The Mystery of the Trinity

The doctrine of the tri-unity of the Godhead is a mystery! We can create symbols, diagrams, and analogies to try to explain it, but we really do not understand how God can be three, yet one. It is not a revealed doctrine. It is implied in the references to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father as… God. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity is central to how we define orthodox Christianity.

Genesis 1:26 states, ‘Let us make man in our image’. The Hebrew word Elohim is a plural name used of God. God is more than one. In the New Testament, the Father is called God, the Son is also called God, and so is the Holy Spirit. Yet the consistent Old Testament declaration is that God is one. So, if God is one yet the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God, then God must be three-in-one, a trinity.

Over the years, people have come up with many analogies to try to explain the three-in-oneness of God. Perhaps the best of these is the reference to H2O. Imagine a sealed glass jar, half-filled with water that has just boiled. Three cubes of ice float in the water. Steam fills the upper portion of the jar. For a short time, the H2O in the jar co-exists in three different forms – water, ice, and steam. In this analogy, the water represents the Father, the ice represents the Son, and the steam represents the Holy Spirit. Then the ice melts, and the steam condenses, and all you have is a jar half full of tepid water. In the same way, the analogy fails to satisfy us intellectually and creates as many problems as it perhaps solves.

A better idea is to focus on our lack of comprehension. Rather than seeking to understand how God can be three yet one, we can try to grasp why we cannot comprehend tri-unity.

We exist in three dimensions of space. God, on the other hand is multi-dimensional. He does not seem to be limited to time or place. In any event, if he created this 3D universe then he must logically exist in more than three dimensions. [As I write this, I am smiling wryly to myself because here I am trying to explain God. Forgive me Lord; I am just trying to find a way to appreciate you better.]

In the early twentieth century, a man by the name of Edwin Abbot Abbot came up with an innovative way of helping us to comprehend higher dimensions. He reasoned that although we have no idea of what higher dimensions are like, we do know what lower dimensions consist of. A line is a two-dimensional construct and a dot is one-dimensional. His idea was to invent a 2D world, which he named Flatland, populated by 2D people. They had length and breadth but no height. In Flatland, a square would appear as a straight line. A circle would look like a straight line that blurred at both ends. A triangle would be a line that appeared to be darker in the middle. Remember, there is no dimension of height in Flatland. Edwin reasoned that a 3D creature entering Flatland would resemble a multi-dimensional creature entering our 3D world.

Now, what would the citizens of Flatland see if a 3D object, like a sphere, were to pass through the 2D plane of their world? As the sphere made contact with their 2D plane, they would see a dot. Then, as the sphere passed through their world they would see a line. At first, the line would grow in length. After the circumference of the sphere passed through Flatland, the line would shrink back down to a dot. Do you get the picture?

What would they see if a three-legged stool were to pass through Flatland? At first they would see it as three dots and then as three lines. As the seat passed through their world, they would see just one long line. At first, they would see it as three, but then they would perceive it as one. But how would  3D creatures see the stool? They would describe it as one object with a seat and three legs.

The Holy Trinity is not a mystery to the angels. They exist in higher dimensions of space and time. It is only a mystery to us because we cannot comprehend higher dimensions. We are like Flatlanders.

Fortunately for us, God understands our limitations. God the Son came into our world of limited dimensions to reveal to us the mystery of the Godhead. In essence, this is what Jesus said; “If you want to see God, look at me” In answer to Phillip’s request that he show them the Father, Jesus replied “…anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Hallelujah! The concept of ‘trinity’ may be mysterious to us but we can comprehend Jesus. He is the revelation of the Godhead to humanity. ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…’ (Colossians 2:9). As always, when things appear mysterious… look to Jesus.

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