The Trinity

When we use the word Trinity we are not involved in trying to solve a problem like a Rubik’s Cube or a Chinese finger trap. We are asking the most important question any human being can ask: What do we mean when we use the word God?

‘God’ is a word which has become increasingly debased, misused and confused. It is the verbal equivalent of an exclamation mark for many.

‘God’ can mean so many things. Is it still a helpful word? It can be used to mean a member of a Hindu pantheon, a figure in mythology like Zeus or Cupid, or it can refer to the God of the Scriptures.  It can describe the Muslim God Allah and a thousand other variations. Someone’s God can be their bank account, their car, their football team, their personal appearance, or say where people will spend thousands of dollars on a derivative of nerve gas, Botox to eliminate wrinkles!

 Is it worth the effort to try and reclaim the word God, or should we just let it go?  My preference is now for speaking of ‘The Lord’ instead of God for it personalises and adds meaning to it. But given that the word God occurs in the Bible, we cannot lightly by-pass it, so it is best to be clear on what we mean by the word God. It is important to know what you believe, and know in whom you believe.

When a Christian speaks of God, they mean God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is a distinct a unique Christian understanding of God. It is not tri-theism, three Gods. It is not monism, one God which pervades all. It is not pantheism, that everything from trees to the sun is God.  God is Trinity.

The word Trinity never occurs in the New Testament, but nor do many other words important to us.  The word Bible never occurs there, or Holy Communion or drums, surprisingly.  The first time the word Trinity is used is in the 3rd century by Tertullian. However, though the word is never used in the Bible, the concept of God as Trinity is present in the New Testament. In Matthew 28. it is said baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Paul finishes off his letter to the Corinthians with, ‘May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be always with you.’

What I find fascinating about this, is that there is no attempt to make a doctrinal point. God is simply referred to this way without any introduction or explanation. It is assumed.  It highlights the distinctiveness of God as one but also it teaches that there is a relationship within the God-head.  This is why we must reject so many modern attempts to describe God only in terms of His function.

We often hear God described as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, but God is more than what He does. He is, before he acts. He has a nature that overflows into those actions; creation and so on. But the Trinity acknowledges that before God does anything, at his heart He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And every time the Father, Son and the Spirit are referred to, the full divinity of each individually and corporately is clear. The New Testament accepts that this was not a human invention but that God has revealed himself this way. It is not our discovery but God’s own revelation about himself. 

What this all meant, took centuries to think through.  It was only when a very charming and persuasive heretic called Arius came along that the church had to get serious about its theology of God.

Arius claimed that Christ was an inferior to the Father; a created being, and as for the Spirit…well the Spirit barely gets a guernsey at all. After endless debate and conversation, including the first Christian emperor Constantine locking all the protagonists in a room and refusing to let them out until they had solved the problem, the Nicene Creed emerged. 

Every time you come across a creed there will be a heretic still warm in his grave, so with this creed. It spent most of its time establishing that Christ shared the full divinity of the Father.  He was begotten not created. He has always shared the same nature as the Father and was not created but has always existed as God.  Because God has always been father, so must the Son have always existed.  No one is a father without a son or daughter, and the Holy Spirit likewise is fully divine, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go and baptise in the name of the Father and the Son, and by the way there is a kind of force around called the Holy Spirit who can throw in a bit of help along the way, but you don’t have to take him as seriously as the Father and I.’ So when we say God, we mean the God who exists in relationship within His own being, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit in love to help us have real faith.

That is what the Lord wants us to see most clearly. We are not saved by believing that God is Trinity, but by knowing and accepting the Trinitarian God and by seeing that he is a seeking God of love. A patient God who waits until his prodigal sons and daughters return to receive the forgiveness of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

You have a Heavenly Father to whom you can always turn and who is turned towards you through His son before you ever knew him.

The Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual power to believe, to obey God’s commandments and to produce fruits of God’s Spirit in our lives.  So as much as it might strain relationships, we cannot go along with the politically correct view that all religions mean the same thing when they use the word God. As Al Dunlap says, ‘As soon as you put something in front of the word ‘correct’ you make it incorrect.’

All world religions are pre-Trinitarian and find their completion and fulfilment in the God of the Trinity; a view to be held not with arrogance or superiority but with the humility the Holy Spirit engenders.  This is not to say that we can’t work with Jews or Muslims, sects or Buddhist people for peace, feeding the hungry, justice or in opposing the using of embryos for experiments. We have our humanity in common with them as much as we do with non-believers who want to help change the world. But it does mean that anyone who has not yet met and accepted the God who is the Trinity, has yet to find all the good that He wants to give them.

By George Robert Iles