Blessed Trinity

As I write this, it’s been a week and half since Trinity Sunday.  Reflecting on the Trinity brought up a memory from my days at Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Back then, requirements for the Master of Divinity included facing an inquisition.  Officially it was labeled a, “comprehensive oral exam,” and was designed to see how well a student had assimilated and applied all that they had learned in the program.   But being subjected to a two-hour oral exam by a panel of three professors did feel a bit like an inquisition.  (In fairness, there was no actual torture or hostility from the inquisitors.)   My own oral’s panel consisted of theology professor, Dr. Staples, Dr. Finley who specialized in Biblical studies, and Prof. Whitlock from the Christian Education department.  

At some point in the middle of my exam I was challenged with something like this:

“Wilson, imagine you are out there pastoring a church and one Sunday morning you walk down the hall of the Sunday School wing and stop and stick your head into an early elementary classroom. You observe the teacher using an egg to explain the Trinity.   What is the problem with that?”

I immediately began thinking about the theology of the Trinity and started to formulate my answer.  The egg illustration talks about the shell, the white, and the yolk forming one egg.  It is said to be analogous to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being one God.   So far so good.  But then problems arise:  An individual part of the egg, like the yolk for example, is not fully an egg.  The Son, however, is fully God… 

Before I vocalized that answer, however, another thought dawned on me.  The question had not come from Dr. Staples, the theology professor.  It was a question from Prof. Whitlock, the Christian Education guru.  I smiled ever so slightly and answered something like this:

“The problem is that explaining the Trinity is not proper subject matter for young children.  The concept is too abstract.  Children’s lessons should be focused on basic Bible stories, especially stories about Jesus.  Explaining the Trinity should come later when they are more mature.”

It turns out, that was the answer he was looking for!

Years have gone by.  While I don’t think my answer was wrong, I have had to revise my opinion.  Perhaps “expand” would be a better term.   My original answer implied that the Trinity could be explained to people when they matured.  I no longer think that is the case.  Even for mature Christians the idea of the Trinity is just too abstract to truly comprehend.

We can certainly teach the truth of the Trinity. As my denomination puts it in our Articles of Faith, “We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, …   The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One God, Triune in essential being!  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God.  The Bible teaches that to be true.  The Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are equal with each other but not equal to each other.  They are three persons but one God, not three Gods.   Jesus, the incarnate Son, is said to be,  “fully God.”  But of course Jesus is not the Father, nor is he the Holy Spirit.     But how can these things be true?  Therein lies our problem.  We want to know how, but we simply can’t.  It is beyond our understanding.  Once again, faith is the key!  Through faith we can believe these things to be true, in spite of not being able to comprehend how. 

Having said that I close with my favorite expression of the Trinity.  This expression doesn’t explain the Trinity, but it does  give us a handle to help us to think about the Trinity.  It is a relational expression that I learned from Dr. Staples, who before examining me, had taught me.

The Father can be thought of as, “God above us.”  He is the majestic, transcendent God that is up there.

The Son can be thought of as, “God with us.”  Literally the meaning of, Emmanuel.  The Son became incarnate and dwelt among us.  He was tempted in every way just as we are.  He even died for us.

The Holy Spirit can be thought of as, “God in us.”  The Holy Spirit is the empowering, comforting, guide, and teacher who lives in us. 

The Trinity–God above us, God with us, God in us!

In the words of hymnist, Reginald Heber, “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! … God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

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