Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A part of me really resents old-time religion for originating the term ‘Holy Trinity’.
I find this distasteful simply because the very phrase makes it sound as though there is not one God, but three. I prefer the phrase ‘triune God’, which leaves the decidedly singular nature of God intact while still acknowledging the three distinct facets of His being. (‘Triune’ means ‘three-part’.) I freely admit that I don’t understand this at all, and that’s okay, for I am human and don’t understand a great many things about God. For instance, how can He possibly have no beginning? I can’t wrap my mind around that, because I do have a beginning. It’s like trying to explain the concept of ‘light’ to a man who was born blind. He may accept that you understand it, and he may believe your explanation, too – but he won’t really grasp it.
One of the original Hebrew names for God was Yahweh Elohim. ‘Elohim’ is a fascinating word because it is decidedly singular in nature; it is used in the Old Testament when God speaks, and we translate it (based on context) as ‘I’. Yet there is a clear familial status inherent to the word well, the implication of being multiple as well as singular.
Scripture makes the nature of God – at least inasmuch as the frail mortal mind can comprehend Him – quite distinct. The beginning of the Gospel of John says that ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning’.
Who is ‘The Word’? John writes, a few verses later, that ‘the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.
This verse immediately does what the entirety of the new Testament does; it deliberately mixes tense, names and nouns to sometimes make God appear as one omnipotent Being, and then a moment later something will be worded in such a way as to separate His various faces. Mere sentences later, John writes: ‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known’.
John starts by inextricably meshing Jesus Christ with God the Father. Then he immediately refers to Jesus as a separate entity. Then he refers to them both as ‘God the One and Only’.
I don’t understand how that can be, but I accept that it is so, as God is greater than I, and John was given the knowledge to both understand and record His will with absolute authority.
Thus we see God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son who was originally referred to as ‘the Word’.
The third face of God is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is, to me, the most mysterious part of God’s personality. Jesus refers to Him as ‘the gift my Father promised’. The New Testament has numerous references to the Spirit being ‘received’. Yet He is most definitely not an ‘it’ but a Being, a face of God – and in that sense, He is God. But in what way is He God?
Peter said to ‘repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’. John refers to Him as the ‘seed of God’. Several of the Apostles refer to the indwelling Holy Spirit – received at Baptism – as ‘Christ in you’, or ‘the Spirit of Christ’.
And then Paul writes, regarding Jesus, that ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’. Which brings the entirety of the Triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – back into Jesus.
Again, I don’t understand. I’m not meant to. God is God, the One and Only. Yet the different sides of Him play distinct roles in our lives.
I liken it to human nature, in a sense, and I mean no disrespect by this; we are, after all, made ‘in the image of God’. I have a heart; it feels, loves and hurts. I have a mind; it thinks, reasons, and attempts to soothe my sometimes-bleeding heart. I have a body; it moves the mind around, and feels in the physical sense – receiving sensations that are then interpreted by the mind. I also have a soul; it is the side of me that was once damned, which now belongs to Christ. It is the imperishable side of me, which will live on once all that is imperishable falls into decay.
Yet all these parts of me are one being, and comprise a being that is decidedly singular. And I relate to others in this same multifaceted way. I comfort others from my heart. But I do it speaking with my mouth, part of my body. I reason with others with my mind, tempering my logic with empathy, and speaking from my mouth – engaging mind, heart and body. I worship with other Christians, engaging my soul with that of others, as all baptized believers share in the selfsame Holy Spirit.
Yet none of my friends refer to me by such titles as ‘his heart’, or ‘his mind’ (although I suspect God shook His head and said to Jesus, ‘we need to do something about his soul…). I am, simply put, Me – although some still refer to me as ‘that $#@&!’, and their assessment may be right. I’m working on that.
My point is, despite all those facets I am still but one man, whole, singular and clearly identifiable. Yet that does not nullify the existence and distinction to those sides of me. And I suspect that it is thus with God, God both the singular Almighty and God who is Father, Son and Spirit. However, His nature is obviously exponentially more complex than mine, because I was simply made in His image – much like a picture of a Camaro is still representative of a Camaro, but yet is not the Camaro itself. You can’t, after all, drive it out of the picture; the image pales in comparison to that which it represents.
We see all the facets of God present at the beginning of our Christian walk. The beginning of wisdom, that sneaking suspicion that we need to seek God, comes from God the Father; it is God who draws us to Jesus, the Redeemer – and it is Jesus who sheds his blood, washing our sins to remove Satan’s taint, and marking us as His own so that we may presentable and blameless before His Father.
In between the Call and the Redemption, though, there must be repentance. ‘Repentance’ is from the Greek metanoia, a compound word that when translates literally means ‘to think differently after’. It is, in English, a ‘change of mind and heart’, or ‘a change of consciousness’. (NOTE: This is NOT to be confused with Jerome’s translation of metanoia. They translated it as the Latin penitentia, which means to be really, really sorry. This mistranslation spawned a host of ridiculous practices such as monasticism and self-flagellation, and was later corrected with Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible.)
Repentance is brought about by God, as referenced in several places. Another verse says that repentance is given by Christ – and remember that Christ is sometimes meshed with the Holy Spirit, as least in the sense of which parts of God’s being dwell within the believer.
All of these things – the call from the Father, the repentance brought about by Christ and His Spirit – culminate in baptism, the act that brings salvation. All three faces of God play distinct roles in baptism, which is why Christ ordered his Disciples to baptize ‘in the name of’ (or ‘by the authority of’) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This mandate to baptize, by the way, is indisputably applicable to all of us (not just preachers, or priests), since the word ‘disciple’ simply means ‘student’ – and we the believers are repeatedly referred to as ‘disciples’ all throughout the New Testament.
To wit: One is baptized ‘in’ or ‘into’ Christ, as written all through the New Testament. More specifically, we are baptized into His blood, the sacred sacrifice, the one thing in existence that is pure enough to nullify all sin. It was, after all, both blood and water that came from the wound in Jesus’ side. It is Christ also who authorizes this sacrament: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…’ The act of immersion is synonymous with the death, burial and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah (‘Christ’, by the way, is not a name. It is a noun, a title, and it means ‘Messiah’, which is more easily understood by paraphrasing as ‘Savior’.)
One is pushed under the water; the old, sinful being dies.
It is my firm conviction that the Holy Spirit is already with the repentant sinner as he/she walks toward the water. However, the million-dollar change takes place as one ‘dies’ in the water of baptism. At that point the Holy Spirit moves into the being that was once a sinner – and thus he/she rises, a new creature, pure, sinless by virtue of having been united with Christ, and now able to stand boldly before God the Father. God the Father, the Holy of Holies who will not even look at sin.
We also see this full involvement of God in prayer. It is God the Father who governs, who decides what to grant us in answer to our requests. It is Christ – the mediator, the face of God that is also fully human – who carries our cries before the Father. It is Christ, also, who intercedes on out behalf when we sin.
Another verse, however, says that the Spirit intercedes for us as well. It is the Spirit, remember, who lives within us; the Spirit is the whispering voice of conscience. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the Counselor’. It is the Spirit who reads our hearts, and articulates our needs to the Father when we can’t even see clearly enough to understand them ourselves.
In prayer – as in baptism – Father, Son and Spirit are fully involved with Their/His beloved child. Yet our relationship changes with each part of God. To God we are clearly ‘heirs’. Which would make us brothers and sisters to Christ, in a sense – but Christ is also God, which brings us back to ‘heir’.
But the Spirit, as far as I can tell, is with us more out of duty, hence His role as ‘Counselor’. Yet there is love in this role, too, for He ‘groans on our behalf’. When’s the last time a lawyer talked to a judge for you and ‘groaned’?
God the Father.
Jesus Christ, the Son.
The Holy Spirit.
Three, but not a ‘Trinity’, for that implies a separation of facets. There may be a separation of duties, of roles, but in the end there is only one God. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Yahweh-Elohim.
One God. One sacrifice, and therefore one redeemed sinner – in my case, me. I don’t think that I understand a whole lot more than I did when I started writing this, and that wasn’t very much.
But I understand enough to be grateful for Him, and for all that He has done for me.