The eBible staff is made up of Baptists and Presbyterians, non-denominational, a Roman Catholic contributing writer, and this Lutheran; we worship in different churches with different practices; some of us recite a creed on Sunday mornings; some of us don’t. But here, in this place, we do have a shared creed: we believe this statement of faith. It is the standard to which we hold all of our content, whether a blog article, a song we find inspiring, answers coming through the Q&A forums, or even comments. Stripped down to its core, this is what we as Christians come together to say is essential to the faith.
Out of all the categories in that statement of faith, the one that remains controversial, that we still get conflicting questions and answers and e-mails about, is on God. We confess the Trinity, one God eternally existing in three persons. We stand by this ancient teaching of the Church through the millennia, and I have a confession to make: I don’t understand it. And as the Lutheran Satire points out, most likely neither did one of the doctrine’s most famous proponents. Saint Patrick had issues (hilariously, but probably not as hilarious as the video):
The Bible never expressly uses the word trinity, but it does have echoes that we can piece together. In John 1, the Word both “was with God” (making God an outside object that one can be with) and “was God” (making the Word Himself God). In Philippians 2, Jesus is confessed to be “in very nature God,” yet when emptying Himself, has God do something to Him as an external actor, with Jesus as the direct object being “elevated to the highest place, that at His name every knee should bow.” The Holy Spirit both proceeds from Jesus when He breathes on His disciples (John 20:22) and is promised to come, but not actually be Jesus, yet is also God to Whom man can lie (Acts 5:3-4). Jesus is both one with the Father, yet the Father is greater than Him. Et cetera. There are only hints, echoes and paradoxes. God is clearly one, yet the three names He is called are not identical with each other. They’re different persons.
I’m not here to spend my time defending doctrine of the Trinity. Other men far more intelligent, far more faithful, far more learned – and lest we think it’s some newfangled idea, far more ancient, dating back to over 100 years before Nicea – than I have penned pages upon pages upon pages refuting the false confessions of partialism (Voltron! – watch the video), modalism and Arianism, not to mention tritheism (the teaching of the Mormon church). But I do want to address the single most common complaint I receive, one that I was told in full earnest by my then-girlfriend-now-wife one night when we were talking about any possible conflict in our beliefs. She wasn’t comfortable confessing the Trinity, and she looked into my eyes, scared this could break our relationship, sighed and said: “The Trinity just doesn’t make sense to me.”
I’m glad my actual response didn’t break our relationship: I laughed. As if this fact alone is sufficient to reject the teaching! God is eternal; He has no beginning. We live in time. Do you comprehend that? Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cover all your sins – past, present and future – not only yours, but mine, hers, his, theirs and the whole world at all times in all places! How can it be that one man redeems many? How can it be that one man, Adam, condemns all of creation to death and sin? How is it that John writes of the Word made flesh being the light to men, yet says in the same discourse that “no one has seen God”?
Indeed, God who is eternal places this very eternity in the hearts of men, yet we cannot comprehend it at all (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God Himself, in His Word, tells us we will not understand Him. He tells us in all our intellectual striving that we are foolish (1 Corinthians 3:19-25) to His wisdom, even to His foolishness. Christ crucified is proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile as a stumbling block to one and as foolishness to the other (1 Corinthians 1:23).
We spend so much time trying to put God in a box to fit our rationalistic understanding. We judge whether something is true by whether it makes sense or not, at least in matters of spirituality. Even the supremely rationalistic material scientist holds that light behaves as both wave and particle (proton) simultaneously, even in not making sense. I’m here to tell you that sometimes we don’t understand God. And honestly, that’s okay. We must be content to accept in faith that which He has revealed of Himself, a faith that is passive to receive His promises, His teachings, His gifts, and active enough to be empowered by His grace to love our neighbor.
God put Himself in three boxes: the tabernacle and temple, via the Ark of the Covenant in which He dwelt His very presence, and in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity dwells. Yet even in this fullness dwelling, Jesus of Nazareth saw Nathanael under the fig tree, for He remained omnipresent. This is a mystery. God did not put Himself into the box of our understanding, but into a box of our being. Look to Him, to Christ. Scripture comes before reason, and guides it along as a handmaiden. We are the bride, not the bridegroom, to be led, to belong.
God’s not going to fit in your box. He’s not a Voltron toy.
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