Summary: The Spirit is part of the circle dance of the Trinity

Knowing The Holy Spirit April 10, 2005

The Spirit and the Trinity

Luke 3:21-22

God is three, and God is one.

The Trinity is not an easy concept to understand much less to explain. I’ve had supper time conversations with the kids that go like this:

“Jesus is God.”

“But God is God!”

“Yeah but Jesus is God.”

“How can Jesus and God be God?”

“We’ll God is three: he is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

“The Holy Spirit is God?”


“But I thought God was God!”

That is the Trinity for you

The Trinity, along with grace, is one of the major distinctives of the Christian faith. We do not believe in three Gods, we believe in one God who is three.

Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ Baptism may be one of the most Trinitarian pieces of scripture there is. It is a beautiful scenes: Jesus, the Son has come among us, and now, at the start of his ministry, he is baptized and all three persons of the Godhead show up at the very same time. The Son being obedient to the Father, The Father honouring the Son, and The Spirit empowering the whole scene.

From earliest days, Christians have had a triune faith. The earliest of creeds speaks of it: I believe in the Father

I believe in the Son

I believe in the Holy Spirit

Images of the Trinity

We believe in the Trinity, but we have a hard time explaining it.

We are told that Patrick introduced the idea of the Trinity to the pagan Irish through the Shamrock – its leaf is has three sections, and yet it is one leaf

Others have used an egg to describe the trinity – it is one cell, but it has the shell, the white and the yolk

Some people compare the Trinity to fire having a flame, giving off both heat and light.

These Illustrations might be helpful to get our minds around the idea of something being three and being one, but the analogies cannot be pushed too far before they break down.

The Egg and the Shamrock make God appear very static, and they do not express any idea of the personhood of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit.

Bob Burridge writes about how these illustrations miss the mark

“God is not presented in the Bible as three different things combining to form a unified idea or mere appearance. God’s substance, power and glory are shared by all members of the Trinity as individual persons distinguished from one another only in ways God has revealed.”

He also says:

“Many attempts to illustrate the Trinity fall into the error of modalism. Modalism says that there is one God, but he reveals himself to us in different forms at different times – sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Holy Spirit) One common illustration presents the godhead as being like water which may exist as a liquid, or as a solid (ice), or as a gas (water vapor). The claim is that all three are water. But these states of water are not like the Trinity. God does not transform himself from one person to the other but is all the time, altogether, all three persons. The distinction of the persons in God is not one of changing states of being.”

- Bob Burridge, Geneva Institute for Reformed Studies

If these common images are not full enough, is there another that is much more full? (we know that any metaphor breaks down sooner or later)

It is not that we need to find a new image, but more that we need to rediscover an old image.

Brian Mclaren writes in a passage about what Eastern Orthodoxy taught him about Jesus:

“I learned that the early church leaders described the Trinity using the term perichoresis (peri-circle, choresis-dance): the Trinity was an eternal dance of Father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual love, honour, happiness, joy and respect.

Ask the God out of the Box people to share?

As I meditated on this Idea of the circle-dance of the trinity, This painting the Dave Chapman painted was always in my head. He painted it, not as a painting of the trinity, but as a painting of the children in our church. But it is an amazing image

Pinnock writes:

Gregory of Nanzianzus captured the mystery of triune life using the image of dance (perichoresis)… The metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity. The divine unity lies in the relationality of Persons, and the relationality is the nature of the unity. At the heart of this ontology is the mutuality and reciprocity among the Persons. Trinity means that shared life is basic to the nature of God. God is perfect sociality, mutuality, reciprocity and peace. As a circle of loving relationships, God is dynamically alive. There is only one God, but this one God is not solitary but a loving communion that is distinguished by overflowing life.

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