By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
The Doctrine of the Trinity is weird. Let’s just say that up front.
It’s weird and it’s confusing. God is one and three. At this point we’re used to saying it, but it’s a lot easier to say than to understand. God is three people and one person. Is God divided into three parts? No. Is God just one thing? No.
Why did Jesus pray to God the father? Why did God ever feel the need to manifest one of God’s persons on earth? Why do we say it was the Holy Spirit that came down on Pentecost? Why not just say that it’s God the Father? Or even Jesus’ Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit do different things than the father? How? Why? Isn’t it all the same if it’s coming from the same ‘one person’?
The Holy Trinity is such a weird concept, and it raises more questions than it answers. It’s tough to conceptualize, and even harder to truly understand.
Is God like the Cerberus of myth, like a three-headed dog with one body? Is God like a pizza, one pie sliced into three pieces? Is God like a three-in-one body wash/shampoo/conditioner--all three things at the same time while not doing a very good job at any of those three things?
One thing I appreciate about the Holy Trinity is that it allows me to use my favorite phrase, “Great is the mystery of faith," which translates from pastor-speak into “I don’t know." I love this phrase because people too often want to have all the answers. People (myself included) don’t like not knowing things. We want to be secure in our knowledge, have full understanding, and never be surprised or confused. As a pastor, people will often expect me to know things. But as a person, I rarely do. This phrase allows us to accept in official church language that all of us are humans, just kind of flailing about and hoping we hit the right answer.
Which we never will.
We won’t ever get it correct because we are inherently limited in our perspectives. We can’t understand the concept of the Trinity! No one can hold these things in tension because we’re all just one person in one person’s body. I’m not three different people while also being me! That’s insane! It makes no sense. It makes no sense because I’m not built to understand it. Neither are you. And anyone who says they get it are either lying or have transcended the bonds of humanity.
I love that we don’t understand what there is to know about the Trinity, because it means that we can learn. We’re constantly trying to refine our language, build our metaphors, deepen our well of understanding. The Council of Nicaea did not have access to a three-in-one soap, but if they did, maybe that would be in one of our creeds.
Together we discern what the truth is, or at least what our closest approximation to the truth is. Admitting that none of us truly know what we’re talking about means that we need to be open to a vast web of ideas and thoughts, some of which resonate within our souls and allow us to feel the divine presence.
Who knows? Maybe some of us get even closer to the truth. Maybe someday one of us will nail it so completely that we’ve finally perfected our understanding of what the Trinity is. But probably not. Great is the mystery of faith.