2 Corinthians 13:11-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 4, 2023

If God is as infinitely great as we say He is, why are we surprised that He often baffles our limited minds?  Wouldn’t we expect not to understand Him fully even if we believe we understand Him truly, thanks to His revealing Himself in Christ and scripture?  Shouldn’t we anticipate that much about Him would remain a mystery?

A core doctrine of classic Christian orthodoxy is that of the Trinity: that God is one God in three Persons.  To believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is, as Frederick Buechner put it, to believe that the mystery beyond us (the Father), the mystery among us (the Son) and the mystery within us (the Spirit) are all the same mystery.

You won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but students of the Bible developed the difficult doctrine to do justice to all the Bible says about God.

The Old Testament clearly and constantly declares that God is one.  This signifies two things: first, that God is one of a kind, so supreme as to be unlike every other being; and second, that God is in Himself one whole, complete being, and one so pure as to be perfectly cohesive, congruent and consistent.

No less than the Old Testament, the New Testament repudiates polytheism (that is, the belief there are many gods) and declares God to be the one and only God.  Yet, it unveils an aspect of God’s being that the Old Testament only suggests: that this singular God is not a single Person.  There is individuality and distinct personalities within this one God.  Though the Supreme Being is not one among many but unique in His essential nature, He exists as a threesome: Father, Son and Spirit.

We see this as Jesus both claimed to be God and prayed to God.

We see this at Jesus’ baptism…when He chose to be immersed in the Jordan River, the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father declared from heaven, “This is my Son!”

We see this in Jesus’ charge to his disciples to make Him some more disciples and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We see this in the blessing the Apostle Paul spoke over the Corinthians, and by extension over us, praying that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

We see this in the Apostle Peter’s description of salvation as the joint accomplishment of the Father who destines the redeemed, the Son who cleanses them with His blood and the Spirit who sanctifies them.

The early Christians were driven by many biblical passages to believe in a Triune God, but took great pains to avoid even the insinuation of Tri-theism.  By councils, much hard thought and many prayers, they hammered out the conviction that there are not three distinct Gods but there are three distinct Persons in the one God.  In other words, the Supreme Being consists of three co-equal, co-eternal Persons.

The church insisted that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each fully divine and fully personal – and thus neither three parts of a being (like leaves, trunk and roots are three parts of a tree) nor three ways of being (like ice, liquid and steam are three ways of water being water).  No, the Father, Son and Spirit are three distinct Persons, each of whom is one with the other two, and all of whom together are a single unity that can only be grasped in terms deeper than mathematics or geometry.

To appreciate the challenge of grasping the mystery of the Trinity, imagine we’re flat, two-dimensional beings who live on a flat plane of just two dimensions, knowing width and height, but not depth.  Suppose a sphere, a three-dimensional object, passes through our two-dimensional reality.  We would not experience the sphere in its full reality, but as a series of circles increasing and then decreasing in size.  What would we make of the nature of the sphere?  Would we think it a multiplicity of discrete circles appearing to be a unity, or a unity appearing to be a multiplicity of circles? Either way, we’d leave something poorly explained and we’d be driven to think there might be more truth in describing the sphere in terms of a paradox than in a nice, neatly tied-up logical package.  Some physicists, by the way, think like that when they describe light as both a continuous wave and a succession of discrete elemental particles.

Since we lack one or more of all the dimensions to God’s reality, is it not reasonable to suppose that the best understanding of God involves a paradox?  And might not our difficulty in determining all it means to say God is Three in One is a reflection of our limitation rather than the impossibility of the formulation?

The doctrine of the Trinity ultimately points to a mystery, but a meaningful one that makes a practical impact upon how we live.

First, believing in the Trinity keeps us aware that God is in His very nature love, essentially relational and eternally loving, independent of there being any of us to love.  After all, from before the foundations of the world, from before there were any of us, each Person of the Trinity has loved the other Two, and always will.

If loving is that central to God’s being true to who He is, then loving is that central to our being true to who we are, since we were made in God’s image.  We are most ourselves when we love God and people.

Moreover, since God is love, we can rest assured that He values having a loving, interactive personal relationship with us more than having our service or anything else, and we can rest assured that we’re meant to be all about loving Him back and others in His name.  We love God by regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible meditation, corporate worship, and deeds of justice and compassion.  Furthermore, since doing those things deepens our friendship with God, we do well to faithfully keep our daily one-on-one appointment with God, our weekly appointment with the family of God, and our different regular appointments for serving the world.  Our friendship with God is the supreme good and it stimulates us to do all the good we can.

Second, our remembering the Trinity keeps us aware that the most important thing is, not to figure God out, but to live out His love for others.  What matters more than fully comprehending Him is freely passing on His love and helping others strike up their own friendship with Him.

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