The essence of who God is important to people who take the first book of the bible at its word because the creation narratives imply that human beings are made in the image of God. If you can find yourself there it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith or intellect to think that not only human beings but also the entirety of the created order reflects the nature of God. Once there, God gets interesting, mysterious and complex… fast. Everything becomes sacred; everything, and our relationship with it, becomes important. From here we might conclude that we can learn as much about who God is by observing flora and fauna as we can by sitting in a church pew. For the believer the essence or nature of God has tremendous implications for how we live our lives, relate to one another and relate to the created order.
Before the Nicene Creed was finally adopted at Nicea in 325 a theologian and a Catholic Bishop argued about God’s essence, or nature. They weren’t pondering tadpoles turning into frogs but whether or not God created everything, including the Son. Arius the theologian maintained that God created everything, including Jesus, and Bishop Athanasius maintained that, from the beginning, the Father and the Son were co-creating the world and all that is in it. If you think about this from the perspective of an artist, Athanasius was saying that creation is the product of a collaboration and Arius that the created order was a solo effort without consultation.
In the midst of the vast changes and fragility of life Arius needed to believe in a God that was unchangeable. Arius believed that if God had a partner (an equal) that would mean that God needed a helper or, as Stephen Boyd puts it, that God would be vulnerable; that God could be affected by another and was therefore subject to change. For Arius, if God was subject to change God would be less powerful – vulnerable! Athanasius, as we have already indicated, held an opposite view. For Athanasius God’s power lies in God’s very nature which from the beginning was relational; that divine power is not that of a lone dictator but rather the collaborative love between the Father and the Son. For Athanasius the created order was the result of a conversation, not a soliloquy.
When finally agreeing on a doctrine of the Trinity with the Nicene Creed the church had taken the side of Bishop Athanasius and declared Arius as a heretic. God is powerful, the church said, and God’s power comes from being relational rather than dominant. While we can wonder whether the church has ever walked the Trinitarian walk rather than just talking its talk, theologians describe the relational nature of God with a beautiful word – perichoresis. Perichoresis is Greek in origin and is a combination of the word peri (around) and chorein (to go, make room for, contain, or perhaps… dance!). The theological term Perichoresis, in an attempt to describe God’s nature, indicates that God’s power is derived from intimacy – from each member of the Trinity dancing a collaborative dance, each member always giving and always receiving from the other. Nice, huh?
Sometimes we describe being subject to change and amending the essence of our lives to more so reflect God’s as a calling. When we realize “the change” we call it conversion. With the doctrine of the Trinity as a guide we can think of amending our lives to more so mirror God’s nature as a call to conversion but also as a call to conversation… to a greater and deeper conversation and a more intimate dance with the world around us. In our terribly troubled world, let’s pray that everyone might hear God calling to each of us and to the nations… “May I have this dance?”