Knowing Your Trinity

I want you to imagine with me for a second that I am holding a bag of pasta and a bottle of pasta sauce.  Now I want you to answer a very tricky question; what do they have in common?

This is a very difficult question as I haven’t provided you with any specific information on what kind of pasta I am holding, or whether it is home brand or San Remo. I haven’t told you the flavour of the pasta and whether it is a plastic or glass bottle.

You will tell me what I am holding based on what you know a bag of pasta and a bottle of pasta sauce to be.

This is sometimes how God is presented. When the word ‘God’ is used, it is assumed we all understand what is being said. It has become a generic term.

In the world today, the word ‘God’ has become debased, overused and confused. It can cover completely opposite, mutually exclusive understandings depending on who you are talking to.

For example, take the Baha’i movement.  It has its origins in Islam but sees itself as a generic religion. It considers itself the ultimate religion because it includes all world religions.

But there are problems here that an astute reader like you, would see immediately.

In logic we have a mechanism known as the ‘Law of Non-Contradiction’ which says that something cannot be itself and its opposite. For example, I cannot be a father and son to the same person.

So when we apply this to the Baha’i religion there are some problems.

You cannot hold together opposite and contradictory truths. You cannot have reincarnation and resurrection as they are opposites; mutually exclusive.

But then the Baha’i come back and say, ‘But behind all the differences, all the non-essentials, there is a deeper unity we call God.’

Well there will be agreement in some things, like it is better to live in peace than war, but really what you are doing is lopping off all the distinctive parts of a belief to get to a unifying generic God.

Look at what this does to our faith: When we lop off the Incarnation of Christ, is Christianity still is Christianity? No! That is a non-negotiable, essential part of our faith.

What about the resurrection? How about the atonement – Christ making peace between the Lord and man? Is that a non-essential? And Pentecost? Is the coming of the Holy Spirit a non-essential? The second Coming? The Bible?

You cannot lop off the differences in the Christian faith without losing all that it is and stands for.

The law of non-contradiction-destroys Baha’ism and any thought of a generic god.

So when we speak of God, we must say no to generics.

We must also say no to confusion.

 The UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph reports that two-thirds of Britons who have read Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code  believe that Jesus fathered a child with Mary Magdalene; a claim rejected as baseless by historians and Biblical scholars. Those who have read it are also four times as likely to think that the conservative Roman Catholic organisation Opus Dei, whose members include some quite famous people, is a murderous sect. Seventeen percent of readers are convinced this lay group, whose founder was canonized by the late Pope John Paul II, has ordered or carried out a murder, compared with four percent of those who have not read the book.

Sixty per cent of the adults polled, said after reading the book that they believed there was truth in suggestions that Jesus had children and that his blood-line survives, compared with 30 per cent of those who have not read it. Just under a third, think that the Catholic Church is covering up the truth about Jesus, and the figure rises to 36 per cent among those who have read Brown’s novel.

The novel is as full of holes as worm-eaten cheese.

It preys upon our enjoyment of a page-turning novel, religion and historical ignorance, and doctrinal confusion. This shows how important it is to know what you believe and why we say no to doctrinal confusion.

But we say yes to the Trinity.

Now the first Christians didn’t sit down one day and say, ‘Let’s see if we can find a concept of God that should confuse people for generations to come. A kind of three musketeers concept all for one and one for all. Let’s invent the Trinity.’

No, the Lord Himself has told us what He is like.

We couldn’t derive this from reason, only revelation.

At a recent church camp we had to tell each other three things about ourselves, one of which was not true. I began with ‘I am a strong supporter of Port Power,’ and had no chance to get to the other two.  One lady tried to tell us that she didn’t like chocolate, and a fellow said he had slept at Buckingham Palace… and he had. People told us things only they knew.

In the same way, the Lord, in the Trinity, tells us something about Himself that only He knew – that he is one essence in three people.

One day last week my wife and I sat down and watched a movie called Mr and Mrs Smith. We borrowed it from the Tea Tree Gully Library and it was worth what we paid for it.  It started to make Runaway Bride look good. In the climactic moment of the movie these two agents were under attack and they started disclosing things about themselves the other did not know. One had been married before, the other was Jewish and a whole string of details followed. There was self-disclosure. 

So with the Trinity. God has disclosed that He is one in essence but three persons. That’s a bit like a lot of things but not exactly like any of them.

I know an excellent preacher, brilliant artist and garlic avoiding skilled wood worker. He is also husband, father and grandfather but he is the same person.  He is all those three things but the same dear brother.

The shortcoming in the analogy is that I spoke of his roles not different persons.

The Trinity is about the roles of the Lord but the roles are linked to different persons.

The politically correct way of referring to the Lord in many current prayer litanies is, as Creator Redeemer and Sustainer. All true but it speaks of God in terms of what He does, whereas the doctrine of Trinity speaks firstly of who He is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before what He does.

So God has disclosed to us that He is the Father who created everything through the Son and Spirit who brooded over creation in Genesis 1. The father sent the Son into the world to save us from the tyranny of sin or unbelief, and the particular sins which can make us captive and take away our freedom.

The Son sends the Sprit from the Father who testifies to Jesus. Jesus always honours the Father. That is how Scripture reveals God. In a sense we don’t believe in God but God as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s no surprise that the earliest Christians were persecuted for being atheists – because they did not believe in the prescribed Gods of the Roman Empire.

So the Trinity is not an intellectual conundrum, but what God has disclosed about himself through Christ. This shows us that there is a joyful and loving community at the heart of the Godhead. The Father loves the Son as the Son does the Father, along with the third person of the Trinity the Holy Spirit – note it is a person, not an it!

This is not the Tri-Theism, as the Muslims accuse us of, that is three gods and therefore idolatry. It is one God in three persons.

None is inferior to the other. The Son was not created but had always been the Son, as the Father has always been the Father. There was never a time when the Father was not the Father so the Son has always been the Son and the Spirit the Holy Spirit, with Father and Son. The Son is a metaphor of unity.

None was created by the other, none is inferior or superior to the other, though the Son always defers to the father and the Spirit brings us the Son, while the Father points to His Son for us to listen to.

So we say no to a generic god.

And we say no to doctrinal Da Vinci-like confusion – we want the truth.

But Yes to God’s self-disclosure – He is Trinity.

I make no apology for giving you a doctrinal sermon, we all need one once in a while, because you must know what you believe so you can be effective witnesses to Christ.

By George Robert Iles