Yeah, “Three in One” sounds like something you squeezed on your bicycle when you were a kid to stop it from squeaking, but when it applies to the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it’s a whole lot more exciting.
It was St. Peter’s day off so Jesus was administering the entrance exam into heaven that day. Jesus decided to ask each person coming through the same question. It was a question he had asked his Apostles thousands of years before. The first person to come up to the pearly gates was a Baptist, and Jesus asked him, “Who do you say that I am?”
The Baptist began by saying “The Bible says. . . “ “I don’t care what the Bible says,” Jesus interrupted. “Who do YOU say that I am?” He couldn’t answer, and so he fell through the trap door.
The next person to step forward was a Catholic. Jesus asked the same question. “Who do you say that I am?” The woman began by saying, “The Pope says.” Jesus interrupted again. “I don’t care what the Pope says, who do YOU say that I am?” The woman was at a loss for words, and so “whoosh” down she went through the trap door.
Finally, an Episcopalian approached, and Jesus asked her, “Who do you say that I am?” And the woman answered, “YOU ARE THE CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!” Jesus smiled and was about to open the gate when the woman looked up and said. . . “But on the other hand. . . “
My dear Friends in Christ, the upcoming Sunday is Trinity Sunday; that day when we don’t celebrate an event in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but we celebrate a doctrine hammered out by the experience of the Early Church! Sometimes it seems so hard to talk about the Trinity. Sometimes you start to explain it and then you end up saying, “But on the other hand.”
One of the most common questions that come from people who are new to the faith is, “Do I have to believe in the Trinity?” Usually, I think what they’re really asking is, “Do I have to believe in something that I don’t understand.”
I have been either Rector or Priest in Charge of two different parishes in my thirty-plus years in active ministry. Both were called TRINITY. I couldn’t allow the doctrine to be a total mystery to all those people I served for all those years. Certainly, we should be able to say something very meaningful about the Trinity. The truth is, I think every Christian should be able to explain it. I just refuse to accept that the doctrine is that difficult to understand. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I really believe the Doctrine of the Trinity to be quite simple to explain. It wasn’t invented by PhD’s in the ivory towers of our major universities. It came because of people’s experience of God after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the advent of the Holy Spirit over 2,000 years ago. It was hammered out by people no smarter than any of us reading (or writing) this blog today.
The doctrine of the Trinity put simply is that God makes God’s self known in a multiplicity of ways. Specifically, and most commonly, three ways, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have personally experienced God as Father, God in Jesus, and the God in the movement of the Holy Spirit continuing in my life. Therefore, I have experienced the Holy Trinity.
Now honestly, I ask you what’s so difficult about that? If I call Kathy my Wife, my kids don’t say, she’s not a wife she’s a mother. No, they can understand even as children that she can be both. If I call Emily my daughter, then Laurel doesn’t say, “She’s not a daughter. She’s my sister.” We need to stop making the Trinity so complicated because what happens is we ignore the doctrine and then we miss some of the fullness, the richness, that is our God. When it comes to the TRINITY, I think we need to remember the anacronym K.I.S.S., Keep it simple SAINTS!
I love the story about the little girl who was sitting on the floor drawing a picture with her crayons when her father came home. “What are you drawing,” he asked. “I’m drawing a picture of God, Daddy,” the little girl answered. “But Sweetheart,” said the dad. “Nobody knows what God looks like.” And the little girl said, THEY WILL IN A MINUTE.
Jesus said in very plain language. “The Father and I are one.”
Oh, my goodness, how many hours of thought and explanation have gone into that simple statement. How many have gone to the stake as heretics because they couldn’t accept one version of that explanation. But it’s so simple. The word we translate as ONE in these passages means one of mind, one of spirit, one of purpose.
The Doctrine of the Trinity says that God the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, but they all act as one. They’re all in the same gear, going in the same direction and sharing the same vision. Now what’s so hard about that? St. Augustine put it in childlike terms over 1500 years ago. He said, there is a “threeness” about God. There is the sense in which God transcends all, a God that is pure vision, unspotted from the world. This is the God of whom we sing, “Immortal invisible God only wise.” This is the Almighty Father.
One of the best translations of the word “Logos” in the first chapter of John’s Gospel is the word “vision.” If you think of a company’s logo, what is it supposed to be if not the vision of that company? The Vision was with God, and the Vision was God, and the Vision became flesh. That vision dwelt among us in Jesus so that we might better understand God’s vision. And there is a sense in which that vision is still being sustained, still at work in the world, and we call that person of God, The Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is the most difficult for us to understand. But when you feel God in your life, nudging you, comforting you, that is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
There was once a girl who was a foreign exchange student and didn’t understand English very well. Her host family took her to church one Sunday. It was a beautiful service, and everything seemed to have gone well until they were on their way back home. On the way, the young student asked, “I don’t understand why the all the people on the west coast were left out of your prayers?” They didn’t understand this question at all. It puzzled them. and so the dad who was driving asked, “What do you mean?” And the girl replied, “You know, at the end of every prayer the minister kept saying ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the whole East Coast!’”
The Holy Ghost is the divine voice within and it’s just as real as the voice of Jesus of Nazareth some 2,000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is God all around us and infused within us.
It’s like the little boy who was fishing with his grandfather in the beauty of nature with a fabulous sunrise just beginning to happen and the boy turned and asked his grandfather, “Have you ever seen God?” And the man answered, “Sometimes I think I never see anything else.”
The Trinity serves to remind us always of the magnificence of our God; that God isn’t singularly revealed; that God can’t be put in a box on the shelf; that God is active and dynamic and worthy of our prayers and praises. God chose to relate to us in three persons because God desires to be very personal. The Trinity shouldn’t frighten us. The Trinity should EXCITE us! Because of the Three Persons in one God, we know for sure that the God who spoke so abruptly to Job in a whirlwind is the same God who said, “forgive them” from the cross. And the Spirit who hovered over the chaos at creation is the same God who told the parable of the Prodigal Son.
When we’re tempted to make God the reflection of our own smallness, Trinity Sunday calls us to a grander understanding. That’s why we adorn the church in regal white and gold and bring out the incense on this day. Because this is the day that we contemplate in our feeble finite way the magnitude and fullness of our very personal God!
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Barbara Webster says
The best reasonable explanation of the Trinity I have ever heard. Thank you.
Rev. William Adams says
That does my heart good to hear. I really do believe that the doctrine can be explained in understandable terms, and in such a way that it warms the hearts instead of causing frustration. Thank you.
Beth M says
When our son was six or so, he overheard my conversation about the Trinity with our Jewish neighbor. Later, he asked, “So there’s God who’s God and Jesus who’s God and the Holy Spirit who’s God, right? How’s that work exactly?” I paused for a moment to think about something I could say to a six-year-old when he piped up with, “I know! It’s like a peanut butter and jam sandwich! Without the peanut butter or the jam, it wouldn’t be a peanut butter and jam sandwich. And without the bread it would just be a big old mess!” Personally, I still love that answer.
Rev. William Adams says
You are much faster on your feet than I was when my kids were little. That’s a really good answer, and one I’ll bet the little one still remembers. A priest I knew back when I was in seminary said, “Bill, you do know that it’s almost impossible to describe the Trinity without committing heresy.” I thought to myself, “so what. . . you can’t let that paralyze you. It’s better to give it meaning than to worry about every word you say.” So peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches work for me. 🙂
Frank Tortorich says
I don’t think I will ever embrace the “Trinity.” As I see it for myself God and the Holy Spirit are one in the same and God/Holy spirit is Love. The single word “Love” is so inadequate. The Greeks have 7 different words for Love. You pointed it out that your love for Kathy is so different than your love for your children. I like all the Greek words for the different types of love I experience.
As we have talked before I do not believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus, but his resurrected Spirit (his love) does live on.
So in my theology I have the Son and I have the Holy Spirit or Love. Love for me is so powerful and that is what Christian faith is all about. The rest is fluff and fluff can be good. Blessing .
Rev. William Adams says
Lot’s to take in here, Frank. One thing I noticed right away is your statement that “God and the Holy Spirit are one in the same.” The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity would say the same thing. And Jesus became everything that God envisioned him to be, so we rightly claim that he is also in essence divine.