- Perichoresis: Great Dance of God and Creation
- The Great Dance of God and Creation, part 2
Is man free, or is God sovereign?
The Bible teaches both. To humans they seem contradictory. As a result, we feel forced to choose between one or the other. The hyper-Calvinist regards God as sovereign and human freedom a myth. On the other hand, the process theologian makes man so free that God is no longer sovereign. As one well-known “evangelical,” Tony Campolo, says, “God is not in control.”
The problem is exacerbated by the common, mistaken notion that truth is a point on a line, rather than a spectrum between two points, as we have discussed here. This error often drives an unnecessary division between two valid principles.
But a metaphor from the early church may help resolve the tension between human freedom and God’s sovereignty.
The early church fathers wrestled with another mystery of the scripture: the Trinity. How can God be three persons yet one God? They captured the relationship of the Trinity with the Greek word perichoresis. This term consists of peri (around) and choresis (dance), thus the “dance around.”
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, co-equal and co-eternal, three persons comprising one God, may be thought of as relating to one another in a divine dance. The form and freedom of a well-done dance portray the inter-relationship and intersecting of the three distinct persons of the Trinity. In like manner, this dance metaphor can help resolve at least some of the other apparent contradictions in scripture.
The Great AND
As mentioned above, the concept of truth as two points on a line—with the tension between the two points—creates the space for the dance. God is sovereign, and humans are free. Human beings are responsible, under the sovereign rule of their Creator, for the future of their lives, families, communities, and for the building of their nations.
The great AND is founded in the trinitarian pattern of God’s existence. He is the one AND many God of creation. God is community, the Father AND the Son AND the Holy Spirit, the combined one Lord.
As my colleague Gary Brumbelow has written, creation is binary. Creation manifests the great AND. The universe is built on relationships:
- God AND His creation
- God AND His people
- Woman AND man
- Humankind AND creation
- Husband AND wife
- Individual AND community
- Christ AND His bride
- Unity AND diversity in both creation and the human family
We also find the pattern of the great AND reflected in theological issues in Scripture:
- Law AND grace
- Work AND worship
- Love AND justice
- Form AND freedom
- God’s sovereignty AND human responsibility
This relationship between two realities is fluid and dynamic, not mechanical and deterministic. This fluidity of form and freedom the ancients have called perichoresis, or The Great Dance of Life. They see this as a human pattern derived from the trinitarian archetype.
Perichoresis pictures the Trinity
When you watch a dance—whether ballet, the tango, square dancing, ballroom dancing, the swing, or the rumba—you witness people in motion, interacting with each other. There are often very complicated steps that require a mastery of detail and take years of practice to produce excellence. When people have practiced over and over to master the steps and technique, they become fluid and their performance appears effortless. They blend their dance with the rhythm and cadence of the music. All this diversity of dancers, instrumentalists and instruments are blended into one beautiful whole of sight and sound. This reflects the great dance, perichoresis, that manifests the transcendent, metaphysical truths of God.
The traditional Greek wedding dance is called perichoresis. Jonathan Marlowe writes of this dance.
They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion. They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly (yet so effortlessly) that as you look at them, it just becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance.
The church fathers first suggested perichoresis as a way to picture the interrelationship between the members of the Trinity. The ancient Byzantine Christians described perichoresis.
We call the Inner Life of the Trinity the perichoresis, or The Great Dance, circling about. It is an image of profound peace in dynamic flow, of eternal give and take. The Persons of the Trinity are equal but different, each deferring to the other in the Love of the Great Dance.
C.S. Lewis expounds on the idea
C.S. Lewis, writing in Perelandra, introduced this concept to the church of the 20th century.
In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its reason the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else is directed. Thus each is equally at the center and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a scepter love. Blessed be He!
Watch the Russian waltz below for a picture of the mojvement, grandeur and harmony of perichoresis. (Go here if the video does not appear.)
So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Blessed be He!
God calls us to join Him in the Great Dance
Educator and theologian Greg Uttinger captures the essence of the Great Dance when he writes,
The metaphor is apt. In a ballroom dance or a folk dance, each participant is responsible for his own role. He cannot see the whole, let alone shape the whole. But as he dances his part well, as he submits himself to the rules of the dance, he helps to create a thing of wondrous complexity and great beauty. Such is the universe, and such is the church. But the root of this all lies in the inner life of the Triune God.
The wonder is that God calls us to join Him in the beautiful movement of the Great Dance of Life. Of course, like learning to skate or ride a bike, we may be stepping all over ourselves and falling down for a while. But God, who provides the lead, continues to call us back onto the dance floor.
- Darrow Miller
 In my 2007 book, Nurturing the Nations, I cited this paragraph from a source no longer available: Byzantine Wisdom: Trinity; http://members.aol.com/theloego/byzantine/page3.html
 Quoted in Kumagai’s The Spiritual World of C.S. Lewis
 Lewis, C.S., Perelandra, [page 186 of the 2003 first Scribner trade paperback edition.
 www.chalcedon.edu/articles/0208/020827uttinger.shtml] pg. 9