Uniquely among the great monotheistic faiths Christianity proclaims a Holy or Divine Trinity in the one God. For theologians and ordinary believers alike this has proved to be a difficult and even divisive teaching. If God is clearly distinguished into the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit how does he remain at the same time one whole and undivided Being? Some simply cannot believe it, others try to accept it as a mystery beyond human understanding, and even among those who have understood it very few see it as a powerful message with which to win new converts. Yet in presenting himself to us as both one and three, God is surely trying to tell us something very important about how he works with us.
Many modern believers start from the first principle that God is love [1 John 4:16 NRSV]. A loving God will never stand apart and aloof from his people. God longs to draw close to his people and to enjoy a fruitful relationship with every single one of them. One of the best loved verses in the New Testament reminds us that, God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life [John 3:16 NRSV]. This longing on the part of God for loving relationships with ordinary mortals is the key to understanding the traditional Christian teaching concerning the Trinity.
For ordinary mortals such a loving relationship with God is full of difficulty and even danger. Finite human beings can scarcely comprehend what infinite love is, let alone draw close to it. The power of God’s love is so great that it is frequently described in the Scriptures as a ‘consuming fire’. The intensity of its flame and heat is greater even than that of the sun or indeed of many suns combined together. Small wonder that God told Moses, You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live [Exodus 33:20 NRSV]. If any meaningful relationship is to exist between the Divine Father and his people then his infinite love needs to be tempered and in some way accommodated to human states.
But how can God temper and accommodate his love in order that we might safely receive it? The biblical answer is to be found in the coming among us of the Son of God. Concerning the Son, Jehovah God said, For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst [Zechariah 2:10 NRSV]. Elsewhere it is Jehovah who says, I am the Lord and there is no Saviour besides me [Isaiah 43:11 NRSV] – The gospel also records, Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us [Matthew 1:23 NRSV]. These, and other similar verses perhaps suggest that the Son is not a separate God, nor even a separate person from the Father, but is simply the human form which Jehovah took upon himself in order that he might dwell among his people in the natural world.
To view the Deity in this way is to see the life or soul of Jesus Christ as nothing other than the infinite love which is Jehovah God. This means that the Son of God is not another person but rather the humanity with which Jehovah wrapped himself in order that he could come safely among the human race. This humanity, born of Mary, was lacking in nothing. Jesus was real flesh and blood and experienced the full range of human feelings and thoughts. He had all the bodily cravings, felt pain, endured temptations, and suffered a grim death. When he rose again on Easter Day he did so victorious over all human evils and temptations. Now his human body was fully and permanently transfigured with the glory of the Divine. In the Risen Lord Jesus Christ the Father is the soul or Divine life, whilst the Son is the human form in which he exists and makes himself known to us.
Although we commonly speak of body and soul as being the elements that make up a human being, there is also a third essential without which there is little meaningful existence. Life is about being useful, forming relationships and having a good influence on other people. Such activity, whether of the mind or the body, is an integral part of the person we are. Each person’s activity and sphere of influence is unique to them and it can often be very powerful. The Lord also has his sphere of influence and he is continually touching people’s lives for good. This divine activity is the third essential of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit.
A very good illustration of what the Holy Spirit is and does is to be found in one of the Lord’s post resurrection appearances to the disciples. He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22 NRSV]. The Holy Spirit is here shown to be the Lord breathing his resurrection life into others so that they might live in a new and heavenly way. Ever since then the Holy Spirit has been a powerful stream of life proceeding from the Divine Human God to aid and energise all who would live out his gospel in their daily lives.
No human being can live without three distinct aspects to their life. The soul is the very spark of life in them, the body is the outward form enabling them to live as part of the human race on earth, and activity is the expression and use of their life. Although we each have these three clear essentials to our life, still we remain distinctly one person. In this respect we are made in the very likeness of God. Emanuel Swedenborg expresses it well in the following words, Those three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are the three essentials of a single God, which make one as soul, body and activity do with a person [True Christian Religion 166].
There is and can be only one God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Divine Human who, because of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within him can love all people, be as close to them as their own body, and be a powerful influence for good in their lives. The great joy of the Trinity is that it means each one of us is able to have a full personal relationship with our God and Saviour.
For in (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. [Colossians 2:9 NRSV]