The cornerstone of the Christian faith is expressed in the Shema. In Hebrew the text of the Shema is only six words, but in English it reads: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The Shema is said at least twice daily by observant Jews. It is the first portion of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. When it is said in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews pronounce each word carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand. The complete Shema is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It consists of three parts linked together in a complete unity.
In Mark’s Gospel we read an account from the ministry of our Lord:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:28-30, NRSV)
Rabbi Jesus not only recited the Shema but he explained his kingdom in terms that were plainly built upon this truth. The cornerstone of Christian truth is that there is one God, not three. We confess one God who is revealed to us as Father, Son and Spirit. God is not a committee of three divine beings!
As I work my way afresh through the biblical teaching on divine love, I have been struck again and again by the many theories that we have embraced that implicitly deny the oneness of God. For example, if we teach that the Son died to make a payment to the Father so as to remove his wrath against us and our sin then we implicitly, and maybe unwittingly, deny the oneness of God. In most evangelical contexts this idea of the Son being sacrificed because of the Father’s wrath against our sin is equated with “the gospel” itself. One reason (and there are several) for rejecting this idea is that it posits a faulty understanding of God. Oddly, we teach that God demands a payment for our sins even though he teaches us to forgive others without any payment at all. We teach that the Son says, in effect, “Father I will go and pay for the sins of humanity by becoming a perfect sacrifice. Pour your wrath out upon me Father.” The Father demands satisfaction in this thinking. Jesus provides it. We accept it and thus we receive a once-for-all-time “get out of jail free” card called salvation. Salvation is not rooted in the love of the one God but in the odd way we construct a legal concept of the atonement and then call this THE gospel.
The truth of this matter seems to be altogether different to me. Our salvation is just not this schizophrenic. It originates in the very heart of God the Father. John 3:16 plainly says that God loved the world. The longer I read the theology of John the less I believe that we have understood the depth and greatness of the love of the triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If the Father “so loved” the world that he gave his Son then that doesn’t sound like a wrathful Father punishing his one and only Son because he demands satisfaction. It sounds much more like a rescue project planned by a loving God to save/rescue those he loves.
There is no greater theme in all the universe than this–God loves us and thus continues to do everything necessary to save us if we would only flee to his open, loving arms for forgiveness and salvation.