Summary: This is my latest attempt at an all-age talk to explain something of the nature of the Trinity and what it means for us as believers. Please note, I make the point that we can't fully understand the Trinity. It is a paradox.
[Note to the reader: this is NOT an expositional sermon. It is a talk about the doctrine of the Trinity. So please don't be disappointed that I don't explain this passage verse by verse :-)]
Today is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday; and it has been said that Curates and newly appointed Vicars rarely look forward to their first Trinity Sunday in their new Church. Having to explain the Trinity is not just difficult. It is very difficult.
We believe that there is one God; and yet we also believe that God exists in community as three persons – three in one and one in three; one God, one substance, one essence, yet existing in a mutual relationship of love and three equal and distinct persons – all of them God!
One preacher tried to describe the Trinity as being like 3 –in-1 shampoo; three activities, one substance. It is a creative attempt but there are no illustrations that really work; because God as Trinity is beyond our understanding and beyond explanation. However it is not, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, a contradiction. It is a paradox. It is a truth that exists in tension. So I don’t expect anyone to be able to say, “Now I get it!”
The Shack – the novel by William Paul Young doesn’t try to explain the Trinity but it has a good go at exploring the relationships that exist within God as a loving community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are times when I feel uncomfortable in the way the Shack presents the Trinity but then I remind myself it is primarily a novel exploring issues of suffering. It wrestles with other issues and I believe it is ultimately a heart-warming, faith-inspiring story.
I’ve heard preachers say that God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a bit like the way in which water is always water but it can be found as ice, water and steam. If only it were that simple but it is not! The Christian faith does not profess that sometimes God exists as Father, sometimes exists as the Son and sometimes as the Spirit depending on circumstances. It’s a nice try, it perhaps points us towards the triune God, but it also falls short; but then again I often use illustrations that start to break down when studied under a microscope.
St. Patrick used a three leaf clover (a Shamrock) as an illustration. Some clever people don’t like it and say it doesn’t work; but bear with me for a moment. By way of an illustration, a clover as a whole is a bit like the Trinity. The first leaf is not the second leaf is not the third leaf, but the clover is each leaf. Without each leaf it wouldn’t be a clover! Each leaf has the exact same essence – it is the clover. Similarly, each leaf must be attached to the others for it to be a clover – one clover leaf by itself is not a clover!
I could go on. An example I’ve used myself which doesn’t work either is the fact that I am one being but I function in different ways. I’m a Father. I’m a son and I’m a friend; but that doesn’t explain how God is three in one because it says nothing about the love that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for each other.
So what does the Bible say? Does it give us a detailed text book answer? No, it doesn’t.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Muslims and others, can get very uptight about our belief in the Trinity.
Deuteronomy 6:4 Moses writes this to God’s people: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Yet here is the paradox. The disciple Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8) and sometimes I feel that way about the Trinity!
Jesus answers Philip just as he answers our request, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9) and later, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:11). Then Jesus goes on to say this: “If you love me you will obey what I command; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth …I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (14:15-18).
There is only one God; but the Son - Jesus - is also equally God because he is in the Father and the Father is in him; and the Holy Spirit is God. He is the Counsellor and Comforter sent to us. He is God’s very presence and character and Spirit sent to fill us.