Three Is A Magic Number

According to Wikipedia, "The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (from the Latin trinitas meaning "triad") defines God as three consubstantial persons or hypostases - the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit - as "one God in three Divine Persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". In this context, a "nature" is what one is, while a "person" is who one is.

It sounds complicated and it is. In fact it is overcomplicated, obtuse, a fudge of a doctrine arrived at after centuries of bitter debate. It is the proverbial horse designed by a committee. It is a concept so difficult to get your head around that many teachers of the Christian faith over the years, when backed against a wall and told to define the Trinity, have chickened out by employing the "It's a mystery" gambit.

I don't like mysteries and I really don't like the idea of a mysterious God. I have enough trouble understanding what's going on around me in this world without having to cope with divine obscurantism. Being the evangelist for a mysterious God is like being a salesman who is employed to sell a wonderful new machine to the public without having any idea what the machine is for. Every time a prospective customer asks him what the machine can do he is forced to answer, "It's a mystery." Nobody is going to buy his product. Why would Christians think that giving the same answer to people who enquire about our religion could result in a different success rate to that achieved by our poorly informed sales assistant?

Why have we gotten ourselves into such a quandary over how many Gods we worship?

Actually, the answer is simple. The original followers of Christ were Jewish and the official religion of the Jews at that time was monotheistic and it had been since at least the seventh century B.C. I say official, because Jewish monotheism was a broad synagogue with all sorts of aspects of God being regarded as separate personalities, even different genders. For example there is Wisdom, she whom we heard about in today's Old Testament reading and the spirit of God who was developing its own distinct character a long time before Jesus started talking about the Advocate. Therefore, in order not to scare off potential converts from Judaism early Christian evangelists and apologists tried to big up the one God thing even when it started to become obvious to them that their new understanding of the Jewish religion appeared to have three distinct divinities as its focus, albeit three distinct persons existing together in a very unified way.

There was also a lot of argy bargy within the Christian community during the first few centuries of its existence over who was God. There were arguments, some leading to the creation of factions and even to schism within the faith, over whether or not Jesus was divine or just a human. As in all such cases, those with the most power eventually won and the Church, which had bought into the whole emperor idea when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, ended up emphasising the oneness of the Godhead rather than its multiplicity. Dictatorship ruled in both secular life and religion. Neither the emperor or the pope had much regard for collectivism of any sort. However, the Church was not prepared to ditch its belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. So, the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated which its promulgators believed allowed Christians to have their cake and eat it too.

How then does the doctrine of the Holy Trinity play out in the everyday, spiritual lives of the Christian faithful?

Speaking for myself, I have to admit that I definitely relate to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three, very distinct persons. I always pray to them as individuals. I never pray to the Trinity as a single entity. I do not lose sleep over this as, to be completely honest, it makes not a jot of difference to me whether there are three Gods or one. I do not regard singularity as being intrinsically more perfect than multiplicity. However, I do most strongly believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one and that the nature of their oneness is of the utmost importance to all of us.

There are two main ways of understanding oneness. There is the one of singularity and then there is the one of unity. The singular one is alone, complete in itself, there is no other. In theological terms this one is the deity Muslims refer to as Allah. The unified one is composite, dependent on its parts, not fully complete unless all its fractions are joined together seamlessly. This one is the God of the Christian faith.

I do not think this is just a matter of semantics. God, who is three persons in unity as one, is the paradigm par excellence for how the people of God should relate to the three persons of God and to each other. The most important aspect of the Trinity is that it is a relationship and the most important aspect of the Christian faith is that it is relational. At least it should be as the togetherness of his followers was something that Jesus Christ emphasised right up to the very end of his earthly ministry and made provision for after his ascension in the sending of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit of God. The unity of the Trinity is the centre of a much greater unity, the unity of the people of God with their God and with each other. Now, I am not talking about one Church here, that's just human politics. No, I am referring to the spiritual unity of Christians which should be made manifest in the world in their love for one another.

That there is relationship within the Godhead means that the Godhead of the Christian faith is dynamic and changing. There is a strand of thought within both Christianity and Judaism that would have God forever the same, but this is just not the reality of the situation if the witness of both the Old and New Testaments is to be believed. If it is the prerogative of a woman to change her mind then it may well be that the God of both Jew and Christian is a female deity because God was always changing God's mind. Not only that but God changed God's mind after conversation. In the Old Testament we come across this most explicitly in the relationship between Moses and God. At times the two of them bickered like a long married couple. In the New Testament, Jesus talks to his Father in heaven as if his Father is open to persuasion and tells his followers to do the same. He tells us to nag God until God gives in and gives us what we are asking for. Such a persuadable God is not a block of unmovable granite. Quite the contrary. Such a God is pliable, like a flesh and blood Father open to his children rushing up to him squealing "Please daddy, please, please, please!"

Like the Trinity we too should be open to change, open to persuasion. As with the Trinity there should be discussion, even argument, among the people of God and freely accepted agreement rather than imposed compliance. There is democracy within the consubstantial Trinity and there should be a similar democratic self governance within the body of the community of believers. There is equality within the Trinity. There is not equality in the Church but there should be.

In conclusion I suggest that three Gods are better than one, but only if they are one. A true communion of believers is better than a believer living out faith in isolation, but only if we are one. And the nature of the oneness that we, the followers of Christ, should be aspiring to is that of the oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oneness of togetherness not the oneness of loneliness.

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