“In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
“God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God”
“The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God’s whole and undivided essence belongs equally, eternally, simultaneously, and fully to each of the three distinct Persons of the Godhead.”
The Trinity is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—who are each fully and equally God.
Does all of that leave you scratching your heads?
So much has been written about the trinity and yet so little is still understood. One of my favourite quotes from the making of the first Star Wars movie is from Harrison Ford who plays Han Solo. He really didn’t like the dialogue, which made almost no sense to him as he didn’t know the bigger story that was in the writer’s head. Ford said to the writer/director George Lucas:
“You can type this stuff George, but you can’t say it”
If Ford was a theologian, he might be tempted to say the same thing about the Trinity. Saying more stuff about a mystery doesn’t make that mystery any clearer and it often makes it more of a mystery. Sometimes we have to accept that mysteries can only be understood in part.
Where do we get the Trinity from? You won’t find it in the bible, at least not explicitly. What you will find is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and language (from Jesus) about being one. The clues are there, but the bible doesn’t come out and say: “here it is”.
Our usual approach is to try to solve what we think is a puzzle about how God can be three distinct persons and yet one at the same time. We come up with all kinds of pictures (water ice and steam; Twix bar; clover) and yet they don’t really explain it all.
The easier way is to accept that God is three and yet one and explore what that might mean in real time. Our starting point is often the byproducts that come from the Trinity “being”. We may say that wisdom is a byproduct. That salvation is a byproduct. That justice and mercy and peace are byproducts.
But that’s what they are: byproducts. The real heart of the trinity is Love. Richard Baukham writes,
“God the Trinity is the love we find in Jesus Christ and experience in the Holy Spirit. God the Trinity is the mystery of love we can experience but never understand.”
It is love that produces those fruits of the spirit we value so much.
In John chapter 3, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus raises the issue of the Holy Spirit being the one who transforms us as if we were born again. He says that we can’t see the Spirit but we can see the results of his movement like the wind. You see trees move, you feel it on your face, you see the leaves whipped up: but you can’t see the wind.
In the same way, we talk about the Trinity. We talk about the effect of their being one; we talk about when we meet Jesus it is like God in our midst. When Jesus talks about “I and the Father are one” he makes a statement that goes beyond “we are a close family” and leaves us to ponder how God can be in “heaven” and Jesus can be here now.
But in the end, we live with what we can’t adequately explain, knowing it to be true because we catch glimpses of it being true in our lives. Maybe we discover a little more each day and through each experience. Through delving deeper into scripture, through prayer, through being together. That mystery at worst becomes a little clearer at best it becomes a part of our everyday life with God.
I am becoming more comfortable standing up on Trinity Sunday and saying, “I don’t really know” and to encourage you all to discover how you experience the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit because that is the start of how the church began to make this doctrine at the centre of its creeds.
The earliest church theologians began to realise that when you had Jesus, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit and when you had Jesus speaking about the other two in close personal relationship and when you add a reluctance to have three Gods (as the OT is very firm in its monotheism) there must be something in it. Those three must be inextricably linked.
So the creeds describe how that relationship works and how we experience it while anchoring it in the idea of “one being, with the father” so that we don’t get an idea of a separation of the three. The most important question is not how do I prove this, but rather how does this affect me today in my walk with Jesus.
Jesus is not going to ask you to explain the Trinity to him at the judgement seat. But if you are going have a relationship with him, then you need to know what his relationships are, what is important to him, how he loves and why he loves. You need to know where he comes from, why being a human was important, why he prayed, how he saw himself. And you can’t do that without the Trinity.