The Accidental God?
Tuesday of Pentecost 7
12 July 2016
Some years ago, the government of Ontario, Canada, began a public service campaign to change the use of the word "accident" so that it would no longer be used to refer to automobile collisions. The theory behind this was that most auto mishaps are not due to accidental causes, but are caused by any combination of negligence, carelessness, or criminal intent. "Accident" tends to remove personal responsibility from a car wreck, because it implies that the driver(s) had no control over the situation, which is very seldom the case. We actually use the word "accident" in a strange way when we say, "I caused an accident," about our role in an automobile collision. There is nothing accidental about "accident" in this statement.
 
The word "accident" has gone through any number of evolutions over time. One of the ways in which the term "accident" was used refers to the changeable characteristics in any person or substance. For example, a human being might have blonde or brown hair. Hair color is easily distinguished in humans and is often remarked upon. But the color of hair does not change the fact that a blonde person is as human (please, no blonde jokes!) as a person with brown hair. If a person is bald or blonde he or she is still in substance human. While it is hard to define what human-ness is apart from accidents, we can all recognize a human and distinguish humans from animals. Philosophers, following Aristotle, have honed the distinction between substance and accident to a fine art, so that anything could be considered according to both its substance and accidents (or incidental and changing characteristics).
 
However, when it comes to God our apparently neat distinction between substance and accidents runs into a road block. The three persons of the holy Trinity are one essence or substance. Yet there are distinctions among the persons. The Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father. How can these distinctions not make a difference in the essence of the holy Trinity? Such distinctions cannot be accidents in the way philosophers use the word, because this would imply that the essence of God is changeable and thus imperfect. Augustine dealt with exactly this question and provided a paradigmatic solution to it by describing the distinctions among the persons of the Trinity as distinctions of relation rather than accidents. Taken at face value the distinction of personal relations is a helpful one for understanding the mutuality of the work of the three persons of the holy Trinity, the God who is intent upon our salvation. And that's no accident.
Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Nothing in God is said in respect to accident, since nothing is accidental (a changeable characteristic) to Him, and yet all that is said is not said according to substance. For in created and changeable things, that which is not said according to substance, must, by necessary alternative, be said according to accident. For to them all things are accidents that can be either lost or diminished, whether sizes or qualities. The same could be said about terms of relations, such as friendships, relationships, services, likenesses, equalities, and anything else of the kind; so also positions and conditions, places and times, acts and passions.
 
"But in God nothing is said to be according to accident, because in Him nothing is changeable; and yet not everything that is said, is said according to substance. For it is said in relation to something, such as the Father in relation to the Son and the Son in relation to the Father, which is not accident. The one is always Father, and the other is always Son. Yet 'always,' does not mean from the time when the Son was born (natus), so that the Father never ceases to be the Father because the Son never ceases to be the Son, but because the Son was always begotten, and never began to be the Son. But if He had begun to be at any time, or were at any time to cease to be the Son, then He would be called Son according to accident. But if the Father, in that He is called the Father, were so called in relation to Himself, not to the Son; and the Son, in that He is called the Son, were so called in relation to Himself, not to the Father; then both the one would be called Father, and the other Son, according to substance.
 
"But because the Father is not called the Father except in that He has a Son, and the Son is not called Son except in that He has a Father, these things are not said according to substance; because each of them is not so called in relation to Himself, but the terms are used reciprocally and in relation each to the other. This is not according to accident, because both being called the Father and being called the Son, is eternal and unchangeable to them. Therefore, although to be the Father and to be the Son is different, yet their substance is not different; because they are so called, not according to substance, but according to relation, which relation, however, is not accident, because it is not changeable."

Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.5
John 10:22-39

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
 
Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
 
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?"
 
The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."
 
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came- and Scripture cannot be broken- do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
(ESV)
Prayer
O blessed holy Trinity, You have revealed Yourself in the relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that I might know you as three persons and one divine essence; all three person working together for my salvation. Help me to confess what I cannot know that You might be glorified in my weakness and resoundingly extolled in my silence. Amen.
 
For all the US troops who are stationed away from their homes and families that they might be kept safe and brought home to be reunited with loved ones
 
For our shut ins, Ed Jutzi, Rita Baker, Helen Weaver, Anita Markwardt, Reuben Braun, Pearl White, Lois Vaughn, Marie and Joanie Hoyer, Mary Lewis, and Lucille Herter, that they might be patient in their tribulations and call upon the Lord in every trouble
 
For Keith Emshoff who is beginning seminary at Concordia Theological Seminary in September and all the men in seminary programs, that they would delight in the word of truth and gain the tools with which to rightly handle it
 
For all those who have been elected to offices serving the church at the 66th regular convention of the LCMS in Milwaukee, that they would serve to the best of their ability to the glory of God and for the benefit of God's holy people
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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