The Triune Nature of the Godhead
IntroductionJust like the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God, the trinity can be difficult to comprehend in its fullness, because we have not directly experienced such infinite characteristics. However, just as the universe stands as a monument to God's power (Romans 1:18-20), so does the salvation of mankind attest to the unity of the Godhead, as we will see in this article.
Admittedly, trying to fully understand any characteristic of God can be intimidating, because of the immenseness of His holiness, and therefore, His distinctness from us (I Peter 1:13-16). Consequently, such a task should be approached humbly and meekly. However, this does not necessarily imply that it is impossible for us to learn something about God's nature, including the trinity. God did create man with a nature that was patterned after His own (Genesis 1:26-28), assuring us that we have been divinely granted a capability to both understand and adopt characteristics of the divine nature (II Peter 1:2-4). That being said, the infinite power of God (His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence) are not part of the nature made available to us (Hebrews 2:5-9). Instead, we are to share in His moral characteristics: moral excellence (virtue), self-control, knowledge, perseverance, piety, brotherly kindness, love, justice, righteousness, etc. (II Peter 1:2-11; Galatians 5:22-25). In addition to this list, the unity of the Godhead must be included, which is the center of the mysterious triune nature.
Before we examine this unity, let us back up and address the mystery of the trinity, which we will do by briefly laying a foundation for the deity of the three members of the Godhead. A deeper study of the deity of these three members is reserved for another article.
The Mystery of the TrinityThe dilemma of the trinity is represented by two apparently contradictory sets of Scripture. The first set, which we will examine, emphasizes that God is "one". More notable passages in this category include:
"You are My witnesses," says the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior." (Isaiah 43:10-11)The following Old Testament passage clearly states that God is "one":
"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.' " (Isaiah 44:6)
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)As a side point, this passage teaches a complete, single minded devotion and commitment to God, based on the "oneness" of God. This fact attests to the supremacy of God; therefore, He is worthy of such devotion. In fact, such power demonstrated in God's "oneness" demands the commitment of our entire being. Interestingly, Jesus quoted this Old Testament passage in Mark 12:28-34, labeling this imperative as the "greatest commandment".
After examining these passages, we may realize that the "oneness" of God is clearly taught in Scripture. However, we must be careful that we do not read into the passage what we want to see. Do these passages teach that God is one in number of beings, or in some other quality? As you think on this question, please consider the following passage, which uses the same Hebrew word for "one", 'echad:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)When a man marries a woman, do they become one physical being? No, they become one unit. As epitomized by the sexual relationship, a married man and woman share a common relationship with each other, exclusive to all others, who would be partner. They are married, intended by God not to be separated (Matthew 19:4-6); and yet, they are still two individual beings! Similar to Genesis 2:24, could Deuteronomy 6:4 be teaching that God is one in harmony and unity, rather than being one in number? If such a unity did exist in the Godhead, would it not be perfect? Would it not therefore hide and exempt the other members of the Godhead from statements concerning the absence of rival gods (Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6)? As you continue to ponder this point, please include the following passages, which assert the deity of the other two members of the Godhead, who are Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. ... For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-18)Both of these passages point out the divinity of both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. How can we reconcile the fact that there is "one God", but there are three divine beings? How can there be "one" and "three" at the same time?
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:3-4)
Perfect Unity of Three Perfect BeingsThe unity of the three divine beings is infinite. Nothing divides them. They have the exact same mindset, judgment, and disposition. However, this does not make them the same being. They may act in perfect harmony as a single being, but yet they are three distinct beings (John 5:17-18; 8:58; 14:15-17, 25-26). As stated earlier, the scheme of redemption stands as a monument to the immenseness of their unity. Just for a moment, try to imagine if Jesus decided that He was tired of playing "the Son", and instead wanted the Father to submit to Him?
So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." ... who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:5-8)Without Christ submitting to the Father, there would have been no cross - no salvation.
Can you think of one passage in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is directly worshiped? Like Jesus (John 13:3-15), the Holy Spirit's role is one of service. He did not focus attention on Himself. Instead, He quietly executed God's will upon the earth (Genesis 1:2). He inspired the New Testament apostles and prophets, not speaking on His own authority, but instead communicating the words of Jesus, which Jesus received from the Father (John 16:13-15; II Peter 1:21). Where would we be, if the Holy Spirit got tired of taking orders, and got tired of dealing with humanity? There would be no Bible, no preservation of God's holy words, no gospel, no knowledge of salvation - no salvation! Untold blessings would be lost, making it impossible for us to ever enjoy a gracious relationship with the Godhead.
As humans grow in wisdom, wealth, ability, and power, it becomes increasingly difficult to be patient with those who have less - at least, there is an increasing temptation. Given this fact, try to imagine the wealthiest of men giving up all their wealth for the benefit of others. Now some men may give up some wealth, but they will never give up all of it. However, try to imagine possessing all the wealth, intellect, and power in the universe - and giving it up for the sake of ants! Now try to imagine becoming one of the ants, so they could enjoy a transcendent relationship with you, and then try to imagine that they did not care about you or your sacrifice!! In fact, they would rather kill you than deal with your merciful invitation. Now, try to imagine the Holy Father, white-knuckling His heavenly throne, as His innocent, righteous Son was nailed to the cross by a wicked and hateful mob, despised by the creatures He came to save. Imagine watching your only Son being murdered, knowing that just an instant's thought would silence it all and restore justice, but instead hesitating, just because your Son utters the dying words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".
Obviously, the mind of God is not like man. Surely, God would not think like the above picture, which displays how man might think. In reality, this author can only try to imagine the amount of submission to the triune's will that was required by all three members of the Godhead. Although I cannot comprehend such a mind, I do know this: Their unity, as evidenced in the cross, is obviously immense. In the cross, we see infinite submission to the flawless, selfless, collective will of the triune. Although it may seem difficult to grasp such commitment to unity, we must try, because Jesus prayed for us to achieve this same level of unity:
"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (John 17:20-23)Does this verse mean we have to meld our bodies, minds, and spirits into a single, monstrous entity? Notice that this is not some strange, heavenly experience, because this unity is intended to testify "that the world may know that You have sent Me". Therefore, it must be something that occurs on this earth, while the world still stands (II Peter 3:10). How are we to do this?
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Corinthians 1:10-13)How are we to eliminate divisions and contentions, enjoying the same unity that is enjoyed by the Godhead? We must become "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment". Can we pick any mindset that is pleasing to us? No, we must choose the mind that was revealed by Jesus, the divine nature (John 14:6-9; II Peter 1:2-4):
Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:2-8)However, such unity takes hard work, and it takes time. Much humility, selflessness, patience, mercy, and love will be required for those who come to enjoy the unity of this eternal mindset (Ephesians 4:1-3). Also, it will take much study and self-examination, because our minds are nothing like God's mind, at first (Isaiah 55:8-9). To take up the mind of Christ will require significant study of the Bible, because there is no other way to learn about Jesus, or God's mind than through the pages of His revealed Word (I Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 3:3-5; II Timothy 3:16-17; 2:15).
ConclusionLike God's omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, the trinity of the Godhead can be difficult to appreciate, because we are so far removed from the scope of such power, perfection, and holiness. However, unlike these other powerful characteristics, we are expected to not only come to an understanding of the trinity, but we are to partake in its unity. Although distinct in person, these three distinct beings have a perfect, single mind with which, each selflessly serves the others and the creation. Although they have distinct roles, they are one in purpose, desire, effort, and judgment. This is the nature of the trinity.
Like the trinity, we must also lay aside all selfish ambitions and focus our energies into a common judgment and mind. The only way to accomplish this is to fully follow the mind of Christ - God's revealed will, the Bible. In this way, we act a single, coherent spiritual body, fulfilling the will of that triune mind (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:11-16), all the while, growing toward a more intimate understanding of the trinity.