trinity

Inexplicable God

One of the most mind-bending and yet rewarding things we can do is meditate on the trinitarian nature of God.  While not all agree, the Trinity, or Triune nature of God, is a reality most definitely affirmed by the teaching of Scripture.   The biblical testimony portrays God as existing as three separate persons who all equally share one divine essence.  These persons have revealed themselves as God the Father, Jesus (who is God the Son), and God the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

 

The Bible and the Nature of God

The biblical teaching on the nature of God can be summarized as follows:

1. The Father is God (Jn. 6:27)

2. The Son is God (Jn. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:7-8; Col. 1:13-17)

3. The Spirit is God (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 13:1-4)

4. There is only One God (Deut. 6:4; Mk. 12:32; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:6)

5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are NOT each other (Matt. 3:16-17; Jn. 1:1-3 & 18; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)

 

What Does the Biblical Data Mean?

The Bible clearly teaches each of the above five realities regarding the nature of the One true God.  There is only One God. He exists in the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the three are divine, and they are not One another.   They are not three separate God’s.  They are not one divine Person portraying Himself three separate ways.  They are three literally distinct Persons unified by one divine essence.

 

Um, Can You Explain that Please?

Usually this is the point that our brain starts to hurt.  As we try to stretch our finite minds to the point where we can wrap our proverbial arms around the awesome and infinite reality of God’s nature, feelings of futility and inadequacy soon follow.  While we can certainly apprehend the biblical teaching regarding the Triune nature of God, we cannot fully comprehend it in it’s fullness.

 

How ’bout an Illustration?

The truth is that we cannot even adequately illustrate the Trinity.  Many have tried to do so, and I personally believe they have done so in vain.  Even the closest illustrations fall short at the end of the day.  Let me point out the most common illustrations people set forth in attempt to better understand or articulate the reality of the Trinity:

 

1. The Clover- Some say that to illustrate the nature of God to the people he was trying to reach in Ireland, Saint Patrick would point to the three-leaf-clover.  He would suggest that the nature of God is like a clover that, while being one entity, has the three parts in the leaves which ultimately all connect as one.

2. The Egg- Some suggest that the fact that an egg has three parts (yoke, white, and shell) while still being one egg can serve as an illustration of the Trinity.

3. The Water- Others point to water which can exist in three forms (gas, solid, liquid) as an illustration of the Trinity.

4. The Family- Still others would point to the family as a potential illustration of the Trinity.  Admittedly this is my personal favorite.  These folks point out that, biblically speaking, men and women become one flesh through marriage and sexual relations.  When parents reproduce and have a child, the child genetically proceeds forth from the essence of both the father and mother who are one flesh through marriage.  In the end, it is contended that this illustrates the Trinity in that the human father, mother, and child are all three separate persons and yet one in a legitimate sense.

 

The truth is all of these illustrations fall short for various reasons.  And while helpful for lifting our minds to a perhaps good starting place as we begin to try and appreciate the complexity and beauty inherent within the Triune nature of God, none of these should serve as absolute pictures of the precise nature of God.

 

Reaction Time

When we get to this point in meditating on the Trinity, I have found people react in two ways depending on where they’re at with Jesus in their personal lives.  First of all, the skeptical non-Christian begins to mock.  They say, “If I can’t explain it, or find something of comparable nature to illustrate it, it must not be true.”  Secondly, the new or untaught Christian might begin to doubt.  They might find themselves thinking, “Can this be true if we cannot explain it?  Are the skeptics correct, and the Trinity is just another made-up human superstition?”

 

Answers for the Skeptic

In response to the skeptic I would say three things:

1. Either the Bible is God’s Word, or it isn’t.  Many who are in opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity also affirm the inspiration of the Bible.  Their are some religious groups who affirm the divine inspiration of the Bible, and yet because the Trinity doesn’t make sense to them logically, they reject it and come up with other translations of Scripture foreign to the original languages in which the Bible was written for the sake of supporting their view.  This is all done to justify making Scripture conform to their logic, rather than bringing their supposed logic into conformity with the plain meaning of Scripture.   At the end of the day either the Bible is God’s Word and must be accepted, or it’s not.  But you can’t have your cake and eat it too on this one.  If the Bible is God’s Word the Trinity is the only possibility based on the teaching of the whole counsel of God as summarized above.  Either the Bible is God’s Word or it’s not.

 

2. Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought. Don’t you think it’s possible that there might be some things that are true about the infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe that are just a little difficult to wrap your much smaller, finite mind around?  Do you really think you’re so smart that you should be able to fully wrap up everything about the nature of God in a nice little intellectual package that is easy to understand and explain? Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought.

 

3. Don’t be a hypocrite. The fact is that every skeptic who scoffs at the doctrine of the Trinity based on it’s incomparableness is a hypocrite.  They know that there are many things they affirm to be true though they can’t fully understand or explain them.  I know there are many things like that in my life.  There are things that I know are true, that are scientifically explainable, that I still can’t fully comprehend.  I know there are scientific explanations regarding how giant aircraft carriers made of steel, transporting thousands of people, planes, and supplies can float in the water, but it still doesn’t make sense to me.  I know science can explain why it is that a fly can float in the cab of my truck while I’m driving 75 down the freeway and not splat against my back window, even though I know that fly isn’t moving in the same direction as my vehicle, at the same speed.  And yet, if I were to stand up and jump in the air in the back of my truck going the same speed, I would be dead in the road.  How does all that work? I mean, is there a problem in the matrix, or what?  You can explain it to me scientifically, but it still won’t fully make sense.   I believe even the most ardent skeptics regarding the Trinity hold to many truths in their lives which they  apprehend and affirm while knowing they cannot fully explain or comprehend them The honest skeptic would agree.  Don’t be a hypocrite.

 

Answers for the Christian

For the new or untaught believer who is struggling with doubt over their inability to articulate, understand, or illustrate the Trinity, I would comfort you with the truth of Isaiah 40:18: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?”  In short, the Bible itself declares the inexplicable nature of God!  We don’t need to worry about not being able to explain or illustrate what God has already told us is inexplicable and without illustration.  Part of being God is being absolutely unique amongst all other things in existence!  The reason you can’t point to an illustration and say, “That is what God is like,” is because He is altogether unique and incomparable in every single possible way!

 

At Refuge we like to say in regard to meditating upon the mysterious nature of our God that, “Logic can only take you so far before all you can do is stop and worship in awe!”    I hope this brief reflection on the inexplicable nature of the One True and Living God has inspired you to do that.  Let logic, reason, and understanding take you as far as it can.  And when you come to the end of that finite road, worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who together exist as our One True God!

4 replies
  1. CJ Kelly III (@PastorCJ3)
    CJ Kelly III (@PastorCJ3) says:

    Great post, Kellen! I’m reading Fred Sanders’ “The Deep Things Of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything”, and its a great expanded treatise on the importance of Trinitarian theology in practicum. I’ve been SO overwhelmed as I feel like I’m rediscovering the Trinity in a fresh way.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  2. Brian Sauve
    Brian Sauve says:

    Thanks for the article, Kellen! I’m comforted that the God I worship as infinite, Holy, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, etc. can’t be fully categorized by mere men.

    Reply
  3. Cody Hockin
    Cody Hockin says:

    Kellen,

    I think that you did a great job at explaining the trinity as much as you can. I have to say that I never thought about the hypocritical standpoint. The thought that there are other things out there that we don’t fully understand but still consent to its legitimacy. Thanks for the extra input on this topic, some of it was new to me.

    I have a question about the origin of evil. I don’t know if anyone has tackled that here or not but this post made me think of it because it almost seems like the same type of question.

    Reply
  4. Mike Jones
    Mike Jones says:

    I’ve always liked the analogy comparing the Trinity to the family relationship where a man can be a father, son, brother, uncle, grandfather, and husband, all at the same time. A man transitions between roles seamlessly, and if a big family group is together, often fulfills several roles at the same time. The essence of the man does not change – they are the individual they are at all times – but their role and relationship to each person in the family varies depending on the relationship with the person they are interacting with.

    Admittedly, any analogy of the Trinity is by nature lacking, but I find the father analogy the most helpful for me. One person, one identity, but that one person looks different and interacts differently with the people in their lives.

    I have a thought on the tone of the presentation of the truths here, though: It sounded accusatory and lacking in love as you labeled people who could be genuine believers and seekers as skeptics, hypocrites, and arrogant in their logic. It sounded exclusive and judgmental.

    I encourage all brothers and sisters in Christ to be careful when labeling other brothers and sisters with words just as scoffers, skeptics, hypocrites, or labeling them somehow arrogant because they search the scriptures differently than you/us/I do. Be slow to assume and assert that those who think critically about scripture, who pray and search the depths of God’s word for meaning and guidance and are trying to reconcile what they read with how they perceive the world, are somehow errant and hypocritical in their search.

    The search of the scriptures, the drive to seek truth, the questioning of what we consider established truth and the desire to understand God better, is never, of itself, a bad thing. The truth of God and the Bible, if it is a true teaching or revelation we hold to, will always prove itself out. It will always stand up to honest examination.

    We need to remember that the wonderful confessions and foundations that we are able to stand on as pillars of our faith were worked out, in fear and trembling, by the church fathers exactly as THEY questioned scripture, questioned the teachers of their day, and searched the Bible for meaning and truth. Through logical thought, devotion, and long years of debate and discussion, often weathering the accusations and persecutions of the established church of their day, they established the foundations of thought and theology that underpin the churches today. They used their God given logic to struggle with the Biblical truths. The writings of Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Augustine and many others are all tributes to the logical and scholarly treatment of scripture.

    And still the Body doesn’t agree on everything. There are great chasms separating doctrinal thought among Christian denominations, and in the midst of it all, Jesus’ work still goes on.

    I find THAT amazing!

    I encourage ever believer to be slow and careful about labeling someone a hypocrite.

    Each of the examples in your 3rd paragraph is easily explainable by rudimentary science, and as you state, someone can explain it to you scientifically. Your lack of understanding or perhaps limited knowledge of the science, and your amazement over the phenomenon, does not negate the truth that there are others for whom the scientific explanation makes complete sense, and for them there is no mystery. The phenomenon are demonstrable scientific truth.

    The Trinity, though, is unfathomable and indemonstrable (empirically) in its truth, and our understanding is based on faith. The fact that something is unfathomable and, in your words wont “fully make sense”, in turn makes an assertion of absolute correctness or incorrectness meaningless. There is no way to be absolutely “correct” with something that “doesn’t make sense”. The honest skeptic, then, would scoff at the person who asserts that their understanding of the unfathomable MUST be the correct understanding.

    I submit then that Christians who assert that scripture unquestionably affirms the Trinity, which is empirically untenable but is an item of faith, and THEN accuse those who don’t agree with our untenable item of faith of being hypocrites, should be pointing the finger of accusation directly at themselves/ourselves. We simply cannot condemn anyone for disagreeing on something when, by nature, it is impossible to prove the correctness of what we ourselves assert.

    I’m not questioning the faith or the truth of the Trinity. I wholeheartedly agree with your position on the truth of the Trinity. What I disagree with is the accusations you place against others, and the labels you attach.

    We must be like Christ, acting in love in EVERY WAY we do life, including our disagreements with others. God allows people to disagree with Him all the time, and does not belittle or degrade anyone. He doesn’t label anyone as anything other than a beloved that Jesus died for. The words we say and write have meaning, and we must, as followers of Christ, do all we can to live in harmony and peace with everyone, including those we disagree with, because God wants us to be beacons of light and His love to His world.

    Labels and accusations cause pain and division where, indeed, most of the time there should be none.

    I urge us all, Christian brothers and sisters, to be Christ-minded, as much as possible, when we deal with others regarding what we believe. We believe by faith that what God has revealed in His Word is truth. On this most all believers agree. WHAT God says about that truth is clearly open to interpretation, and Christ loving brothers and sisters the world over have disagreements on certain issues. Asserting that the scriptural truth I/you/we hold to is THE scriptural truth and exact revelation of God’s nature is arrogant and unloving at the most basic level. We must deal with each other who have different ideas and with those who God hasn’t yet called to Him, with all the patience, gentleness, and firm loving kindness that Jesus expresses towards us.

    There is nothing wrong with the Matrix. God is running it just the way He wants, and yes, much of it is a glorious mystery, but a seeker should never be discouraged from investigating and learning about God in the Bible for fear of being labeled a hypocrite or skeptic or even a heretic. God can deal with the truth of his Word just fine, and when God uses US to help someone see His truth, we must, must, must do it in loving kindness, just as the Holy Spirit does with each believer God has called.

    Submitted in love.

    Reply

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