Triple Trouble~The Rt Rev Michael Beckett, OPI
There are a few things about which I could not be more certain: Scott loves me truly, madly, deeply (I really like that song.) My Daddy was the wisest man on the planet. My Momma was the bestest woman to ever draw breath. Jesus loves me and my salvation is secure.
And, conversely, there are things in life that I will never, never fully grasp. Like, why do some people think it’s OK to wear stripes and plaid together? Pi or upper-level mathematics? How things travel a zillion miles a minute in space? Why chocolate isn’t its own food group?
And then, there’s the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a mystery that we will never fully understand; never even come close to understanding. We believe that the God of the Bible is one God. God has one essence – one substance. In other words, one “stuffness.” However, God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each Person in the Trinity (or the Godhead) is fully God and fully a Person. They are equally eternal, powerful, sovereign, and worthy of worship. But they are one God.
Got that? Me, neither, but it is central to our faith.
Many theologians and holy men and women of God have attempted to explain just how this Trinity Thing works. One God, Three Persons. Three in one and one in three. They have, of course, failed. It has been said that if you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul. There are several popular analogies often used to explain the Trinity, but, they don’t work and in reality are heresies. (Uh oh!) Here they are:
God is like water. Now, we know that water can be in three different forms: Liquid, Ice, and Vapor. But this doesn’t work and this particular heresy is called “modalism.” Modalism expresses the belief that God is not, in fact three separate persons, but one God expressed in three different forms. Now, if this were the case, then and the Trinity really is like water, then the story of Jesus (the Son) praying to the Father all those times in the Bible, is just Jesus talking to Himself. This belief denies something central to God that makes Him God. So comparing God to water isn’t really as helpful as one might think.
It’s also been said that The Trinity is like a man: A father, who is a son, who is a husband. Nope. Same as modalism. Won’t work.
Then there is the age-old story-legend-myth of St. Patrick using the shamrock. Or the more modernized versions using an egg or an apple. The shamrock has 3 leaves to make one whole plant, the yolk, shell, and white make up one egg, or the peel, flesh, and core of an apple make up one fruit. Umm…no. Won’t work, because any of these three things that make up one thing will not stand on their own to be a complete thing? Know what I mean? The egg yolk, shamrock leaf, and apple peel don’t make one complete whole. And this particular heresy is called Partialism. Sigh……
The sun has been used to explain the Trinity. This example says that the Father is like the sun. The Son is like the light rays that visibly reveal the sun, as Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. The Holy Spirit is like the heat that emanates from the sun, unseen yet powerful and effective in making the sun felt. This makes sense, right??? Nope. Sorry. This explanation is fatally flawed in that is describes the Son and Spirit as creations of the Father. This is the error of Arianism (not to be confused with Aryanism, which is also bad). In Arianism, the Son is not eternally equal with the Father, but was the Father’s first and best creation. This would make Jesus something less than fully God. This little gem of heresy is called Subordinationism and was first espoused by Arius who lived in the late 200s/early 300s, and whose modern-day followers are now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A couple more illustrations of the Trinity that aren’t quite so bad, but aren’t great either are these:
American Christian pastor, speaker, author, and widely syndicated radio and television broadcaster in the United States, Tony Evans, has said that the pretzel is a good illustration because it consists of one piece of dough with three holes. Take away any one of the holes and the pretzel isn’t really a pretzel anymore. (According to some people, the pretzel was actually invented in Europe several hundred years ago by a monk who wanted to illustrate the Trinity to the children of his village, so he took some dough, looped into the familiar three-hour shape, based it, and gave it to the children as an edible object lesson.)
Or this from noted scientist Dr. Henry Morris. He notes that the entire universe is trinitarian by design. The universe consists of three things: matter, space, and time. Take away any one of those three and the universe would cease to exist. But each one of those is itself a trinity.
Matter = mass + energy + motion
Space = length + height + breadth
Time = past + present + future
Are we having fun yet? No? OK, I’ll bring this to a close. In so doing I’m gonna end where I started. The Trinity is a doctrine that all Christians believe but no one really understands. That much should be clear from this message. If you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul.
Someone asked Daniel Webster, who happened to be a fervent Christian, “How can a man of your intellect believe in the Trinity?” He said, “I do not pretend fully to understand the arithmetic of heaven now,” he replied. How kewl is that little phrase??? “The arithmetic of heaven.”
The Trinity should cause us to bow in humble adoration before a God who is greater than our minds could ever comprehend.
Today, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we rejoice that we have a Triune God who has provided for a Trinitarian salvation. When we were lost in sin, our God acted in every Person of his being to save us. The Father gave the Son, the Son offered himself on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit brought us to Jesus. We were so lost that it took every member of the Godhead to save us.
In 1774 a man named Ignaz Franz wrote a hymn of praise to the Trinity: Holy God, We Praise Your Name. This is the fourth verse:
“Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
While in essence only one, undivided God we claim you.
Then, adoring, bend the knee, and confess the mystery.”
Let us pray.
Holy God, above us, among us, within us: we rejoice this day that while you might have chosen to be unknown to us, you have revealed yourself in many ways. Each encounter with you calls us to return blessings with worship, compassion, and service. As we worship you today, we do so in gratitude for all your parental care for us through your creation. As we worship you today , we do so because, in love, you gave us Christ, that through him we might find eternal life. As we worship you today your Spirit leads your church to reach out in compassion, mercy, and grace to all your children everywhere. In gratitude, we celebrate you, three and yet one. Amen.
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