Do you have a hard time understanding the idea of the Trinity? Trudy Morgan Cole’s reflections may help.
I have so much trouble when I try to pray!” Sharon confessed to her pastor. “It doesn’t seem real to me. God seems so far away and remote—I picture an old man on a throne somewhere on the other side of the universe. How can He care about what’s happening to me here and now?”
“That’s a picture of God that a lot of people have,” Sharon’s pastor agreed, “although it’s often not a very useful one. What about Jesus? Do you think about Jesus when you pray? Remember that Jesus lived a human life and can relate to our struggles. And He promised that the Holy Spirit would always be dose to us when we tried to pray.”
“Oh, yes, I love Jesus, Sharon said, “but I’m not sure Jesus is really the same as God. And I don’t understand the Holy Spirit at all. I know, I’ve sat through lots of Bible classes about the Trinity, but I really don’t get that whole Three-in-One thing. I’m just ordinary person, and I don’t understand much theology. All I know is that God seems far away, and I don’t think He cares much about me.”
Many people, like Sharon, struggle with the idea of the Trinity. How can God be Three Persons? For some non-Christians, the idea of the Trinity is a barrier that keeps them from really understanding the Christian faith. For many Christians, the Trinity is part of the faith they just write off as “a mystery” because they don’t really understand it either.
To some extent, it’s OK to say that the Trinity is a mystery. If we fully understood it, we’d fully understand the nature of God, and as mere human beings, that’s out of our reach. But the idea that God is one God in Three Persons is not just some esoteric piece of theology that has no impact on our spiritual lives. Appreciating the three-part nature of God is a vital part of our Christian walk.
In an attempt to make it easier for us to understand, the Trinity has been compared to many things: a braided rope, a three leafed clover, even a banana!* Some people suggest that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three individuals in a family. Others say it’s more like the three roles a single person can play in his life: The same man may be a husband, a father, and a teacher, yet still be the one individual.
But every analogy falls short. The Three Persons of the Godhead are far more closely united than any three human beings, even in a family, can ever be. There can never be disagreement or disunity among the Trinity, because They are One. Yet They are more distinct and separate than a single individual playing three different roles. Nothing in our human experience provides an exact parallel to the nature of God, because God is so completely different from us.
Yet we were created in God’s image, so our human relationships allow us a glimpse into what the relationship among the Members of the Godhead might be like. That’s why the Bible refers to the First and Second Persons of the Godhead as “Father” and “Son.” God the Father and God the Son are not related in the exact same way a human father and son are (otherwise, there would have to be a divine Mother as well), but the relationship between them is as close, loving, and intimate as the relationship between a parent and a child.
In biblical times, the Jews were unusual because, unlike the nations around them, they worshiped only one God. While other nations had whole pantheons of gods and goddesses linked to different geographical sites and natural phenomena, the Jews believed in one God, who was the Creator of everything. Though they recognized that God had many different attributes and manifested Himself in different forms, Old Testament writers did not talk about God as a Trinity or a Godhead.
All that changed for the Jewish followers of Jesus. The first Christians— Jesus’ disciples—were still good Jews. They believed there was only one God. Yet they also believed that the Man they had spoken with and lived with and learned from—Jesus—was God, and worthy of their worship. How could this make sense? Were there really two gods, instead of One as they’d always believed?
Of course not. Jesus’ followers worshiped Him as the Son of God. Jesus Himself spoke about the Father as a being separate from Him, yet One to whom He was intimately connected: ” ‘I and the Father are one’ ” John 10:30). He also spoke of the Holy Spirit, who would come to dwell with His disciples once Jesus Himself was no longer with them in bodily form John 16:5–15).
When Jesus was about to return to heaven, He gave His disciples a command: When they were bringing new Christians into the faith, they were to baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Here, for the first time in the Bible, the idea that God is a Trinity—Three Persons in One—was clearly laid out for all to understand. Jesus’ disciples understood that their Friend and Master was just as much a part of God as the Father in heaven, and that the Holy Spirit, who would come to fill their lives and inspire them, was also divine.
What does this mean for Christians today like you, or me, or Sharon? It means that God, through the three part divine nature, is able to interact with our lives in many ways. Yes, God is a heavenly Father, all-seeing, all-knowing, able to care for us far more than even our earthly parents can. But this God is also Jesus, who walked the dusty roads of Galilee in a human body. Our God understands what it’s like to be a human being—to feel hungry, and tired, and even discouraged—because He’s been there.
Finally, God is also the Spirit. Though the idea of the Holy Spirit is sometimes the most difficult for Christians to grasp, the Spirit is also where God meets us in the most intimate and personal way. Through the Spirit, God actually lives with us and in us, speaking to our hearts and minds, filling us with love, joy, peace, and all the other “fruit of the Spirit” that the Bible promises (Galatians 5:22, 23). The Holy Spirit even helps us to pray. When we don’t feel we have the right words or attitude to approach God, God Himself—as the Spirit—works within us, interpreting our unspoken thoughts and feelings (Romans 8:26, 27).
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is not remote, distant, and unconcerned. God is intimate enough to become a human being and experience our joys and pain. God is close enough to dwell within our hearts and influence our lives. God isn’t far away on a throne at the other end of the universe—God is here, right now, eager to help you as you take each step closer to Him.
*If you’ll look at a slice of banana carefully, you’ll see that it has three sections.