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The Face of the Trinity

The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life


Chapter 8       The Likeness of Persons and Relationships




Distinguishing the Likeness of the Trinity

Persons in Uncommon Likeness

Relationships in Uncommon Likeness

Making Whole the Likeness from Modern and Postmodern Narratives

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

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of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index




The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

                                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 4:4           


The world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

                                                                                                                        John 1:10-11



             The human person was created in the image of the triune God to be distinguished in all creation. Persons in relationship together emerged in creation in the likeness of the Trinity, created together in order not “to be apart” from the intimate whole constituted in the Trinity (Gen 2:18,25). What unfolded in creation was soon rendered indistinguishable (Gen 3:7-8), when persons and relationship together were challenged with the redefining proposal “you will be like God” (3:5) under the assumption “you will not be reduced” (3:4). Since this assumption was never challenged by those persons, it set into motion a critical condition for persons and relationships that commonly prevails, even among Christian persons and relationships. The subtle alternative “like God” creates an ambiguous distinction from ‘the likeness of the Trinity’ that both confuses how persons and relationships were created and no longer distinguishes those persons and relationships in creation, in the human context, and including in church.

            This then raises the question of what distinguishes ‘the likeness of the Trinity’ clearly in contrast to “like God” so that persons and relationships are to be integrally compatible with the person-al Trinity’s uncommon qualitative image and congruent with the inter-person-al Trinity’s whole relational likeness?



Distinguishing the Likeness of the Trinity


            In conflict with the alternative “like God,” who, what and how persons and relationships are to be can be neither reduced nor negotiated (as witnessed in the primordial garden). This irreducible and nonnegotiable reality emerged distinguished at creation, yet their likeness was not fully defined until it unfolded unmistakably with the disclosure of the whole and uncommon Trinity. Only the Trinity’s whole ontology and function determine human ontology and function, whereby persons and relationship can be in likeness. To understand, however, the likeness of persons and relationships requires first knowing who, what and how the Trinity is like.

            The epistemic source distinguishing the like of the Trinity also is in conflict with the epistemic process composed with the hermeneutical assumption that “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” To belike the Trinity’ is unattainable, and all such efforts to define and determine persons and relationships “like God” fall into reduced ontology and function, unable to be whole. It is indispensable, therefore, to understand that the likeness of persons and relationships like the Trinity have both (1) ontological limits to who, what and how persons can be like, and yet (2) no functional limits to the depth persons can have in their relationships together in likeness. From the beginning, our default condition and mode are to reverse these limits, such that persons assume no limits to their self-determination (“be like God”) while having constraints in their relationships. Whatever the efforts to reverse these limits all counter the likeness of the Trinity that has been distinguished unmistakably like the Trinity. This irreducible and nonnegotiable likeness of the Trinity constituted like the Trinity is integrally embodied, enacted and disclosed by the Son in uncommon intimate whole with the Father and the Spirit.

            This good news was illuminated by Paul, who made definitive “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). As the prototype “eikon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), Jesus’ glory disclosed the qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence of the Trinity, whose image like the Trinity distinguished the trinitarian persons and their relationship together essential to the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. The face of Christ bearing the image of the whole ontology and function of the Trinity (2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:19; 2:9) also distinguished the ontology and function of persons and relationships in likeness (2 Cor 3:18; Col 2:10; 3:10)—which Jesus epitomized by vulnerably enacting his whole person in relationship with this followers whole-ly like the Trinity. Nevertheless, as demonstrated by Peter in relational terms distinct from his referential terms, despite the essential reality of the embodied Word emerging like the Trinity in the world of persons and relationships that he created in likeness, they “did not know him either as like the Trinity or as their likeness in the Trinity” (Jn 1:10). Moreover, even those identified as “his own people in likeness did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). As distinguished by the whole glory of who (qualitative being), what (relational nature) and how (vulnerable presence) in Jesus’ face illuminating the image and likeness of the Trinity, this essential reality remains difficult to accept for our persons and relationships in likeness. This acceptance is compounded especially if we continue to be influenced by the subtle alternative “like God” and reverse the above limits.

            How we define our persons and relationships integrally determines their function, which will either be the virtual result from our human comparative terms to measure up “like God” yet in reduced ontology and function, or be the essential outcome of God’s relational terms to be in likeness of the Trinity constituted only in whole ontology and function. Therefore, what unavoidably converges in distinguishing the likeness of the Trinity from “like God (thus a reduced Trinity)” are the issues of knowing sin as reductionism and understanding theological anthropology in reduced ontology and function. Reductionism subtly influences the shift to reduced ontology and function, mainly by giving primacy to the outer in of persons and relationships. Within the scope of this subtle influence, theological anthropology must answer: (1) What does it mean to be the human person God created? and (2) What does God expect from this person and the relationships of persons together?—which are both implied in God’s question “Where are you?”

            To be able to answer these vital issues will require accounting for the influence of reductionism on persons and relationships that can transpose the likeness of the Trinity to the pervading alternative “like God-a Trinity.” Jesus clarifies and corrects for us integrally, first, who can be like the Trinity and, secondly, only who, what and how persons and relationships are to be in likeness of the Trinity. Jesus embodied and enacted nothing less and no substitutes, therefore what Jesus disclosed is irreducible and nonnegotiable. And only his distinguishing the likeness of the Trinity whole-ly counters the ongoing challenge of persons and relationships in the subtle reductionist alternative “like God-a Trinity.”

            The face of Jesus’ integrated image like the Trinity and distinguishing the likeness of the Trinity unfolded in key ways that illuminate the function of his whole person as Subject in relationship together, not as merely an Object performing his duty. In theology and practice, these ways are commonly not associated with the image and likeness of the Trinity, and thus are not considered basic function for persons and relationships in likeness. One way involved his improbable trajectory to the cross and his intrusive relational path related to the cross. Apparent at Gethsemane is that Jesus didn’t want to suffer the pain of the cross (Mt 26:36-39). This pain both reflects the vulnerable heart of the whole person (as subject, not object) in likeness of the Trinity as well as signifies his person essential in the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity, both of which are inseparable in Jesus’ whole person embodied in the human context. The fact that Jesus makes transparent the depth of his heart in vulnerable disclosure to his Father is simply the basic function of the whole person from inner out, whose whole function integrally involves the primacy of intimate relationship together. The face of Jesus seen here is not wearing a mask to put a veil on his heart; nor did Jesus present what would be a theologically-correct spin (as in politically correct) for his person and relationship with his Father—all of which Paul took to heart in his person and relationships, notably as he critiqued the church at Corinth (2 Cor 6:11-13). And who is distinguished here is composed only by the what of the Subject involved in relationship, the like and likeness of which is unmistakably distinct from a mere object.

            Anything less and any substitutes from Jesus reduce his whole person, whereby relationship together is engaged with relational distance by a person from outer in. Such ontology and function is no longer whole and thus does not compose the person and relationship in likeness of the Trinity’s whole ontology and function. Accordingly, Jesus as distinct subject had to disclose the pain in his heart and make transparent his contrary feelings about the cross in order to be vulnerable with his whole person in intimate relationship together with his Father. His whole function of his whole ontology is basic to the whole ontology and function of persons and relationships in likeness. And nothing less and no substitutes can define persons as subjects and determine relationships together in likeness of the Trinity, the whole and uncommon composition of which is absent in the human context and appears to lack even in the church. This full profile of the face of Christ is the essential relational basis for Paul to embrace Jesus at face-value in his heart (2 Cor 4:6) and for his person and relationships to be without the veil in likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity (2 Cor 3:18).

            Jesus takes us deeper into his whole ontology and function, which further distinguishes what is essential for him to be like the Trinity and for us to be in likeness of the Trinity. This unfolded in another key way, which transpired on the cross. The pain of the cross reached its climax when Jesus experienced the ultimate yet inexplicable pain, and he cried out loudly “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). His pain is inexplicable because we cannot understand what happened to the Trinity’s ontology. Yet, it is apparent that in a key way Jesus was separated from the Trinity’s basic function in the uncommon intimate whole essential to the ontology of his person and the function of his relationship together. In that key moment the Son was “to be apart” from the Trinity’s whole as family; this is the inescapable consequence of sin as reductionism that Jesus bore in his person and relationship in order for our persons and relationships to be made whole in ontology and function in likeness of the Trinity. The light of his glory Jesus illuminated, which we need to see on his face and understand, is not his sacrifice for our sin but his whole distinguished—that is, distinguishing not his ontology and function defined as an individual but his whole ontology and function determined by the primacy of intimate relationship together as family. This directly challenges any primacy given to the individual, notably holding accountable individualism in theology and practice.

            The likeness distinguished in the Trinity that Jesus whole-ly embodied in his ontology and enacted in his function by necessity integrates persons inseparably into relationships together in order to constitute their ontology and function whole in likeness of the Trinity. As discussed, Jesus enacted this whole ontology and function at his footwashing for his followers to enact as persons in relationship together only in his likeness (kathos, Jn 13:15); that is, not as an expression of servanthood but as the vulnerable involvement of the whole person in intimate relationship together. Even as their Lord and Teacher, not to mention their Messiah, Jesus didn’t define his person by those titles and roles, which certainly was uncommon in contrast to Peter’s common theology and practice. As the irreducible subject-person, Jesus cannot be reduced to the mere object of his followers’ faith but identified only as the vulnerable subject of our reciprocal response in intimate relationship together. This subject-object distinction is critical to make for the Trinity disclosed by Jesus. The like of the Trinity and the likeness of the Trinity integrated in Jesus’ person unfolds vulnerably face to face to distinguish the likeness of persons in relationship together congruent with like the Trinity.

            Paul further illuminated Christ’s likeness for defining persons from inner out (Col 2:10; 3:10), and he fought against defining persons from outer in by what they do and have (Col 2:16-17). For Paul, outer-in persons are only “a shadow” (skia) composing a virtual reality, in contrast and conflict with inner-out persons in likeness of the essential reality (or substance, soma) belonging to Christ. In other words, if Jesus’ person functioned as Lord and Teacher, that would have reduced his whole person from inner out to outer in and thereby would have done relationship with his followers in a stratified order with built-in relational distance (explicit or implicit). Such barriers (existing often subtly) would prevent intimate connection and thus reflect, reinforce or sustain the relational condition “to be apart” from the Trinity’s whole family—the opposite in contradiction to Jesus’ only relational purpose to disclose the Trinity’s presence and involvement. This is the relational consequence that Paul makes definitive: “The outer-in person has lost relational connection with Christ’s whole person, from whom the whole church family…grows in intimate relationship together” (Col 2:19, NIV).

            The key ways by which Jesus distinguished the likeness of the Trinity confront the breadth of sin as reductionism (including its counter-relational workings) and dig down to the depth of theological anthropology. What is uncovered in relational terms for theology and practice—not in referential terms for doctrine and information—responds to the following: (1) makes definitive what it means to be the human person God created and the Trinity recreated, and then (2) makes conclusive what the Trinity expects in likeness from this person as subject and the relationships of subject-persons together. This is why the Father made it imperative for his Son’s followers to “Listen to him”—carefully, not only to his words but also the relational messages implicit in his relational language. That is, pay close attention not only to his relational communication but also his relationship-specific actions that distinguish the function of his whole person, which distinguishes his whole ontology as a trinitarian person in the uncommon intimate whole essential to the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Listen closely because this is the whole ontology and function necessary for persons and relationships to be in likeness.

            What Jesus distinguishes, therefore, for the likeness of persons and relationships is their need to be composed by the essential reality of the trinitarian gospel to make them whole, and then in reciprocal response to follow Jesus in the primacy of relationship that by its nature composes trinitarian discipleship to live whole as uncommon family together. Jesus embodied and enacted the whole and uncommon Trinity in family love that constituted the Trinity’s uncommon intimate whole. And the primacy of this relationship together in family love is the basic function of persons in likeness, which unfolds in following Jesus in ongoing reciprocal relationship together with the Trinity—which, contrary to common theology and practice, does not unfold just in relation to Jesus. This basic function, however, can only be engaged by persons as subjects, whose identity is not merely associated with the Trinity but as subjects who are vulnerably involved reciprocally in relationship together with the subject-persons of the Trinity. Only these subject-persons in this primacy of relationship together in likeness constitute the Trinity’s family (as Jesus prayed) and are the only persons and relationships having the qualitative relational significance expected from the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes of the trinitarian gospel and trinitarian discipleship are reductions of the essential ontology and function of the identity of God’s presence, the action (creative and salvific) of God’s involvement, and the relational outcome integrally of who, what and how we are and whose we are in likeness. That is to say, without equivocation, the trinitarian essential for God, the gospel, discipleship, the church and its persons and relationships is the whole ontology and function distinguished by the Trinity, with the trinitarian persons intimately involved in the primacy of relationship together as family. Any loss of this primacy for persons reflects the existing influence of reductionism’s counter-relational workings.

            This essential reality challenges (if not confronts) our trinitarian theological task and holds accountable our trinitarian theology and practice to be in likeness. If the whole of who, what and how distinguishing the Trinity is not to be in the trinitarian theological task and resulting theology and practice, then our persons and relationships in likeness will be neither whole in ontology nor whole in function. Based on Jesus’ disclosures and the distinguishing significance of his presence and involvement, whole ontology and function emerge only from the person-al inter-person-al Trinity—whose uncommon presence and whole involvement transform our ontology from inner out to be whole and conjointly makes uncommon (sanctifies) our function to be whole from inner out as whole persons in relationships together of wholeness only without the veil (as Paul made definitive, 2 Cor 3:16-18). This essential relational outcome constitutes our persons and relationships to be in likeness of the whole who, what and how the Trinity is to be in the uncommon intimate whole essential to the ontology and function of the trinitarian persons and their relationship together.

            As our persons and relationships are made whole in uncommon likeness of the Trinity, we can live whole together distinguished in uncommon likeness and thereby make whole with uncommon significance for the common world to come to trust in and know the whole and uncommon Trinity, just as Jesus prayed for his family. To be distinguished in uncommon likeness is essential for persons to have the significance needed for the human condition—the significance that is uncommon to the world.



Persons in Uncommon Likeness


            Human persons certainly live within the context of physics and, for many, also subsist in the narrative of metaphysics. The realms of physics and metaphysics have also certainly imposed their limits and constraints to influence the shape of the person, just as the whole and uncommon God has had to endure shaping from the beginning. The human person in the beginning, however, was distinguished (pala) specific to only the epistemic field of the whole and uncommon God’s relational context. This is no supplemental distinction for the human person—notably to evolutionary development—but the defining essential reality that the human person was designed and created to be, and subsequently chose not to be. This choice, contrary to any form of determinism, from the beginning has reduced the person to the limits of physics and/or the constraints of metaphysics.

            Pala signifies to separate, to be wonderful, that is to say, to distinguish beyond what exists in the human context and cannot be defined by its comparative terms, or the person is no longer distinguished. Thus, this person can be distinguished only by whole ontology and function essentially constituted by God, the Creator, the distinguishing nature (no less than pala) of which was beyond Job’s knowledge and understanding (Job 42:3). God pointed Job back to the essential constitution of the person from inner out, who has whole knowledge (hokmah) in the ‘inner’ (tuhot) person and whole understanding (biynah) also in the ‘inner’ (sekwiy, Job 38:36). The ‘inner’ (meaning of Heb tuhot and sekwiy is uncertain) has no certainty in referential language because it signifies a relational term that cannot be known and understood in referential terms. The ‘inner’ that God points Job back to is in the beginning: the whole ontology and function essentially constituted by God that distinguishes human persons beyond comparison in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole and uncommon God (Gen 1:26-27)—constituted and distinguished only from inner out, which is problematic and indistinguishable from outer in.

            Evolutionary biology highlights the development of the physical body, including the brain, for Homo sapiens—that is, the bodily development of human antecedents in physical form. While I affirm this physical development, science cannot assume that this physical body developed into the human person. Even with the development of the brain for higher level function unique to humans, the evolution process can only account at best for humans from the outer in without the essential from inner out. At the same time, we cannot dismiss this science and discount the quantitative outer person by either shifting to only the qualitative inner person (e.g. implied in spiritualizing matters) or fragmenting the person into a dualism of the inner and the outer without their functional integration—the qualitative relational significance of which can be composed only in likeness of the whole and uncommon creator God distinguished beyond the realms of physics and metaphysics.

            We cannot limit the dynamic process of creation, either by the limits of our epistemic field or by the constraints of a biased hermeneutic lens, which applies to both science and theology in the realms of physics and metaphysics. In the creation narrative, the person is distinguished by the direct creative action of the Creator and not indirectly through an evolutionary process that strains for continuity and lacks significant purpose and meaning. At a specified, yet unknown, point in the creation process, the Creator explicitly acted on the developed physical body (the quantitative outer) to constitute the innermost (“breath of life,” neshamah hay) with the qualitative inner (“living being,” nephesh, Gen 2:7). The essential relational outcome integrated the whole person from inner out (the inseparably integrated qualitative and quantitative) distinguished irreducibly in the image and likeness of the Creator (Gen 1:26-27).

            The qualitative inner of nephesh is problematic for the person in either of two ways. Either nephesh (Gen 1:30) is reduced when primacy is given to the quantitative and thus the outer in; this appears to be the nephesh signified by supervenience in nonreductive physicality that is linked to large brain development and function.[1] All animals have nephesh but without the qualitative inner that distinguishes only the person (Gen 1:30). Or, nephesh is problematic when it is fragmented from the body, for example, as the soul, the substance of which does not distinguish the whole person even though it identifies the qualitative uniqueness of humans. The referential language composing the soul does not get to the depth of the qualitative inner of the person in God’s context (cf. Job in Job 10:1; 27:2), because the inner was constituted by God in relational terms for whole ontology and function. The ancient poet even refers to nephesh as soul but further illuminates qereb as “all that is within me” (Ps 103:1), as “all my innermost being” (NIV) to signify the center, interior, the heart of a person’s whole being (cf. human ruah and qereb in Zec 12:1). This distinction gets us to the depth of the qualitative inner that rendering nephesh as soul does not. The reduction or fragmentation of nephesh is critical to whether the person in God’s context is whole-ly distinguished or merely referenced in some fragmentary uniqueness. 

            In Hebrew terminology of the OT, the nephesh that God implanted of the whole of God into the human person is signified in ongoing function by the heart (leb). The function of the qualitative heart is critical for the whole person and holding together the person in the innermost (as in Dt 30:6; Ps 119:9-11; Prov 4:23; 14:30, NIV; 27:19). The integrating function of the heart is indispensable for the integrity of the person’s wholeness. Without the function of the heart, the whole person from inner out created by God is reduced to function from outer in, distant or separated from the heart. This functional condition was ongoingly critiqued by God and responded to for the inner-out change necessary to be whole (e.g. Gen 6:5-6; Dt 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam 16:7; Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2; Eze 11:19; 18:31; 33:31; Joel 2:12-13). Later in God’s strategic shift, Jesus made unmistakable that the openness of the heart (“in spirit and truth”) is what the Father requires and seeks in reciprocal relationship together (Jn 4:23-24).

            The integrating function of the heart is irreplaceable. The mind may be able to provide quantitative unity (e.g. by identifying the association of parts) for the human person, as quantified in the brain by neuroscience. However, while this may be necessary and useful at times, it is never sufficient by itself to distinguish the whole person, nor adequate to experience the relationships necessary to be whole. Not even the higher level function of supervenience, as used by nonreductive physicalism, is sufficient to account for the qualitative whole needed to constitute persons in God’s context.

            The qualitative significance of the heart is not composed in referential language and terms but only distinguishes the person in relational terms that God “breathed” into human persons. Nephesh may be rendered “soul” but its functional significance is the heart (Dt 30:6; Rom 2:28-29). From the beginning, the heart defined and determined the qualitative innermost of the person in God’s context and not the soul; the soul’s prominence unfolded much later from the influence of philosophical thought, shaped by referential terms. The heart’s significance only begins to define the image of God, yet the heart’s function identifies why the heart is so vital to the person integrally in the image and likeness of the whole and uncommon God. God’s creative action, design and purpose emerge only in relational language, the relational terms of which are not for unilateral relationship but reciprocal relationship together. Therefore, God’s desires are to be vulnerably involved with the whole person in the primacy of relationship—intimate relationship together. Since the function of the heart integrally constitutes the whole person, God does not have the whole person for relationship until it involves the heart (Dt 10:14-16; Ps 95:7-11).

            From the beginning Adam and Eve made two critical assumptions in the primordial garden: (1) that their ontology was reducible to human shaping, and (2) that their function was negotiable to human terms (Gen 3:6-10). The first assumption opened the door of human ontological limits in likeness of the Trinity (discussed above) to unlimited shaping by self-determination; and the second assumption closed the door on human function to constrain persons and their relationships in likeness. In this intentional albeit often subtle process, their reductionism reflects a shift from the qualitative inner out (“whole-ly naked and vulnerable,” Gen 2:25) to the quantitative outer in (“naked parts and covered up,” Gen 3:7) without the integrating significance of the heart, thereby fragmenting the whole of human ontology down to one’s parts. This is a pivotal qualitative and relational consequence for persons. Once the person becomes distant from, unaware of or detached from the heart, there is no qualitative relational means in function to integrate the whole person—leaving only fragmentary parts (however valuable or esteemed) that are unable to distinguish the person in God’s context, though perhaps giving the person some distinction “like God-a Trinity.”

            The human heart is irreplaceable to define and determine the whole person from inner out. Without the qualitative function of the heart to integrate the whole person, the only alternatives for persons are ontological simulations and epistemological illusions shaped by reductionism, all of which are problematic because they have the seductive appeal of function “like God-a Trinity.” This reduces persons from their essential reality in likeness of the person-al Trinity to a virtual-augmented reality, which is the prevailing identity of persons being defined by the Internet—notably determined by their function in social media. The heart’s significance unfolds in relational terms for the relational outcome that we need to understand more deeply in the divine narrative composing the narrative of human being and being human: The whole and uncommon God ongoingly pursues, solely in relational terms, the heart and wants our heart (as in 1 Sam 16:7; Prov 21:2; Jer 17:10; Lk 16:15; Rom 8:27; Rev 2:23)—that is, pursues only the whole person for vulnerable involvement in integral reciprocal relationship together in the integrity of the person’s created likeness (as in Jn 4:23-24; Eph 4:24). The innermost person signified by heart function has the most significance to God and, though never separated from or at the neglect of the outer, always needs to have greater priority of importance for the person’s definition and function to be distinguished in God’s context. To be distinguished, however, this person can only be in uncommon likeness of the Trinity’s whole ontology and function.

            Whole ontology and function for the human person have eluded persons from the beginning. The pivotal issue has been the critical shift of the person defined and determined from the inner out to the outer in, whereby the person’s integrity and thus significance has been reduced to what they possess and do from outer in. The inescapable consequence and unavoidable results fragment the whole person to these parts—even if these parts are valued and the sum of these parts is assumed to make the person whole (or “like God” as assumed from the beginning). The shift away from the heart of the person signifying the whole person has been apparent (e.g. as in legalism), perhaps ambiguous (as common in discipleship) or simply lost in human fog (as on the Internet). As an extension of the critical assumptions by persons from the beginning, the human heart can be neither quantified nor spiritualized-idealized. For example, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio identifies qualitative feelings in function that is integral to the human brain in its evolutionary development.[2] Yet, since Damasio’s epistemic field is limited to the quantitative, neuroscience’s notion of the qualitative is determined by the limits of the quantitative. This is certainly an insufficient explanation of what is primary in integrating the complexity of persons in the innermost to be whole. Quantifying the heart by what a person has (a brain or other resources) and/or does (feels or other behaviors) simply does not distinguish the whole person but only defines a fragmentary person without the significance of being whole from inner out.

            On the other hand, the human heart does not fulfill its integrating function by spiritualizing or idealizing it, notably with an ineffable soul. As discussed above, the soul may identify the qualitative uniqueness of all human persons but it does so by fragmenting the whole person in a dualism of body and soul (or a variation). What becomes primary then is the spiritual part of the person, making other parts secondary if not insignificant, whereby what is idealized about the person becomes composed in a comparative process of good or bad, better or less—just as from the beginning “to make one wise.” This fragmentation both reduces the whole person in likeness of the person-al Trinity and relegates persons to a stratified order/structure/system unlike the inter-person-al Trinity. This condition would seem apparent enough, if it were not for epistemological illusions (such as “knowing good and evil”) and ontological simulations (such as being “like God”).

            The condition of the human person struggles for its whole integrity under the constraints of reductionism and a common theological anthropology shaping persons in reduced ontology and function. What is at stake for the heart of the person is the integral ontology and function of the whole person that distinguishes the person whole-ly in likeness of the whole-ly Trinity. The heart of the person’s ontology in likeness is irreducible to common terms in the human context, and the heart of the person’s function in likeness is nonnegotiable to any human terms (even as Christians)—whether the source of those terms is from the realm of physics, metaphysics or simply the surrounding human context. In other words, the person’s heart is basic to the ontology and function of the Trinity and essential to be in the whole ontology and function of the Trinity’s likeness.

            Ecclesiastes illuminates a simple reality of God’s creative action that is easy to ignore not only to distinguish the human person but also God: “God has also implanted eternity in the hearts of persons” (Ecc 3:11, NIV). What is illuminated is the reality of being connected in ontology and function to something beyond our persons, which can be defined in whole knowledge and be satisfied in whole understanding solely by the whole of God, because that something is transcendent. Eternity (‘olam) should not be seen as a referential term and thus here understood in cognitive terms (e.g. “a sense of past and future into their minds,” NRSV), as part of human rationality and reasoning that traditionally is considered to compose the image of God. In this sense, ‘olam and any other connections thought to be made beyond the human person can also be considered mere epiphenomena (appearing to be related but not really), without clearly accounting for a distinction between them.[3] The reality of eternity consists in relational language and helps constitute the qualitative innermost of the person in the image of God only in relational terms. In other words, having eternity in their hearts connects persons to the transcendent God—not just to some cognitive part of God but to the whole and uncommon Trinity—in order to know the Trinity in relationship together, as Jesus made definitive in his prayer (Jn 17:3).

            What unfolds for the person, or has the potential to unfold, is essential to the most basic of beliefs for Christian persons:

God so loved the world that he sent his Son in the relational response of grace. The subjects who respond with direct involvement in the primacy of “the work [sing.] of God” and trust relationally in him will have eternal life because the Son will save them—that is, save them to the eternity of their persons from inner out in whole relationship together to intimately know the Trinity. Therefore, to believe in Jesus is the reciprocal relational response of subject-persons who believe in Jesus’ whole person from inner out, whose subject-person enacted the Trinity’s family love and thereby disclosed the whole-ly Trinity. To embrace Jesus’ person—beyond the object of one’s faith—in relationship together is to embrace the whole Trinity. To embrace the whole Trinity in relationship together is to know the Trinity in intimate eternal life from inner out. To know the Trinity from inner out is to experience in relationship the whole ontology and function of the Trinity. To experience the whole ontology and function of the Trinity changes persons to be the persons of whole ontology and function in likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity—the essential relational outcome of the eternity-heart of whole persons in uncommon likeness of the Son sent by the Father together with the Spirit, whose whole persons as subjects together to be the uncommon intimate whole of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.

This is the person whole-ly involved as subject—not a mere object possessing faith—the Father pursues our persons to be; and why the Father makes it imperative to listen in relational terms (i.e. stop the referentializing) and pay close attention to the Son’s whole person from inner out—the whole profile of the Subject who embodies, enacts and discloses integrally like the Trinity and the likeness of the Trinity for persons and relationships to be.

            Therefore, the heart not only defines the whole person from inner out but also integrally determines the whole person in likeness of the essential (not virtual or augmented) ontology and function of the Trinity—as embodied, enacted and disclosed by Jesus with the Spirit, and illuminated definitively for the church by Paul. This irreversible connection and irreducible constitution in the eternity-heart of the person with the whole and uncommon Trinity is the essential reality of ‘olam distinguished in relational terms, which Christians need to cease trying to quantify in referential terms or spiritualize in idealized terms. Accordingly in theology (notably in theological anthropology) and in practice (as persons, relationships and together as church), we need to quit ignoring and pay attention to creator God’s question “Where are you?” As initiated in the primordial garden (Gen 3:9), God was not seeking their quantitative location, which would be easily ignored if God were. Rather God accounts for the whole ontology and function of persons and their relationships created in likeness, and further holds persons and their relationship accountable for any critical shift from inner-out ontology and function (“both naked and were not ashamed”) to outer in (“observed they were naked and covered their innermost”). This is vital for all persons to pay attention to, and consequential to ignore.

            What emerged from this pivotal juncture of human development are human distinctions that increasingly define persons from outer in and determine relationships on that basis. Some would explain this emergence by evolutionary development that simply constructed persons and relationships according to those best fitted to survive. This simplistic theory can account for some of the human fragmentation based on power relations that goes into stratifying human relations, systems and structures; but it is inadequate to account for the existing breadth of function animating persons and relationships, and to get to the underlying depth at the heart of who, what and how persons and relationships are. Survival as persons to be the best (e.g. “be like God”) engages more than a physical process from outer in but encompasses the heart of the person and where the person chooses to identify their likeness. This depth and breadth of human ontology and function must be accounted for in our theological anthropology to go beyond what’s common.[4]

            At the pivotal juncture of human development, persons shifting to observing the outer differences of their physical bodies instituted those persons’ secondary differences to the primary human distinction of gender prevailing to present-day human ontology and function. Likewise, as discussed previously, the heart of the Father, Son and Spirit as whole persons from inner out cannot be defined by their roles and functions to love us in the human context; this would otherwise reduce their ontology and function and fragment the uncommon intimate whole essential to the Trinity. Nor can we use their roles and functions (to love us downward), in order to support human distinctions in persons and relationships. Such conflation distorts the Trinity and persons and relationships in likeness. Moreover, in terms of the gender distinction in theology and practice, this also inadvertently supports the evolution of the best fitted gender—which then includes other outer-in distinctions of those best fitted to serve and to lead our churches. The basic reality of such distinctions reduces the ontology and function of the whole and uncommon Trinity to be—which reduces the reality essential of the Trinity to a virtual or augmented reality, as commonly found in trinitarian theology—whereby persons and relationships in common likeness are also defined and determined by reduced ontology and function.

            We need to understand this process of reductionism to recognize its impact on persons and thus relationships. A person in reduced ontology is being contracted in the innermost. That is, the heart of such a person is turning inward, which may appear to be positive, for example, for the practice of spiritual disciplines (cf. “to make one wise”). The function of this person’s heart (including nephesh as soul), however, is inwardly contracting, and therefore this person’s function is either not integrated with the person’s outward function or disconnected from the person’s outward function. The consequence is reduced function, yet this contracted heart not only diminishes the person from inner out but it also diminishes the person’s relationships accordingly. In contrast to contracting, the integrating heart doesn’t construct the subject-person as an individual, but rather integrates the whole person into one’s inseparable relationships in order to compose the person’s whole ontology and function from inner out. This clearly unfolds from Jesus’ person-as-subject in Gethsemane. In conflict with the process of reducing a person’s ontology and function, whole ontology and function requires whole persons in whole relationships together, which accounts for the immeasurable depth of Jesus’ pain on the cross. There are no whole persons without whole relationships and, integrally in function, there are no whole relationships together without whole persons.

            In other words, in one direction (process and measure) or the other the heart is the key that distinctly identifies the person. To be distinguished in his whole person, the psalmist understands the need to “enlarge my heart” (râchab, open wide as in being vulnerable) in order to “run freely in function in the relational way of your whole terms for relationship together” (Ps 119:32). The essential relational outcome of an enlarged heart is the person’s whole ontology and function in relationships—the whole person whose uncommon likeness is neither contracted to an individual nor fragmented in relationships, just as the essential reality of the person-al inter-person­­­-al Trinity is constituted in whole ontology and function. Enlarged hearts are what Paul illuminated to make definitive the persons and relationships of the new creation church family in unveiled likeness of the Trinity; their uncommon function is in conflict with persons functioning in a comparative process of human distinctions in their relationships inseparably functioning in likeness of a comparative system and structure (2 Cor 6:11-13, enacting 5:17-18 and 3:18, in contrast to 10:12).

            Persons identified in the Trinity’s relational context cannot negotiate either the qualitative condition of their ontology or the relational terms of their function. Theological anthropology discourse must be engaged accordingly, especially in the trinitarian theological task. For example, when discussing the social nature and character of human persons, it is insufficient for theological anthropology to talk about merely social relatedness and community to define and distinguish the human person; nor is this sufficient to define and distinguish the whole and uncommon Trinity. For theological anthropology not reduced to common terms, the person is created in the qualitative image of the uncommonly person-al Trinity to function in relational likeness to the whole-ly inter-person-al Trinity. Without renegotiating the terms, therefore, human persons are created in whole ontology and function for the primacy of relationship together solely in relational terms as follows:

The qualitative ontology of the person’s heart vulnerably opens to the hearts of other persons (including the triune God) in order for the relational outcome of the primacy of relationship together to be nonnegotiably and irreducibly distinguished by the wholeness of intimate relationships—defined as hearts open and vulnerably connected together to be whole, that is, whole solely in the image and likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity (“not to be apart…but naked and relationally connected without disappointment”).

When the Trinity’s whole relational terms from inner out are shifted to fragmentary referential terms from outer in (even unintentionally or perhaps inadvertently), something less or some substitute replaces the above and renders the person and relationships to fragmentary-reduced ontology and function—relegated without the primacy of the qualitative (with the integrating function of the heart) and the relational (in intimate relationships of wholeness). This qualitative and relational consequence no longer distinguishes persons in the Trinity’s relational context and process, only shapes them in the limits of the common’s human context by the constraints of the human condition (“to be apart…naked and relationally distant”).

            The prominence of any and all outer-in distinctions as the prevailing measure for persons and their relationships—as Jesus made definitive in his paradigm for theology and practice (Mk 4:24)—has been consequential for the persons and relationships unfolding in human history (including church history). The measure for our person we use is the measure we get in our relationships. Conversely, the measure for our relationships we use is the measure we get in our persons. The ongoing and far-reaching consequence of this existing reality needs to be understood as composing the human condition (our human condition even as Christians). The persons and relationships we get from this prevailing measure (or any related reduced or fragmentary measure used) cannot and thus should not be expected to have any significance beyond that. Indeed, “Where are you?”

            It is evident today that there is a critical gap in our understanding of the human condition, and perhaps a failure to take the human condition seriously. Directly interrelated, and most likely its determinant, a reduced theological anthropology not only fails to address the depth of the human condition but in reality obscures its depth, reinforces its breadth, or even conforms to this inescapable and unavoidable condition. Such a reduced theological anthropology, thereby, composes our persons and relationships in this condition as our default condition and mode. The repercussions for us, of course, are that we do not account for our own practice of reductionism, and, interrelated, that we do not address our own function in the human condition; and this could subtly exist even if we are involved in changing the status quo. Our function manifests in three notable areas, which are three interrelated issues of ongoing major importance for ontology and function (implied throughout this study):

1. How we define the person from outer in based more on the quantitative parts of what we do and have, and thereby function in our own person.


2. On this basis, this is how our person engages in relationships with other persons, whom we define in the same outer-in terms, to reduce the depth level of involvement in relationship together.


3. These reduced persons in reduced relationships together then become the defining and determining basis for how we practice our beliefs and consequently how relationships together function as the church and in the related academy.

These ongoing issues are the three inescapable issues for our ontology and function needing accountability. As emerged from the primordial garden, the pivotal shift from “embodied whole from inner out and not confused, disappointed in relationship together” to “embodied parts from outer in and reduced to relational distance” has ongoing consequences; and their far-reaching implications directly challenge our theological anthropology and hold us accountable for its assumptions of ontology and function.

            Persons and relationships must contend with the common influences—even from a Christian source like the church—shaping them in order for their ontology and function to rise above this shaping influence. Yet, in order for their ontology and function to be distinguished beyond the common, they must have an uncommon source to be the basis (or measure used) for the whole ontology and function essential to define their persons and determine their relationships in uncommon likeness. This uncommon source of whole ontology and function can only be the whole and uncommon Trinity; there is no other uncommon source existing in the realms of physics and metaphysics. The Trinity’s person-al inter-person-al ontology and function integrally constitute the whole ontology and function of persons and relationships in uncommon likeness. Anything less and any substitutes for the ontology and function of the Trinity reduce and fragment the Trinity to the common, which relegates persons and relationships at best to mere common likeness. The unavoidable reality facing all persons and relationships is this:

The ontology and function of the Trinity we have in our theology and thus use in our practice will be the persons and relationships we get in likeness—nothing more.

The complete profile of the face of the Trinity came face to face with persons only in whole ontology and function.

            The persons and relationships Christians and the church get from a common source (and measure used) certainly don’t compose good news for the human relational condition. That raises a further key question from the whole and uncommon God, who now pursues our persons and relationships together in the practice of our ontology and function: “What are you doing here?” whatever our existing situation and circumstances, “What are you doing here?”

            Persons are accountable to be in uncommon likeness of nothing less and no substitutes of the person-al Trinity, and therefore persons in uncommon likeness are responsible for their relationships to be in uncommon likeness of nothing less and no substitutes of the inter-person-al Trinity.



Relationships in Uncommon Likeness


            We must not examine the person (both trinitarian and human) in isolation as if an individual entity and then expect to understand persons. We can observe objects in this manner but cannot examine subjects. Persons separated from their relationships don’t distinguish the whole person in the depth of their ontology and the breadth of their function—which also is problematic for distinguishing and understanding Jesus’ whole person in overly christocentric theology and practice. To understand the whole person from inner out requires the integral understanding of the subject-person’s relationships together with others. Persons and relationships are inseparable as created not “to be apart” from the whole of God’s likeness, and as further newly created (transformed from inner out) no longer “to be apart” from the likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity. Therefore, persons and relationships are inescapably interrelated in the above three issues of ongoing importance for ontology and function. Whole persons don’t exist apart from relationship together in wholeness, and whole relationships together don’t function apart from whole persons. Only this integrated, reciprocating, integral ontology and function distinguish subject-persons and relationships together as whole, both in the Trinity and those in likeness.

            Accordingly, what composes whole persons in uncommon likeness is integral to the uncommon function of their relationships to be in likeness, so that their persons together in relationship are to be whole-ly distinguished ongoingly in nothing less than the uncommon likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Yet, I personally am convinced that trinitarian theology and practice have misinterpreted, misunderstood and misrepresented these relationships and their likeness, which to me exists even more so than in understanding their persons and likeness. What essentially then are these relationships in uncommon likeness that are inseparable from the ontology of persons in uncommon likeness, and that are also irreplaceable for persons’ function in uncommon likeness, and thus are unequivocally indispensable to be distinguished whole in no substitutes of this Trinity?

            As always, of course, the trinitarian theological task depends on the epistemic field engaged for the Trinity and the hermeneutic lens used to interpret the who, what and how of the Trinity is disclosed. The trinitarian persons could be and have been defined apart for the primacy of their relationships, and their relationships could be and have been determined without the significance of their whole persons from inner out—both of which have reduced the Trinity’s ontology and function and have composed human persons and relationships in common likeness of a Trinity no longer whole and uncommon. What Trinity (and the measure used) and what likeness for persons and relationships (and the measure gotten) have certainly been critical issues in trinitarian theology and practice. Even when this is recognized, they are problematic for persons, relationships and churches to distinguish their whole ontology and function beyond common likeness—and distinguished from virtual realities.

            When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he grieved that their persons, relationships, and their theology and practice didn’t recognize what makes for peace, that is, wholeness in their ontology and function, because of the fog in their eyes created by a narrowed-down epistemic field and hermeneutic lens (Lk 19:41-42). Their relational condition in Second Temple Judaism while in the surrounding context of the Greco-Roman world—a relational condition reflecting, reinforcing and thus sustaining the human relational condition—exposed the absence or loss of the qualitative and relational in both the covenant relationship together with YHWH and their likeness of the whole and uncommon God. Their ontology and function emerged in the theology and practice of the temple as their defining identity marker. Yet, their primary distinction was later cleaned out of its reductionism to restore persons, relationships and God’s house to whole ontology and function—which he made definitive on the cross by tearing open the temple curtain to remove the veil of persons and relationships together in order for them to be whole as family.

            These are not just unique events in the life of Jesus that compose his narrative in referential terms. Rather they disclose the whole ontology and function of who, what and how Jesus is, and thereby distinguish the essential reality of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement—which can be either comforting or discomforting, encouraging or disappointing for persons and their relationships. What Jesus disclosed in his life unfolding directly involved the whole and uncommon Trinity and the whole of persons and relationships. Therefore, the qualitative relational significance of the who, what and how of the Trinity unfolding in the human context is essential for persons and relationships together to be in likeness of nothing less and no substitutes. Yet, Jesus still grieves palpably (with the Spirit, Eph 4:30), because what prevailed in Jerusalem and the temple continues to exist in common likeness among Christians (cf. Rev 2:4; 3:2).

            The ontology and function of persons are inevitably integrated into their relationships. So, when persons define their person from the outer in (as existed in Jerusalem and early churches), they engage in relationships on this basis and define the other person(s) in the same terms (as existed in the temple and churches, cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12). In other words, the relationships unfolding from these persons are inseparably defined and determined in likeness by how these persons are. That makes this outer-in ontology and function the critical measure used for the relationships they get. And the relationships such persons (including Jesus’ main disciples) got clearly evidenced to Jesus their lack of whole ontology and function, and not recognizing, knowing and understanding what and who would make them whole—“the uncommon peace of God, which surpasses all common understanding” (as Paul experienced and understood, Phil 4:7). What then distinguishes the whole relationships of whole persons together in uncommon likeness that are distinct from, contrary to and even in conflict with the prevailing common, all of which Jesus enacted and disclosed for the uncommon peace he brings to relationship together?

            Jesus’ person ongoingly contended with and confronted persons and relationships who used a common theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function, which composed the persons and relationships they got only from outer in. Apparent from the beginning, the outer-in distinctions (even by gender) defining persons determined their relationships in likeness, and this changed the integrity of relationships. This revised integrity either is not apparent as such any longer or is simply ignored. Such theology and practice, however, always need to be challenged for their qualitative relational significance; and we cannot continue to make the sweeping assumption that “your persons and relationships will not be reduced.” By embodying the whole ontology and function of the Trinity, Jesus was responsible for disclosing the whole-ly Trinity and accountable to unmistakably distinguish the uncommon intimate whole of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. What Jesus disclosed responsibly and distinguished accountably are irreplaceable for persons and relationships to be in the whole and uncommon Trinity’s likeness.

            Therefore, in complete Christology, Jesus was neither irenic nor tolerant with persons and relationships in any reduced or negotiated likeness that evolved in his presence and continues to develop as follows: 

 The integrity of relationships was constituted not “to be apart” and thus to be from inner out in likeness of the qualitative heart and relational nature of God (signifying God’s glory). When the ontology and function of persons and their relationships make the pivotal shift to outer in, this sets into motion a consequential relational process that functions “to be apart”—even subtly in the practice of common orthodoxy. “To be apart” in relationships is to function in anything less and any substitutes of relationships that don’t have depth of relational connection from inner out between the persons participating. The pivotal shift from the primacy of relationships together with persons from inner out refocuses persons on their outer-in secondary parts, by which they make distinctions for their person to substitute for their hearts and to reconfigure relationships by those secondary distinctions. These persons, at best, can only be associated with each other at the level of their outer-in distinctions, whereby they can only be indirectly interrelated with each other’s person without directly deeper connection—which precludes the involvement of persons as subjects. Far worse for outer-in distinctions—in terms of situations and circumstances, yet no different in ontology and function—are persons and relationships stratified in sociocultural, religious, economic and political institutions (including families and churches), structures and systems that relegate them to lower strata with no recourse for their relational condition “to be apart,” thereby relegating them to objects manipulated by their contexts. At whatever level or extent of human distinctions, the existing reality for persons and relationships has evolved  explicitly and subtly to further entrench and sustain the human relational condition “to be apart,” and thus to further diminish, distort, even discount the integrity of relationships together to be in uncommon likeness of the Trinity. Such development, for example, in the current process of globalization only has magnified the loss of integrity for persons and relationships in wholeness—even with efforts of good intentions, yet still operating under the now global assumption “you will not be reduced.”

            Whether in economic and political globalization, in multiculturalism, on the Internet, and even in the global church, or at the local level and in personal contexts, ‘association in relationships’ is the prevailing mode that is commonly confused with direct relational connection. The common reality of such relational engagement, however, never composes and cannot constitute the integrity of relationships distinguished to be in likeness of the Trinity. This integrity only from inner out constitutes relationships both irreducibly and nonnegotiably with the following:

(1) the heart of whole persons as subjects connecting together in intimate involvement, the intimacy of which necessitates by its qualitative relational nature (2) persons to be equalized from their comparative human distinctions of good-bad, better-less, so that their whole persons make direct relational connection at the intimate level of their heart—no longer kept apart by ontology and function in commonly measured value from outer in. 

Whole persons integrated in relationships together integrally intimate and equalized are who, what and how the Trinity is disclosed to be, whereby the essential reality of the Trinity’s uncommon intimate whole is also distinguished. This provides the integral ontological basis and functional base for persons and their relationships together to be in uncommon likeness. Nothing less and no substitutes can constitute the integrity of relationships from inner out, and this presents a challenge to common Trinitarianism, a problem to common orthodoxy, and a conflict to common likeness.

            Jesus clearly made it definitive that the peace he gives to his followers is uncommon to the world (Jn 14:27). Only his uncommon peace constitutes the wholeness for their persons and relationships from inner out, and thus distinguishes them in the common context to be in uncommon likeness to the whole ontology and function of the Trinity—which is the essential relational outcome Jesus made conclusive in his family prayer (Jn 17:21-23). This is the wholeness Jesus embodied vulnerably from inner out, enacted intimately only in relational terms, and yet grieves over until it is embraced by persons to make whole their relational condition—that is, make whole by the uncommon relationships together of his wholeness. Therefore, the wholeness of his followers’ relationships together unfolds in his uncommon likeness in contrast to and in conflict with the evolving of relationships in common likeness reduced or negotiated by human terms, the common likeness which is apparent notably with outer-in distinctions or with associations lacking qualitative relational significance.

            The need for intimate relational connection is inherent in the human relational condition from the beginning. So-called human development has evolved in search for this intimacy; for example, this is evident in the pursuit of intimacy from outer in within the gender distinctions of sexual engagement, which is the prevailing mode confusing intimacy—with increasing gender-less distinctions still embedded in the outer in. Moreover, even neuroscience has discovered in the human brain the need for intimate connection, and the soothing peace created from the production of the hormone oxytocin (called the ‘love hormone’) when relational connections are made (as discussed previously). The need for intimate connection in human relationships has always existed in human history and exists explicitly from the point of any and all persons’ infancy; yet human development has confused the primacy of this need in its evolution. For example, recent research has been finding that infants sleeping in separate beds and/or rooms from their parents (as prevails in the Western world) have sleep issues and slower development than those sleeping together with their parents (as prevails in most of the Majority
[5] While this research does not make a distinction between intimate relational connection and relational association, infants still have the qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness to recognize the difference; thus they know when their relational need is met or not, even in their sleep. Unfortunately, as children develop, this qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness are decreased by training and conditioning from surrounding common practices of the human relational condition. Consequently, persons of all ages and relationships at all levels must recognize their inherent need for intimate relational connection from inner out, and make their persons vulnerable to their need, if their relational condition is no longer “to be apart” and changed to be whole in ontology and function in likeness of the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity.

            Jesus’ whole person integrally disclosed the person-al inter-person-al Trinity and thereby distinguished the whole ontology and function necessary for persons and relationships to be in uncommon likeness. Receiving Jesus in his uncommon wholeness gets us back to our theological anthropology and hermeneutic lens. As commonly exists, any exposing in our theological anthropology that reveals a person in the unlikeness of creator God or in common likeness of the Trinity should not be surprising. It should not surprise us at this stage, since it no doubt involves issues about relationship that are neither accounted for in relational terms nor held accountable in theology and practice beyond the informational level. This urgently centers our attention intently on God’s reverberating question “What are you doing here?”

            The essential reality of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement always reveals the Trinity engaging relationships according to only the Trinity’s whole relational terms, which compose the trinitarian persons’ communication in uncommon relational language rather than the common referential language of the human context. The basis on which the terms for relationship are defined needs to be understood as the measure used to determine what persons emerge and how relationships unfold; and this understanding helps us integrally recognize the human ontology and function composed from the measure used.   

            In the whole relational terms of the strategic shift of YHWH’s uncommon theological trajectory, the embodied Word conclusively communicated in relational language that “the hour is unfolding, and is now here, when the true worshipers as whole persons from inner out will worship the Father in intimate relationship together, for the Father only seeks such subject-persons for intimate connection in the primacy of relationship together” (Jn 4:23-24). How is this intimate relationship together to be the essential reality when the common reality in worship is simply virtual? As illuminated in the face-to-face relational connection the Son’s whole person had with the Samaritan woman, the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement have been disclosed for only this whole relational purpose and uncommon relational outcome. In relational terms, this woman’s whole person was touched by Jesus’ intimate relational connection, and she appeared to understand the qualitative relational significance of having intimate relationship together without outer-in distinctions both for the whole and uncommon God and for her person (Jn 4:17-20, 25-26,29).

            As the Son disclosed for the Father, intimate relationship together with the Trinity is not optional but essential to who and what the heart of the person-al Trinity is and how the inter-person-al Trinity is involved in relationships both within the Trinity and with us—which distinguishes the integration of persons and relationships in uncommon likeness. Therefore, it should be unmistakable from all the Son’s disclosures that this intimate relationship together in wholeness is uncommon, and thus irreducible or nonnegotiable to any common terms and shaping. The uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity is always primary for persons and relationships, and this primacy is irreplaceable by any secondary matter—even worshiping, serving, teaching, and so forth, with distinction.

            Yet, what we also need to understand from the Samaritan woman’s intimate relational connection with the embodied Trinity, and embrace for our persons and relationships, involves what is required for intimacy in relationships, that is, to be in uncommon likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity. For Jesus to come face to face with this particular Samaritan woman in a one-on-one situation magnifies a process of equalization in conjoint function with intimate involvement, in order to fulfill the intimacy needed for persons in relationship together to be in likeness of the Trinity’s uncommon intimate whole. The process of equalization begins with the persons involved in relationship together and any outer-in distinctions defining their person, which obviously would create either horizontally distancing barriers or vertically stratifying barriers to their relationship together. Jesus addressed both barriers with the Samaritan woman. As a Jewish rabbi, not to mention Messiah, Jesus bore distinctions that set him both apart from others horizontally and above others vertically—which was how Peter tried to relate to Jesus. Such distinctions, however, neither define Jesus’ person from inner out nor determine his person’s involvement as subject in relationships with others—ask Peter about this reality. Accordingly, Jesus’ person was equalized necessarily by the nature of what involved intimacy in relationship together, that is, free from the horizontal and vertical barriers to intimate relational connection.

            Jesus equalizing his person from outer-in distinctions still was only half of the equalizing relational equation. The Samaritan woman also needed to be equalized for their intimate relational connection, with her gender as only one of the prominent distinctions defining her person from outer in. Her ethnicity as a Samaritan was despised by Jews and treated in Judaism not only as less but bad, unclean and to be avoided. Moreover, she herself was morally promiscuous, which left her at the well apart from the other women in apparent social ostracism by her own compatriots. Nevertheless, Jesus engaged her whole person without those outer-in distinctions and thereby equalized her without the barriers to intimate relational connection. Her response increasingly demonstrated shifting from outer in to inner out, in contrast to remaining merely an object to Jesus’ engagement, whereby she made her person vulnerable to be equalized without her distinctions before Jesus’ whole person. Thus, her whole person emerged as a distinct subject involved with him in intimate relationship together face to face, heart to heart—just as the Father seeks from all persons in relationship together to be whole in uncommon likeness of the Trinity.

            Intimacy in relationships does not reach the depth of inner out to involve the heart of the whole person of those in relationship together, without those persons being equalized from their own outer-in distinctions and from how they defined the others in their distinctions. Any defining presence of outer-in distinctions prevent whole persons from being distinguished and those persons from intimate relationship together essential to who, what and how they are in uncommon likeness to the Trinity. Therefore, intimacy defined by the nature of relationships in uncommon likeness constitutes the hearts of persons involved and connected together. The increasingly common appeal to mindfulness in this digital age may be helpful for persons to focus more qualitatively, but mindfulness is certainly insufficient to get to the heart of the whole person needed for intimate relationship and should not be a substitute for the heart. This intimate connection requires persons equalized at the heart of the person where there are no distinctions, just the whole person from inner out. This requires persons as subjects and relationships to be in uncommon likeness of the Trinity, not in common likeness.

            Of course, uncommon likeness also requires the uncommon Trinity, who is not distinguished in common Trinitarianism. God’s glory encompasses the heart of the Trinity’s qualitative being functioning integrally by the glory of the Trinity’s intimate relational nature. At the heart of the Trinity, the trinitarian persons’ distinctions of roles and functions (enacted to love us downward) are indistinguishable—“whoever has seen my whole person has seen the Father,” The Father and I are one at the heart of our being”—and thus they are not structured together by a system of distinctions, as is commonly perceived in trinitarian theology and practice. The substantive face of the Trinity vulnerably disclosed the heart of the Trinity to distinguish the ontological One of the person-al Trinity and the relational Whole of the inter-person-al Trinity.  

            Intimate and equalized relationships inseparably define and integrally determine the whole ontology and function of the Trinity. The uncommon intimate whole essential to the heart of the Trinity’s ontology is constituted only by the function of whole trinitarian persons distinguished as subjects intimately involved in relationships together, which by their nature are equalized from the distinctions of their roles and functions and thus without the horizontal and vertical barriers to the uncommon wholeness essential for the Trinity to be together and not to be reduced or fragmented. Accordingly yet not simply, nothing less and no substitutes can integrally define our persons as subjects and determine our relationships to be in uncommon likeness to this Trinity—that is, unless we turn to common Trinitarianism to compose persons and shape relationships in common likeness. So, yes, the Trinity wants to know “What are you doing here?”



Making Whole the Likeness from Modern and Postmodern Narratives


            Intimacy is not optional for the uncommon Trinity, nor can intimacy be optional for those in likeness. This means that equalized persons and relationships are also not optional, both for the whole Trinity and for those in likeness. Not having this option is problematic, for example, for churches seeking more intimacy in their contexts without addressing equalizing their persons and relationships. This is also problematic for Christians promoting social justice and working for social change by equalization without intimate connection. We can’t have one relational condition without the other relational condition, because they are inseparably integrated to compose wholeness of persons and relationships in likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity. Yet, this whole likeness has undergone profound reductions in the framework of modernism, and the uncommon likeness has experienced ongoing fragmentation in the scope of postmodern approaches. These surrounding influences urgently amplify the Trinity’s questions and multiply the need to challenge the underlying assumptions of our theological anthropology and hermeneutic lens. In addition, the current condition of persons and relationships confronts our view of sin, the significance of our gospel, and what we are saved to. All of these compelling issues converge in the Trinity used in our theology and practice, since that defines the persons we get and determines the relationships we get. Based on the whole and uncommon disclosed by Jesus, only the whole who, what and how of the Trinity is essential to make whole current realities.

            The most prominent realities shaping the human context and the majority of its persons and relationships—including the church context and its persons and relationships—have emerged from the narratives mostly of modernism and less so of postmodernism.

            In selective summary of the modern narrative from the emergence of the Enlightenment to its unfolding in modern science, its related process of reasoning and the recent effort to quantify the heart of the human person in the brain have profoundly narrowed down the epistemic field and the perceptual-interpretive framework to the realm of physics. As a result, assumptions are made as to the validity of this epistemic process and its reliability for application to all of life, such that the theories composed generate a grand narrative for defining the universe in general and for determining persons and relationships in particular.

            Based on its quantitative framework narrowing down its epistemic field and perceptual lens to the outer in, the modern narrative has irreversibly reduced human persons and relationships not to be in qualitative relational function having qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. From the Industrial Revolution to the Internet world, the development of modern technology has indelibly entrenched and literally enslaved persons and relationships on a course of human development that has reduced the primacy of their wholeness with secondary substitutes. These more-valued substitutes can only simulate who, what and how they are in a virtual likeness—notably evident in the use of digital technology—that is, in a reality without qualitative relational significance and thus in no substantive reality.

            The existing condition of persons and relationships in developed countries is no mystery and its development (or so-called progress) has been evident in the modern narrative. In these contexts in particular, the hope for changing this condition is confounding, and the recourse to make it whole is denied or at least ignored. As emerged from the beginning, the modern narrative’s sweeping assumption has been that “you will not be reduced.” And the Trinity grieves because the modern narrative also doesn’t know what makes for wholeness, since this uncommon wholeness is beyond its perceptual lens to understand. Those persons and relationships who have subscribed to the modern narrative must live and function by the valid paradigm that reliably can be counted on for its results: the measure they use will be the measure they get—and what their reason thinks they have will evaporate from their grasp (Mk 4:24-25). Whether explicitly or inadvertently, those churches and its persons and relationships who use the modern framework and lens are subject to this paradigm because this is the existing reality that they have gotten in common likeness.

            Another more recent narrative has emerged from postmodern thinking counter to the modernist narrative. The grand narrative of modernism is not accepted in postmodernism, at least not ostensibly. The variable thinking of postmodernists opts to define persons and relationships in the experience of their local contexts. Who, what and how persons and relationships are have their primacy in their particular settings, which cannot be generalized to all persons and relationships as in a grand narrative. In this sense, the epistemic field for postmodernists is narrowed down even more than modernism; yet, on the other hand, the postmodernist lens is broadened to behold a wide range of persons and relationships. Thus, what likeness of persons and relationships that emerge from the postmodern narrative is not a reduced likeness as in modernism, but it becomes a fragmented likeness of persons and relationships merely from the diversity of human contextualization. The postmodern likeness is considered reliable in itself yet not valid for general application. Given its basis and discounting of modernist assumptions, the postmodern epistemic field and hermeneutic lens are useful for diversifying (read fragmenting) global theologies and practices—particularly composed to counter Western dominance—but they are problematic for whole trinitarian theology and practice.[6]

            While the postmodern narrative broadens, and perhaps deepens, its account of persons and relationships, any of its theories provide no basis for persons and relationships to be considered whole. Rather what is proposed is merely nothing more than distinctly fragmentary likeness—the balkanization of persons and relationships in likeness. Since it affirms no general narrative beyond local human context, even though its theories may make statements as if to generalize, the measure it uses can only yield the persons and relationships it gets—beyond whom it must remain silent, without knowledge and understanding of the whole needed for the human condition. And the balkanized likeness of persons and relationships remains in a condition “to be apart,” as if the face of Jesus disclosed nothing relevant or significant for persons and relationships to be in likeness. The postmodern fragmentary-balkanized likeness is problematic for trinitarian theology and practice because there is no wholeness to the Trinity that applies to all persons and relationships. While postmodern thinking has rightly challenged the assumptions of modernism, its own sweeping assumption has rendered it to the default condition and mode of reductionism.

            Unlike the modernist narrative limited to the realm of physics, the emergence of the Trinity integrates the realms of physics and metaphysics to disclose the essential reality beyond those realms. The essential reality of the whole and uncommon Trinity composes the metanarrative essential for all life—distinguished from the grand narrative of modernism—which encompasses all persons and relationships in uncommon likeness neither reduced nor fragmented. Apart from this essential metanarrative, there is no basis for wholeness either for the Trinity or for persons and relationships.

            This is the epistemological and hermeneutical dilemma that a postmodern narrative faces, even apart from its counterpart modern narrative. The resolution of this dilemma will only take place—and not without difficulty—when its epistemic field and hermeneutic lens account for and therefore become accountable to the whole and uncommon Trinity disclosed in the human context, yet not defined and determined by human contextualization as postmodernists depend on.


             The reduced likeness of a modernist narrative may assume to be applicable to all persons and relationships, but that application can only reduce who, what and how persons and relationships are. The fragmentary-balkanized likeness of a postmodernist narrative is inapplicable to all persons and relationships and makes no explicit assumptions that it does. Yet, there appears to be an underlying assumption that the sum of all those fragments from local settings could apply to the whole of the human context. Perhaps balkanized likeness is considered analogous to diverse nations converging to form the United Nations. That sum, however, would still not equal the whole—which is greater than the sum of any parts or fragments—needed for all persons and relationships to be in essential likeness to the whole and uncommon Trinity.

            We need to challenge our own assumptions and face the surrounding reality of reduced and fragmented likenesses; and we need to stop ignoring them or denying their influential reality in our midst, both of which keep us “to be apart” from our essential likeness. That essential likeness for human persons and relationships in life together is uncommon to all that is common whether in a modern narrative or a postmodern narrative.

            Though idolized (as in modernism) or idealized (as in postmodernism), the likeness from such narratives can only compose persons and relationships in a virtual reality of the whole who, what and how essential to be. Even the likeness of a premodern narrative involved basically the same issues for persons and relationships. Christendom evolved in the fourth century, for example, to impose its common framework for all theology and practice to conform to a reduced ontology and function in common likeness. Similar in likeness, other efforts to ensure orthodoxy and to avoid fragmentation in the church established the primacy of doctrine over the primacy of relationships together involving the whole person, which thereby composed common orthodoxy in unlikeness to the whole and uncommon Trinity. The common shaping of persons and relationship also emerged in the earliest church. Paul fought against these “fine-sounding arguments, persuasive speech” (pithanologia, Col 2:4,8,16-19, notably from the early forms of gnosticism) in order that the interrelated likeness of persons, relationships and the church would be in uncommon wholeness—integrated together with the uncommon whole ontology and function of the Trinity disclosed by Christ (Col 2:9-10, as in Eph 4:13-16).

            As emerged from the beginning, the ontology and function of persons and relationships have struggled to be whole in the essential likeness, which is only uncommon and therefore irreducible and nonnegotiable to the common. OK, so in the emerging post-Christian narrative of the twenty-first century, which not surprisingly is reinforced by the common likeness of Christians, “Where are you in your theology and practice?” and “What are you doing here in your persons, relationships and churches?” The Trinity waits for our response.




[1] Further discussion on supervenience is found in Dennis Bielfeldt, “The Peril and Promise of Supervenience for Scientific-Theological Discussion,” and Niels Hendrik Gregersen, “God’s Public Traffic: Holist versus Physicalist Supervenience,” in Niels Henrik Gregersen, Willem B. Drees and Ulf Gorman, eds., The Human Person in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 117-188.

[2] Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010).

[3] Consider neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s recent experience of connecting with God while his brain was not functioning, in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012).

[4] I engage this discussion of theological anthropology more completely in my study The Person in Complete Context: The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished (Theological Anthropology Study, 2014). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[5] Reported by human development researchers Robert LeVine and Sarah LeVine, “It’s more than OK to sleep next to your infant,” OP-ED, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2016.

[6] David S. Cunningham considers postmodernism an asset for developing a postmodern trinitarian theology, which would focus on a number of concerns neglected by theologians influenced by modernity. See his discussion in “The Trinity” in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 186-202.



©2016 T. Dave Matsuo

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