Advent 11: Three in One

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” – Matthew 28:19

There are a lot of things I do not understand.  Quantum physics is one.  Another is how Minnesota professional sports teams all seem to be cursed (except for the Lynx – those ladies play a great game of basketball!).  The biggest stumper for me is the Holy Trinity.

It isn’t the fact of the Trinity that confounds me.  I can fully accept in faith that God is Three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is trying to figure out the how and why that twist me up.

The New Testament makes it very clear that God is three persons.  References abound throughout to all three (or any combination thereof) of the personages of the Lord.  It is also clear that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are, in essence, One and the Same (“I and the Father are one” [John 10:30]; “Now the Lord is the Spirit…” [2 Corinthians 3:17]).

Then I go back to the Old Testament.  In the very first reference we have to God, in the very first verse of all Scripture (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1, ESV]), God isʾelōhîm – a generic term for gods.

Gods.  Plural.

The word ʾelōhîm appears around 2600 times to describe God in the Old Testament.  By using this generic word to describe Himself, He is establishing His power and might.  He is the Only True God.  Any other “gods” are not deities but man-made idols, devoid of any real power and useless in His sight.  He is the Great I AM – Existence Himself.

But the fact that ʾelōhîm is the plural form of the Hebrew word for “god”, along with what we have already read about Jesus being active in creation and the references to the Holy Spirit and His activity in the Old Testament, leads me to see God as Three in One – always has been, always will be.

And God is three personages, not three Gods.  The Almighty is not schizophrenic.  He is One God.  But that One God is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Hence the expression of “God” (singular) with a plural term.

Early church father Tertullian is largely credited for being the first to describe God in Trinitarian terms.  He spent considerable time and effort in standing up against modalism, a belief that God is not three persons, but one who appears to His people in three different modes – and never more than one at any given time.  In his treatise Against Praxeas (written around 213 AD), Tertullian argues that God is One, three distinct yet inseparable personages:

…not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition and of one power inasmuch as He is one God from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned under the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

I do not mean this to be a cop out, but there are certain things we simply must take on faith.  We are not called to understand everything – especially not about God.  God reveals His attributes to us through His Word and in this way we can know Him.  But we have to accept that we are simply not smart enough to fully grasp the greatness of God.  His thoughts and ways are way out of our pay grade.

The Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries to man.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One.  They have a relationship with One Another and yet are all God.  It is a testament to the exceeding greatness of God that He exists as Three in One, outside as well as within time and space.  If you think you can figure out the Great I AM, good luck.  Better to be content with faithful knowing than mere human logic.  I don’t know about you, but I’m just not that smart.  Besides, faith is the medium God works in. And where God is, that’s where I want to be.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 1 John 5:7-8 (ESV)

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