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The Triune God

No Headaches, Only Hallelujahs

This series offers an overview of the chief teachings of the Christian church.

The words roll off our lips easily enough: triune, trinity. We’ve been taught from early on that God is “triune.” But that easy familiarity with this description of God belies the fact that anyone who tries to reason it through is bound for a headache. There is, in this context, a logical impossibility in saying one can be three. It is understandable why practicing Jews and Muslims reject the Christian position when the subject of the “One True God” comes up.

Our understanding of God as “one God, yet three Persons” is a mystery—a truth that humans cannot arrive at by their own powers of observation and reasoning. A mystery, by definition, must be revealed to humans. But the source of this revelation is certain and sure, for Holy Scripture teaches the Trinity.

The Bible teaches that there is but one God. A famous passage from Deuteronomy asserts the singularity of God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Yet, the Bible also reveals that within this divine being there are three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each Person exists separately from the others, yet has all the attributes of God: eternal, all-powerful, ever-present. Perhaps most importantly of all, what John says of God can be said of each of them: “God is love.” (I John 4:16)

And what is true of our duty to the one true God is due each of these Persons as well: faith, worship, obedience.

It is worth remembering that the words trinity and triune are not found in the Bible; they are words coined by Bible teachers to express what is clearly taught in scripture. The Old Testament is, perhaps, less explicit about the existence of God as three separate-but-equal Persons, but the Trinity is always there, behind the story of God’s dealings with mankind. Just look, for instance, at the first verses of Genesis. In verse 1, we hear “In the beginning God (i.e., the Father) created . . .”; in verse 2, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In verse 3, God begins His creative activity through the Word: “Then God said, ‘let there be light.’” John’s Gospel makes it clear that the Word spoken of in Chapter 1 is the Son: “The Word was with God . . . and without Him [the Word] nothing was made that was made.” Then, after much of the world has been called into existence, we come to verse 26, where God says “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” With whom could God be possibly discussing His next move, if not among the Persons of the Godhead?

The triune aspect of God is explicit in the New Testament, for instance with Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), in His instruction to the disciples on the way to Gethsemane (especially, for instance, John 15:16), and, of course, in His Great Commission that we should baptize “in the name [note the singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

The point is that since the Bible’s testimony is clear on this matter, we should not give ourselves headaches trying to reason out how three can be one, or one be three. Leave the headaches to the devil, who has used man’s impatience with this teaching to generate many heresies and to lead many souls astray. He gets the headache because he can never overcome that most important attribute of God: Love x 3.

For that is the great truth of our God and Savior: all three Persons are working for and dedicated to our salvation, just as Paul assured the Corinthian Christians at the end of his second letter: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14).

With such a God blessing our souls, what more is there to say than Hallelujah (“Praise the Lord”)?

“One God, yet three Persons” is a mystery—a truth that humans cannot arrive at by their own powers

Peter Reim is a former pastor who now teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He makes his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.