A brief Introduction
Where did the concept of the Trinity come from?
The Trinity is a central belief of the Christian faith. Although not explicitly stated, it can be inferred from the Bible. For instance, the Trinity can be seen right back in the creation stories in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22. For a New Testament reference, see Matthew 28:19.
But a full understanding of the implications of the Trinity arose primarily out of Christian experience. It is a way of explaining God's being that fits the evidence. The first Christians sought to answer the question, 'Who was Jesus?', and the inescapable conclusion they came to was that he was God.
The Church at the Council of Nicea in AD325 defined the Trinity in the following terms: 'There is only one God. But God consists of three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are all equally God.'
We are limited. The limitations of language and intellect
Unfortunately human language is limited. How do you describe the aroma of coffee to someone who has no sense of smell? We also have limited intellectual abilities. Sometimes to appreciate a truth it is necessary to grasp an apparent paradox - God is one, yet three.
This is not something to be afraid of. If our God is bigger than we are, it is only to be expected. We live within the restrictions of a limited finite world, while God exists beyond our four dimensions of space and time.
Because of the limitations of language and our own finite human understanding, we should not describe God as being:
Three separate Gods.
One person, expressed in three different ways three expressions.
One more God among the others.
Ways of understanding the Trinity
A good definition is, 'One being, yet three persons'. Or to put it another way, 'One God who has three ways of being God'. It is a unity with a threefold nature.
An early Christian called Irenaeus said, 'The Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God' - but it should be noted that they are closely clasped hands!
Often people find that illustrations are useful in helping them to get their heads round the idea of the Trinity. Try reflecting upon the following:
An equilateral triangle.
A three-leafed shamrock.
H2O existing as ice, water and steam.
It is important to remember, however, that such analogies are not personal and are therefore inadequate descriptions of the Trinity.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit Working together.
We can see the three persons of the Trinity at work together throughout the Bible:
In creation - Genesis 1:1-2; John 1:1-3.
At Jesus' birth - Matthew 1:20-21.
At Jesus' baptism - Matthew 3:16-17.
In Jesus' teaching and ministry - John 14:23-26.
In the individual Christian's new birth - John 3:5.
Is it relevant?
The Trinity says something very important about the nature of God. God is self-sufficient but lives in relationship. It also reveals the richness of Christianity. We can relate to God as Father (creator), Son (sharing our humanity) and Holy Spirit (giving us power to live).
The different persons of the Trinity help us in our worship. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to come to Jesus, who speaks on our behalf to God his Father, and takes us into his presence. When we worship, we embrace God as Father, Son and Spirit. At different times, or even during the same prayer, our thoughts and hearts may dwell on them individually, but we are in no doubt that we are worshipping the one God.
The doctrine of the Trinity meets our deepest needs. We are made in the image of God, and in the life of the Trinity we catch a glimpse of who we are meant to be in relationship to God and one another. Maintaining the tension of belief in the Trinity helps us to avoid over-emphasising one person of the Trinity at the expense of any of the others. It is essential that we maintain this biblical balance.