Today’s question: Do Christians worship a three-headed God?
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins trashes the idea of the Trinity. His main beef is that he doesn’t understand it. He evidently wants to design a god that will fit into his intellect. Sadly, it hasn’t occurred to him that if a god were so small as to fit into his intellect, then it would be no god at all. By definition, God has to be more than our intellect can conceive, if he is to more than our intellect has conceived.
The Bible insists that there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4). However, this one God lives in community within himself of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church sought to describe this mystery by using the term ‘the Trinity of God’. (The Carthaginian church father, Tertullian, was the first to use this term in 210 AD.)
The Christian church came to understand that each member of the Trinity mutually indwells the others – without losing their distinctive identity. (One of the things this means is that because each member of the Trinity perfectly represents the others, all of the Trinity suffered on the cross.)
There are hints of the truth of the threefold nature of God even in the Old Testament:
Let us make humankind in our image (Genesis 1:26).
Man has now become like one of us (Genesis 3:22).
Whom shall I send? and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8).
It is also worth noting that one of the Old Testament words for God, Elohim, is a plural word.
God’s existence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit became explicit in the New Testament. The identity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is described clearly in the passage that speaks of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:1-13). Jesus also taught about the threefold nature of God when he was telling his disciples of his provision for them of the Holy Spirit. He said: “And I [Jesus] will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth”.
The apostle Peter similarly spoke of the threefold nature of God. He spoke of God’s elect, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (John 14:16-17).
Each member of the Trinity always has always existed as individual persons – within the community of the one God. There is no hint in these verses of God changing his mode of being depending on the job in hand.
The idea of the Trinity may be non-intuitive, but there is a significant theological reason why ‘the Trinity’ makes sense. The Bible says that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But no one can love, or be loving, unless there is another object or person to love. God therefore needs to live in community within himself if he is to be loving. The doctrine of the trinity (or the existence of at least two persons) is therefore a logical necessity.
The Trinity of God certainly helps us understand the fullness of God. When it comes to our salvation, it has been said that the Father ordained it; the Son obtained it; and the Spirit applies it.
It also helps us understand the vexing issue of suffering. When we cried out against God in our suffering, and despaired of there ever being a final solution; God introduced himself to us as the Father, the one who will have the last word, and who has set a time when this present age will be replaced by a new order uncorrupted by sin and suffering.
When we cried out that God did not understand how it felt to be the victim of suffering; God introduced himself to us as the Son, i.e. as one who has experienced the agonies of life, and so understands.
And when we cried out against God because, although he understood our suffering, we were still helpless to address it; God introduced himself to us as the Holy Spirit, the empowering presence of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who compels us to address suffering practically wherever it is found.
So what can we say to conclude? Perhaps this: If your mind cannot conceive of God in three persons, I am delighted. You are well on the way to learning humility and allowing mystery… and discovering a bit more of the bigness of God.
Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.
Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.
He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net
Nick told his life story to Eternity https://www.eternitynews.com.au/good-news/deadly-storms-heroin-addicts-cancer-and-my-faith/