Monday, March 03, 2008

The Trinity

OK. Time for a big doubt. The Trinity.

God the Father is God.
God the Son is God.
God the Spirit is God.

But why do we assume that they are three persons?

The language in the bible is quite confusing. I can see where the idea of the Trinity came from, but the idea itself is not to be found in the bible. It is a derived theology - a concept used to explain some of the confusions in the bible. Why do we try to subdivide God in some way?

If someone was to talk about my spirit, we would understand that they weren't talking about some separate person, but rather they would be talking about something that was part of me, something that was integral to my being. Indeed, they would probably mean the essence that makes me me.

So why when we talk about the 'Spirit of God' (e.g. Philippians 3v3) or the 'Spirit of Jesus' (e.g. Philippians 1v9) do we seem to assume that this Spirit is in some way distinct from God or Jesus?

Surely the Spirit of Jesus is actually Jesus!

And what about Jesus himself? He said quite clearly "I and the Father are one" (John 10v30) and never at any point in the bible does Jesus refer to himself as the "Son of God" (although his disciples and even accusers do use these words about him). But Jesus prefers to describe himself as the "Son of Man" - emphasising his humanity. But what if Jesus was/is the one true God?

Chapter 1 of John says some astounding things:
  • v1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." God's message to the world is a person. That person is God himself. Not two people, one.
  • v14: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Notice what they did there? ('they' being the translators of the TNIV, in this case) They inserted the word 'son' into the text so that it says what they think it means. But the original just speaks of "the one and only", not "the one and only son". Maybe it means the one and only God? Maybe Jesus is the one and only God?
  • v18: "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." They've done it again! And they did it a long time ago. Most of the early manuscripts for this passage (from the 3rd and 4th centuries) speak of the "only begotten Son", but the earliest fragments of this passage - from the 2nd century - speak of the "only begotten God".
How could the infinite and eternal one true God become a finite and temporal man? I have no idea. Nobody can grasp it. We have no words to even begin to explain it. But we can understand the idea of parenthood and the relationship between a Father and a Son. Perhaps this is why it is spoken of in this way - its perhaps the closest we can get to grasping the idea. But it is an imperfect picture, not the whole reality. The reality is too big and complex for us to fathom.

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and baptise people in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit... and his disciples went and baptised people in the name of Jesus. They didn't forget about the Father and the Spirit, the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit (collectively) is Jesus.

What if there is no Trinity, there is only Jesus, the only God?

5 comments:

Marcus G said...

Yeah.

The Bible doesn't have the word Trinity. But it does have the concept. Try 2 Cor 13.14. And there are lots of places in St Paul where he juxtaposes the three as one.

You want to combine them more closely?

Hmm. The problem is: which is bigger - God, or the words we have to describe him? God, clearly. But all we have to talk about him are these poor words, which are not enough even to contain the thoughts we think. So I tend to think that those who have gone before and wrestled with these things have done us a favour by enlarging our thoughts rather than limiting them.

And however difficult it is (and it is)Trinity is an enlarging thought.

But (as a final throwaway for now) of course the best theology is doxology. Which is to say that we best understand God when we worship him. And the more varied language we have to praise him, the better. Much as my faith is Christ-centred, when I forget to worship the father I forget sides to God's character that I need to know - I mean that I need to know now, in my experience. And when I forget to worship the Spirit, I can slip into an intellectual appreciation of God rather than an encounter.

So I think the words show me truths which shape my praise which alter my encounter which affect my understanding which impact my relationship which deepen my worship which...
You get the point.

liturgy said...

Hmmm...
great questions and reflections.
Relates a bit to the baptism post.
I'd put a comment on that pointing to my blog on that at
http://www.liturgy.co.nz/worship/matters_files/baptism20080304.html
but it appears not to have come through.
Lost in cyberspace...
There I point out that in the early church baptising "in the name of..." didn't mean anything about words used at the time of baptism - it meant "on behalf of..." and "into the nature of..."
So there was no difference in baptising on behalf or God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit; and baptising on behalf of Jesus...
It's all, I think, a bit like physics, or chemistry, or any deep subject - where we use models and metaphors - because that's the only way we can access the ideas as humans.
God is so transcendent - God can transcend transcendence in the incarnation and take on the humanity God has made in God's image.
To call God three persons - isn't three "people". It means God within, God alongside, and God beyond is all the one God.
The God within is not different to the God alongside, nor different to the God beyond.
I'm enjoying this blog.
If you like my site www.liturgy.co.nz
I hope you'll link to it as "Liturgy"
Let me know so I acknowledge that and link back.

Bosco
www.liturgy.co.nz

Ricky Carvel said...

Hmmm. Two deep thoughts there, thanks!

Just following this thought through... Marcus, what aspects of God the Father (and, indeed, of the Spirit) do you not see in the person of Jesus?

I get your point. And I should say for good measure that in writing this post I haven't definitely decided which way I think things are - I'm just thinking out loud, testing my beliefs and those of others to see if they hold up to scrutiny.

Bosco, thanks for your comments too. i like the idea of baptising "into the nature of"... I'll need to think about that one. Your response on the trinity suggests that your belief is closer to that of the 'One God, viewed from three different angles' thinking.

Hmmm. Still more thinking to be done.

R.

Marcus G said...

Plus, and this is a biggy, Jesus both prays to his Father and asks us to do the same ("may father and yours" anyone?) which seems to sugegst that he thinks there's a difference. I'm kind ofthinking, if he thinks there's a difference, I'm sort of happy to go with that.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

If you strip away the quotes churches use to prove the Trinity, this is the basic structure: One is three. One is not three. Three is one. Three is not one.
The Trinity works as long as you don't try to understand it, explain it, or use logic.

Here is another quote:
"The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who would try to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind. But he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul"
A Handbook of Christian Truth, pp. 51-52).

In other words, if you try to understand it, you will go crazy. If you don't support it, you will burn forever.

It is tough to be a Christian in the middle of so much denominational thinking.

Morten