Ernest Skublics eschews the idea that we all worship the same God and insists on the relational aspect of God, the verb not the noun
It is one of those nice, unquestioned modern assumptions, that in ‘the Abrahamic Religions’, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we have at least the same God in common. OK, yes and no. It is the same God. But understanding the immense implications of his/their Trinitarian nature makes all the difference in the world. Why?
In recent years personhood and relationality have received increasing attention, not least in theology and ecclesiology. The work of Metropolitan John Zizioulas has pressed the insight that all being is a matter of communion: a web of relationships, and this is especially so in the case of persons who, in the image and likeness of God, are embodied relationships, their unique and irreducible identities being determined and defined by their relationships, rather than by some isolated individuality.
A personal God
There are indeed scientists, biologists and physicists, who insist that even sub-atomic particles cannot be understood except in their relationships, so much so that the relationship has perhaps a certain priority over the individual particle. While this impossible-sounding suggestion stretches our imagination, St Augustine already spoke of’subsistent relations in the Trinity’. And St Thomas Aquinas, eight centuries later, bluntly refers to the three divine persons as being subsistent relations.
We tend to think of relationships as something pre-existent individuals get involved in. They first exist, perhaps quite self-sufficiently and separately, and then they enter some sort of a relationship with each other. Our long-standing theological tradition, on the contrary, challenges us to see the relationship, the relationality, the act of relating, in other words of loving, as prior, and determinative, of the personhood, its uniqueness and definition. You become a Father through generating a Son, and you become a Son through being generated. Without the relational activity there is no static personhood. Without the act of loving, there is no person!
So is this what is meant by the saying that God is Love? In fact, another supposedly modern notion has been that, instead of calling God by nouns, we should refer to him by verbs. How about Loving? And then we discover that Aquinas, again, in Aristotelian fashion, has said that God is Pure Act. God is not a potential, a passive, static, ‘Perhaps-1-May’, for then something could be added to God, and that would be more than God. No, nothing can be added to the God who ‘Is-fhe-Loving’, the ’embodied’, ‘personified’, subsistent relationship.
Being in relationship
Now it is because this is the nature of our Trinitarian God, who is unimaginable as a solitary monad, that his nature, his very constitutive Act of Being, is Loving. If God were a solitary, single Principle, satisfied to be One, could he be identified as the God of Jesus, the God who is Love? An elderly gentleman, whose son I was asked to bury, and whom I asked what he thought about God, since nobody in the family ever went to church, said to me, ‘I know there is something out there…’
Well, a Jew and a Muslim can see him a bit clearer than as just a ‘something’. Yahweh, or Allah, is the personal Source and Origin of all that is. But, if people do not understand that the structure of this God, the make-up of God, the Being of God and the internal Activity that God is, the very thing that defines and determines and characterizes God, is the perennial, loving relating that constitutes the personal reality of God, can they be all worshipping the same God, who is Love? And would their religious, cultural, political and behavioural ideals be based on love? Or would loving your neighbour be complemented by hating your enemy, and would conquering by violence be seen as a religious duty?
The foundation of the one Great Commandment in Christianity, which is not just an externally imposed Law but the very structure of Christian being, is the Trinitarian God, whose pattern has shaped all of reality.