There are two ways that we can approach the Holy Trinity. We can, as has often been done, try and explain the how of a God in three Persons, understanding that persons of course does not mean three distinct people, nor is God somehow suffering from some kind of multi-personality disorder.
This was attemoted by Athanasius in his confession of the Christian faith we call The Creed of Saint Athanasius.
Read Creed of Athanasius or at least begin to.
Now you get it. That all makes perfect sense doesn’t it. If Athanasius can’t make it make sense, what hope have we got.
But this is to miss the point. Fundamentally, ‘how?’ is not the correct question. All too often we modern thinkers fall into the trap of asking post-enlightenment, post-modernity questions of how. We approach the Bible in the same way; asking how God created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them. ‘How?’ is not a question of writers of the Bible or those who proclaim the faith. The questions we want to be asking are ‘Why?’ questions. Why did this happen? Why was this event understood in this way by those who witnessed it? Why am I being told this story?
Athanasius is quite correct though, Christian faith must involve an understanding of one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, concluding with ‘which except a man believeth faithfully, he [sic] cannot be saved.’
There are, two essentials that define Christian faith, according to Athanasius, and I agree with him. Essential number one: God is Trinity. Essential number two: the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus who has become known as the Christ. If anyone or any group claims to be a Christian these two essentials are the defining tests. Whether they call themselves Christian or not, they are not of the Christian faith if they cannot hold to these two basic tenets.
If this aspect of the one God as Trinity is so important to us, it is not that we are able to explain it or understand it that becomes important, it is what does it mean for our life as Christians.
The Godhead is a relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in perfect community. The Godhead is relational and, although the Trinity is relationally fulfilled in itself, the relational nature desires to open its community to the other, it desires to relate, the Trinity creates the cosmos including humans in order to have something outside of itself to relate to because the Trinity is relational. And the Trinity does this in an extraordinary way. It takes upon itself the stuff of its creation in the incarnational event. The incarnation of God in Jesus is the ultimate in the expression of the relational nature of the Holy Trinity.
That the church is in decline, suggests that it has forgotten this aspect of its image and likeness in its creation. It has forgotten to be relational. It has forgotten to be incarnational. It has forgotten to relate to the world. I suspect this may have something to do with the fear of not being able to explain what it is that we believe about God. Fair enough, in this ‘How?’ world in which we live. But the point is not that we should explain it, but that we should express it and live it.
A Church that is living its faith in a God that is Trinity is a Church that is in the mission of building relationships. We have said it time and time again, our faith is a relational faith. It is not about rules and morality, it is about relationship with the living, risen, ascended Christ. If we are not nurturing our relationship with God we are letting the Father down. If we are not building relationships with one another we are letting Christ down. If we are not nurturing relationships with those who are the lost we are letting the Holy Spirit down.
God as one in Trinity is not to be explained; it is to be lived for it is our identity and it is our purpose.