The three-personal God

  THE REV. 

  DEBRA BLAIR

  looks at the

  Christian idea

  of the Trinity 

 

 

The Trinity season begins on 30th May and continues until 31st October: the longest of all out liturgical seasons – although we regularly declare our belief in the Triune God when we say the Affirmation of Faith (the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed). We say: 'We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit' – the three in one, all equal. 

This is quite a complex concept to understand, explain to others and think about. We have a whole season on which to reflect on this aspect of our faith, which is central to our beliefs and lies at the very heart of Christian thinking.

The Christian church began the development of its understanding of the Trinity very early on in its history. At the Council of Nicaea (AD325), the Cappadocian fathers began to develop thinking around the Trinity and the creed itself. The fathers were Gregory of Nyssa (he was Bishop of Nyssa and younger brother of Basil), Gregory of Nazianzus (Bishop of Sasima and later Constantinople) and Basil the Great, the Bishop of Caesarea.They began the development of the concept of the Godhead consisting of one substance and being three persons. It is thought that Tertullian (160-220AD) invented the word 'Trinity'. Further exploration and explanation continues, even today. 

It is complex. The three-in-one and the nature of this can be challenging to untangle in your mind.
In the Bible, certain issues may appear quite clear and understandable. The Old Testament begins with God creating the world in Genesis. The Holy Spirit is there, too: 'while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters' (Genesis 1: 2b) The Holy Spirit is often represented as wind, symbolising the 'breath of God’ – there are other representations. Throughout the Old Testament there are multiple presentations of God – as both 'Yahweh' and the Holy Spirit.

What image of God do you derive from the Old Testament? Some think he appears as a wrathful, vengeful and fearsome being. He is strong and powerful. It is hard to be a parent, I am told, and father figures often need to be strong and firm to help their children develop in the right manner. God is always there for his people, however they behave: and he is steadfast in his love. This is clear throughout the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, Jesus (the Son) is revealed to the world as was predicted in the Old Testament by the prophets. We may think that Jesus is the person we understand the best. He appears on earth in a form we can understand. We may then think, 'Yes, Jesus – we know all about his life on earth' ... but do we? Open up a Bible near the Gospels and then randomly pick out a text. My Bible opened on Matthew 23: 37-39 – not too familiar a text for me. I read it through twice and needed to explore it a little more and check in Bible commentaries. Give it a go yourself: you may be surprised what you discover. There is always more to learn.

At Jesus’ baptism, the three persons of the Trinity are recorded as present together (Luke 3: 21-23): 'When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”'

The Holy Spirit is perhaps the least understood of the three persons, yet he was there, too, at the very beginning of time. We may be familiar with the song that begins: 'The Spirit lives to set us free ... walk, walk in the light'. Jesus, before he left this earthly life, promised to all his disciples the Holy Spirit, who 'will teach you everything'”(John 14: 26). The Holy Spirit is here for us, too, and he equips us with many gifts. These were described by Paul in his letter to the people of Corinth: 'There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit …To one is given by the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the gift of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each individually just as the Spirit chooses' (1Corinthians 12: 4-11).

The three persons of the Trinity are unified, co-equal and divine. If you wanted to try and explain this to someone using everyday things to help the analogy, what would you choose? Perhaps an egg – three in one: the shell, yoke and the white? But you have to crack the shell to release the inner substances. Maybe water – as it can be ice, steam or liquid? Or a Mars bar? Have a think of what may help explain this to someone else.

The Trinity, then, is complex – but do not despair: we have a whole season to explore this together. At the end of the Trinity season you may still struggle with it all, but that is fine. As the theologian St Augustine said: 'If you can get your mind around it, it is not God.'


Thin lines
GRAHAM SMALLMAN invites us to think about sacred space in church