Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Mystery of the Trinity

I have been reflecting on the trinity recently and how some have tried to explain it. For example Jonathan Edwards (I’m not bashing the man, I deeply appreciate him) Essay on the trinity attempts to explain the Trinity. He describes Jesus as the reflection of the Father and the Spirit as the effusion of love that they share. This kind of explanation seems unwise because it would seem to diminish the real personhood of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Please don’t think that I am denying the Trinity. I am most certainly not. I believe that the Trinity is one of those bottom floor truths that are essential to Christianity being Christianity. I believe that the Trinity is taught clearly in Scripture. Let’s peek at a few passages for example:

John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Matthew 28:19 - Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (singular name)

1 Cor. 12:4-6 - Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (Lord is a divine title)

I would also like to mention Wayne Grudem’s excellent summary of the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity.

1) God is three persons
2) Each person is fully God
3) There is one God (From Systematic Theology, page 231)

If we stray from any these statements – we are straying from a necessary truth.
I think that our problem with explaining the Trinity is two-fold. First it is completely outside our experience. We know of nothing in our lives that corresponds to a being who is truly one but exists in three real persons. Many of the examples we give like the candle (wick, wax, and flame) or water (ice, water, and mist) either deny the oneness of the trinity or it denies the real personhood of each member of the trinity.

Second we have to admit the fact that we are limited finite creatures. God is not a man. We are made in His image but we are not gods. So there are going to be things that are simply beyond the ability of our limited minds to grasp. As Thomas Watson said “the plumbline of reason is too short to fathom this mystery.” (From his Body of Divinity) For another example think of the teaching of scripture that God is sovereign, yet man is responsible. There some truths that will simply not be able to understand until we have glorified bodies and minds.

So what do I think is the solution? I think that we must affirm the Trinity as it is taught in the Bible, we must state the truth as it is stated in the Bible, then I think that we refrain from trying to explain how it works. Any analogy from this world that we try to use will simply be too limited to accurately explain this beautiful doctrine.

Let us behold the Trinity, celebrate the Trinity, preach the Trinity, worship the Triune God, and look forward to the day when we are better able to understand how this relationship works.

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