Sunday, November 21, 2010

Theology Sunday: How Can we Understand the Trinity?

Sorry--I've fallen behind on my blog posts. But here's another theology lesson for Sunday. :-)

Week Ten: God is a Trinity. What does that mean?

A lot of people make a big deal out of the fact that the word “trinity” isn’t in the Bible, but you know what? I’ve written dozens of books, and not once have I ever explained to my readers that I am a woman. Most people figure that out. How? First, my name is a woman’s name. Second, if you were to see my picture, you’d guess that I’m a woman. Third, if you were to meet me, you’d know that I’m female. I look like a woman and talk like a woman because I am a woman.

The Bible doesn’t “spell out” the concept of the Trinity, but it gives us plenty of evidence for the knowledge that God is three-in-one. First, when you read the Bible, you’ll notice that God is not alone. Last week you may have noticed that when God created man, he said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

Who was he talking to? Not the angels, because they don’t create like God. Not the animals or the plants or trees, because they don’t create, either. They are created things, not the creator, and only God can make something out of nothing. Created beings can never create like God can.

So who was he talking to? The other members of the Trinity: specifically, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we read the Bible, we see that God is three persons, but He is also one God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 tells us, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” So God is one—and yet he is three persons.

The idea that God is three-in-one—called the doctrine of the Trinity—is sometimes difficult to understand. Some of the smartest people in the world have trouble with it because they try to apply human understanding to God, who is bigger than human understanding.

Some people say that the Trinity is like an egg—in one egg, you can find a shell, a yolk, and a white part. One egg with three parts. But this is not really an accurate picture of the Trinity, because an egg shell is only part of an egg—only 1/3 of an egg, to be precise. Yet each member of the Trinity is fully God, not just “1/3” of God. God the Father contains all of God in himself. Jesus contains all of God in himself. The Holy Spirit possesses all of God in himself.

The yolk of an egg doesn’t have the hard shell of an egg, right? But Jesus has all of God’s power and mercy. He’s not missing any part of God. The white of an egg is missing the egg’s protein (found in the yolk), but the Holy Spirit has all of God’s knowledge and capability. He’s not missing any part of God’s essence, either.

Other people say that God is like water: H2O can exist as a liquid, a gas, or as ice—one substance in three different forms. They say that God is sometimes like a Father on a throne, sometimes in the form of Jesus, and sometimes in the form of a Spirit. But that’s not right, either, because the Bible clearly teaches us that God is three different persons. They do different things. They talk to each other. They are definitely three different persons in one God.

They have the same power, knowledge, and characteristics. They do differ, however, in their actions, in what they do. Let’s see what the Bible says about their differences:

The creation of the world: the first chapter of Genesis tells us that God spoke the world into existence: “The God said, ‘Let their be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). But Jesus and the Holy Spirit were active at creation, too. Look at John 1:1-4, where Jesus is called “the Word”: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.”

The Holy Spirit was active at creation, too. Genesis 1:2 tells us that the “Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

The plan of salvation: all three members of the Trinity were also active in the plan of salvation. John 3:16 tells us, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” God the Father sent the Son, who died for our sins. After Jesus rose from the dead and went back to heaven, the Holy Spirit came. John 14:26 says, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”

God the Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us, lives in us, and helps us grow as Christians.

God the Father has always been the Father, Jesus has always been the Son, and the Holy Spirit has always been the Spirit. Paul wrote, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5).

Even before he made the world, even before Moses wrote Genesis, God decided to make mankind. He wanted his representatives to have free will and not be robots, so he gave Adam the opportunity to choose Him by giving Adam an opportunity to disobey. God knew Adam would sin, so even before the world began, God knew that Jesus would have to go to earth and sacrifice his holy life for our sins.

Even knowing those things, God created the world anyway. He did so because He loves mankind—He loves you. He wants you to be holy and without fault in his eyes. He wants you to shine in the image of his dear son, Jesus.

God is an amazing being . . . and next week we’ll look at one of his amazing character qualities.

Memory verse: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Discussion questions:

1. Look at the following verses. What do these verses tell us about the Trinity?

· Colossians 1:15-18: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.”

· Psalm 33:6,9: “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born . . . For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command.”

· 1 Corinthians 8:6: “But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.”

· Hebrews 1:1-2: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.”

· Galatians 4:4: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”

· 1 Peter 1:2: “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy.”

· Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

2. Some people say that Jesus isn’t equal to God in power or authority. But look at the first chapter of Hebrews and see what God the Father says to Jesus: “Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. You rule with a scepter of justice. You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else” (Hebrews 1:8-9).

3. Read the story of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11): “One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.’”

Point out the parts of the passage that clearly reveal that all three members of the Trinity were present and active when Jesus was baptized.

4. Do you have to understand how the Trinity works in order to understand God? Not really. I don’t know exactly how my hot water heater manages to get hot water from the garage into my bathroom, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a warm shower. The important thing is to realize that when the Bible presents a truth that’s hard to understand, you can accept it because God does not lie. In time, as the Holy Spirit teaches and guides you, you will grow in understanding.

This is what you should know about the Trinity:

1. God is three persons.

2. Each person is fully God.

3. There is one God.

That’s it. We may not fully understand it yet, but one day we will.

1 comment:

Ginny said...

Thanks for this, Angela. I believe heresy comes about when we try to bring together two truths that appear, in our four-dimensional world, to be complete contradictions. The only thing we can do with the teachings about the trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, God's sovereignty and our free will, is trust that, in dimensions beyond the ones we are limited to right now, the conflicting truths don't conflict after all.