Do You Understand the Doctrine of the Trinity?

I remember one time having a little bible study with my daughter. And we came across the text, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved” (Acts 16:31) And like I often do, I asked her a question. “Who does it say we have to believe on in order to be saved?” And she said, “God”. I said, “What does the text say?” She said, “Well it says Jesus, but Jesus is God right?” And I said, “Well yeah, but you see… “ and next thing you know I spent the next 20 minutes trying to explain the Trinity.

So I did the best I could, said all the right biblical stuff, and then said, “Do you understand that?” She said, “No”. I said, “Good, me neither. Now let’s just glory in the greatness and magnificence of God for awhile ”

You see, there is a difference between totally understanding something and believing. We as Christians believe, because the Bible declares it to us. There is a lot of things that Bible says that we don’t really understand. But at the same time that doesn’t mean we don’t believe it. Just because you can’t reconcile something in your mind doesn’t mean its not true. It just means your finite. You have limitations. And that there really is something big going on. God is huge. Any time you start to talk about who God is, just expect to not quite be able to wrap your mind around it all, and be ok with it.

Sometimes we want to wrap things up with a quick analogy or illustration.

Often we will say that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover. This fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover. But in the Trinity, each of the persons is not just a separate part of God, each person is fully God. Or sometimes we say that the Trinity is like water, which can be ice, steam or liquid. Or how about like a man who is simultaneously a father, a husband and a son. Many descriptions like this fall into the ancient heresy called modalism. It is what oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses. believe.

It's like saying that sometimes God is seen as Father, sometimes he is seen as Son and sometimes as Holy Spirit. But that is denying the doctrine of the trinity because that would be saying that God is one person, just seen differently, not three distinct persons as the Bible describes. Jesus would have than been praying to himself. Another analogy taken from human life is the union of the intellect, the emotions, and the will in one human person. While these are parts of a personality, however, no one factor constitutes the entire person. And the parts are not identical in characteristics but have different abilities. So what analogy shall we use to teach the Trinity? Although the Bible uses many analogies from nature and life to teach us various aspects of God’s character (God is like a rock in his faithfulness, he is like a shepherd in his care, etc.), it is interesting that Scripture nowhere uses any analogies to teach the doctrine of the Trinity. So does this mean we should never use analogies? Not necessarily. Because on the other hand it has been said that vestigia trinitatis are the marks of God’s trinitarian character found in the creation. If all of creation reflects God’s invisible nature, his power and glory, is there any way in which creation reflects the Trinity as such? Van Til says that the world is one and many, not because it is both rational and irrational, but because it reflects the unity and diversity in God. As such it is not possible for humans to know exhaustively either its rational structure or its irreducible diversity. But we can know in part, as we submit our thoughts to God’s revelation.

Note also: 1. The three major human life systems: circulation, respiration, brain-nervous system. 2. The primary colors of the cathode-ray tube: red, green and blue. 3. The dimensions of height, width, length. 4. The nine dimensions of some recent physical theory: a trinity of trinities. 5. Husband, wife, child in the family. 6. Intention, action, response. 7. Pietism, Doctrinalism, Social Action as different emphases within the Reformed churches. 8. I, IV, V, the primary chords in music. 9. Human personalities, some of which emphasize the demand for justice, others the expression of feelings, still others the commitment to action. These are components of all of us, but different people tend to stress one or the other. So there is something to this. We can see shadows of the trinitarian God of the Bible all over the place. Even Frames lordship attributes; authority, control and presence. Or Jesus’ offices (prophet, priest, king), or the major benefits of salvation (justification, adoption, sanctification). Well if “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. And if day to day the pour out his speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Doesn’t it also make sense that everything that God is, and everything that God has created would cry forth who he is? And being God is trinity, doesn’t it make sense that there would be vestiges of the Trinity crying forth in anything and everything. I think so. So you see, it really is not as simple as this is the case, or this is not the case. We are talking about God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You see there is always an element of mystery to God, especially in this aspect of who He is. I would say the moment you think you can fully comprehend and can explain the Trinity, you are most likely about to expound some form of heresy. I have actually even heard it said, that if you say you fully understand the Trinity, you are probably insane, if you deny the Trinity, you are not saved. While it has a ring of humor to it. There is a lot of truth there. Analogies and illustrations can give us glimpses of God. And that is good. Though we should never say God is like a three leaf clover, or God is like a person who is a Father, a son, and a husband and then move one like somehow we just explained it all. No. No. No. Analogies, illustrations, and models are just that; vestiges. They help us get a glimpse, to help us open our minds to the glories of God. But never to end there, but to push us on, especially into his word. So in the end we may define the doctrine of the Trinity as follows: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is equal in worth, essence and being, though, distinct in role, and each is fully God in every way. Yet, there is one God.

Sometimes maybe it is even best to say what the Trinity is not. That is God the Father is not Jesus and Jesus is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not God the Father and so on and so forth. They are all distinct. Yet, there is one God. When in doubt, it is always best to stay with scripture. "And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20) Scripture doesn’t say to make disciples and baptize them in 'the names of’ plural, no, it says to baptize them in ‘the name of' singular, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So you see, there are three person, but one name, that is one God. And each are fully God, and each are not the other, they are distinct, yet there is one God, not three Gods. Yeah. Try to wrap your head around that. You can’t. Christianity is a super natural religion. And that’s ok. Matthew 18:3 says, “unless you come to me like little children, you in no wise will enter the kingdom of God” And with that I will end with advice I gleaned from a Russell Moore article the other day, “Children are open to mystery and paradox in ways adults often aren’t. Children explore the world around them with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. They don’t comprehend it all, and they know they don’t comprehend it all. That’s the kind of blessed ignorance I believe Jesus commends. In order to believe, you must trust everything God has said to you, but you must also see him, not your own comprehension, as Lord. To see at all we must know that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). With that the case, we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. But we’ve got several trillion years and beyond to explore the depths of the Trinitarian reality. A start is what we need.


© 2014 by CORAM DEO MISSIONS

  • b-facebook
  • Twitter Round