Pastoral Commentary: The Holy Trinity
Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, when the Church reflects on the doctrine of the Trinity. It is one of the most important doctrines of the Church. It claims we have one God and only one God, in three persons. The math seems a little confusing, since when does one plus one plus one equal one? We’ve always learned it the other way. One plus one plus one equals three. Yet, when talking about the Triune God, we’re not studying simple mathematics. Instead, we’re considering two major points. First, how God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity, and then we’re pondering the very nature of God.
The doctrine of the Trinity states that God has revealed God’s own self to us as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We call these three persons the Godhead. From each of these persons, we learn something about God. From the revelation of God as Father, we learn there is one and only one God that’s the creator of all heaven and earth. God the Father is the creator of all that we can and cannot see. We also learn that God the Father created all things good. So, all creation is the work of a loving God who creates, sustains and directs us.
God the Son is the second revelation of God. Through the Son, Jesus Christ, we are able to see the only perfect image of the Father. You might wonder how Jesus Christ shows us the perfect image of the Father. Let's quickly look at two stories. First, in the parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus teaches, we learn something about God the Father. The father in the story sees his son returning after squandering his inheritance through a sinful life. Before the son can get home, the father runs to him, grabs the son and gives him a huge hug. The son apologizes, but there’s no need. The father has already forgiven him. From this parable we learn about forgiveness. When we look at Jesus as God the Son, our Redeemer we learn about God the Father’s forgiveness.
Now, the second story is about the last night Jesus spent with His disciples. During that evening, Jesus washes their feet and shares a final meal with His closest friends. Peter and Judas Iscariot are present and will have their feet washed. They’ll also share in the final meal. Jesus tells them He knows that one will betray Him and the other will deny Him.
Both men will hurt Jesus deeply. One will deny Him three times. The other will betray Him, which sets the arrest, the trial and the crucifixion in motion. Yet, Jesus still washes their feet, and He still eats with them. From Jesus’ example we learn that God is love. How else could Jesus wash their feet and eat with them if He didn't love them? As the perfect image of God the Father, Jesus teaches us the nature of God is love. So, when you look at the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, you see the perfect image of God the Father as forgiving and loving.
Finally, God reveals Himself to us in the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is revealed to us as the giver of life, as the Lord who leads us into all truth, and as the One who enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in us today to achieve these goals. When we learn about God’s love, we are witnessing the Holy Spirit at work. When we love one another, we are participating in the work of the Holy Spirit.
In three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — God is revealed to us as He exists. Our tendency is to see God as three different entities or separate beings. Yet, God is One. The unity of the Trinity, the way God exists as three persons in one, is the greatest of mysteries. We don’t understand exactly how this occurs, but we have some clues that lie in the nature of God.
God’s nature is perfect love. In this perfect love, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit exist. In this love, they exist in perfect community. In this perfect love God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have existed before the beginning of time. They were present and active in the creation of the universe. They were present and active in the creation of humanity. They are present and active in sustaining the creation today.
They live and move and act in perfect love and perfect community. What one Person of the Trinity knows, they all know. The actions of one Person of the Trinity are the actions of all the persons of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit exist and act in perfect community and perfect love. Through the Trinity, One God in three persons is revealed to humanity — to you and to me.
Do we understand this doctrine fully? No. Will we ever understand it fully in this life? No, I don't believe so, but on the last day we’ll know. Theologians far better than me have tried to explain it, but the Trinity in its fullest extent is still a mystery. Let me share one theologian's concept that might make the Trinity a little clearer.
Frederick Beuchner suggests we might get a clearer view of the Trinity when we look in a mirror. Looking in the mirror we see ourselves in three lives. The first life is the one known only to yourself and those you wish to reveal yourself. This internal life resembles the Father in the Trinity. The second life is the visible face that tends to reflect the inner life. Beuchner compares the visible face to the Son in the Trinity. The third life is the ability we each have to communicate the inner life we have. Through this invisible power we share with others deeply enough so they are involved in our lives. Beuchner compares the invisible power within us to the Holy Spirit.
These three lives make up each and every one of us. Yet, there’s only one you. The mirror reflects one and only one you.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The interior, the visible and the invisible. Three persons, one God. Three persons, one nature. Three persons with a nature of unconditional love. A love so deep, a love so rich, a love so forgiving, that God sacrifices God’s own self for us. Holy, holy, holy, Merciful and Mighty. God in three persons, blessed Trinity.