Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What does a Trinity look like?

Understanding the concept of the Trinity is among the most difficult doctrines for many Christians. What exactly do we mean that God is three-in-one? Is there a hierarchy between them, and if so does that mean that God the Son is not really “God”, since He is under the leadership of the Father? How can they be separate but the same?

One commonly used analogy is to describe the Trinity as a flame, where the Father is the fire, the Son is the light, and the Spirit is the heat. (As an engineer I’ve always hated this analogy, because I don’t think it says what people think it says. The light and heat from a flame are actually separate “things” from the fire itself, not aspects of the same thing. But anyway.)

The problem is that these descriptions are generally unclear, and usually do little to clarify the situation. I think I can help.

To picture what God ‘looks like’, do we have anything that we can look at to draw inferences upon? The answer is yes—according to the Bible, when He made man, we were made in His image. Note the plurality of the verse in Genesis—“Let us make man in our image”. Clearly, even in Genesis 1:26, God is admitting that He is multiple-in-one; “us-in-me”.

So, we are told that humans are made in God’s image. In what way? Clearly He didn’t mean body style, for as our evolutionary friends are quick to point out, our bodies are fairly similar to primates, whom God did not see fit to call being in His image when He created them.

So what about humans is in God’s image? The answer is—we are trinities.

You see, we have a Mind, a Body, and a Soul. That is, there is a part of us which is creative, rational, and emotive (the Mind); a part which has physical form (the Body); and a part which is spiritual and seeks righteousness and God’s kingdom (the Soul).

Likewise, God the Father is a creative being with rational laws and has emotion and personality (the Mind); God the Son took physical form in our human flesh (the Body); and God the Spirit is the spiritual soul which is reaching out to each of us and indwelling us.

So you see that in fact, God did create us in His image—very much so!

But do you see how these individual aspects of you (mind, body, soul), are none of them You? That is, I am Michael. If I lose a leg, I am not 20% less “Michael”. I’m still Michael, but without a leg. Likewise if I develop dementia, and my mind starts failing, I am not less “Michael”—indeed, often we say of those who have suffered this fate that they are “no longer themselves”, which implies that we see who they are as a distinct entity greater than their mind. Likewise, if I commit a horrible crime, and my soul is seen as an evil wasteland, I am not less “Michael”, am I?

Each of us, you see, already understands the Trinity. For we know that we ourselves are a Person who is comprised of three distinct entities (flesh, mind, spirit); but our Personhood is contained not within any of these three things, but encompasses all of them. This is a picture of the One God, who is Himself comprised of three distinct persons (the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit), yet the Godhead is something distinct and separate from these…just as the personhood of “Michael” is something distinct from my mind-body-spirit combination.

So as you try to picture the Trinity, just remember that the person you think of as “You” is both comprised of, and more than, the distinct entities you call your body, your mind, and your soul. Of course, I'm sure God is infinitely more complex than we can imagine...but the Bible tells us that we are made in His image, and thus we can get a little glimpse into how the Trinity looks by taking a look in a mirror.