God in ordinary words: How the Bible speaks of the divine

The category of “relation” has long been central to trinitarian theology, but in recent theology it has become a transcendental category, the leading feature not only of divine life but also of created life. Human beings made in the image of the triune God are analogically “relational” beings, and relationality is said to characterize the nonhuman world as well.

However, critics of this approach—Kathryn Tanner and Lewis Ayres stand out for their clarity—argue that since God and humans are different, the move from talk of God’s relationality to human relationships is not straightforward. Because of the gap between God and human beings, ordinary language does not apply to God in the same way it does to humans. What does equal mean in the statement “divine persons are equal”? What does person or relation mean when applied to God? Divine persons are their relations, but human beings exist, Tanner says, before the relations they have among themselves. Further, divine persons have a fixed relationality that is not characteristic of human beings: the Father is no one’s Son, and the Son will never be a Father.

Ayres likewise objects that attempts at trinitarian ontology are unclear about their concept of analogy. A proper concept of analogy must both honor the Creator-creature distinction and recognize the presence of God within his creation. Because of the differences between God and humans, terms like relation cannot be used univocally when applied to one or the other.