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Christopher Hitchens vs. the Trinity

by Justin Wishart

The late Christopher Hitchens makes an argument that has gained some traction in Atheistic circles, and I have to admit that the argument is not bad. Michael Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, quotes Hitchens as saying:

I think it would be rather awful if it was true. If there was a permanent, total, round-the-clock divine supervision and invigilation of everything you did, you would never have a waking or sleeping moment when you weren’t being watched and controlled and supervised by some celestial entity from the moment of your conception to the moment of your death…It would be like living in North Korea.[i]

Hitchens not only denies that God exists, but he wouldn’t even want God to exist. God is like a divine “big brother” who is continually spying on you to see if you mess up; when you do you will be judged. This is not a loving god, but a cruel and petty god. This would create the situation where rewards are given to people who submit and are loyal to the commands of this celestial dictator, and if you do not submit and are not loyal you will be damned. One can envision Nazi Germany, and that god is a ‘heavenly Hitler’.

And does this not make sense? I think it does, and I can see why people would not want this god to be real. Think about it, god is all alone and comes up with the idea that he should make people. Obviously he needs something; possibly he is lonely, bored, or both. He then creates some people and tells them they must submit, and if they don’t he’ll make them pay. Who would want such a god? We can even find many verses in the Bible that would seem to support this argument. How is the Christian to respond? I propose that the answer is found within the Trinity.

In the rest of this article I will attempt to show how the Trinity makes Hitchens’s argument meaningless. While many Christians don’t take the time to think about the Trinity, I hope to begin to show how important this doctrine is to our theology and overall apologetic. Before we get there, however, some background work needs to be done.

One question I have always wondered about was: What was God doing without creation, without the universe, without angels, without anything? It turns out that the answer to this question will look very different depending on whether you view God as a being existing as a single person, or in a Trinitarian way. If God is a being existing as a single person, with no distinctions, then without creation a single person is all there is. Everything is one. This indicates a few things about such a god that we should view as fundamental to his nature.

First, it tells us that such a god is needy and dependent upon his creation. In his book Conversations with God, Neale Walsch recounts a mystical experience he had with “god.”[ii] In a conversation with god, Walsch asked a fundamental question: Why are we here? God supposedly responded:

Now All That Is [god] knew it was all there was – but this was not enough, for it could only know its utter magnificence conceptually, not experientially. Yet the experience of itself is that for which it longed, for it wanted to know what it felt like to be so magnificent. Still, this was impossible, because the very term “magnificent” is a relative term… And so All That Is divided Itself – becoming, in one glorious moment, that which is this, and that which is that.[iii]

According to Walsch, god needed creation (dividing itself) so he could turn his conceptual knowledge into experiential knowledge. In other words, god needs us to satisfy something which he lacks. Other conceptions of god posit that He might need servants, or love, etc., but whatever the motivation was for creation, it was born out of some need or some lack.

Second, god cannot be eternally loving, as love requires an object, but there is no object for this god without creation as he is absolutely all there is. If love indeed exists with this kind of god, it must be a self-love as one self is all there is. You might be able to say many things about this god, but that he is an eternally loving god, unless it is narcissistically based, cannot be one of them.

This god plays well into what Hitchens was talking about, particularly if he has a hell or some form of suffering (e.g. reincarnation) for those who do not follow his prescription for salvation. This is the god Hitchens has in mind, and it is truly a dreadful sort of god.

But what if we were now to ask what God was doing without creation as a Trinity, a tri-personal being? There are many verses that can be used to answer this question, but I have selected one due to space.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24, ESV, emphasis mine)

We can see that without creation, the Father loved the Son eternally. This is why John could boldly proclaim, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John: 4:8, ESV) With the Trinity, we have objects for the Father to love in the Son and the Spirit from eternity. Before God became the great Judge, because there was nothing to judge without creation, God was in loving community within His triune nature. Therefore, God is fundamentally love[iv] and is the only monotheistic conception that can eternally exist as love.

It is also true, therefore, that God is not in need of His creation. While Walsch’s god needs creation to experience his conceptual knowledge, the Trinity has eternal, personal divisions so as to have innate relational knowledge. God experiences relation within Himself, and is not limited as are all other conceptions of a monotheistic God. Since the Trinity is eternal community, and since this makes God not dependant on creation, the question that should follow is: why did the Triune God even create anything? Philosopher Ellis Potter brings these concepts together:

Before there was any creation, when there was only God, there was already trust and love in reality because there was already a fulfillment of the need to be seen and be heard and make a difference and be wanted…This other-centeredness is the source of God’s energy…This energy increases exponentially. It becomes so great that God could say Let there be light!And a universe was born. The Bible gives a name to this energy when it says God is love.[v]

To put it in somewhat less flowery language, since love is all about focusing and giving to another, love always grows when it is selfless and reciprocated. God created this universe because of love, as perfect love grows by nature. By way of analogy, if we imagine God’s love as water filling a pool, there comes a time when the pool becomes full. However, the water continues to pour and spills over. This spilling over is God creating the universe so as to have more objects for His affections.[vi] Therefore, God did not create because He lacked, but because he desires to love further.

Doesn’t this fundamentally undermine Hitchens’ argument? While it is true that God is also holy, and therefore the Judge, His being Judge is also motivated by love.[vii] Far from being a “Heavenly Hitler,” God is fundamentally a Loving God. While Hitchens imagines a needy, petty god who is all about creating for himself and taking from us, the Triune God is about giving and pouring Himself out for His creation. This is not the god of North Korea, but the God of the Garden of Eden. We as Christians should agree with Hitchens that such a god as he imagines would be horrible; however, we must point out that Hitchens’s god is not the true God. Thus, his argument is unsuccessful when applied to Christianity.

Remember, Jesus instructed us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9, ESV) We approach God as a loving Father, someone who we highly respect and revere. While we submit our lives to our loving Father, we don’t begrudgingly approach Him as if He were a dictator. We submit to Him because of His glory, His beauty, His majesty, and because of His love. How true are these words of Scripture; “We love because He first loved us.”

[i]Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, IPV Academic, 2012, pg. 109.
[ii] Walsch claimed that he was able to ask god any question and god responded by writing out the answer with the pen that Walsch was holding.
[iii]Neale Walsch, Conversations with God: and Uncommon Dialogue, Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc., 1995, pg. 22-23.
[iv]This does not mean that God is onlylove, for God is also fundamentally a Trinity.
[v]Ellis Potter, 3 Theories of Everything,Destinee Media, 2012, pg. 60.
[vi]As is common with analogies, this becomes absurd if the analogy is taken too far or used to try to explain what it is not intended to explain. For example, I am not suggesting that there is a limit to God’s love as with a pool, but simply how God’s creation is motivated by love, not lack.
[vii]For an explanation of this, see Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity.