An Analogy of the Trinity

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Devotional Word for Thursday, June 11, 2020

How can God be three persons, and yet be only one God? That’s the issue with the doctrine of the Trinity. It seems as though we have two incompatible terms: “three” and “one.” We know that three does not equal one and vice versa. So, how can this be true, or, at least be true in any understandable way? That’s what we want to consider today.

As we said yesterday, one can find evidence for the Trinity throughout the Bible, even though the term “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. We looked at Genesis 1:26 as providing one piece of evidence. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. This statement is puzzling for folk in two directions: 1) why the use of the first-person plural pronouns; and 2) exactly how is it that humans are made in God’s image? Do we look like God? Could it be some innate characteristics we have: creativity, power of reason, emotional capacity, or desire to rule? 

Each of those may be part of how we reflect God’s image, but I think there’s another way to understand this. It’s because we, like God, are three-in-one creatures. What do I mean? Simply this, that we each have a spirit, a soul, and a body. Three discrete, distinguishable elements, but elements that cannot be separated from one another. 

You may ask, “Now, John, why do you think humans are tripartite?” Let me respond with two verses. The first is Hebrews 4:12 where the power of the Word of God to penetrate into our being is described this way: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Three human elements are listed: soul, spirit, and joints/marrow, that is, body. What’s unusual about this is the distinguishing of soul and spirit. Usually we lump those two together. Not in this text, though.

There’s another text that provides similar insights and distinctions for us. It is 1 Thess. 5:23, which says, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, the entirety of the human person is in view, and the distinction made is a three-part, or tripartite, distinction: body, soul, and spirit. 

From these verses, I conclude that when I think of the whole human person, I need to think in terms of body, soul, and spirit. They are distinct, but not separable. Let me give you my standard example for how they function distinctly, but not separtely, in any given point in time.

Here’s the scenario: it’s 4am on a Sunday morning. I’m in the shower. Aha, so that’s what my body is doing, rub-a-dub dubbing getting cleaned up for church. Yes, but what about my soul? Well, my soul (which is comprised of my mind, my emotions, and my will) is remembering the night my dad died. The memory causes me to have sad emotions. My dad died from cancer just before he turned 66. I was one of three people with him when he died. Sad memories, indeed. All the time my soul is reflecting on dad’s death, my body (that is, my bones, blood, and tissue) continues rub-a-dub dubbing. Distinct, but not separate.

As my soul remembers my father’s death and is sad, my spirit is rejoicing, giving thanks to God that my dad got cancer and died. My dad had died several months earlier. He had been diagnosed with cancer in the lining of his lungs in early October and told by the doctors he’d be dead by Christmas. He died Thanksgiving night, not quite two months after receiving that diagnosis. My dad knew he was going to die soon, and that he would suffer and get sicker and sicker until he died. That’s a challenging position to be in. 

My father had a good number of broken relationships or strained relationships and other fruits that one accumulates going through life. He always said he wanted to die by just falling over from a heart attack, he didn’t want to linger around and suffer. God did just the opposite of what my dad wanted. And for that reason, my spirit on that morning in the shower was rejoicing before the Lord. I had wondered why dad died the way he did. That morning in the shower God revealed to me in my spirit [one’s spirit is comprised of one’s conscience, intuition, and faculty for worship], that it was His grace that caused my dad to get cancer and die as he did.

What God showed me was the suffering and prospect of dying sooner rather than later forced my dad to deal with his own mortality and his own sin. Dad didn’t become bitter about what was happening to him. Instead, he began to call people and say he was sorry. He began to tell people how much he appreciated them. In other words, he tried to set right all that he’d done wrong or left undone. I had not considered that aspect of dad’s dying days until that Sunday morning in the shower some four months after his death. My spirit intuited what God had done and my faculty for worship kicked into gear with rejoicing as my conscience concurred that God had done exactly what needed to be done.

At the same time my spirit was rejoicing, my body continued rub-a-dub dubbing and my soul was still saddened as I remembered my dad was dead. There I was, one complete human person, but with three distinct actions taking place at the same time. In that light, three-in-one doesn’t sound so far-fetched, does it? Well, we’re made in the image of God, the One who said Let US make man in OUR image according to OUR likeness. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity. Discernible, distinct, but never separated, acting in perfect coordination, even when tasks are different.

Tomorrow, we won’t examine God in a shower, but we will see how the Trinity works out in real life. For today, I hope we can see a little more clearly how the Trinity is not as difficult or as unlikely as some would suggest. We want to know God more fully. We want to know Him as He is. Therefore, we need to know Him as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible, that is, as the Triune God who is from everlasting to everlasting.

Let us pray: O God, thank You for all that You have shown us of Yourself. Thank You for the clarity with which You’ve shown us how to live. May You keep us walking in the light, demonstrating that we are children of the Light, turning aside from all darkness. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.