We owe a great deal of Western thinking to the Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle (384–322 BCE). Aristotle taught that there were ten different qualities to all things, including “substance” and “relationship.”
Substance is that which is “independent” of all else and can stand on its own. Aristotle ranked substance as the highest quality. In early Christian traditions, the West tried to build on Aristotle to prove that this God whom we had come to understand as Trinitarian was a substance. We didn’t want an ephemeral old relationship God, you know. We wanted a substantial God whom we could prove was as good as anybody else’s God!
Yet, when Jesus called himself the Son of the Father and yet one with the Father, he is giving clear primacy to relationship. Who you are is who you are in the Father, as he would put it. That is your meaning and your identity. Jesus says to his Father, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
In the fourth and fifth centuries, Augustine (354–430) described Trinity as God in three substances united as one. By the next century, God is one substance who happens to have three relationships. Aquinas (1225–1274) comes along in the thirteenth century saying that God is one substance, but the relationships constitute the very nature of that substance, subsistent relationship. Now we are prepared to say that God is not, nor does God need to be, “substance” in the Aristotelian sense of something independent of all else. God is relationship itself.
I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship. As long as you show up with some degree of vulnerability, the Spirit can keep working. Self-sufficiency makes God experience impossible! That’s why Jesus showed up in this world as a naked, vulnerable one, a defenseless baby lying in the place where animals eat. Talk about utter relationship! Naked vulnerability means I’m going to let you influence me; I’m going to allow you to change me. The Way of Jesus is an invitation to a Trinitarian way of living, loving, and relating—on earth as it is in the Godhead. We are intrinsically like the Trinity, living in absolute relatedness. To choose to stand outside of this Flow is the deepest and most obvious meaning of sin.
We call the Flow love. We really were made for love, and outside of it we die very quickly.