Untangling the Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Triune God. The Godhead, Three-in-One. The Trinity. For millennia Christians have tried to wrap their heads around this doctrinal concept that is at the core of their religion. For millennia true understanding of the Trinity has lain just out of reach of our mental faculties. We have tried to explain the threeness of God and the oneness with examples such as the three physical phases of water or the leaves of a clover, but trying to simultaneously put the parts together is a concept that, at best, we still just have to take “on faith”. It seems to me that a large part of our problem with understanding the Trinity is our ingrained proclivity to view the “persons” of the Godhead as distinct “people”. Obviously, Jesus is our example here. It is easy to imagine him as a person. He goes on to describe God as a “Father”, a personified, embodied description of a Spiritual nature with no body. And again, he characterises the Holy Spirit in very human, embodied, personal terms, calling it a counsellor, teacher and helper.
Our western (perhaps human) mindset sees everything as very distinct and discrete from everything else. I am my own entity, for instance, completely separate from this person and that person and every other person. It is incomprehensible to imagine a world where my being is merged in oneness with yours. The boundaries of skin alone make this a conceptual impossibility for us, even during the course of the most intimate entwining of souls that occurs during lovemaking. We can interact in the deepest and most penetrating of ways and still retain a complete understanding of our individuality. As much as we can work in unison with others, we still remain “othered” in every sense. Yet somehow, the Trinity works in a completely different way. There is divergence and individuality between the members of the Godhead, and yet at the same time never any otherness. They are One, as much as they are distinct, in ways that cause complete chaos in our minds.
A different depiction
But what if we dropped the “God in three persons” motif for a minute to explore another avenue? The “persons” concept causes all sorts of havoc in our minds because we directly relate the godly “persons” to the human image of a person, with all the embodiment, delineation and separateness that comes with it. Consider this. Instead of trying to merge or blend three “people” together into one being, what if we saw the Godhead as three distinct spiritual realities working together to create, sustain and develop life? Instead of seeing the Father as a heavenly “Being” with a body (and a beard), out there somewhere beyond the clouds, watching over us, we saw the Father as a descriptor for the spiritual essence that is bigger than ourselves – of God’s transcendent reality as it were. And instead of viewing the Holy Spirit as some kind of spiritual being that inhabits the bodies of believers, we could see it as the divine spark that resides within each of us, breathed into us at the beginning of life; of God’s immanence or presence in our hearts.
Benediction of God the Father by Luca Cambiaso , 1565
Already we begin to see a picture of God that dwells within us yet is simultaneously bigger than us. We need that love to come from both angles, from within and from without. If it just came from within we would develop all kinds of narcissistic and messiah-complex tendencies. If it only came from without, we would end up with all kinds of inferiority issues and feelings of unworthiness. You have probably recognised both of these occurrences in religious AND secular circles. We need something to tie these two together and bring unity and healing where we have relied too much on one or the other. So let's turn to the Son. Again, the human tendency to picture the person of Jesus, sitting up in heaven somewhere, speaking person to person with the Father about the fate of humanity is all too common. But when Paul writes of Christ in the Bible, it is rarely in reference to the historical person of Jesus alone. What Paul wants to convey in his letters is that the person of Jesus revealed a spiritual reality of anointing over all creation. To him, Christ was in all, through all and that by which all things were created, moved and had their being. Christ was that by which every family in heaven and on earth derived their name. The Christ, revealed in Jesus, is that which holds all of creation together, by which everything is redeemed, connected, and held in union with the Father.
Why the world needs to know Christ
Christ connects the Spirit in me with the Spirit in you. Christ connects the Spirit in us with the Spirit of the Father, the immanence we can all discover inside with the transcendent love we all need. This Christ has always existed, from the foundation of the world. At one point in history it revealed itself in the personified embodiment of Jesus of Nazareth, but this Christ is so much more than a person in the human sense of the word. In fact, the Christ is revealed in each one of us, every time we allow the connection between the Spirit within ourselves and the Spirit beyond ourselves to make itself known to the world. Christ offers healing and wholeness through the unification of the immanence and transcendence of God. Christ brings us humility, not humiliation, and empowerment of all, not overpowering subjugation of some by others. Entertaining this model of understanding the Trinity requires a measure of depth and maturity. It requires a relaxing of the grip on deeply held, if controversial and confusing, beliefs surrounding the nature of God. Is God a person, like you or I, albeit in immortal and omnipotent form? Or is God Spirit, Life and Truth? Does the “person” model really go to the crux of explaining and understanding who God is? Perhaps we could dare to explore God’s nature in broader, more fulfilling and understandable ways. Perhaps we could discover that the God “out there” is also the “Christ in us, the hope of glory”.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft