The Trinity: A Mystery Revealing the Nature of God

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery that has been the subject of debate, controversy, and misunderstanding for two millennia.

Part of the difficulty is that although traces of the Trinity run throughout the warp and woof of Scripture, God’s holy Word contains nothing explicit about it. But perhaps our larger problem is that as limited, “this-worldly” humans, we lack cognitive associations, experiences, and symbols to grasp how three beings can be one, yet somehow distinct.

C.S. Lewis picks up on that point in his poem, Footnote to All Prayers. There Lewis writes that when we “attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring, Thou,” we unwittingly blaspheme with feeble and inaccurate representations of the Divine. What’s more, Lewis suggests, “all men are idolaters,” because they visualize God and worship him in man-made metaphors.

With that in mind, and in the knowledge that some of the greatest minds in history have struggled to explain the triune Godhead, I will not attempt to do so here. That’s because our challenge is not to “understand” the Trinity, but to accept it as a mystery that is central to the nature and character of God.

Important Differences
Among world religions, past and present, Christianity stands apart. No other metaphysical belief system has a God who is both transcendent and immanent—one who is over all and who has “pitched his tent” with us.

Bare monotheistic traditions, like Islam, hold that God is transcendent, but not immanent. He is a cosmic Enigma who distances himself from his creation, leaving man to figure out how he can be placated to avoid punishment or gain reward.

In ancient polytheism, the gods were not omnipotent deities but Olympian heroes who exhibited the same flaws and foibles as their earthly counterparts. Their temperamental and petulant encounters with man made it difficult to determine, G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “about which [was] the hero and which [was] the villain.”

For pantheistic traditions, “God” is the universal force, energy, or spirit through which “all is one, and all Divine.” Although God is immanent, he is neither transcendent nor personal. He’s that all-pervading, supersensible something that must be “tapped into” to discover and master the techniques of spiritual evolution.

Absent are doctrines of original sin and substitutionary atonement, or any notion of divine grace. Salvation, whether that means winning favor with a silent and distant deity or actualizing one’s divinity, is a matter of moving up the escalator of merit through individual effort.

By contrast, the Christian God is neither silent nor remains an astronomical unit away. He communicates in the unbroken speech of his revealed Word while seeking communion with man. It is a fellowship expressed in intimate word-pictures, like vine and branches, father and children, and bridegroom and bride.

While, in other belief traditions, man must pull himself up by his own bootstraps and get right with God, in Christianity, it is God who reaches downward to make men right. Men are not expected to earn God’s favor by demonstrating their worth—instead, God seeks to win man’s favor by demonstrating the unfathomable dimensions of his love.

And that brings us to the Trinity. Continue reading here.

 
Originally published May 30, 2018.

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