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What is the Trinity?

by Kellen Criswell

What is the Trinity?

One of the most mind-bending exercises is meditating upon the nature of God. For thousands of years, theologians have attempted to clarify what God is like in His being. With this in mind, of all the topics we will think about in Ordinology, the nature of God is the most difficult to break down in simple and practical terms. Here’s our best shot.

The Trini…what?

So what is God like? The Bible reveals that God is what we call triune (or trinitarian) in nature. When we say God is triune, we mean that God is three Persons in one divine being (the Trinity). These Persons within the being of God have revealed themselves in the Bible as God the Father, Jesus (God the Son), and God the Holy Spirit. Though difficult to fully understand, the concept of the Trinity is clearly depicted in the pages of the Bible. How so? Prepare for some serious mental exercise.

The Nature of God in a Nutshell

The biblical depiction of the nature of God can be summarized in 5 layers:

1. The Father is God

(John 6:27).

2. The Son is God

(John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:7-8; Colossians 1:13-17).

3. The Spirit is God

(Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Psalms 104:30; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 13:1-4).

4. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are NOT each other

(Matthew 3:16-17; John 1:1-3 & 18; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

5. There is only one God

(Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:32; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Did you get all that? I know this is big to grasp for all of us, so let me say it all again: God exists as the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of those three Persons is divine. They are not three separate Gods. They are not merely one divine Person portraying Himself in three separate ways, such as a man who wears three different uniforms. The Father, Son and Spirit are literally three distinct Persons unified by one divine substance. Incredible!


Time for a Mental Meltdown

Usually, this is the point where our brains start to hurt. As we try to wrap our heads around the grandeur of God’s nature, feelings of futility and inadequacy soon follow. But don’t feel bad if that’s what you’re feeling as you read this! While we can certainly apprehend the biblical teaching regarding the triune nature of God, we cannot fully comprehend it in its fullness.

At Least Draw Me a Picture

Things get even more difficult when we try to illustrate the nature of God. The Trinity is not only difficult to understand, it is virtually impossible to illustrate. Many have used images like the Shamrock, egg, apple, and nuclear family (dad, mom, kids) to try to illustrate the Trinity.

My favorite illustration for the Trinity is probably the apple. You could say that the apple consists of three main parts: the core, the flesh and the skin. Each of those parts is not the other. The skin is not the flesh, the flesh is not the core, etc. And yet, the three distinct parts of the apple share one substance, and together are a single apple. So, there is a cute attempt at illustrating the Trinity for you. But still, as much as I like it, this analogy ultimately breaks down because God does not really consist of separate parts.

So, again, while I applaud and value illustrations like the apple as tools to help people grasp the Trinity, all illustrations fall short for different reasons. The truth is, you can’t just draw a picture of God! There is no simple way to articulate or make an analogy that fits His nature. Why? Nothing else in the universe is three-in-one in the same way that God is in His nature. Truly, God is bigger and better than our best definitions and illustrations.

Trinitarian Ordinology

So what is an ordinary person to do when it comes to understanding God’s nature? For many of us, when we begin to understand how difficult it is to explain the Bible’s portrayal of God’s nature, we start to struggle with doubt. We find ourselves wondering, “Can the doctrine of the Trinity really be true if we cannot clearly explain or illustrate it?” Maybe you have struggled with that kind of doubt. If so, the Bible has encouragement for you.

If you struggle with doubt because of your inability to articulate, understand, or illustrate the Trinity, as a starting point, I would point you to the comforting truth of Isaiah 40:18: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?”

See that? The Bible itself tells us upfront that the nature of God is inexplicable and without comparison! Don’t worry about your inability to explain God’s nature because He has already told you it is impossible. The reason we cannot point to anything else in the universe and say, “The Trinity is like this…” is because of the very fact that God’s nature is altogether unique and incomparable in every possible way! So stop stressing.

The Glorious End of Logic!

The more we read the Bible, the more we realize that there are many other elements of spiritual truth that are beyond human logic and comprehension. And, like the Trinity, the fact that these truths are beyond our logic does not mean they aren’t real. Our focus should be on what we CAN know, not on what we CAN’T know. Moses put it this way: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Moses is essentially saying that we are on a need-to-know basis. There are all kinds of spiritual truths that God chooses not to reveal to us. And when it comes to the intricacies of God’s nature, we don’t need to know all the mysterious details of how it all works. Our job is to emphasize teaching and responding to what we do know, by His grace.

So What Is the Conclusion?

Human logic can only take us so far before all we can do is stop and worship our inexplicable God in awe and wonder! I hope this brief reflection on the Trinity has inspired you to do that. Let logic, reason, and understanding take you as far as they can. But when you come to the glorious end of the finite road of human logic, worship God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Kellen Criswell

Kellen Criswell currently serves as Director of Calvary Global Network and CalvaryChapel.com.