In Part 3 of this series on why the fact that God is Trinity is important for our daily walk, we explore the doctrine itself. Bear in mind, though, that we are weakly using finite words to describe an infinite God. That being said, a few statements about the nature of the Trinity can shed some light on who God is:[i]
1. God is One – there is one God and only one God
2. God is Three – God does not consist of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “‘Trinity’ is God’s way of being God.”[ii]
3. God is Three–in-One – This one God exists eternally in three Persons. These three Persons are fully and equally one God, fully and equally divine in essence and attributes. [iii] In other words, each Person is completely God, God is completely each Person, and God is completely all three Persons.
4. God is a Unity – The Triune God is involved in every area of his divine plan. Father, Son, Spirit created the world. Father, Son, Spirit are involved in our salvation. Father, Son, Spirit love the world.
5. God is a Diversity – There is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is differentiation. The Father cannot be a Father unless there is the Son, and vice versa. This diversity is demonstrated by the roles within the Trinity. The Father sends the Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son.[iv] However, the roles are simply descriptions of relationship, they do not indicate chronology (that one Person existed before another), importance (that one Person is more important than another), or essence (that one Person is more “God” than another).[v]
6. God is Complete – By this I mean that in and of himself, God is fully whole and complete, not lacking anything, not needing anything. He is not lonely; he is not depressed. He is completely complete and perfectly whole.
7. God is Love – The Triune God is Perfect Love. [vi] Note that love requires more than one – there is a lover and a beloved. Love does not exist unless there is a relationship between two objects. Thus, if God is completely complete in and of himself, and if he is love, then the one God must have more than one Person (otherwise he could not be love!). The amazing fact is that “God is love within himself: the Father loves the Son; the Son reciprocates that love; and this love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit.”[vii]
8. God is Community – This is an expansion of the above statement. The Triune God is Perfect Community. Tertullian wrote that from eternity God is one but God is not alone. In other words, “At the center of the universe is a relationship.”[viii] One author calls it “a trinitarian Life Together.”[ix]
9. God is Eternal – God eternally is three-in-one. There has never been a time and never will be a time when the one God is not Father, Son, Spirit.
10. God is Incomprehensible – We cannot fully understand the Trinity. One day we shall see God as he is, but until then we see through a glass darkly.
Perichoresis: A “Trinity Word” that Sounds Ostentatious, but Isn’t
The Trinity is not three Gods, it is not one God in three changing roles, it is not three 1/3 gods that make up a complete God.[x] He eternally exists as three-in-one. There is a fancy word that helps explain this (as best we can): perichoresis, which simply means a mutual interpenetration and indwelling of the three Persons, affirming God’s one-ness and three-ness. Jesus hinted at perichoresis with statements like, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (John 14:10-11).
Next, we will look at the common mistakes and misunderstandings around the Trinity.
[i] See Grenz, p.66-68. See also Millard J Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Baker Academic, 2001).
[ii] Johnson, p.39
[iii] See Johnson, p.41
[iv] This procession of the Holy Spirit was the content of the filoque controversy mentioned earlier. The Eastern Church holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Western Church holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Further, the Eastern Church tended to emphasize the threefoldness community that is the Trinity, and the Western church tended to emphasize the oneness unity that is the Trinity.
[v] The Cappadocian Fathers said that “A submitting of roles is not a submitting of essence.”
[vi] Grenz (p.68) writes, “The New Testament (specifically, 1 John 4:7-21) suggests that the ontological unity which the three constitute and therefore which comprises the divine essence is agape (love).”
[vii] Grenz, p.72. Put another way, “God is foundationally the mutuality of the love relationship between Father and Son, and this personal love is the Holy Spirit.”
[viii] Johnson, p.37
[ix] Gabriel Fackre, The Christian Story: A Narrative Interpretation of Basic Christian Doctrine (Eerdman’s, 1996), volume 1, p.48
[x] In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity signifies that “within the one essence of the Godhead we distinguish three personal relationships who are coequally and coeternally God.” See Jonathan Wilson, class notes, Doctrinal Heritage of the Church (Carey Theological College, winter, 2012)