Unity and diversity
Within the mystery of God’s triune being there exists the unity of the Godhead and the diversity of the three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And, notably, within that Trinity there is unity in diversity and diversity in unity.
These complex realities are also present in the created order, reflecting the trinitarian realities of the Creator. I will attempt to explore such concepts in five areas – creation, revelation, salvation, the church and society.
The universe is governed by the laws and principles woven into its design. The laws of mathematics are a small example of this; within the unity of mathematics there is obvious diversity.
My wife and I love solving Sudoku puzzles in their seemingly endless variety, and this is made possible (and sometimes impossible!) because of the constant laws of mathematics.
One of the loveliest examples of interpenetrating unity and diversity is found in bird song. Each species of bird sings its own song in the springtime, but at dawn the total effect to the human ear is a single chorus, rising into a crescendo as if to fill the air with a song of praise to the Creator.
A blanket of snow lying on the ground on a cold winter’s day contains myriads of snowflakes, but each flake has its own particular pattern.
Creation, though soiled by sin, displays the glory and harmony of the triune God. There are times when it is needful for us to pause and consider such phenomena. This will fill us with awe, adoration and joy.
The Bible is a literary masterpiece without equal, because it is God’s word transmitted to us from an eternal dimension. We, therefore, expect diversity and unity to permeate its pages. And they truly do.
Its writings are inspired, written by men moved by God from all of life’s backgrounds. There are politicians, kings, philosophers, fishermen, shepherds and poets among its authors. It was written over a period of 1600 years, on three continents, and in three languages.
It embraces a range of literary genres, including historical narrative, poetry, liturgy, apocalyptic, and logical theology. There is no book like it for rich diversity. But there is an essential unity found in it that centres on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the Bible’s central theme; he is the great bringer of salvation in the history of the world. Every book of the Bible is about him. Through him too is fulfilled a rich diversity of redemptive ministry as our Prophet, Priest and King.
Unity and diversity are woven into all that is affirmed in scriptural revelation. The sacred pattern and contents of Scripture give us a true epistemology (what we know and how we know it) of life.
Unity in diversity is splendidly displayed in the trinitarian plan of salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). God the Father chooses and calls us (Ephesians 1:4); God the Son redeems us through his penal, substitutionary sufferings (Galatians 3:13); and God the Holy Spirit regenerates us (John 3).
The Spirit conforms us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:19) through sanctification in truth (John 17:17) and the transforming renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Sanctification is both definitive and progressive – we ‘are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Here is Christ’s beautiful image being made successively radiant in and through us. We are being made into truly noble human beings like Jesus, the truest, noblest human being ever to set foot in the world. And yet we are each different in each other’s eyes and in the sight of the Creator.
To accomplish this unitary salvific process, God has a diversity of methods at his disposal. This is true, for example, at the point of salvation of his elect people.
Paul was abruptly halted by the risen Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9); Lydia was quietly listening by the riverside when the Lord opened her heart (Acts 16:14); the Philippian prison warden was saved in the most dramatic of circumstances (Acts16:25-34).
The local church is an assembly of God’s people, called together out of the world by divine design. Her purpose is to maintain, proclaim and practise truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
The Holy Spirit is operative within the church, giving gifts to each member for the growth and edification of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:4-10). This enabling empowers the church to fulfil her task as the guardian and expositor of the truth. God distributes these gifts of the Spirit with the ultimate aim of glorifying himself (1 Corinthians 10:31). Such diversity reflects trinitarian diversity.
But no less obvious is the church’s unity. Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 12:12 the analogy of the body’s unity and the members’ diversity: ‘For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ’.
I belong to a local church comprised of seven nationalities. With a membership of fifteen, that makes for quite a comprehensive unity!
Sin has left ugly scars on humanity. Yet humanity’s essential unity was proclaimed by Paul at Athens: ‘And he has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord … though he is not far from each one of us; for in him [Christ] we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also his offspring”’ (Acts 17:26-28).
Man, animals and plants are alike dependent on Christ for their existence (Colossians 1:16-17), but there is obvious diversity within humankind. This is manifested in its different ethnic and linguistic groups. And God in his love has given people various abilities to contribute to the well-being of the human race. These take in the arts, sciences, technology, and many other disciplines.
We live in an area of Sweden famed for its glassware. It is a delight to the eyes to watch the glassblowers at work, forming and shaping molten glass into a variety of vases, bowls and glass figures.
Sin in its heinousness has seriously flawed these harmonies. Postmodernism demands diversity in relation to morality and gender, yet without reference to biblical values. Alternatively, a tyrannical assertion of uniformity in religion or politics seeks to manipulate and control the society it should serve.
So the Trinity’s unity and diversity provides us with an integrated view of life that helps us begin to understand the nature of existence and the complexity of problems facing humankind.
In like manner, a failure to embrace a trinitarian world view leaves one stranded on the shores of subjectivism, exposed to moral and ethical disintegration. If I deny the existence of the Trinity and the relationships that subsist within the Trinity, then I must ultimately deny the basis for all true human relationship.
This denial will engender a lack of personal accountability and make me, in the last analysis, a stranger even to myself. If I am alienated from everyone, what need will I have to treat others with dignity? The denial becomes a recipe for anarchy – the devil’s counterfeit of divine diversity.
Life in its rich variety and unity (Psalm 104) provides us with existential insight into the triune God. It affords us a glimpse into the future, where form and freedom will blossom and converge in perfect harmony, in ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (2 Peter 3:13).
It opens up new avenues of thought that we have never explored before. These will thrill us and give us joy in glorifying God.