All you can say about the Trinity in 7 minutes…by Revd Alex Pease

“I don’t have a problem with God, it’s the Trinity I have a difficulty with”.

When your friends get to hear that you are getting ordained, there are some, of course, who look at their shoes and say “oh!” and swiftly move onto another subject, as if you have said something improper.

But then there are others who immediately want to engage you in a theological debate at unexpected moments.  It was on one of these latter occasions at St Swithun’s school walking from the car park to see my younger daughter play lacrosse that one of my friends (another father of a lax player) made the remark that I have just mentioned.  The friend in question, called Jonathan, comes from a Jewish family background, but is actually himself an Anglican.  But like many of us, I think, he struggles with the idea of the Trinity.

The problem arises if we try to describe in words what we mean by the Trinity.  How can we say we believe in one God, but insist that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different persons?

If we say that there is one senior god – the Father and two junior deities – the Son and the Spirit, that sounds like three gods and we don’t mean that (the heresy of Subordinationism).

I don’t know if you have seen the play in London Jeeves and Wooster – well the actor in that who plays Jeeves also plays two other roles: Gus Finknottle and Madeline Basset – and sometimes plays those two simultaneously – dressed up on one side of his body as Gus and the other side of his body as Madeline – hilarious.

But if we describe the Trinity as being like an actor in different parts that sounds much like one person wearing three masks or taking three roles – and we don’t mean that either (the heresy of Modalism).

Lots of theologians have struggled with this as well over the last two thousand years.  It wouldn’t be surprising if you find it confusing (as I do).

But what Christians mean by the Trinity can be stated as follows:

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 Holy Spirit is not the Father

There is only one God

Difficult huh?

But perhaps it is easier to grasp the idea of the Trinity if we look at what the God that Christians believe in, did and does – which can be summed up in one Greek word:  agape – self-giving self-sacrificing love.

And this is how I answered that very difficult question.  I said to my friend Jonathan: Do you believe that God is love?’  ‘Yes of course’ he said.  So I replied ‘But how can God be love, if he is also the creator?  If he existed before creation – how can he be love, if he had nothing and no-one to love?’

You see the central Christian idea is of a God who loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice himself to overcome our sins.  The Trinity helps us to understand how that Being that we call God could be loving at all – he is (and always was) constituted by a continual loving relationship of three persons: Father Son and Spirit.  When we say that God is love we mean that he is complete in himself – he is loving within himself, within those three persons which constitute that one God.

So the Father, the Son and the Spirit are different and in relationship, but so in tune with each other and so ‘other focused’ than they can really be described as ‘one Being’.  As one writer has put it[2] “difference without division, self-giving without self-loss and eternal life in ceaseless harmony and peace”.

Some have described that relationship as like a dance.  But a perfect dance.  Not like the sort of dance when I am dancing with Lucy and I get the steps of the Rock and Roll wrong and her head crashes into my arm or I step on her toes or kick her shins.  No a perfect dance of love where each of the three is perfectly coordinated and perfectly directed that each knows where the other is leading and changes pace and direction accordingly.

This sort of dance is the product of a relationship which is so close and so selfless that one can really describe it as three persons ‘in-dwelling each other’ or ‘being in one another’ – a Greek word is used ‘perichoresis’.  It is a relationship of communion between the three which is perfect in its sensitivity and the sacrifice that each makes for the other.

And it is a relationship that astonishingly we – you and I – are invited into.

You see if one part of the Trinity – the Son has been incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth and been born died and been resurrected as a human being, then in this perfect dance of relationship there is now a person who shares our humanity and totally understands us and life as we experience it.

And by accepting Jesus into our lives we become part of that dance, a dance which transcends death and lasts for ever.




[1] Lincoln Harvey St Mellitus College lecture  notes 8/1/11

[2] Daniel Migilore Faith Seeking Understanding p87

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