Humanity’s encounter with Jesus helped us see God for who he really is. After the advent of Jesus, we had to reform our interpretation of who he was because we saw that God did not empty himself in spite of his nature but rather because of his nature. It is because of Jesus’ divinity that he emptied himself, not in spite of it. It is because he was God that he poured out himself in service to the least deserving. It is because he is God that he has poured out the Holy Spirit. He pours himself out because he is God and what makes him God is that he never stops pouring himself out.
Ever since we saw God this way the imaginations of theologians and philosophers has been disrupted and captivated. In the second century, Irenaeus explains that God became human (something he is not) so that humans could become divine (something we are not yet). It is the great reversal. In the fourth century, Augustine connects God’s self-emptying nature with the simple truth that God is love. We understand that God is love in the truth that love requires an object, something to love. There is no such thing as sentence-fragment-love. There is no loving without a subject, object and verb. If the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved and the Holy Spirit is the Loving that proceeds between the Father and Son. Jesus’ baptism demonstrates this in 3D: The Son empties himself by going under the water; upon rising, the Holy Spirit lights on him, proceeding from the Father’s voice which says: “This is my Son, whom I love…” God is the one who continually pours out himself in relationship.
This image is so wondrous, theologians continued to express in dynamic, creative language the self-emptying nature of God. In the eighth century a theologian named John Damascene used the word perichoresis to describe God’s fluid, self-emptying nature. You know this word already because it’s formed by combining two words we use in English. Our word choreography is derived from the word choresis. It means dancing. But how about the prefix peri? We use it in our word perimeter. It means around. When John Damascene says that God is the perichoretic God he asserts that our God is the “dancing-around God.”
Author Catherine LaCugna writes: “Choreography suggests the partnership of movement, symmetrical but not redundant, as each dancer expresses and at the same time fulfills him/herself towards the other. In inter-action and inter-course, the dancers (and the observers) experience one fluid motion of encompassing, permeating, enveloping, outstretching. There are neither leaders nor followers in the divine dance, only an eternal movement of reciprocal giving and receiving, giving again and receiving again…The image of the dance forbids us to think of God as solitary. The idea of trinitarian perichoresis provides a marvelous point of entry into contemplating what it means to say that God is alive from all eternity in love.”