I grew up in a church called “Trinity.” As I learned about what Christians believed, I eventually learned about the doctrine of the Trinity: there is one God who exists as Father, Son and Spirit. Over the years, perhaps especially in my later teens when I first began to learn about and meet people who practiced other religions, I understood the Trinity as mostly what made Christians different. We believe Jesus is God, Muslims do not. In other words, the Trinity was mostly a belief that set us apart.
It was an academic, intellectual and brain issue as opposed to a personal, spiritual and heart issue.
In seminary I first engaged with the early church. In my mind, the biggest thing here was defending and proving that Jesus truly was God. This was around the time of The Da Vinci Code’s popularity. The charge was that the earliest Christians did not believe Jesus was God and the goal for us was to prove they indeed did. For the record, it is pretty clear to me that from the earliest days, Christians affirmed Jesus was indeed God. But still, as I learned this, my goal was proof.
I’m not entirely sure when I began to realize more was going on. Over the years I came to see the Trinity was not just something to prove, but rather from it flowed the entirety of spirituality, salvation and more. One quote sticks in my mind. Athanasius, the great defender of Trinitarian Orthodoxy, said, “For the Son of God became man so that man might become God.” I had always understood that spiritual growth meant to become more like Jesus. But if Jesus truly is God in the flesh, then as we become like Jesus we become like God.
Of course, we do not become God in God’s being. We are never infinite or uncreated. Instead through the work of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we participate in God. There are some passages in the New Testament that speak of this. Romans 8:1-17 is one of these where Paul talks about being in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so as we are in Christ we are adopted into God’s family and become children of God. As the Holy Spirit of God lives in us we are changed more into the likeness of Christ who is God.
Even before we enter the picture, the Trinity is vital. If God existed and then created the Son this means God changed and became Father. This also means that God is not love but that God became love once God had something (the Son, creation, humanity) to love. I’ve been working through David Bentley Hart’s book of essays, The Hidden and the Manifest, and he touches on many of these points (in writing far more deep than I fully can grasp). God is Being itself, fully satisfied as a relationship of love between Father, Son and Spirit. God does not then create out of any obligation or need. God creates as a free choice of love. Humanity, and all creation, are then welcomed to enter into relationship with God and experience this love.
Last night we spent some time at CSF learning about the Trinity. My goal is students would realize we do not believe in the Trinity to be difficult when it comes to inter-religious dialogue. The Trinity is not an irrelevant belief for theologians. Instead, our understanding of God as love drives us to worship. It changes how we pray and how we view others. If God is the ultimate reality, the root and core of the entire cosmos, then what God is like will change everything.
What does it mean for you to understand God as Trinity?
Here is the outline from last evening:Arianism and Trinity PPT.