Christians believe one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This three-fold description of God is named the Trinity. The Christian belief in the Trinity is often regarded as a great mystery for finite minds. What's interesting is that the word trinity (or triunity) is never mentioned in the Bible. So how has this doctrine of the Trinity remained for over two thousand years as core Christian belief?
The Mystery Unveiled
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis illustrates this challenge in the story of "Flatlanders" who lived in a two dimensional world and could only comprehend lines and fields but not depth and cubes. After all, how can 2D fully understands 3D? That being said, we must avoid using God's incomprehensibility as an excuse for not seeking more understanding. Surely God is not glorified by lazy thinking about Him! Believing rightly matters.
So how can God be both three and one? Here is one example. My Dad, although one person, has three distinct roles that together make him who he is. He is family man, engineering professor and Korean poet. All three roles have distinct dimensions that collectively make him who he is. This is only a simplistic analogy to the Trinity of God. But the point is that it is possible for one integrated person to have three roles. If one 'indivisible' human person can be described in three ways, there is no reason why God cannot be described as both one and three if He so chooses.
The common Christian intuition is that Jesus is God but not all of God. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is God but not all of God. This intuition is derived from the Scripture in John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1. What is remarkable is that the Trinity, even with controversy, has become the unifying and identifying belief of Christianity throughout the centuries. I think this in itself is a mystery. The Trinity is what sets Christianity apart from mere religion, spirituality and philosophy. Without the Trinity, Christianity becomes just another monotheistic religion. But the Trinity does not suggest that there are three gods. It says God is one perfectly unified being made up of three inseparable persons, namely: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Theologian Catherine LaCugna described the Trinity as the "mystery of salvation". This mystery says that we are only saved by God, and if Jesus Christ is not God we are not saved. In the words of St. Augustine, "whoever denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation; whoever tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing his mind." It is truly mysterious.
"Enquire" discussion at St. John's in the city
St. John's in the city Presbyterian Church in Wellington has been running a series called "Enquire" to discuss the main claims of Christianity over 7 weeks. When I had the opportunity to attend one of the sessions, incidentally the topic of discussion was the Trinity.
I raised a question about whether the use of person (as in three persons) is appropriate given how the word is understood in today's world. In Western culture, people tend to think of 'person' as individual self over against others. Independence is the norm. Person sounds too individualistic to describe cohesive "modes of being" of the Trinity, as Theologian Karl Barth also argued. But one minister responded with an important question: "Has anyone ever been truly independent?" In many non-Western cultures, 'person' is still understood in terms of being part of a human community. Perhaps it is our cultural bias, rather than the word itself, that creates the roadblock in our understanding.
The Great Dance
C. Baxter Kruger described the Trinity beautifully in his book titled The Great Dance. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each orbiting on the others, adoring and serving them. Instead of self-centeredness, the Trinity is characterised by mutually self-giving love. So if the world was made by this triune God, giving love is really what life should be all about. Since we are made in God's image and likeness, the essential inner nature of God models the way we act towards one another.
The Trinity tells us that God is a plurality in unity. This plurality is neither dependence nor independence, but it is a unity of interdependence and mutuality. To me, this indescribable nature is the greatest mystery of all. Perhaps knowing God is entering into the divine dance with the Trinity, orbiting around God, rather than ourselves. May God's love overflow in and through us as we interact with others today.
Daniel Jang is a Graduate Diploma in Theology (GradDipTh) student at Laidlaw Bible College in New Zealand.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html