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In our most recent debate with two atheists, Trey Jadlow and I ran what we titled the necessary relationality argument (NRA, pun very much intended).
What is the NRA?
The NRA is a rational evidence for manifold (multiple) relations in God. It follows from the classical proofs for God’s existence. The Aristotelian Proof, for example, ends at a God who is necessarily self-existent. From these kinds of proofs, the NRA necessarily follows. The arguments is stated as such:
- If God is self-existent (per the Thomistic or Aristotelian Proofs), then God does not depend on creation to be relational.
- God is self-existent.
- Therefore, God does not depend on creation to be relational.
- If God is relational in Himself (being self-existent, not dependent on creation), then He must have actual relations in Himself.
- God is relational in Himself.
- Therefore, He must have actual relations in Himself
- Therefore, this God is most likely the God described in the Bible.
From this it can be seen that the God argued for in Aristotle or Thomas’ proofs must also be relational in Himself. This is because those proofs lead to the necessary conclusion of a self-existent Being (a se). If God is self-existent, and since He created this creation, He must be relational; but He cannot be relational based on creation, because then He would not be self-existent, but dependent on creation to be who He is (He would depend on creation to be relational).
Therefore, God is relational in Himself. But for God to be relational in Himself, He must relate prior to creation, that is, eternally. Therefore, there are actual relations in God.
This argument does not take us to the specific doctrine of the Trinity, but only to necessary multiple relations in the same God argued for in the classical proofs. This argument is a companion to the classical proofs and cannot really be utilized effectively prior to or without them.
(NOTE: The argument above is what we would call an enthymeme. It assumes some things such as the fact that God created. And, depending on the style of proof given prior to the NRA, this argument may be assuming God’s self-existence. It is the task of the apologist to show how Thomas’ proofs, for example, ends at a self-existent God.)
Why is the NRA important?
The NRA distinguishes the God argued for in Christian natural theology (pace Thomas and Aristotle) from other conceptions of monotheism, like the god of Islam or Judaism.
The aim of the NRA is to move the apologist (and his opponent) closer to the existence of the distinctly Christian God. The conclusion, you have probably noticed, ends in a statement of likelihood. This is because no other major form of theism, except for Christianity, has come anywhere close to positing real relations in God (like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Only Scripture records a God like this and since it is the Christian Scriptures revealing a God like this, then most likely the classical proofs actually argue (implicitly) for the Christian God.
In other words, a self-existent Creator (as argued for by Thomas Aquinas and others) implies an essentially relational God; but if God is essentially relational, then He has actual relations in Himself. Only Christianity has a God who has actual relations in Himself (e.g. the Trinity).
Why does God necessarily have actual relations in Himself?
Premise #4 of the above argument is vulnerable to attack: If God is relational in Himself (being self-existent, not dependent on creation), then He must have actual relations in Himself.
Here is why: It could be claimed that just because God is relational it does not therefore follow that He has actual relations in Himself (e.g. Father, Son, Spirit). For instance, relationality could just be a natural disposition in God, like love or something of the sort. Perhaps relationality just exists eternally in the mind of God like His divine decree.
Here is the problem: When we say something like, “God is love,” we do not mean to say that God has love just like humans have love (love, in God, is not a disposition). There is something in God which creatures refer to as love, but it is not creaturely love, to be sure. Rather, we mean to join with the authors of Scripture in quite literally holding to the statement “God is love.” We mean here that God is the very perfection of love. There is nothing behind Him or before Him that makes Him loving. God is essentially, by His nature, love. Another way to put it is God is identified with the attribute of love. This goes for justice, grace, power, etc.
God is pure actuality. God is not made to be who He is by something prior to Himself. If He was, God would not be pure actuality but a mixture of actuality and potentiality, because God would have the potential to become that which He was not before.
Because of this, and because God is love (for example), God’s love is eternally and necessarily actual. It is purely actual. This means that God’s love exists in a way that’s not dependent upon creation. God does not need creation in order to love. The object of God’s eternal love is Himself. It is by His grace that human creatures are invited to share in this love, not by necessity, but by a free act of God.
Everything that was just said of God’s love must also be said of God’s relationality. But for relationality to be actual, there must be existent relations (just like for God to be love, He must actually love).