Inseparable Operations: Have we made God in our image?
Words by Ethan Jago
Within the past year, I have noticed a significant growth in Trinitarian theology, as scholars, theologians, pastors, and laypeople are engaging in this paradoxical doctrine of Christianity. Accepting Trinitarian theology is vital in Christians' lives as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work throughout Scripture and are inseparable in how they operate. Simply put, the Trinity is one God (essence) in three distinct persons. Essence is not the same as person, and person is distinct from essence. However, the Trinity works together in perfect harmony as the Godhead. The Trinity is one God eternally existing in three persons; there is never a time when one of the Trinity was not. The Bible describes the Godhead as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible uses the term Father because the Father (who is unbegotten) has begotten (produced) the Son by the Father. The Holy Spirit is spirated (breathed out) by the Father and the Son from all eternity.
The Godhead works in perfect harmony and unity and does not consist of parts or materials (divine simplicity) and is self-existent (aseity), meaning He came from nothing, was produced by nothing, and has simply existed without beginning or end. They are eternally generated and are derived from the same essence, unable to be broken apart or separated according to John 5:26: “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so, He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” This describes eternal generation affirming the eternality of both the Father and the Son. Additionally, since the Father eternally generates the Son, they are unable to separate (inseparable operations) and do not act outside of complete unity and harmony.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. And there are varieties of workings, but the same God who works everything in everyone. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for what is profitable. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to someone else faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the workings of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to someone else various kinds of tongues, and to another the translation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–11)
This passage beautifully describes the inseparable operations of the Trinity and the distinct persons working together—not apart—and sharing in the same essence. The knowledge of both the Father and the Son is known to us by the Holy Spirit. Understanding the Trinity and its inseparable operations is imperative in understanding the immeasurable grace and gift of salvation that the Father offers to us from the Son and confirmed by the Spirit (Eph.2:1-22). Each is distinct, yet each works together in perfect union, not contradicting and not limited. We must understand the Trinity through the lens of Divine simplicity; since God is not a created being, and does not consist of parts that could be broken down, so too is the Trinity. The Trinity is eternally self-existent (aseity), coequal, coeternal, sharing in the same essence, and cannot be broken apart, viewed in isolation, or assumed to be different.
However, individuals take excessive liberties in separating the actions of the Father from the Son and suggesting the Spirit is not present. If the Trinity is three-in-one, and are inseparable, then logically, it follows where One is described, all three are present. However, a rising problem in the current theological battlespace is that some reject Divine simplicity for Theistic personalism. Theistic personalism directly opposes classical theism in which Divine simplicity is denied as God is viewed as a person like you and I are a person. Yet, they maintain He does not consist of parts. Theistic personalism is also identified under the name of Monopolytheism. Mono means one; poly means many, and theism implies belief in God or gods. Not only is the term contradictory, but the theistic personalist also creates God in the image of the creature rather than the creature in the image of God. You are perhaps unfamiliar with these theological terms; however, you are familiar with many popular modern worship songs and phrases like, “when Jesus suffered on the cross, God suffered.”
Jurgen Moltmann popularized this view in his development of the theology of hope. He was a German soldier and later, as a POW, was shown pictures of the atrocities of the concentration camps leading Moltmann to deny the impassability of God, attempting to reconcile the pain and suffering of those from WW2. Leading Moltmann to write, “With Christ in faith, a wholly new life,” he begins an attempt to reconcile the problem of evil. As he explains, Jesus and God experience pain and suffering the same as His creatures. Moltmann quotes Elie Wiesel's story of a Jewish boy hung by the Nazis as Wiesel writes, “Where is God? God is there suffering with you. He too suffers in the concentration camp, and he too suffers in the gas chamber, he suffers in the gallows.” Pairing this with Elie Wiesel’s book Night, Elie writes, “‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows.’”
Weisel’s segment of this book describes the problem with theistic personalism as God is equated with and given human attributes, human emotions and is made in the likeness and image of creation. However, classical theism demonstrates we reflect aspects and portions of God’s attributes, but by no means are we to describe God in humanistic terminology. Paul states in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” However, many adopt this form of thinking regarding God in reading human characteristics into the God of the universe. Understanding this is to understand the impassability of God, “in which God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation.”  And the Westminster Confession of Faith states in Chapter Two, “There is but one only, living, and true God who is infinite in Being and Perfection, a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most absolute.”
Christians, be cautious about what teacher, pastor, or book you are reading concerning the Trinity, the understanding of God, and his attributes. Assess the worship songs you are singing. Do they emotionalize God and project human characteristics on God? We must continually humble ourselves and recognize how low we are, how insignificant we are, and how Holy God is. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107) said in his interpretation of 1 Tim. 1:3, “You must not be panic-stricken by those who have an air of credibility, but who teach heresy. Stand your ground like an anvil under a hammer.” The Trinity is inseparable, working in perfect union and harmony. Be cautious in allowing outside influences to distort the holiness of God, the understanding of the Trinity, and the relationship of Creator-creature distinctions.
 Elie Wiesel, Night, trans. Marion Wiesel (Union. Square, NY: Hill and Wang, 2006), 65.
 Ibid., 65.
 “The Westminster Confession of Faith,” accessed March 28, 2022, http://files1.wts.edu/uploads/pdf/about/WCF_30.pdf, 5.