How does one go about explaining something that is so different from us? To try to explain such a thing is to traverse the road of potential major error, this is why we approach the subject at hand with reliance on the Lord for guidance and patience in our weaknesses.
The trinity is a broad subject that would definitely cover more than a single post, book or even library. When one tries to study God in all his greatness and otherness, one sometimes falters at trying to express his attributes and repeatedly one may find him or herself relying on church councils or confessions or doctrinal statements. Those statements are extremely helpful in that godly men studied the word and came up with a concise thought on what they had gleaned.
Error drove the forming of such councils and confessions because they had to respond to what others were saying. So it is the case that the driving force behind some of these confessions would be to prove how another thought was wrong. It is a valid way to progress in the things of Christ?but sometimes we must be careful in relying solely on those councils, catechisms and confessions. Whereas those men sat together and inquired of the Lord in the matter and found themselves fully convinced not one of them had the Lord Himself speaking in their ears or face to face. In other words, these men were interpreting the Word of God just as much as we are?so a study in the trinity must be reliant on the Word of God and not of Men for who knows the inner workings of God but the very Spirit of God?
This subject’s immensity deepens when one considers that the very deity of the persons of the trinity is also to be established in conjunction with the nature of God. I may one day go into some of those attributes of God but praise the Lord this sister has been touching on that expansive subject.
We’ll start with God’s re-introduction of Himself to the nation of Israel on the plains of Moab, East of Jordan. In Deuteronomy 6:4, the mediator of the House of Israel is giving his farewell address and reiterating things that God has spoken during the past years in the wilderness. Moses tells the people that ?The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!?
It is important to see this description of God. God didn’t mince words with Moses and tell him ?I’m three persons, in one so you can say I am sort of One?. He stated that He is One in direct contrast to the pantheistic civilizations around them. From the very Commandments the Lord will tell the children of Israel that He is the Lord God and that there are no other gods beside Him. The thought is reiterated in 1 Kings 8:60 and even repeated by Christ Himself in Mark 12:29.
We then can give some credit to those groups which point to the deity of YAHWEH as One and only God and yet we must also discredit them for ignoring the passages which hint at a plurality in the single Godhead.
For instance in Genesis 1:1 We see that ?God created the heavens and the earth.? The word used which is translated to God is Elohim?a plural name. God’s singular name is one of plurality. Again in Genesis 1:26 God is found speaking about His planned creation on the sixth day. Says He ?Let us make man in Our image according to Our likeness?? God is speaking but referring to Himself in the plural?yet still referred to as Elohim! Once again in Genesis 3:22 we see the Godhead saying ?Man has become like one of Us?.
When we reach Isaiah 44:6 the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts says ?I am the first and I am the last. And there is no God besides Me.? How do we read this passage? Is it the Lord who is the King of Israel and subsequent Redeemer of Israel speaking or is it The Lord (who is the King of Israel) and his (the Lord’s) Redeemer (The Lord of Hosts)?
The problem is when our own thinking kicks in to try to explain exactly what this means. We may try to come up with illustrations but which illustration works? Humans are picture-oriented so often we rely on illustrations and analogies to make our point. The analogy may not be true, but it is used to make the point less of an abstraction by basing it on realistic illustration. It may be helpful to look at some illustrations that some have used to describe the trinity.
One God, 3 Roles. A man can play the role of Father (in his household), brother (in his father’s household) and husband (to his wife). This is wrong because the Lord Jesus Himself differentiates between the persons of the Godhead. For example in John 6:40 Jesus states that ??this is the will of the Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day?. Elsewhere He refers to the Spirit as the Helper whom He will send when He leaves (John 16:7) which will have a distinctly different role from Jesus?He will convict (John 16:8)!
3 Distinct Persons, completely separate. The problem here is something theologians refer to as tri-theism. Instead of seeing the Oneness of the Godhead, a person starts seeing the 3 persons within the Godhead so separate that God becomes three equal gods. Our finite and linear minds have a hard time putting our thoughts around One who is Three but God has expressed Himself as one throughout the Bible (many verses have already been stated to substantiate that fact).
Like an Egg. Shell, yolk and whites. This has been a personal favorite which I am now using to simply illustrate the potential for three in one but then to completely negate. The problem with the Egg illustration is the complete separateness of the elements. It starts falling under the same problem as the previously stated idea.
Like water: Liquid, Gas and Solid. This falls under the same problem as One God with 3 Roles?but in this case it’s ?States?. God often makes a point of the difference within the Godhead. For instance in 1John 1, believers have fellowship with the apostles and with God the Father over the Son or the Life.
Like H20. Two Hydrogen particles, one oxygen. Still wrong in that there are no two persons of the trinity that are an exact duplicate of the other. The Father sends the Son and the Son sends the Helper and yet He proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). The difference is apparent in that all three bear witness and testify (1 John 5:7).
Notice that we can’t find a temporal example of what the Godhead is. We can’t take all these illustrations and say that they are all true because that would be completely illogical. The Role of the Father is completely distinct from the Role of the Son and then to say that they are exactly the same is to be at direct opposition. In this doctrine, then, we must apply a form of Negative-Theology or, what God is not based on what He states He is. This was the basis of looking at common illustrations of the Godhead?to see what God is not.
We know that in the Godhead there is Unity for God is one. We know that within the Godhead there is interaction based on the prayers of the Son to the Father (John 17) the approval of the Son by the Father (Matt 17:5) and the conviction work of the Spirit (previously stated). We know that within the Godhead there are distinct roles in that One condemns (Rom 8:34), One justifies (Rom 8:33) and One intercedes (Rom 8:26). It is important to see the difference within the roles especially in prayer?the Lord Jesus died, not the Father nor the Holy Spirit. Yet God is One and this is illustrated moreover by the names given to the Lord Jesus in Isaiah 9:6?Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
So in conclusion, when trying to define God by use of illustrations, it is safest to use those illustrations to see what God is not and base all other thoughts on God’s revelation. Either way, don’t despair for these studies should lead us to a humbling comparison before the greatness of God Almighty, the All-Powerful One who presenced Himself on Sinai, the world scarcely bearing the weight of His Magnitude and glory. This God came near to us finite, rebellious and sick to the point of death and provide a way that we may have Life Eternal and communion with Him.
If anything we should fall down on our knees confessing and worshiping.