Who is the Trinity?
From the eyes of the normal Christian, the Triune God is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three entities are essentially, Three “Persons” and One “Essence” (Perman, 2006). The controversial nature of the topic causes fear amongst believers and sometimes, creates polytheistic ideas during worship (Introduction to the Trinity, 2011).
The lack of understanding of this truly fundamental topic of Christianity causes errors in preaching and Christian counseling. I recall a pastor sharing with the youth fellowship he was guiding with such zeal that we should “pray more” to the Holy Spirit than any one of the Trinity because it is the Spirit who works within us. This statement sparked some urgent questions that require detailed analysis. This statement is also one of the reasons that propelled me in my study on the topic of the Trinity. Is there something about the very nature of God that I am still unsure of? Should we treat God as One, or as their own respective nature (or in some cases, referred to “Persons”)?
Hence, the purpose of this post is to evaluate and explore the fundamental social structure that forms the basis of the Trinity as a social unit and to evaluate its implications on our lives.
BBC nicely unpacks the fundamental doctrine of the trinity into the following pointers below:
- There is exactly One God,
- The Father is God,
- The Son is God,
- The Holy Spirit is God,
- The Father is not the Son,
- The Son is not the Holy Spirit,
- The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
And some common mistakes people make when describing the Triune-nature of God are:
- The Trinity is not three individuals who together make One God,
- The Trinity is not three gods joined together,
- The Trinity is not three properties of God.
(Introduction to the Trinity, 2011).
Based on these fundamental teachings of the doctrine, we shall begin our inquiry.
Basic Biblical Observations
The clear portrayal of the relationship between “God the Father” and “God the Son” is hard to miss. It is in itself a clear and definite depiction of the relationship between Jesus the Son, and God the Father and Creator.
““Essence” is the things that make God who God is. And these things are equal throughout the Three Persons.”
The relationship between the Spirit and the rest of the Trinity is, however, a little muddled. Pastor John Piper in his sermon message about the Holy Spirit presented two essential truths about the Holy Spirit. Firstly, he pointed out that the Spirit is a “Person”, someone separate from the Father and the Son, someone who can communicate through the bearing of witnesses and in teaching, and someone who have their own individuality that is presented through His own “authority”. Secondly, he pointed out that the Spirit is “God” alongside the Father and the Son. He is God because He shares the nature of God and comes forth eternally from God. This eternal nature of the Spirit makes Him no less than God, and hence should be referred to as God Himself (Piper, 1984).
However, it is important to note that being a separate “Person” with a different identity, yet coexisting with God the Father and God the Son does not necessarily make them of “One Essence”.
To fully understand the Trinity in accordance with the teachings of many theologians, we will need to clearly define “essence”. Matt Perman (2006) equates “essence” with “being”. Or in other words, the “substances” that make God, God. To put it plainly, “essence” is the things that make God who God is. And these things are equal throughout the Three Persons.
I will just let this thought sink in for a moment.
Similar Representations of Multiple Persons Becoming One on Earth – Marriage
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Genesis 2:21-24 NIV
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Matthew 19:6 NIV
Marriage is a good visual representation of how two “persons” of completely different identities and characteristics can be joined together in a union, forming “one” flesh.
The ideal “Oneness” in unity between two perfectly married couples can be hailed as the epitome of the perfect marriage. Such deep unity between two persons enable the joining of the heart and the soul (Gustafson, D. & Gustafson, L., 2013), Peaked and solidified by the orgasmic union of the flesh in consummate love, two persons are now joined, “by God”, in the heart, soul, and body.
“Ideal Oneness is the unity of the heart, soul, and body.”
On this basis, the analogy of “One Essence” between a husband and his wife can be drawn. This “essence” now refers to the profound unity in the heart, soul, and body (or flesh). The unity of the heart refers to the unity of innate desires, affections, emotions, passions, purpose, thoughts, imagination, wisdom, and beliefs. The unity of the soul refers to the union of the immaterial and spiritual aspect of the person. It is the very thing that makes a person, a person. And the union of souls is the eternal union of a person that goes deeper than that in the physical, material world. The relationship between David and Jonathan in the bible is a perfect example of true friendship that has the union of the soul bonding the two together (1 Samuel 18:1-5, ESV). Lastly, the unity of the flesh refers to the sealing of the union of two persons in the specified nature that the two persons are in within a covenantal union of a marriage. In other words, the union of flesh is the union of two physical bodies in the nature that is created to dwell in. And this union is achieved through sex within marriage. Hence, sex is seen as a means to the ends of a union, rather than the ends in itself.
The Profound Oneness within the Trinity
To understand the profound oneness of the Trinity, one will need to look into the social structure of the family. The fundamental need to analyze the structure of the family stems from the clear depiction of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The relational nature of the Father and Son indicates that there is a familial structure in the divine Godhead.
“This union does not deny the individual Persons off their own individuality and character.”
The divine familial structure will require individual Persons to be so intricately knitted together in both the heart and soul. Such intricate connectedness refers to the union in all innate desires, as well as the union of the soul that spans across both the material and the immaterial world. However, it is also important to note that this union does not deny the individual Persons off their own individuality and character.
If the divine familial structure were to be seen as a social unit or a “society” per se, sociologist George Herbert Mead would agree that each part of the unit is so intertwined through the process of socialization that they live within each other. Empowered and strengthened through love, the yearning to be like one another will be greatly enhanced through the inner dialogue between the “I” and the “Me” in each of the Persons.
“Divine relationships should not be equated to earthly relationships, but unequal parallels may help in our limited understanding of the divine glories that is to come.”
The social psychologist will further enhance this theory by stating that there are aspects of attraction among the Godheads that leads to the increased unity. Namely, the close proximity of togetherness, the repeated exposure through communion and prayers, and the mere physical attractiveness of the other (Social Psych, n.d.).
Divine relationships in itself should not be equated to that of earthly relationships lest there be any misconception or misinterpretation. However, unequal parallels may help us in our limited understanding of the divine glories that is to come.
On this note, we attempt to understand the Holy Spirit’s role within the Trinity. From scriptural analysis, we will learn that the Spirit comforts (John 14:18), gives us peace (John 14:27), convicts us of sin (John 16:8), helps us in prayer and intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), and He will dwell within us (John 14:17). If viewed from an unequal standpoint, the role of the Spirit appears to resemble that of a “partner”; a partner that partners in teaching (Proverbs 1:8), a partner who intercedes to God the Father (Fuller, 1997), and a partner who submits to the authority of the Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:22). An important thing to note here is that the Holy Spirit is not a mere “partner”, but for the purpose of understanding, the role of the Spirit resembles one.
“The absence of a part will not cause the entire Identity of God to cease to exist.”
From this analysis alone, we can clearly identify three Persons operating within a Unit. It is not three variations of the same substance, neither is it something where the absence of a part will cause the entirety to cease to exist (The Triune God did not vanish between the time Christ died and resurrected). It is rather, three distinct Persons with independent existence, that are in such a tightly knitted union that they are One.
It is almost impossible for us to fully grapple with the idea of the familial unit that is beyond the constraints of the physical world that we live in. However, the imagery of this out-of-this-world Familial Unit is something that is worth pondering upon. It is a family of eternal love, with complete union in the heart, soul, and “new” body. Within them are eternal love, joy, peace, and never-ending delight. Not considering the richness of the eternal kingdom, the Triune depiction of the eternal Godhead should already be something that should bring about true reverence and awe.
Implications for Christians
The deepened knowledge of the Triune God will give us a greater understanding of how we should relate to the Divine God as well as how we should relate to each other. The knowledge of the Divine Familial Unit will help us in our understanding of the divine, yet hidden motives of God in His creation. We will be able to better understand His method and reasoning in His choice of the elect, His planned sacrifice, and ultimately, His preparation of a place for us to dwell with Him. The knowledge of the Divine Familial Unit can also better help us understand the sanctity of marriage, the fundamental problem of sin, and how we should seek and adore Him.
Ferguson, S. (2014). The Holy Spirit: Jesus’s Closest Companion. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/the-holy-spirit-jesus-s-closest-companion
Fuller, C. (1997). When Mothers Pray. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from http://www1.cbn.com/family/when-mothers-pray
Gustafson, D., & Gustafson, L. (2013). Oneness – The Real Magic Behind Intimacy. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-and-leslie-gustafson/oneness-the-real-magic-be_b_3758988.html
Introduction to the Trinity (2011). Retrieved June 2, 2018, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/trinity_1.shtml
Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self, and Society. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/Blumer/George%20Herbert%20Mead%20-%20Mind,%20Self,%20and%20Society.htm
Perman, M. (2006). What is the Doctrine of the Trinity? Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity
Piper, J. (1984). The Holy Spirit: He is God! Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-holy-spirit-he-is-god
Social Psych: Interpersonal Attraction. (n.d.) Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www3.nd.edu/~rwilliam/xsoc530/attraction.html