The Trinity And Maximal Greatness
For those who do not know, I was once heavily involved in apologetics. While I have scaled back quite a bit because of the amount of stress that is involved in constant back and forth exchanges, the apologetics world has still left its mark on me. I still think that apologetics is important for both bringing believers to the faith, as well as helping strengthen the faith of believers. It is the latter that I want to talk about today. If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, you will probably not get much out of this. You would probably be better served by some other article about Christianity. However, if you are a Christian and are reading this, I hope that what I have to say to you has as much impact as understanding this did on me.
One of the things that has strengthened my faith over the years is remembering that God is the Maximally Great Being. Not simply a Maximally Great Being, as though more than one Maximally Great Being could exist. No, since only one Maximally Great Being can exist, that Maximally Great Being is the only Being in existence that is rightfully called God. Understanding this has had a profound impact on my faith and has strengthened it when I have struggled in my own life. I know that some of you who are reading this already have a concept of the Maximally Great Being. For others, the concept of Maximal Greatness is a new concept. Because of this, I want to start by giving a brief overview of what is meant by a Maximally Great Being, as well as Plantinga's argument for his existence.
The concept of a Maximally Great Being is deeply rooted in the Christian conception of God. A Maximally Great Being is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent in every possible world. We will discuss possible worlds in a moment. For now, it is important to note that significant individuals through Church history, such as Anselm, have articulated an understanding of God that is in line with what we often call a Maximally Great Being. Anselm, for example, articulated that God was a Being, "The greater than which cannot be imagined." In other words, we cannot even imagine a being greater than God. This is because no such being greater than God actually exists. Plantinga's conception of a Maximally Great Being in modern times is strikingly similar to Anselm's conception of God as described above.
Let's take a look at Plantinga's concept in particular, since this is significant for understanding modern Christian theology. Plantinga describes a Maximally Great Being as one that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent in every possible world. But what exactly does this mean? When dealing with the concept of a possible world, it is important to understand that we are not talking about parallel universes or anything of that nature. A possible world is simply a state of affairs that could happen. Something exists in a possible world if that thing does not contradict itself. Thus, Plantinga argues that:
I. It is possible for a Maximally Great Being to exist (since the concept is not self-contradictory).
II. If it is possible for a Maximally Great Being to exist, a Maximally Great Being must exist in some possible worlds (again, this follows by the nature of a possible world).
III. If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible worlds, then a Maximally Great Being must exist in every possible world (since to say otherwise would be to assume that a Maximally Great Being is less than maximally great).
IV. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then a Maximally Great Being exists in the real world (otherwise, a Maximally Great Being would have a possible world in which he does not exist, in contradiction to Premise III).
V. If a Maximally Great Being exists in the real world, then a Maximally Great Being exists.
VI. Therefore, a Maximally Great Being, referred to as God by Christians, must exist.
Since God exists and is maximally great, a theologian must ask himself or herself how this understanding of God influences theology. I think that one area that is often not considered is the fact that such a Being must be something akin to the Trinity in Christian theology. That is, only the Christian concept of the Trinity makes sense of a Maximally Great Being. The reason for this is simple: God is omnibenevolent, and therefore he must love. God is omnipotent, so he must have the ability to act on his omnibenevolence. There also cannot be more than one Maximally Great Being, since for a distinction to take place, one must have a property that the other does not. One of the distinguishing properties would, of necessity, be a lesser-making property. So we end up with this equation:
1. God must be able to love (otherwise he could not be omnibenevolent).
2. God must have the ability to act on this love (otherwise he would not be omnipotent).
3. There can only be one God (which is the logical conclusion of a Maximally Great Being--everything else must be lesser than him).
4. God must exist necessarily (and thus eternal--otherwise, there would be a possible world in which he does not exist, see Plantinga's argument above).
Now, here is the problem with concepts that deny something like a triune nature in God: in such conceptions, there was a point in which God could not love. That is, if there was ever a time when God was not more than one Person, yet at the same time fully God, then there was a time when God did not have the ability to love because he would have had no one to love. Thus, in rival conceptions of God, there was a time when God was not able to act on love, and therefore was not omnipotent. Yet if omnipotence is a necessary part of a Maximally Great Being, then such things are absurd. The conclusion we must draw, then, is this: If God is to exist at all, he must exist as one God in more than one Person. To deny this is to deny that God always was omnipotent, and therefore was, at one point, not maximally great. Thus Christianity is the only faith in which God can truly and rightly be called God. All others fail at this point.