God in Three Persons: A Doctrine We Barely Understand
- Thursday, July 08, 2010
The Doctrine Examined
In this section of the message I want to examine some of the common questions about the Trinity.
A. Where in the Bible do you find the word Trinity?
The word "Trinity" is not in the Bible. Neither is the word "Inerrancy" but we don't discard it simply because it isn't found in the Bible. The issue is not the word, but the concept or the idea. We don't believe in the Trinity because of the word, but because of what the Bible teaches.
B. Is there another word we could use?
Yes there is. Theologians sometimes speak of the Tri-Unity of God. That's a good word—even though it sounds odd to our ears—because it combines the two ideas of unity and diversity in one word. There is a third word you should know. Sometimes we speak of the "Triune" God. That's also another word that means the same thing as Trinity.
C. How can we illustrate the Trinity?
A number of illustrations have been suggested. They all are useful as long as you remember they are only illustrations. For water can exist as solid, liquid, or steam. That's okay, but usually water only exists in one state at a time. However, there is a physical condition in which water can exist as solid, liquid and steam at the same time—which would be a much better illustration of the Trinity.
There are others we could mention. An egg is made up of a shell, the eggwhite, and the yolk. All three are needed for an egg to be complete. One of the more interesting illustrations note the different roles a person can play. I am a father, a son and a husband at one and the same time. Yet I am only one person. Perhaps a more biblical approach is to consider that a husband and wife are two persons yet in God's eyes they are "one flesh." Add children and then you have the family as a miniature (and very imperfect) version of the Trinity.
Tony Evans commented that the pretzel is a good illustration because it consists of one piece of dough with three holes. Take away any one of the holes and the pretzel isn't really a pretzel anymore. (According to some people, the pretzel was actually invented in Europe several hundred years ago by a monk who wanted to illustrate the Trinity to the children of his village so he took some dough, looped into the familiar three-hour shape, based it, and gave it to the children as an edible object lesson.)
My personal favorite illustration comes from noted scientist Dr. Henry Morris. He notes that the entire universe is trinitarian by design. The universe consists of three things: matter, space, and time. Take away any one of those three and the universe would cease to exist. But each one of those is itself a trinity.
Matter = mass + energy + motion
Space = length + height + breadth
Time = past + present + future
Thus the whole universe witnesses to the character of the God who made it (cf. Psalm 19:1).
It's important to remember that all illustrations fail eventually. They don't "prove" the Trinity, they simply help us understand the concept.
The Doctrine Applied
I am sure that many Christians think this doctrine has no practical value. That is, even if it's true, it doesn't and shouldn't matter to them. However, that simply isn't true. Let me suggest five important ramifications of this truth.
A. The Trinity helps us answer the question, "What was God doing before he created the universe?"
This is a question little children like to stump their parents with. But skeptics like to ask it as well. You may remember Augustine's answer: "He was preparing Hell for people who ask questions like that!"
But the Trinity teaches us that before the foundation of the world, God was having fellowship within his own being. That's why the Bible tells us that the Father loves the Son (John 17:24). In some sense we can never understand that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have forever communicated and loved each other.
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