Every year as Trinity Sunday rolls around, it’s common to hear jokes about having the seminarian or newly ordained priest do the preaching as a dreaded rite of initiation. There can be a certain hesitation or even intimidation when it comes to talking about the Holy Trinity. This need not be the case! The Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and life and is the gift of God’s revelation of himself to us. Here are three teaching points to help explore the great and beautiful mystery of the Trinity.
God is Love Because God is Trinity
In the First Letter of John, we find one of the most comforting and profound claims about God, “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is Love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (I John 4:16). For this to be true, for God to be love, completely and perfectly, God must also be Trinity. For there to be love you need three things; the lover, the beloved, and the love or union shared between the two. Only in the revelation of God as Trinity can we see that God is love. God is lover (Father), beloved (Son), and the union shared between the two (Holy Spirit).
To look at it from another angle, if God was not Triune, he would need something else to share in love. God would be lacking, and creation would be necessary, as beloved, for God to be loving. This is not true; God is, in fact, the Almighty. God’s love is perfect and complete in himself. Creation then is the free gift of God’s outpouring love, and our proper disposition to this free gift is gratitude and praise.
For more on the relation between the Trinity and God’s love, check out Hans urs von Balthasar’s Credo, a brief collection of meditations on the Apostles’ Creed, originally published as pastoral bulletins in the 1980s.
The Trinity Is To Be Loved, Not Solved
Often we are tempted to approach the Holy Trinity as a puzzle that needs to be solved. Countless analogies have been used to make sense of the one in three and three in one, like the analogy of water, ice, and vapor, or the three-leaf clover. The problem is that these analogies more often lead us astray in one way or another and give us an inadequate grasp of the Triune God. We can also lose the true beauty of the Trinity when we only focus on trying to “solve the puzzle.” Look again at our verse from First John, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” John is not trying to help us solve a puzzle; instead, he wants us to see that the Triune God has created us so that we might share in his love, that we might abide in God and God in us.
It may be helpful to approach the Trinity similarly to how we would a beautiful painting. When you first encounter a beautiful work of art, you are drawn in by it. The beauty of the work itself is enough to keep you there, delighting in it. As you continue to look at it, its beauty and detail unfold before you, generating in you love and admiration for the work. Only after the experience of the painting’s beauty would you then begin to study how it was made, how it works, and what inspired the painter. Exploring these questions helps us return to the painting with a deeper understanding, delighting even more in its beauty. So it is with the Holy Trinity. First, we are drawn to delight in and love God as he has revealed himself to us; only then do we seek out to make sense of the Holy Trinity, but as we work through those questions, they draw us deeper again into the delight and love of God.
The Trinity is the Central Mystery of the Christian Faith and Life
When we are baptized, it is in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our prayer is Trinitarian in shape; for example, the collects in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP pg. 211) are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in unity with the Holy Spirit. Many of the postures we use in worship and prayer are Trinitarian; the sign of the cross, for example, invokes the Name of the Triune God. The whole of our lives as Christians is a participation in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; for the Christian faith, the works of God, and the history of our salvation is God’s own revelation of Godself to us as the One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To this great mystery of God’s own being, “we sing your praises O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices.”
Book of Common Prayer, pg. 118
Editor’s Note: As Building Faith editors, we acknowledge that many members of the Building Faith community are theologically opposed to the use of male pronouns for God. We endeavor to use expansive and non-gendered language for God when we write as Building Faith Editors. We also respect the wide range of theologies within mainline protestantism. We desire for Building Faith to be a space where a diverse range of Christian formation leaders become inspired and equipped for the work of discipleship as well as a space where diverse members of our community share ideas, resources, and wisdom. Therefore, after conversation with the author, we are publishing this post as originally written.