The doctrine of the Trinity has for hundreds of years confounded many Christians and been ignored by others.
In 1990 the movie “Nuns on the Run”, included this between two men dressed up as nuns in drag.
Brian: Explain the Trinity.
Charlie: Hmm, well it’s a bit of a mystery. You’ve got the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. But the three are one---like a shamrock, my old priest used to say. The leaves but one leaf. Now the Father sent down the Son, who was love, and then when he went away he sent down the Holy Spirit, who came down in the form of a….
Brian: You already told me—a ghost.
Charlie: No, a dove.
Brian: The dove was a ghost?
Charlie: No, the ghost was a dove.
Brian: Let me try and summarise this. God is his son. And his son is God. But his son moonlights as a holy ghost, a holy spirit and a dove. And they all send each other, even though they’re all one and the same thing.
Charlie: You’ve got it. You really could be a nun!
Of course Brian hasn’t got it, and it is easy when describing the Trinity…..God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Ghost or Spirit… to move into what the early church called heresy.
Heresy is a belief which is contrary to orthodox or accepted beliefs.
The Trinity is nowhere stated in the Bible explicitly although God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are mentioned often in both Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. They are often mentioned within the same paragraph.
But the doctrine of the Trinity was the product of the Bishops of the early church who met together to discuss what the church believed.
Christianity came out of Judaism a monotheistic religion….one that believed in only one God.
However Christians believe God is literally a Trinity---Tri meaning three and unity meaning one. So God is three persons in one God. In simple mathematically terms it would be 1 times 1 times 1 equals 1…..rather than 1+1+1 equals 3.
Using illustrations like the shamrock, as in the “Nuns on the Run” dialogue, and water or H20 being water, ice and steam may help us, but they really don’t capture the essence of our belief in the Trinity.
Perhaps we should just say God is one and God is three and we can’t fully explain that because God is a mystery…being both close to us, and beyond our imagination at the same time. And we need to respond with awe and wonder, not treat this as a scientific inquiry. It is mind boggling. Of course we needn’t end the conversation there. Our journey is faith seeking understanding. We need to go beyond scientific rationalism and open our minds to the wonder of God, God’s creation, God’s son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit unleashed at Pentecost among us and active throughout history.
You might ask why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important for Christians. It is fundamental because it describes how God encounters us. It is part of our identity as Christians. We believe in one God…like people who follow other monotheistic religions, but we also believe God sent his own son Jesus to come among us in human form. He was crucified and rose again for our benefit and the Holy Spirit continues to carry on the work Jesus began as our advocate and guide.
That complexity in our belief about God is why we often hear the Trinity described as a mystery. There is one God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the son. The son is not the holy spirit. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The three in one and one in three.
To be clear heresy would be a belief in three individuals who make the one God, three Gods joined together and three properties or modes of God.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of understanding the Trinity is trying to use our limited language to describe God and God’s nature. We do our best. But words can only go so far. And that is where awe and wonder come in, as well as our faith in what the Bible teaches about God, and our church traditions dating back two thousand years.
The Trinity is reflected in our liturgy, our prayers, our hymns. Trinitarian faith is part of our DNA as Christians, and so we rejoice on this Sunday for our Triune God and the gifts of God…three persons in one God.
Shine Jesus shine, fill this Land with the Father’s Glory, blaze spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire.