The Doctrine of the Trinity

Reading: Ephesians 4.1-16
Galahs seem to like the bitumen. Perhaps they are attracted to its warmth. Certainly it puts them in danger. A few years ago when we were travelling south along the Newell Highway we saw plenty of evidence of galahs that hadn't made it in the face of an oncoming car or truck. Relatives who at that time were living near that southern highway advised us, "Toot your horn." But the galahs didn't seem very impressed with ours and their take-off was still too close for comfort. We also noticed some other birds eating peacefully beside the road in safety. At the sound of an oncoming car, they would take off in reasonable time, but right across the path of the vehicle. Then we saw sheep grazing safely behind a fence. They ran off at the sound of the horn.

Now we are told that belief is very personal and private - and that everyone has to believe something! But be careful what you believe! Make sure that your belief is related to the truth - that surely is the lesson from the fatal complacency of the galahs and the needless fear of the sheep!

And in the matter of our relation to God, the real question is about the truth - how has God revealed himself? what has God shown us about himself, about the meaning of life, about the possibility of a renewed life? There are some beliefs that may seem good, feel good, be very sincerely and devoutly hold, appear to contribute to some point of human well-being - and yet be false, dangerous and deceptive in the long term.

Today is the Sunday after Pentecost and many Christian Churches are celebrating Trinity Sunday. What do we believe about God?

That are those sect groups that insist that the word "trinity" isn't found in the Bible, that it's not rational and that it just doesn't add up! It is, of course true that the word "trinity" isn't in the Bible. But we confidently insist that the doctrine comes from the Scriptures themselves. It is not a matter of what suits our way of thinking or our way of living. How has God revealed himself? How has he made himself known to us? God is bigger than any of us and, even in eternity, we will not fully understand everything about him. The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is an attempt to set down what we do know about him, what he has made clear to us in his Word - and we are just "stupid galahs" if we don't listen!

There is One God

Throughout the Bible there is a clear affirmation that there is one God. In the words from Deuteronomy known as the Shema - still used in Jewish worship - "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord" (6.4a, RSV).

The surrounding nations worshipped many gods - indeed, many Israelites were at times unfaithful to the Lord by going after other gods - but these were not really gods at all.

Listen to these graphic words from Isaiah,

The New Testament also teaches that there is only one God. Listen to James in his letter, "Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe - and tremble with fear" (2.19). As we will notice later, faith is much more than accepting something in our minds as true - a galah could believe that and still get run over! Yet it is important that we believe the truth - those other birds in fact flew into danger! To be true to the Bible we must affirm that there is one God. We cannot say that there are lesser "gods" - what is less than God is not god at all!

God in Three Persons

Without denying the oneness of God, the New Testament speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each fully divine.

Jesus himself claimed equality with God in a manner which, if not true, would represent gross blasphemy. He said, "Before Abraham was born, 'I Am'." (Jn.8.58) - words that reminded his hearers of God's call to Moses in Exodus 3.14. "Then they picked up stones to throw at him…" (v.59).

The apostles clearly understood this and in many places took Old Testament passages referring to Jehovah God and used them to speak about Jesus. For example, in Isaiah 45.23 we read, "By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked; Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear." And in Philippians 2.9-11 Paul writes that God has exalted Jesus and given the name that is above every name "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." And his words "every knee shall bow" and "every tongue confess" are in fact taken over word for word from the Greek translation of the Old Testament!

The Holy Spirit is also described as a Divine Person. In the story about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, for example, a lie to the Holy Spirit in v.3 is called a lie to God in v.4.

To be true to the way God has made himself known to us, we must affirm Father, Son and Holy Spirit equally as God.

One-in-Three and Three-in-One

But we have this revelation of the three Persons within the unity of the One God.

The Great Commission of Jesus (Mt.28.18-20) calls on us to baptise in the name (singular) "of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In the apostolic blessing of 2 Corinthians 13.14, different aspects of God's work are gathered in the one blessing - "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."

Many passages in the New Testament speak about this threefoldness in the work of the one God. For example, in today's reading, Paul writes, "There is one body and one Spirit… There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all mankind, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all" (vv.4-6).

And So…

Do those door-knockers ever come to your place suggesting that you're a stupid galah for believing in the Trinity - anyone can see that the mathematics doesn't figure!?

God is bigger than my understanding of him. How has he revealed himself? What does his Word say about him?

Sitting on the warm bitumen may be comforting to my intellect and ego, but it is dangerous to fly in the face of the truth!

We are in fact stupid galahs if we don't put our trust in the God who has revealed himself to us. That, after all, is what faith is all about.

Klaas Runia has written,

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 6 June 1993
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.

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