Could you please explain the Trinity?
Unreasonably High Expectations
Dear Unreasonably High Expectations,
In a word:
No one can. It is a mystery. And I find this consoling. Frankly, the fact that the Church says straight-out that there are certain things about God Almighty which are simply unable to be comprehended by human beings is a testament to the legitimacy of the Church as a teaching authority. Never trust any human being or group of human beings who claim to “know everything”. Anyone who claims to know everything or have all of the answers is, by definition, a liar right out of the chute, because only God knows everything.
There are several huge mysteries of faith: the Trinity (one God in Three Divine Persons), the Incarnation (Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the aforementioned Triune Godhead, being both fully God and fully man) and the Eucharist (bread and wine being transubstantiated into the physical substance of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ).
How can God be One in Being, but Father, Son and Holy Ghost? I dunno. It’s a mystery.
How can Jesus be both fully God and fully Man? I dunno. It’s a mystery.
How can something that was bread a few minutes ago, and still looks like bread, and still smells and tastes like bread actually be the Substance of God? And how did that change occur? I dunno. It’s a mystery.
Regarding the Trinity, here is what we do know. The primary point and revelation of God in the Old Testament is the reality that there is not a “pantheon” of many gods, but that there is, in fact, only ONE God. If you had to pin down what the point of the Old Testament is – that’s it in a very, very oversimplified simple nutshell. GOD IS ONE.
The Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, were written by Moses. The entire point of Moses’ life was to bear witness to the fact that there is only ONE GOD. There was absolutely no ambiguity about this. None. But, if we look at literally the FIRST CHAPTER of the book of Genesis, we see something amazing. Verse 26:
“And He said: Let Us make man to Our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.”
(Et ait: Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram….)
Moses spent most of his adult life in interface with (I refuse to use the word “encounter” anymore. It has been rendered utterly trite by those who speak in Modernist, post-Conciliar gibber-babble) and witnessing to The ONE TRUE GOD. And yet Moses can’t get more than a couple hundred words into his written record and he is using PLURAL PRONOUNS – “Us” and “Our” – when quoting the ONE TRUE GOD. SURELY Moses, of all people, wouldn’t make the sloppy mistake of using plural pronouns. SURELY someone around Moses, and for the centuries upon centuries afterward, would say, “Hey! You’ve got plural pronouns here! Shouldn’t we fix that? Afterall, it completely undercuts the whole “GOD IS ONE” thing we are trying to communicate here.”
Nope. Not only did Moses write it that way, but it STAYED that way for all of these centuries. I find Genesis 1:26 to be one of the most compelling proofs of the Divine Inspiration of scripture and of the proactive work of the Holy Ghost in not only revealing truth, but also protecting and maintaining that deposit of revealed truth. Think of all of those centuries before Our Lord’s Incarnation when the Jews COULD have singularized those two little pronouns – and no one ever did.
One of the most important points about the Triune Godhead is this: God is RELATIONAL to Himself. God is Love – and what is love? Love is the complete giving of one’s self, and love is the act of fully RECEIVING and then returning love. Soooo . . . if God is NOT relational to Himself, how could He have existed as Existential Love “before” the creation of the universe? Who was He loving? Was He sitting around pondering Himself? How does inward-turned naval gazing constitute a GIFT of self? What love was He receiving? How could God receive love if He was the only thing that existed?
Again, these are the questions that any thinking person slams up against fairly early in any genuine conversion or reversion experience, and yes, we all SHOULD be asking these questions because we cannot love that which we have not first apprehended with our intellects. And, the more we intellectually apprehend something, the more we can then love it. The asking of questions – whether they be concerning the natural world, other people, or God Himself – is, at its root, an act of love. Remember that the next time you’re in the company of a three year old: “Why? Why? Why?” Beware the man who asks no questions, for that is a man bereft of love.
How could God receive love if He was the only thing that existed? Because God is, in Himself, able to relate to Himself. Christ revealed to us that God is Three Divine Persons, all distinct but yet completely One in Being. Got your head around that? No, of course not. We can’t FULLY grasp that existential reality any more than we can grasp and explicitly describe what a fifth dimension would look like. But Christ did give us names for the Three Persons in Matthew 28:19 so that we could relate a little bit to the Trinity. Those names are: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The words “Father and Son” are not a perfect analogue because the Father did not exist before the Son, as in the human case. The Three Divine Persons of the Trinity are co-eternal. The best partial-analogy of this is fire. When a match is struck, the flame, the light from the flame and the heat from the flame all coexist concurrently. The flame does not pre-exist the light and the heat, nor does the heat pre-exist the light or the flame. We can grasp this, but what is impossible for the human mind to grasp on this mortal coil (and probably beyond, too) is the eternity of God. No one can explain that. No one can explain or fully comprehend eternity. All we can do is name it, and then get on with living. Also, there is the issue of gender, which is another post (The one about… WHY PRIESTS CAN ONLY EVER BE MEN), but suffice it to say that God contains “femaleness” in the sense that He receives and then returns love, which is the essence of femininity, and women are not a foreign mystery to Him.
So, God the Father gives Himself fully to God the Son. God the Son then fully receives that love, and then returns it to God the Father fully. This infinite back-and-forth of love is so existentially perfect that it yields a Third, which Jesus taught us to call “The Holy Ghost”. The big human clue-in to all of this is human procreation. A man loves his wife and gives himself to her fully and completely. The wife loves her husband and thus receives his gift of himself in the form of his DNA and offers her own DNA in return. The two gifts of self are so perfect and complete that they actually become a third person (with the essential involvement of God).
Thus, the Triune Godhead is the foundational reality, and human marriage and procreation is the DERIVATIVE, which points back to the underlying reality of the Trinity. This is why marriage, the marital act and procreation are so utterly sacred, and thus so destructive when perverted, sadly in these dark days with the consent and even cooperation of the very shepherds who should be laying down their very lives to protect the sacrosanctity of marriage and sexuality. But, who am I to judge. I need to quit obsessing, and focus on what’s truly important, like youth unemployment. But I digress.
And yes, eventually every derivative expires, and upon expiry there is a delivery and the books get settled and squared. That would be “death” and “judgment”. As a (former) futures broker, I like that part. 🙂
Here is a classic secular song that touches on the crux of what real, Trinitarian love is: “Nature Boy”, best performed by Nat King Cole.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.”