Friday, March 23, 2007

"A mystery is not an excuse to stop thinking"

Once, some years ago, at a General Conference, there was a discussion initiated by some people who found no biblical warrant for the Trinity. I remember saying that the doctrine of Trinity is not an explanation; it is a solution. If, as Scripture says, the Father is God, Jesus Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is only one God, then the Trinity is necessary, whether the word appears in Scripture or not.

In 2002 Fred Sanders was interviewed by Biola Connections about the doctrine of the Trinity.
Q. What are common analogies people use to explain the Trinity that are misleading?

A. Almost all analogies for the Trinity end up being misleading. Usually they each have one point of helpfulness and that’s it. Legend has it that when Saint Patrick was explaining the Christian faith to the barbarians of Ireland and got to the part about the Trinity, they said, ‘How can that possibly be true?’ And he picked up a shamrock and converted the whole nation of Ireland. So, it was good enough to get an incredible piece of evangelistic work done. But if you continue thinking about a shamrock, it gets less and less like the Trinity. It would be similar to using the analogy of a pizza that is cut into three pieces (like the three shamrock leaves). God the Father is not a third of God. Each person of the Trinity is fully God.

Another common analogy is water. It can exist in three forms: liquid, ice or steam. The major problem is you can’t have the same piece of water being liquid, solid and gaseous at the same time. But the Bible shows the three Persons of the Godhead existing simultaneously.

Q. What is the simplest way to accurately explain the Trinity?

A. As soon as you use an analogy to explain the Trinity, you introduce complexity. It’s ironic, but the simplest way to explain the Trinity is to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus is sent by the Father to earth where He is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When he ascends to the right hand of the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit to us.

A good analogy can be helpful sometimes, but can’t possibly please God when the word ‘Trinity’ makes us think primarily about ice cubes and shamrocks rather than the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit.

Q. What is a common misconception people have about the Trinity?

A. Probably the most common misconception is the fear that it really doesn’t make sense. That somehow we became Christians and that committed us to believe in certain things and, unfortunately, one of those things is rationally impossible.

But the Trinity is not irrational in any direct sense. I think the main intellectual problem with the Trinity is that it’s so dense. When we say ‘the Trinity,’ we are really saying all the basic elements of the gospel at once. So it’s a very dense formula, sort of like e=mc2 is difficult to understand — not because it’s logically contradictory, but because there’s so much information packed into it.

The Trinity would be irrational if it were self-contradictory — for example, if it said that there are three persons in God and yet only one person. Or if it said that God is one being and God is three beings. But for God to be one Being who is three Persons in no way contradicts the laws of logic. Now, it may be beyond our understanding in some way because we don’t know of any other being like that. It’s a mystery, but a mystery is not an excuse to stop thinking. A mystery is something that is bigger than our minds can take in and invites us to a lifetime of intellectual wrestling.
Source: The Scriptorium: For Saint Patrick: Two Cheers for Trinity Analogies


  1. Well, speaking of SDBs and their Statement of Belief, it’s interesting how the Statement of Belief states that the Bible is “our final authority in matters of faith and practice.” What makes this so interesting is that it seems many (if not most) SDBs feel that the Bible is only authority in matters of faith and practice.

    Instead (in accordance with SDB Statement of Belief), the Bible should be used as a “negative norm,” as a tool to remove those aspects of faith and practice that are contrary to the Bible. The Bible is not meant to be the only authority; the Trinity doesn’t have to be mentioned to be True. But since the Trinity is not refuted (and implied through Scripture), I think we can hold fast to the teachings of the Church over the last 2000 years and safely understand God as Triune.

  2. I agree. And the current Statement of Belief [1987] is clearly organized in a Trinitarian form.

  3. Nice a Catholic who also sees connections between the Trinity and the famous formula E=mc2 you might enjoy a trip to my webpages. I have been on this thread for three years and have found many intriquing Catholic Connections.

    They are on my blog at

    Their are three key entries:

    God Bless You!


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