Three in One and One in Three

Trinity window

The Holy Trinity window in St Thomas’ Church

Many people find Christian belief in God as the Holy Trinity a bit confusing, to say the least! After all, how can Father, Son and Holy Spirit be three persons yet one God? Do we really worship only one God, or three gods?

People have tried all kinds of images to help us to make sense of this – the shamrock, with three leaves that are really one leaf, or ice, water and steam are some that I’ve seen. I’ve even tried to illustrate this deepest mystery of the nature of God with three juggling balls, but that’s a bit hard to explain in print…

We might be tempted to file ‘Holy Trinity’ as a bit too hard, and forget all about it. Perhaps that’s why the church gives us a reminder each year, on Trinity Sunday, which falls on 16 June this year. It’s always the Sunday after Pentecost, because that’s when (starting with Advent) we’ve followed the story of the key events of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection; then we’ve remembered the sending of the Holy Spirit Having covered all that, we step back to look at God as he has made himself known – Three in One and One in Three.

Not in the Bible (at least in so many words)

It’s true to say that our full understanding of the Trinity isn’t spelled out in the Bible (like many other key bits of our belief!) but it’s the best way the church has found to bring together what we see there about God as the early church came to know him. The apostles believed from the beginning that God the Father is the only God. As they made sense of Jesus, they realised that he was also God. He wasn’t the Father (after all, he prayed to the Father while on earth!) but he was clearly one with the Father – so we know him as God the Son. Then, at Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and realised that God was now living in them as Jesus had promised – God the Holy Spirit.

They were determined not to confuse these three, as they’re all quite distinct in many ways. But they also knew that they were all the same God – and they knew that there’s only one God!

God is bigger than our ideas of God

By this point, most of us realise the first important lesson of belief in the Trinity – God is bigger than our ideas and our understanding! If ever you think that you’ve understood everything there is to know about God, then you can be sure that you’ve hardly begun to understand him.

We do our best – and the doctrine of the Trinity is the best we’ve been able to do at putting God into words and ideas. But we must always remember that our ideas and words don’t define God – he is beyond our definitions, and we understand him fully only in worship and love, not in theory. Or in doctrines.

Perhaps along the way we can learn a useful humility about how fully we think we understand other things too – and a willingness to realise that other people’s perspective on life might help us to see more clearly!

God is love

‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) – and seeing that love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit reminds us that this is real, actual love, not some abstract idea. Love is at the very heart of God. And God was never lonely – he didn’t create us for the sake of company, but because his love overflowed and found an outlet in creating the universe to love!

One of the most famous icons, by Andrei Rublev, shows the three angels who visited Abraham, but as representatives of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; as they gaze at one another, we’re invited to see and wonder at their love.

300px-Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410God draws us into himself

Sticking with the icon, we’re meant to notice that there’s space at the table for us to pull up a chair. In fact one theory is that there was originally a small mirror stuck on there! God the Holy Trinity isn’t distant from us. He invites us into his life and love. We know and worship the Father, majestic and ever beyond us, through the Son who reaches out to us in Jesus and gives us a way back to the Father. And we can do that only because the Holy Spirit lives within us to lift us into the life and presence of God.

So belief in the Trinity isn’t something we can ignore because it’s difficult. It’s at the heart of being truly Christian and being fully human.

If you can get to church on 16 June, I’ll try and explain all this a bit more!

Rev’d Nick Watson

Originally published in the St Thomas’ Church Magazine, June-July 2019

 

 

 

25 December – Gifts for Jesus

Happy Christmas!

As you share gifts today and celebrate, remember the gifts brought by the wise men, and their meaning; gold for a king, incense for God, and myrrh for the healing that would be brought through Jesus’ suffering yet to come.

What will you bring to Jesus as a gift this Christmas? How will you know and serve him more fully as we travel together into the future with him?

May the peace of Christ be with you and those you love this Christmas.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

24 December – Who do you ask?

Answers are easier to find than ever – for some questions, at least. With internet access we can search for any question and find answers. Of course, one problem is that we have to work out which answers are right, or at least best. More complicated, though, is that we have to work out who’s giving the answers – and what their agenda might be.

The Wise Men went to the obvious place to look for a King of Israel – the palace in Jerusalem. When they realised they were in the wrong place and asked for directions, the answer they got was correct – they needed to go to Bethlehem. But they had asked the wrong person, and Herod had his own agenda. His agenda was to make sure that he stayed in power, whatever he had to do to make it happen. And he didn’t have space in his plans for another king. What he did next is in Matthew 2:13-18.

In the last couple of years we’ve become aware of the dangers of our choosing where we get our information about the world, because we tend to go to people, websites and broadcasters who seem to agree with us. Then we forget that just because someone shares our bias, that doesn’t make them unbiased. We need to be careful who we go to for answers – they may be asking different questions from us, and the ‘right’ answer can lead to the wrong consequences.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

23 December – Still to come…

One of the risks of an Advent calendar (video or otherwise!) is that we begin to think of Christmas as a wonderful ending. In fact, of course, it’s just a beginning. In today’s video Mary looks back on Jesus’ first year, their first year as a family – and wonders how all the things that God had said about him will happen.

You might like to listen to the song, ‘Mary did you know?’ – it’s a wonderful reflection on all the things that were still to come. But for the moment, Mary didn’t know. And finding out would be a lifetime’s journey with Jesus.

What’s ahead of you on your journey with Jesus? Like Mary, you could spend some time wondering, asking God to open the right doors for his will to be done through you.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

22 December – Good news for everyone!

The shepherds come bursting into the story, still smelling of sheep and a bit out of place in a maternity ward – however rough and ready it might be. But they remind us that Jesus’ birth is good news for everyone – including (or even especially) those who’ve got no business being there.

It strikes me for the first time this year that since Gabriel spoke once to Mary and once to Joseph about nine months previously, apart from Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, God has been quiet. He hasn’t (so far as we’re told) sent any more messengers, or even prophetic dreams. Mary and Joseph have simply got on with what they’d been called to do, bringing Jesus to birth miles from where they’d expected. They must have wondered sometimes what was happening to them.

But that night, the shepherds burst in and their excitement bursts out – the angels are back in celebration! It’s the confirmation of what this is all about. And it’s great news for the world.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent

21 December – Glory to God, Peace to Earth

When the angels turn up, heaven hits earth with a bang. God’s universe-wide, history-long plan to step into our world is announced to a few working people on a dark hillside. And that’s one of the key things about Christmas – we celebrate every year that God’s work in the world isn’t just ‘then’ (whenever ‘then’ is) but Now. And it’s not just ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is) but here.

Looking around you, where can you see God at work today, perhaps even in your daily work? Will you be willing to step aside from the ordinary to pray and worship him? That’s a way to follow the shepherds today.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

20 December – The Lord’s my Shepherd

We’re not familiar with shepherds in Wednesfield. But the ‘Good Shepherd’ is an image of God lots of us find helpful. The shepherds in today’s video remind us of what that shepherding involved in their day; it involved living among the sheep, caring for them, guiding and providing and sometimes protecting them. Israel’s greatest king, David, began life as a shepherd, and at his best he led his people with the same care.

Who are the shepherds of our community? Who are our guides, providers, protectors? And who do you guide, provide for and protect? Pray for them today and perhaps ask yourself what they reflect of the God who cares for us – or of what we need from God.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.