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The confounded-ness that comes with explaining the Trinity


How do you explain the mystery of the Trinity?

Not only are Jews and Muslims confused by the idea of the Trinity, God in three persons, but many Christians scratch their heads, admit they are not quite sure what it means, and then ask, “How do you explain the mystery of the Trinity?”

First and foremost, I have to admit that this is a good and understandable question deserving of a good and understandable answer. We agree with what Deuteronomy 6:4proclaims: “Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Of course, that raises the question: If God is One, why does He reveal Himself in three persons? Tim Keller says this idea of the Trinity “overloads our mental circuits.” It can be a bit baffling and befuddling! The Apostle Paul wrote in I Timothy 3:16 that “the mystery of godliness is great”–most mind-boggling and heart-wrenching, and he was just writing about God the Son. The mystery of the Trinity is about God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as well as God the Son.

Martin Luther once said to an opponent (Desiderius Erasmus) that, “Your thoughts are too human.” That is true for us. God knows it is awfully hard for us and our finite, natural minds to understand the infinite, supernatural mind of God. In a sense we are drawing a one-dimensional picture of a cube, but all we can get on paper is a square. God helps us to understand Him more clearly by giving us a three-dimensional picture of Himself.

Tim Keller says that the concept of God revealing Himself as three persons helps us understand that God is in essence “interpersonal love.” God wants us to understand that His glory and goodness, joy and peace which He created us to experience, are rooted not in self-centeredness but in “self-giving, other-centered love.”

Keller writes: “Nothing makes us more miserable than self-absorption, … on our needs, wants, treatment, ego … self-centeredness leads to social disintegration.” He quotes Jonathan Edwards, who believed that the Trinity shows us that God is “essential interpersonal.” He is a loving being we see in how He comes to live among us, suffer with us, die for us, and finally live in us.

Let’s read what the Bible says as we give our heart, soul, and mind a wee workout. We read in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”Referring to the one God in the plural tense is called “the plural of majesty.” God is too majestic, too magnificent, too great to be described as “a person.”

Too often we human beings have been led up a “garden path” away from God as we picture Him as “the Man upstairs” or even as a fatherly being. Even addressing God as “our Father Who Art in Heaven” is not enough without the acknowledged awareness that He is much more.

Let’s think about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we read Luke 1:28-32a, 34-35: “And the angel came to her (Mary) and said ‘Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.’ But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” … Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this be since I have not been intimate with a man?’ The angel replied to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

Here in this one passage we have a picture of God as Father.Throughout the Bible, God is pictured as a Father who loves and cares for His People. We read in Exodus 3:7-8a: “Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey …’” Here we see God as a loving and caring Father Who rescues His children from the Egyptians! Jesus taught us to address God in our prayers as “Our Father Who art in Heaven.”

Now, God is a Father Who did not just come down to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians, but He also came down to live among us, suffer with us, and die for us in the person of Jesus Christ. He came in the person of a baby named Jesus to be the Savior of the World. The life and death of Jesus reveals the heart of God as we read how he walked and talked among the people and eventually died for them, and us. When John Wesley was dying, he said this: “The greatest of all is this this: God is with us.”

God loves us almost beyond belief in that He, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, comes not only to live “with us” but live “within us” through the presence of His Holy Spirit. His Spirit not only came upon Mary so she could conceive the baby Jesus, but upon the disciples and every Christian since then to live within them. Paul writes in Gal. 2:20: “I no longer live, but Christ (the Spirit of Christ) lives in me.” He wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God that inspires and empowers us to live a much different life that Paul spells out in Gal. 5:22-23a.

May I close by referring to how C.S. Lewis explained the Trinity: “An ordinary Christian kneels to … pray … trying to get in touch with God … he is being prompted by God whose Spirit is inside the man … most of what this Christian knows about God comes from his knowledge of Jesus” (somewhat paraphrased, “Mere Christianity,” “The Three- Personal God”). May we pray each day with an awareness of God “our Father” Who is not only eager to hear our prayer but Who through His Spirit nudges us to talk over with Him those thoughts and feelings, words and actions that need addressing, if not confessing and correcting, as we try to follow in the footsteps of His Son Jesus Christ in Whose Name we pray.


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