My friend was telling me the other day how, when she asked about the Trinity, her pastor (Non-Denominational Protestant) answered, “Oh, I avoid talking about that because it’s just too complicated!”
Both of us were rather aghast. The Trinity might be “complicated” but it’s the central truth of Christian Biblical Faith! How can we possibly avoid talking about it? It might be “mysterious” but that is part of the beauty of the nature of God, part of what reminds us of how great He truly is, over and above our finite human intelligence. It does not mean that He is unknowable but rather that He is infinitely deep and there will always be more to learn/know. This should not be a truth that makes us despair but rather one that gives meaning to searching Him out, and explains how such a search is a pursuit chiefly of love rather than science.
It’s true, it is “complicated” – But also simpler than you thought
Scholars have been studying it for literally two thousand years at this point, but it is also incredibly simple. Like the three leaves on a clover (Patrick), or three folds in one blanket (Cupertino), or 3 facets of a perfectly cut gem, we can think of the 3 persons as simply 3 distinct and powerful faces or roles of a God who is ever present, all-powerful and all-knowing, one in mind, heart, will, intensity, and purpose.
The spiritual greats have often commented that at times when reflecting on the Trinity each person seems so unique and individual that it’s hard to remember that they are one and the same – i.e. in the Gospels when Christ prays to the Father, or when the Spirit comes down upon the Son at His baptism and you hear the voice of the Father:
After He was baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and settling on Him, and behold, a voice from the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”– Matthew 3:16-17
but also at other times, when reflecting on the same, it seems they are so united that we cannot distinguish one from the other – i.e. when we say “God”, for example.
Who are we referring to?
Well, Him, God in His fullness, of course – simultaneously as Father (in His perfect power, justice, and mercy), as Son (loving, intimate, and relatable), and as Holy Spirit (in His intensity, wisdom, and knowledge) all wrapped up in the one word, God.
What does this have to do with my relationship with God?
It is so important to accept and appreciate this concept if we are ever to have a meaningful relationship with God. We must learn to recognize that His attributes are distinct but complimentary and that we can’t have one without the other or we don’t have all of God.
We can’t pick and choose the parts we like and discard the rest!
I experienced something like this in my marriage. When I got married, I believed I was marrying a “perfect man”. If “God gave him to me” and he was the “one I was meant to be with” then he must be perfect, right? I was the only one who needed to work on things… or so I thought.
The day I ran out of excuses for his being human (7 years into our marriage), my idyllic dreams went into a tailspin. The crash sent reverberations and painful broken shards into the next 3 years of our life.
I’m not even sure what happened to make me come to this realization – that my husband was indeed human, broken, and imperfect, just like myself – but in that moment I had 2 choices: run away and claim “I didn’t sign up for this”, or learn to love the real man I married instead of the man I thought I married or the one that I wished he were.
(*Sidenote – I chose the second option and we are very happily married – please do not read this as if I am somehow tying to insult my husband. If anyone should be insulted here it is myself for taking 7 years to figure this out, and another 3 to come to grips with it!)
The idea versus the reality
It’s always challenging to fall out of love with an idea and choose to love reality, but at the same time loving reality is where our hope lies. The truth cannot be changed, which is why it is safe and constant. It’s the loving of ideas that is dangerous, no matter how beautiful they might be, for when we recognize that they aren’t real, our hearts are shattered, often never to recover.
Misunderstanding the Trinity – the Ramifications
So many people despair over being unable to reconcile their fluffy, sanitized, sunshine and rainbows idea of God with the painful harshness of our reality, the true state of fallen humanity. This is leading us to an unprecedented epidemic of unbelief and agnosticism. It is also leading to the opposite extreme of everyone doctoring up their idea of God to supplement their idyllic fantasies (ie. the “Prosperity Gospel“) to make them more plausible.
Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10:38
We can’t just take the parts we “like” and discard the rest. If we make up ideals and fall in love with a God who does not exist, its likely that we will end up like Judas and the Pharisees, resenting Him when we discover that the reality does not match up with our expectations.
Changing Our Approach
Maybe instead of founding our entire theology on the “Forgiving Father”, the Good Shepherd, and Romans 8, we need to wrap our brain around the fact that maybe suffering, discipline, anger, intensity, majesty, and justice, are also equally part and parcel of His perfect plan. YES, Jesus is absolutely our lover, our brother, our friend, our savior, our passionate, compassionate, and gentle shepherd, but He is only one face of God. God the Father is still REAL. He didn’t just disappear or transform after the Old Testament ended. He is “the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17
Justice is important, beautiful, and worthy. We owe God our reverence, our respect, our very life – not in a subservient or punative way but in a completely pragmatic and basic logical sense. As created beings, much like any work of art or literature, we can only be truly understood in light of our Creator, in understanding His heart we discover the purpose of our own.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in You. – Augustine
This is not about losing our free will but rather learning to fix our will freely on on the One who gives it purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, the One who is the source of our freedom in the first place.
We need the Holy Spirit now more than ever in this time to enlighten our minds to understand who He is and to stir our hearts into flame with the fire of His love.
Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. – John 16:7
If we focus solely on Jesus, no matter how wonderful, relatable, important, and intimate He is, even if we were understand and appreciate Him PERFECTLY (though I would argue this is impossible without God the Father and God the Spirit – but that’s a different article), we are missing out on SO MUCH of God.
We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, his fortitude, his counsel, his piety, his peace, his knowledge, and his fear of the Lord in order to regain our true vision of who God is and how each of the three persons do not change nor contradict one another but rather illuminate one another and make each other more clear and more beautiful.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Mini disclaimer –
I intentionally did not go into heavy theological discourse here quoting Aquinas, Augustine or a thousand other scholars. This does not mean that I do know about them or in any way disregard or discount the huge amount of prayer, thought, and study that has gone into their very technical analysis of the Trinitarian truths or mysteries, nor does my reflection intend to disagree with any of their conclusions. Quite the contrary, they are the foundation and this article is simply meant to illustrate that technical analysis is not the same as understanding the implication of appreciating the role of the Trinity in our daily life and Relationship with God.