It's All Relative
Wednesday of Pentecost 7
13 July 2016
Words can mean different things depending on the context in which they are used. If we don't pay close attention to the context we can badly misconstrue the meaning of the words used. It reminds me of the small child who before being taken to church is told that after the church service he and his family would be going to a baseball game. After the service, in which the pastor preached on the first three verses of Genesis, the child remarks to his parents that it was pretty cool that God was so interested in baseball. Intrigued by this observation his father asked, "What makes you think God is interested in baseball?" "Well," the child answered, "in the very first words of the Bible God talks about baseball, 'In the big inning...." The boy had heard the words "In the beginning," with a mind filled with excitement about baseball.
 
The same thing can happen with the same words which can mean different things in different contexts. For example, take the term "relativity." When Albert Einstein propounded his theory of relativity in physics the term was picked up by the popular culture and taken to mean that "everything was relative." Instantly, those who wished to call into question universal morals could simply retreat to the use of Einstein's word "relative." However, this use of the word relative was completely unlike the way in which Einstein had used it for his theory of physics. Einstein himself was deeply chagrined by this misunderstanding and abuse of the term "relativity." In fact, Einstein was of the opinion that his theory actually meant that morals could not be relative. This silly abuse of the term "relative" is still with us today. The term "relative" means something quite different when we say that time, energy, and matter are relative than when we say all morals are relative and therefore there are no universal or objectively binding moral rules.
 
The same situation obtains in the language that the Bible, and after it, the church, uses about the holy Trinity. For example, the terms Father and Son are used differently when they refer to the persons of the holy Trinity than when they are used relative to the creatures made by the holy Trinity. These are terms of relation, not terms of essence or substance. The Father is so called only in relation to the Son. It is not a description of the essence of the Trinity. The same situation obtains even in the human use of the word father. My children are daughters to me and I am their father. But I am not father in that same sense in relation to any other children. (This is why the many children in our culture, who do not know who their father is, stand in a very ambiguous position as son or daughter.) Yet it can also be said, that I am a father to the vicars whom I have trained. Here the word "father" is used in a very different way based on a different relation between the vicars and me on the one hand and me and my daughters on the other. The meaning of "father" varies depending on the relation being described. Augustine illustrated this by speaking of the way in which the Father and the Son is the beginning of all things. This means one thing in relation to us and another in the relation between the Father and the Son. Everything is relative, but only within the real context of its own relation.
Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"The Father is called Father relatively, and He is also relatively said to be the Beginning, and whatever else there may be of the kind. But He is called the Father in relation to the Son. He is called the Beginning in relation to all things, which are from Him. So the Son is relatively so called; He is called also relatively the Word (Jn 1:14) and the Image (Col 1:15). In all these titles He is referred to the Father, but the Father is called by none of them. The Son is also called the Beginning. For when it was said to Him, 'Who are You?' He replied, 'Even the Beginning, who also speaks to you' (Jn 8:25). But I ask, is He the beginning of the Father? For He intended to show Himself to be the Creator when He said that He was the beginning, as the Father also is the beginning of creation in that all things are from Him. For creator, too, is spoken relatively to creature, as master to servant. So when we say, both that the Father is the beginning, and that the Son is the beginning, we do not speak of two beginnings of the creature; since both the Father and the Son together is one beginning in respect to the creature, as one Creator, as one God.
 
"If whatever remains within itself and produces or works anything is a beginning to that thing which it produces or works; then we cannot deny that the Holy Spirit also is rightly called the beginning, since we do not separate Him from the title of Creator: and it is written of Him that He works; and assuredly, in working, He remains within Himself. For He Himself is not changed and turned into any of the things which He works. And see what it is that He works. 'There are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills ' (1Co 12:6-11). Certainly He does this as God, for who can work such great things but God? 'But it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone' (1Co 12:6). For if we are asked point by point concerning the Holy Spirit, we answer most truly that He is God; and with the Father and the Son together He is one God. Therefore, God is spoken of as one beginning in respect to the creature, not as two or three beginnings.

Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.13
1 Corinthians
12:1-12

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.
 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
 
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.   All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
 
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  
(ESV)
Prayer
O Lord, destroy our pride as we grope to use mere words to describe the indescribable. Grant us faith to see the invisible, to know the unknowable and speak the unspoken. Amen.
 
For all unborn children, that God would keep them safe in His place of nurture until He brings them forth from the womb
 
For the delegates at the 66th regular convention of the LCMS in Milwaukee, that they might complete business as they deal patiently and lovingly with one another
 
For all doctors and other health professionals, that they would help and not harm, so that God would gain the glory for the care they provide
Art: Durer, Albrecht   The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2016