Last weekend I spoke on the Trinity. I’ve been amazed at the rising level of interest on this doctrine, particularly among younger adults. This fascination has escalated with the publication of The Shack by William Young. Many within our congregation have asked for an opinion on the book. I confess I enjoyed The Shack, and personally admired the attempt Young made at describing the interworkings of the Trinity. He probably gets a lot of it right. And then again, he probably gets a lot of it wrong, too.
As with all mysteries of God, our limited vantage point keeps us from understanding this doctrine in its totality. Even though the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, it is implied throughout. We read evidences of the Trinity in the creation accounts of Genesis (1:1-2; 1:26). Stronger evidence is found in the New Testament, and is expressed in the incarnation (Luke 1:26-38), Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul often uses a trinitarian formula in his epistles. Like many of God’s mysteries, the Bible affirms this truth yet does not bother to explain it. Our attempts to develop analogies to describe the Trinity are inadequate. Whether we use eggs, water, or clover leafs, the doctrine cannot be accurately illustrated. Bottom line: it’s a mystery…something that God has concealed that only he can reveal.
So what can we confidently say? I believe the first step in understanding the Trinity is to affirm that God is One. All the way back to the inception of the nation Israel, the people of God have been staunch monotheists. “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is One!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). We are monotheists, not tri-theists. So whatever we make of the Trinity must be rooted in the unity of God as One.
Scripture further proclaims that God is revealed as three persons. Or, as Three In One. Three-ness is the essence of God and the way God essentially exists in his being. Part of our challenge with comprehending the Trinity is that we attempt to describe the Trinity as the external expression of God. But the focus of the Trinity is more on the internal relationship within God and how he exists within himself. The three share the same substance and co-equally exist as God. One might think of the Trinity as One God that can be encountered in three ways. As Father, God is revealed as the creator of life, ruler of the universe, and judge of all living. As Jesus the Son, God is expressed as love, salvation, and forgiveness. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to the work of the Father and Son, convincing and convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.
In the 2nd century, Tertullian described the Trinity as the persona of God. A persona is the role an actor takes in a play. The Trinity functions as if there are three roles in the grand drama of redemption played by one God. Each role may reveal God in a different way, but it’s the same God in every case.
So why is this important? What difference does this make in the 21st century? Check back tomorrow for part 2.