The Shield of the Trinity

In this series on the Trinity I have tried to make the biblical teaching that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit as accessible as possible. The doctrine of the Trinity is simple enough – there is one God, and this God is Father, Son, and Spirit. But models and explanations of how the one God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit require entering into some deep waters. This is what we should expect when trying to catch a glimpse of the inner life of God who is beyond comparison (Isaiah 40:18).

But it is worthwhile to contemplate that which exceeds comprehension. Deep water is also beautiful water, and the scuba diver enjoys exploring it not because she thinks she will master the deep, but rather because experiencing the deep makes her appreciate its grandeur all the more. So you might say that over the last few weeks we have been in theological waters that are way over our head – and as a result we are even more awestruck by the grandeur of God.

This is especially so when we meditate on the biblical portrait of the Son and the Spirit proceeding from the Father. The Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit. The timeless generation of the Son and spiration (to use the technical expression) of the Spirit are very different from the way we normally think of “begetting” and “breathing.”

However, there is something profoundly beautiful about this truth. It means, as Michael Reeves puts it, that “God is an inherently outgoing, life-giving God” (Delighting in the Trinity, p. 24). If the Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit, then that means that giving life and sharing love are not radical departures from the way the Father normally exists. Rather, it means that it is His very essence to give, to love. Later, commenting on the passages that speak of the Son “radiating” from the Father (such as Hebrews 1:3), Reeves says:

And so, as he gloriously goes, “shines” and “radiates” out from his Father, he shows us that the Father is essentially outgoing. It is unsurprising that such a God should create…The God who loves to have an outgoing Image of himself in his Son loves to have many images of his love (who are themselves outgoing). The Father loved him before the creation of the world, and the reason the Father sends him is so that the Father’s love for him might be in others also. That is why the Son goes out from the Father, in both creation and salvation: that the love of the Father for the Son might be shared (43-44).

As human beings, our ability to understand this sort of eternal, outgoing love is radically limited. It would be like an animal trying to comprehend the intimacy of the marriage of a man and woman. There are rudimentary points of similarity, of course. Animals have an instinctive need to breed, and animals have basic social structures. But no animal could begin to comprehend the level of intimacy that exists between husbands and wives in the “one flesh” relationship of marriage. Kristi and I have been married only a short while, and yet there are millions of ways we are becoming one person, sharing the same expressions, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions.

In the bond of marriage in which two become one we can see – in faint outline – how the Father, Son, and Spirit exist in the perfect unity of love. There are obviously all sorts of ways the analogy between the husband-wife  relationship and Father-Son-Spirit relationship break down. And since the gap between Creator and creation is much greater than that between humans and animals, it is far more difficult for us to comprehend the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit than it is for animals to understand Mr. and Mrs. Scott! But to the extent that we can experience the way in which two become one in marriage, and to the extent that we can imagine that the intimacy of the triune God is eternally and infinitely greater, it should make our hearts soar to meditate on what it means to say that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The reason that reflecting on God’s eternal love as Father-Son-Spirit should capture our heart is because Scripture teaches that this God who is by nature outgoing, overflowing love, has created us to share in this love. Think of this passage:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:22-23).

Or this one:

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-6).

Or this one:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:4-7).

All of these passages (and many besides) speak of God offering us love, glory, and sonship that emanate from the eternal love, glory, and sonship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Contemplating the Trinity enhances our awareness of the infinite love we are invited to share. And this in turn moves us to praise and worship. The last verse of Charle Wesley’s Come, Thou Almighty King has been changed in many hymnals, but the original form is a fitting way to conclude this post-

To thee, great One in Three,
eternal praises be,
hence, evermore.
Thy sovereign majesty
may we in glory see,
and to eternity love and adore!