The doctrine of the Trinity is cherished and loved by all, orthodox Christians. Councils and creeds have affirmed, time and time again, that the Bible unequivocally reveals God in this way. As our own church doctrinal statement, the BF&M, affirms:
“The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
For centuries, the Christian church has celebrated and worshipped around such Trinitarian confessions not to mention spilled her own blood defending them.
However, just because we love the Godhead does not mean that we fully understand it. The doctrine of the Trinity causes, even the most intellectual of believers, to scratch their head a bit. Even the word itself, trinity, contains a seemingly self-contradictory idea. Tri– means “three” while –(u)nity means “one.”
So, then, is God three or is He one? The answer? YES! There is an inherent three-in-oneness about God. If that causes your brain to have a momentary meltdown, join the club.
While there is no single Scripture verse that states, “Thou shalt believe in the Trinity,” the Bible as a whole compels us to do just that. Consider a few key Trinitarian Bible verses:
Matthew 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name* of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (*Notice the “name” is singular [i.e. one] even though there are three persons listed.)
2 Corinthians 13:14 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (i.e. Father), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
To help believers understand this complex doctrine, a number of pictures and illustrations have been suggested throughout history. You’ve probably heard some of these yourself. While some are worse than others, we must remember that all earthly illustrations of this heavenly mystery inevitably fall short.
For instance, one of the more common illustrations is that of H2O. This same compound can exist as a solid, a liquid and a gas. One molecular bond existing in three states. Sounds good, right? Well, the only problem is that H2O does not exist in these three states simultaneously. (If you build your understanding of God on this illustration you will be left with a soggy old heresy known as Modalism.)
Beyond H2O, there is the egg (i.e. shell, yolk, white) and the apple (i.e. skin, “meat” and core) as well as the relationship of time (i.e. past, present, and future – though that concept hurts my head more than the Trinity does.) So, is there any helpful image that we can consider?
The best visual illustration (that I know of) which shows the three-in-oneness of God is pictured below. I first came across this in a seminary class and have referred to it many times. (I can’t confirm this, but somehwere I heard that this image can be found scribbled in some early church documents. Again, not sure when/where it actually came into being, but it is quite helpful.)
What I like most about this image is that it visually preserves the simultaneous God-ness of the Father, Son, and Spirit; and, yet, it also preserves the simultaneous distinction of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Granted, it is not a perfect picture for several reasons, but it is the best one that I know of. No doubt, it has helped me. Maybe it will help you.
So, why does all of this matter? It matters a great deal. As JI Packer has stated,
“The practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it requires us to pay equal attention, and given equal honor, to all three persons in the unity of their gracious ministry to us.”
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…Amen!!!!