How Can God Be Three AND One?
by Tim Trouten
The Trinity is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood doctrines in theology. The word itself is not in the Bible, but it is very biblical. The doctrine of the Trinity takes seriously Deuteronomy 6:4, which states: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” It also accounts for New Testament passages like Matthew 28:19: “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Thus the easiest definition would be the One God has eternally existed in three persons. And these three persons have always been the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. People have tried various analogies to explain the Trinity, but they all fall short. Thus we will stick to our simple definition.
Berkhof makes a few important points about the Trinity (pgs 87–88):
- There is in God only one essence. That essence cannot be divided into more than one God.
- In the one God are three individual persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the mystery: that the one God is also three separate persons, but not three separate gods. This is also why some claim Christians believe in many gods. That claim is false.
- Each of these three persons are equally God. The Father is not more or less God than the Son or Spirit. The Son is not more or less God than the Father or Spirit. And the Spirit is not less God then the Father and Son.
In His own existence, God (all three persons) has been in eternal community. Within God has existed all joy, happiness, and blessedness. There has never been a time where God was alone, because all three persons have always existed.
In the works of God: creation, redemption, and everything else; all persons of the Trinity are active. Each person of the Trinity is involved in every act of God. And every act happens from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.
A quick example:
- Salvation: The Father is the designer of redemption. He sent the Son to earth to live, to be sacrificed, and to be resurrected. The Son is the one who is sent (and he goes). And the Holy Spirit gives the Son the power to complete his task. To use our formula: The Father sends the Son to live, die, and be resurrected, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So why is the doctrine of the Trinity important?
- It shows us why community is important. If God has always existed in community, it makes sense that people, created in God’s image, need community too. We are not meant to be alone.
- It shows us that God is always active. Because all things happen from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit, we know that God has never left us. Unlike the deist, who says God created and stepped away; the Trinity shows us how God is always present and active in creation.
- It shows us that Christians are still good monotheists. Even though the Trinity has three persons, we believe they are one God and share in the same essence.