Week 7: The Trinity – God the Three-in-One
This week, the Rev. Sharron Cox teaches on the nature of God as Trinity and some of the touchpoints for how that shapes our Christian walk.
Did you know there is nothing in the Bible that explains the Trinity? In fact, the Trinity is not even mentioned in the Bible! The accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the synoptic gospels provide a visual of the Three-In-One God in their description of the event on the Jordan River–the Father’s voice from heaven, Jesus recognized as his Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit swooping down from heaven in the form of a dove. Afterwards and throughout His ministry, the people saw in Jesus attributes that could only be ascribed to their Jewish God, like His authority, His teaching, His ministry of healing and the performance of miracles. Yet, this “God” had flesh and was personal; He had a name: Jesus. This person Jesus even came back to life after His horribly gruesome death. With the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost, the people experienced a third divine person, all this within a “fiercely monotheistic culture.” Yes, there are inferences to the Trinity in several biblical passages, but while the three persons of the Trinity are given scriptural recognition, they are not explained (e.g. 2 Corinthians 13:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, and the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19).
For some reason, the disciples of Jesus and the next generation or so didn’t need to have the three-fold nature of God we now call the Trinity explained for them. Perhaps they were just simple folk who trusted the words of Jesus when He said things like, “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30) “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” (John 10:38) or when Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) For these early followers, no explanation was needed, I guess, because they personally saw Jesus, or those who knew Jesus lived this three-fold understanding of God. Jesus demonstrated for them an intimacy in prayer with His Father when He asked this Father to send another Counselor, another Advocate, to help the people (John 14:16), ensuring they would not be orphaned by His return to the Father. After all, the Shema recited daily by the Jews told them, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) This seems to point toward a belief in a relationship between the three divine persons, but what does that look like? How can these three be the one God? Are they different aspects of the one God? As the Church grew beyond Palestine and into the urban and pagan areas of the greater Roman Empire, those attracted to the Gospel of Jesus were educated in Greek philosophy beyond the Jewish worldview of the folk who first followed Jesus. They began debating and defining what could and couldn’t be said about God, which lead to violent battles over the nature of God throughout the fourth and fifth centuries.
Finding words for the ineffable has always been difficult. The use of analogy and metaphor has frequently been a tool for attempting to understand the inexplicable. Yet, all of the analogies, metaphors and similes the early Christians used to explain their experience of the Christian God led into problematic applications and heresy. It took Christians trained in ancient philosophy and rhetoric, like the Cappadocian fathers and others, to reach consensus over several early church councils by parsing the words being used to describe the interior life of the Trinity and the roles each “person” of the Trinity plays in creation and redemption. And so, we inherit this ancient language that made sense to the Christians in the patristic era, but sounds so very mysterious to us: “God is Trinity in unity, three persons in one substance, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is God, Lord, uncreated, eternal, almighty, and co-equal. But there is only one God, Lord, uncreated, eternal, and almighty.” It is this understanding of God we affirm each week as we recite the Nicene Creed in our worship.
Back in the fourth century when the Cappadocian brothers relayed their understanding of the Trinity, they used a Greek word, perichoresis, which described the inter-relationship of the Trinity as they saw it. This word describes the communion, the relationship, of the three persons of the Trinity as a highly choreographed dance of shared life and collaborative dependency of giving and receiving. This “dance” causes movement or response in the other, as each shares relationship or power or love–however you want to describe it–with the other, and each participates in the action of the other because they are united as one. Because we are “in Christ,” we are participants in this flow of love and life. This is due to grace, grace as an aspect of creation, not related to merit. The Trinitarian God remains with us in all of life, pouring life into us, not coming in and out, but fully engaged and fully engaging us in the very life of the Trinity. As each person of the Trinity is united with the others yet remains a distinct “person,” we too will be united with God, but will not be “absorbed” by God and lose our personhood, our individual identity.
The Trinity supplies us with a model for our own relationships, one that patterns mutual submission and empowerment rather demanding control and subordination. We have the opportunity to cooperate with this “divine generosity” that connects all aspects of God’s creation with God’s very self. Living a Trinitarian life is living as a balanced Christian, receiving the graces, through prayer, poured out to us by all three members of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Spirit.
Questions for Reflection:
- Why is it that we find the Trinity so difficult to understand?
- Which person of the Trinity do you most naturally relate to and pray to?
- What might be the “fruit” of living a more Trinitarian faith?
A Prayer: Of the Holy Trinity (Book of Common Prayer, 251)
Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 Michael Lloyd, Café Theology: Exploring Love, the Universe and Everything (London: St. Pauls Theological Centre, 2012), 289.
 Owen C. Thomas and Ellen K. Wondra, Introduction to Theology, 3rd. ed. (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 72-73.
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 82.
 Lloyd, 296-298.
 Lloyd, 298-302.
 Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016), 37-38.
 Lloyd, 312-314.