>I am a little bit nervous. Over the summer I am teaching a mini-theology class on essential doctrines that every Christian should know to a group of high school students at my old youth group. We are going out of Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, which is an aptly titled text for such a class. (As a side-note: should you be interested in studying Christianity’s essential doctrines, I highly recommend this book as it is one of the only texts out there that covers these and only these topics). It is not the next that is making me nervous, though. It is the fact that we are talking about the Trinity tonight.
If there is going to be a week in which the students will have a lot of questions, it will be this week with this topic. The Trinity is not an easy subject. I’ve re-read my textbooks’ chapters on the Trinity. I have looked through my Systematic Theology class notes. I read St. Augustine’s thoughts on the Trinity in his Enchiridion again. I’ve even looked at the Bible and prayed about it. The fact of the matter is that I know what I will say in general to lay out the ground rules for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it seems like such an immense task.
I’m just a kid, really, and here I have put myself in a situation where I am responsible to talk to these students about one of the most mysterious aspects of our Eternal, All-powerful God. His Triune nature is really inexplicable, and yet I am going to try and explain it. It is beyond human reason, and I am going to try to help others grasp at it.
One of the most shocking things I discovered in my theology classes this past year was that no one really gets the Trinity and no one really ever has. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we do have the general guidelines for the way in which we discuss the holy Trinity, certain things we can and should say and other figures of speech that must not be allowed. We can mark the boundaries of the Truth on this matter and walk freely within them, but we do not know just where to set up camp. When it comes to the Trinity, as with the Incarnation especially, we must be comfortable with mystery.
Being comfortable with mystery. That leads to the next shocking discovery in my pursuit of theology. After struggling and talking with God about the mystery quite a bit, I came to realize that I could not only be comfortable with the mystery but take comfort from the mystery itself. It is terrifying, no doubt, but also comforting in some ways to be taken aback by God. To catch a glimpse of His true size, His sheer immensity, His infinitely complex and yet perfectly simple nature. It is good to remember that the God that I worship and offer my life to is huge.
The mystery even provides evidence to me that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. If Christianity had said that there was only one God plain and simple as Islam and Judaism do, that would have made sense. If it had said that there were three gods who had joined forces, that too would make sense. If it had taken the path of any one of the Trinitarian heresies (Arianism, Sabellianism, Modalism, Adoptionism) it would have made more sense. The fact of the matter was that the Church was and has continued to be committed to the authority of Scripture that presents us with the paradox of the One God eternally existing in Three Persons. It is a concept that can be seen out of the corner of your eye, but that disappears as soon as you try to to focus on it. It is like sand which can be held with light pressure but which slips through your fingers if you try to grasp it too firmly. God’s Triune nature can be glimpsed with the human mind, but not comprehended. Why would the early Church have ever invented such a doctrine? It makes almost no sense to us, and there is little doubt that it made just as little sense to the saints of the early centuries. Why concoct a doctrine that is so hard to explain, so impossible to fathom?
The answer seems to me to be that the Church did not concoct or invent this doctrine at all, but simply discovered it through faithful devotion to God’s own Word. If the Church had settled on any other explanation of the Trinity, it could be argued that it was man’s invention, but not with the doctrine that we actually have. The very fact that the Trinity is beyond explanation, but not totally beyond imagination; beyond reason, but not irrational hints at its truth. A slight glimpse of the glory of our God will blind you, but how much better it is to have been blinded by Him then to see any other thing.