God the Father. Far too often discussions of “God” only involve understanding the triune nature of the Godhead; Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit get described in greater detail as distinct “personalities” while the Father is neglected. While Christians have good reason to refer to the whole Godhead as God, New Testament authors tend to refer specifically to the Father when they speak of God (e.g. Romans 1:1, 7).
Such conflation is understandable: most of what we imagine regarding God in general is specifically true of God the Father. God the Father is the Creator of heaven and earth, having spoken all things into existence by His Word (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 33:6-7, John 1:1-3). God the Father has all authority; any authority which exists is empowered by God the Father (Romans 13:1; cf. Matthew 28:18-19). God the Father has communicated His Word to mankind by the Spirit through the prophets and in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Furthermore, God the Father is not only spirit but also ineffable and literally inconceivable: as YHWH, the Existent One, no image can be fashioned which looks like Him, because no man has or could see Him as He is (John 4:24; Exodus 20:1-5, John 1:18, 6:46). Thus, whatever image we may have of God the Father in our minds inevitably proves wrong, and as humans, it is hard to identify with something or someone of whom you have difficulty mentally conceiving. And yet we are given assurances that Jesus is the express image of God, the imprint of His character; if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the essential character and nature of God (John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Indeed, Jesus represents the great testimony of God the Father’s love, grace, and mercy: the Father sent the Son into the world to redeem it by His death and resurrection, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11).
While the Father may seem more remote than the Son or the Spirit, He need not be; the Scriptures have made His desire for relational unity with humanity well-known (John 17:20-23, Acts 17:26-31). The great revelation we obtain from Jesus involves recognizing God as our heavenly Father: a loving parent, not a cantankerous curmudgeon (e.g. Matthew 6:8, 9, 14). God is our Father because we are His offspring, made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:28). God was under no compulsion to save us or care for us at all, and yet He gives good gifts to all mankind, and especially those who seek His purposes through His Son (Acts 14:17, Romans 8:31-32, James 1:17). God wants to hear from us truly and sincerely, as a parent loves to receive a word from his child (1 Peter 5:7). We are invited to see the Father in the tender portrayal of the father of the prodigal son and his older brother in Luke 15:11-32, full of compassion and mercy, welcoming all those who have grown weary of sin, darkness, and death, and gently (or, at times, not so gently) rebuking those who have considered righteousness their birthright. Having God as our Father ought to elevate our understanding of ourselves as human beings: we are of great value and we ought to act with integrity and dignity, seeking righteousness and holiness as He is righteous and holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Yet even as God is our Father, He is also seen as our Master, and we are His servants (Luke 17:7-10). We are the creation; He is our Creator; it is not for us to answer back to Him, but to heed what He says and do it (cf. Romans 9:19-21). God would rather be the kindly Father, but also warns that He will come in judgment against all unrighteousness and iniquity (Romans 1:18-20, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, 1 Peter 1:17-20). God is full of love, grace, and mercy; and yet He is also holy, righteous, and just!
We must resist drawing the wrong conclusions from the images of God as Father and God as Master: we are not entitled to salvation as a child would be entitled to his or her inheritance, and God is no oppressive taskmaster or tyrant. Instead, we ought to have the relational intimacy with God as a child does with a parent while proving willing to serve God as a benevolent Master.
From before the beginning until after the end, there is God (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 21:1-22:6). When it is all said and done, God will dwell in the midst of His people forever (Revelation 21:1-11). God the Father made us to love Him as He loves the Son, the Spirit, and us; in this life the Christian is to learn, grow, and mature so as to want God Himself, proving no longer satisfied merely with what God gives. Christians enjoy the great privilege of getting to know God the Father; we will spend eternity in His presence, basking in His light and love. May we draw near to God the Father through the Son and obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry