It’s probably crazy to try to say something meaningful about the Trinity in 600 words or less, but that’s all you get in this column. I risk it because this is the big one; everything else we believe depends on it. Yet to most people the Trinity seems murky, mysterious, and mostly irrelevant to our everyday lives.
To begin with, get rid of all those sometimes silly examples of the Trinity you may have learned over the years—the diagrams and the analogies. They make us think the Trinity is a problem to be solved rather than a reality in which we are called to live.
Instead, let’s start here: At the center of all reality, at the heart of the universe, there exists an eternal divine community of perfect love. The Bible calls this community the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s a certain logic to trinitarian belief. The Bible says that God is love, but the only way God can be love is for God to be a community of divine persons. Love does not exist in a monad. God is that eternal community of love.
The nature of true love is not binding or limiting, but expansive. Love flows outward, it grows. Therefore, the creation of the universe is an overflow of love from that original divine community as it expands in love and delight to include beloved creatures.
Some of the early church fathers used a Greek word to describe the life and love of the Holy Trinity: perichoresis. It includes the ideas of complete interpenetration, a kind of perfect, loving, indwelling. Or it can mean a dance; the divine dance of perfect love for all eternity.
Having recognized this mystery in the Bible, the early church began to sort out some possible misunderstandings—what the Trinity is not. The Holy Trinity is not a chain of command; it’s not an amorphous energy field of love; it’s not three gods who get along really well like the Three Musketeers.
Each person of the Trinity is irreducibly and uniquely itself, distinct in three persons, and yet is perfectly united in being, love, and purpose. It is a true community of perfect love.
But here’s the truly amazing thing. We are invited to join in the dance! It’s not just that God is trinitarian—our salvation is trinitarian too.
In John’s gospel, before his death Jesus prays to his Father, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).
Jesus makes the astounding claim that the triune God’s ultimate purpose is to include us in this eternal trinitarian dance of love. The Father sends the Son to be one of us. By faith and baptism we are included in his relationship with the Father. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father!” We are in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, and we come to share in this eternal community of love through the Holy Spirit.
Once you begin to grasp how central the Holy Trinity is to our faith, it shows up everywhere. It’s the beating heart of worship. It’s the dynamism of the sacraments. It’s the backbone of our creeds, and it’s the assurance of our prayers. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the original and eternal community of love out of which we were created, and this One Holy Trinity is our true and eternal home.
- Is the Holy Trinity a meaningful and important element of your faith? Why or why not?
- How is the image of the trinitarian dance helpful or unhelpful to you?
- Salvation is described here as being enfolded into the life and communion of the Trinity. Discuss how that can be experienced in our lives today.
- How is the Trinity the “heartbeat of worship,” the “dynamism of the sacraments,” and the “assurance of prayer”?
About the Author
Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.