I remember being told in 5th grade that the distance from the Earth to the Sun was "one astronomical unit." I felt ripped off. Sure, it was easier to remember than "about 93 million miles" or even "8 light minutes," but it seemed so self-referential. (1/13) Image
What kind of measurement is that? Smart aleck that I was (you know, back then), I immediately filled out the rest of the solar system with tautological measures: Mars is one Martian unit away; Jupiter one Jovian unit; Pluto (you know, back then) one Plutonian unit. (2/13)
"One astronomical unit" also has to be further specified: it's the average distance (taking into account a 3% variance in Earth's distance from Sun during the year) between the centers, not the surfaces. And there it is, precisely one EarthToSun. (3/13)
Later, when they told me that the measure of the sun's luminosity was exactly 1 L☉, there was no end to my rage & disappointment (Yes, Beatrix Potter readers, I was a veritable Tom Thumb & Hunka Munka). Ripped off again! (4/13)
I got over it. Earth-to-sun measures are cozy & homey, but what's comical about them is that more objective or constant measures are readily available. Exporting this local unit to galactic measures would be goofy; a vain effort to convey an impression of relative scale. (5/13)
Some time after 5th grade (let's say One Maturity Unit), I started studying theology. There I learned that God is immense. Not just big (which is what we commonly use the word to mean), but literally im-mense, without measure. Fathomless. No roof. Depth not to be plumbed. (6/13)
In the theology of the divine attributes, God's immensity means that you can refer to "God without Measure" (as John Webster titled a set of his best essays), or you could also say that God is his own measure. (7/13)
"To whom will you liken Me or count Me equal?" (Isaiah 46:5) is a rhetorical question implying the answer "absolutely nobody." But the reflexivity of "I am that I am" offers us exactly one meaningful correspondence: God. (8/13)
Do we feel ripped off by this tautological divine measure, as I did by being told the Sun was one astronomical unit from Earth? We shouldn't. In the case of God, there are no other available measures; divine immensity entails that God corresponds to God and only to God. (9/13)
So the answer to all the questions that an inquiring mind might press about God is simply God. How big is God? If you insist on being given a unit of measure, that measure will be God. He is his own measure. God is one God unit big. (10/13)
How old is God? God. What category or class is God in? God. What color is God? You get the idea. In each case we could either reply with the strict negative ("your question does not apply to this topic") or with reference to God in his simplicity, immensity, & aseity. (11/13)
Augustine calls God "Good without quality, great without quantity, everywhere without place" and so on. This is an austere answer, reducing all your categories (and Aristotle's!) to mere gestures Godward. It's good medicine for an intellect with an inflamed appetite. (12/13)
But so is the alternative explanatory strategy of using some categories to redirect our attention to God's self-sufficiency, a self-sufficiency that extends even to the possibilities of divine measurement. God is God; exactly one God. (13/13)

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More from @FredFredSanders

10 Jun
I'm writing up a report on how WB Pope translated over a dozen works of conservative German biblical scholarship in the 1850s (in his 30s, before publishing his own stuff). A brilliant strategic move, building up the kind of Bible work he wanted to interact with. GENIUS.
I found David Lincicum's 2018 articles on this "fight liberal German critical influence by translating lots of conservative German biblical work" movement. T&T Clark published many volumes from many scholars. One translator worth noting: Sophia Susannah Taylor (1817–1911)
Lincicum's entry on her in Oxford DNB says she translated 23 volumes over 35yrs! "Although she has been almost entirely neglected by subsequent scholarship, her productivity marks her as one of the most accomplished translators of theological literature in the Victorian period."
Read 7 tweets
8 Jun
Interpreting the cross as a revelation of innertrinitarian agony is a bad habit, & a recent one. What we ought to see on the cross is the human death of the divine Son, not a partial eclipse of the Father/Son relation. Reading WB Pope (about 150 years back) helps with this:
Pope says "the incarnate Redeemer, in these the days of His flesh, felt in all its purity & force the recoil of life from dissolution that belongs to human nature..." That is, the Son felt human death par excellence. "But death came not to Him after the common visitation of man."
I think a lot of modern preachers would reach, at this point, for a Father-Son claim (turned away, broke fellowship, etc). But Pope leans into the dissolution in the assumed nature: "No created being will ever know the agony that separated the soul & body of the Lamb of God."
Read 5 tweets
15 Feb
Here is a pretty good Trinity hymn by Joseph Hart (1712-1768). Hart is uneven as a hymn-writer (he can be didactic & predictable in way that makes you long for Watts & Wesley), but he has some excellent moments. archive.org/details/hymnsc…
He starts with the obligatory warning about what no created intelligence can fully comprehend about the Trinity, or even about the Trinity's work in salvation:
But moves quickly to his main point: Christian experience is firmly based on the work of the Trinity in salvation. This link between the nature of salvation and the triunity of God is the focus of the hymn.
Read 8 tweets
24 Dec 20
Christmas Trinity: Only the Son is incarnate, but the incarnation is the work of the whole Trinity. You can see why a distinction is helpful here: to recognize the undivided work of God toward us, but to specify the Son's incarnation exclusively.
Luther loved to use a homey image for this (one which he attributed to Bonaventure). The incarnation is like three girls putting a garment onto one of them: all three put it on, but only one has it put onto her.
Is it possible to be more precise? Well, although the work is undivided, the distinct persons are evident in the incarnation in a way that corresponds to their order of existence within the eternal relations: the Father unbegotten, the Son begotten, the Spirit proceeding.
Read 20 tweets
12 Aug 20
Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1818-1902) annoys me. His doctrine of salvation is so beautifully transparent to the doctrine of the Trinity that I just can't keep myself from quoting him. He really gets it: the way grace flows from God's eternal triune being. Exactly right.
Even when I don't quote Palmer verbatim, or footnote him, I've incorporated some of his way of putting things into my own formulations: grace is anchored in the triune relations, etc.
But wait: why would I avoid quoting, footnoting, or naming this author who is so good on this?
Because BM Palmer was an apologist for southern slavery. And not just a little: he was informed, active, & influential. He preached secession, he connected slavery to God's providential purpose for southern Christian civilization. All the way through; the whole catastrophe.
Read 9 tweets
18 Jun 20
One way we remind each other of the awesome condescension of God is saying things like "the God who made the universe loves you, knows you by name." And we wave our hands around to gesture at the entire universe, to establish some perspective: All that! Its maker! Little old you!
That's good stuff. (Waves hands around & points to universe to establish perspective.) But there's something beyond that: God is greater than just being a universe-maker. In the depths of the divine being, God is great, greater. Not just big, but without measure.
Waving your hands around & pointing to that measureless depth of divinity, infinitely more than all of creation, is even harder than gesturing at the universe. What gesture shall I borrow to direct your attention to God in himself? Whither shall I point?
Read 7 tweets

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