In Sunday School this coming weekend we will be departing from our study on the attributes of God to begin studying the subject of The Trinity (insert ominous sound effect here)! I am both very excited to begin this section of our study and frightened. It’s a huge subject and an extremely challenging one. Many, many heresies have spun from poor attempts to understand the Triune nature of God, a doctrine that can be summarized by three succinct statements:
1. God is three persons.
2. Each person is fully God.
3. There is one God.
As we begin our study I will take time in class to first address the issue of finding analogies for understanding the Trinity or the Tri-Unity of God. This is also the purpose of this post. So, think of what follows as a preview of this Sunday morning’s lesson.
There are 3 analogies I’ve heard most often (each of them is addressed in Grudem’s Systematic Theology). They are…
1. An Egg. The explanation being that there are three parts but we still refer to it as one egg.
2. Water. The similarity claimed here is that because water can be liquid, gas, and ice without changing what it is by nature it is a way of understanding how God can be three persons but still be one God.
3. A Man with three roles or jobs. For instance, a man may be the mayor of his town, an elder in his church, and a father.
Let’s just get this out of the way. All of these illustrations are inadequate and one of them (#3) is heretical. Taking into account the sum of Biblical teaching (broken down into the three statements above) let’s look at why these analogies fail.
1. The Egg – The egg may have three distinct parts but none of the parts, by itself, can claim to be the whole egg. In other words, this analogy fails to affirm statement 2, “Each person of the Trinity is fully God.”
2. Water – Yes, water may be able to take three different forms while still remaining water, BUT, no quantity of water can ever be all three at once, thus contradicting statement 1, “God is three persons.”
3. The Man with 3 roles – This one is the outright heretical one. This is one man, doing three activities. It denies that the Father has a relationship with the Son, the Spirit has a relationship with the Father, the Son has a relationship with the Spirit and so on. This heresy is called Modalism and claims, quite contrary to the Bible, that God simply puts on the Father mask in the Old Testament, the Son mask in the New and in the church age exists as the Spirit. Again, the problem with this is what the Bible ACTUALLY says.
What do we do with all of this? Here’s where I think we should land: “Let’s just admit that there is no adequate analogy to describe and understand the Trinity perfectly.” Scripture makes the three essential statements above quite clear without ever fully revealing exactly HOW such a thing is possible.
Let’s admit what the Psalmist knows all too well,
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).
“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand” (Job 26;14)?