Tag Archives: Trinity

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

 

 

 

Blogging the Bible 327 – Ephesians 3-4 – Abundantly more

Ephesians 3:14-21 is over the top. Paul is overwhelmed by the love, power and sheer goodness of God which ‘surpasses knowledge’.

It’s only by God’s gift that we can begin to comprehend his love. Again Paul’s language is Trinitarian – with the Trinity being seen in a dynamic experience of God, not as some abstract ‘out there’ concept.

Paul prays to the Father on bended knee, that he might strengthen us by the Spirit, so that in turn Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith as we grow in love and are filled with the fulness of God.

So if you want to know more of God’s love, pray for strength to love, and to live as part of his family in unity and service to others. 

Blogging the Bible 326 – Ephesians 1-2 – God’s Trinity, our Unity

It’s beginning to get repetitive – I keep finding in Paul’s letters more than I’d ever imagined about God’s work of bringing the Gentiles into the story which so far has been that of Israel. It’s here again, as part of the image of the Spiritual Temple, brought together by Christ the Cornerstone.

2:18 is in the setting  of this priority, and gives us a glimpse of the working of the Trinity in bringing us together to God. 

…for through him both of us [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Paul takes the classic pattern of prayer and applies it to the wider question of how we come to God. And we see a hint of the pattern by which we are drawn into the very life of God. We come to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

How do you see the work of the Trinity in your life? How is God calling you to deeper and better fellowship with your fellow Christians who are different from you? 

Blogging the Bible 158 – Proverbs 3 – Lady Wisdom

When so many of the God-related images of the Bible are masculine, the fact that Wisdom is clearly feminine makes us stop and take note.

We know, of course, that God is neither male nor female, and that it is together that men and women bear God’s image. But the language of the Bible leans heavily towards male imagery for God, at least for the Father and the Son. That’s why I stick to using ‘he’ of God, for the lack of a non-gender-specific pronoun that’s still personal in English.

So why is Wisdom feminine – and clearly so? The imagery of verses 13-18 spell out the image of Wisdom from the first two chapters, as a woman calling to right living. And as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t think we can read these words, especially 3:19-20, and not link them to the beginning of John’s Gospel, where we are told of how the Word of God who spoke creation into being took flesh in Jesus.

I don’t for a moment think that the writer of Proverbs had this in mind, but I’m sure that St John did. Jesus is clearly, unambiguously male. It’s not just a matter of language and imagery as it perhaps is with God the Father. God the Son becomes human as a man, not as a woman. That doesn’t say anything about the inherent value or the proper roles of men and women, but to become human meant becoming either male or female, and in the time of Jesus one of those options gave the possibility of the ministry he came to offer.

The image of the Logos (Word, Wisdom) of God including the feminine aspect of Wisdom is important, then, because it points us to the reality that God, even the Second Person of God, is neither male nor female. For God to become human in Jesus required many things to become concrete, and to choose one possibility or another – for humans are not God. Yet the Word, God the Son, who became flesh in Jesus is one and the same with Lady Wisdom by whom God founded the earth and established the heavens.

Perhaps part of our grasp on wisdom is to realise that God is always wider than our categories, and bigger than our imaginations. We could say that God includes both masculine and feminine – but it’s probably better to say that our concepts of masculine and feminine themselves are both images of different aspects of the reality of God; and to try with God’s help to nurture both those sides of that image in ourselves in the balance that God has given us.

God is God. I am not God.