Over the last few months we've had brief looks at the descriptions and functions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when they were considered independently. Ultimately however this was so that we would be able to more clearly understand who God is as a whole. So today we are going to think about what we mean when we say that we believe in a Triune God, and hopefully that will lend even more weight and value to our worship of the God that we meet in the Scriptures. Our aim is not to master the subject, something that is not really possible, but rather for us to begin to appreciate it and see how it can build up our devotional lives.
Firstly we ought to acknowledge that there is only one God. When the Scriptures affirm this, they are affirming that the God of the Bible is the only true God and therefore the only God that we ought to worship. This does not mean that God is 'one' in every way we can imagine that a being might be 'one'. Only that God is the one and only God.
Secondly, as we should be able to see in our survey regarding the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, they are each divine, and independently so. This is to say that they are each God in their own right. They are personal beings who have their own interactions with the world. They are not simply different modes of forms of the one being, but are distinguishable in their own right. They are each fully God, and not mere parts of God who are only recognisable as divine when considered together.
Now classically put, God is three persons but one essence or substance. The Athanasian Creed puts it like this -
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord … And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.
This is to say that they are three distinct personal existences but one being that is God. This envisages that God is in perfect unity with himself as each person mutually indwells the other (Consider Jn. 10:37-39, 14:8-11, 17:20-21). And so though each person may perform different functions and have different roles to play, they are each considered equal in divinity and worth to each other. God is three, but three in a different way to which he is one. God is one, but one in a different way to that which he is three.
Naturally this is something of a conundrum to us as we try to understand its inner workings. We struggle with it on logical and philosophical grounds, but actually our consideration needs to go much further than that. We have to remember here that this is theology. Our definition of who God is comes from Scripture. We do not simply ignore or discount information that we find difficult to understand or reconcile. Rather we are called to trust in God's self revelation through Christ and the Scriptures. Part of our struggle here is that there is information that we do not have. Though it is tempting, we cannot fall into the trap of assigning to God an existence that is drawn from the nature of ours. Instead, those things that we have and yet are difficult for us ought to be 'chewed' on, that our reflection and consideration would lead to understanding. And at the same time we need to accept the inherent mystery that is God himself; that it is presumptuous for us to expect to be able to understand Him beyond what He himself has revealed, and that what we cannot and do not know and understand are not causes to reject him.
When we consider the doctrine of the Trinity, though we do not grasp it perfectly, we should be able to see its mark on the things that we believe as Christians. It is in the salvation plan of the cross, it's in how we think of prayer. It's in our view of Church as well as what it means to live as a Christian in the world. It's in the creation, and certainly in our understanding of the future that is promised. It really is in everything, and our understanding of what God has done and is doing will only be richer when we learn to recognise the Father's, the Son's and the Holy Spirit's part.
So rather than just taking it as given, why don't you consider it? Take something that you are learning about or have been wrestling with, and ask yourself where the Trinity is. What parts are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit playing, and how is the one triune God over it all?
At the end of the day a consideration of the Trinity ought to deepen our worship. We exist to worship God, and that only gets richer as we recognise better who he is. And whether we learn something incredible in our reflection, or find things still a bit hard to grasp, the simple task of affirming the truth as we have received it in the Scriptures, benefits us in our faith.