“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Trinity: Mystery Beyond Comprehension

"He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!” - C. S. Lewis, Perelandra
At the foundation of reality is God, and central to his nature is his “tri-unity.” Scripture teaches (perhaps not always in an explicit way, but the content is there) that God lives as three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, but that these three are, although distint persons, somehow united as one being:
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” – John 1:1,14
  • “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
  • Jesus speaks of “baptizing [disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
  • At Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), the Father speaks of his Son while the Spirit descends upon the Son as a token or expression of the Father’s love.
  • “For through him [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” – Ephesians 2:18
  • “…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ…” – 1 Peter 1:2
  • In Acts 5:3-4, Peter speaks of lying to God and lying to the Holy Spirit as if they were the same thing.
Throughout the New Testament the Father, Son, and Spirit are all spoken of as God, united in some mysterious way. Later on I’ll note a number of other verses that, when taken together, teach that God is triune. The doctrine of the Trinity is enormously important – it concerns the very being of God. Throughout history it has been a key teaching in the Christian Tradition, starting in the creeds and later being developed significantly by Augustine in his On the Trinity. Jonathan Edwards and C. S. Lewis have also written on the Trinity, drawing on Augustine’s influential works. Let’s take a look at what these brilliant theologians have to say about such an important reality as the Trinity.

First, it is important to note both that language will inevitably fail to adequately describe the transcendent being of God, and that our very minds are severely limited in comprehending our Maker. Words like being, person, begotten, proceeding, and essence evoke certain ideas in our minds, but the ideas evoked are not the same for everyone – language fails to provide a perfect means of communication between people. Furthermore, we would be presumptuous indeed to assume that any of our ideas come close to grasping the full reality of God (Isaiah 55:9, Romans 11:34). For example, we should be careful not to restrict our understanding of the words “person” and “being” to the idea of human persons or human beings, even though we may not be capable of comprehending the full divine reality.

In Part IV of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describes why we should not expect to be able to fully comprehend this truth. Lewis goes on to use the analogy of dimensions in space, describing how God’s “dimension” is at a higher level than ours and that we cannot fully comprehend the Trinity:
“As you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you don't leave behind the things you found on simpler levels; you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you couldn’t imagine if you knew only the simpler levels…On the Divine level, you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being…Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube.”
When thinking about the Trinity, we should not think it is an impossible contradiction or bad math (1+1+1=1). Thinking this way assumes we can comprehend God in the same way that we comprehend humans and human relationships. Perhaps on the higher level of the consciousness and being of the eternal Creator, there need not be a one-to-one correspondence between “persons” and “beings.”

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