Reflections on Trinity

There is something in us that longs for union.

At the most basic level, this is found not only in humans but in a vast number of species as the union, however brief, of one to another is the foundation for the most fundamental of life functions: reproduction.

If we look beyond reproduction, we see that the biology of all living things and even their component particles are based on a sort of “relationship”, an attraction, an interaction, an interdependence, without which higher life forms would not be possible.

This drive toward union suggests that the very building blocks of life are love in its simplest forms.

Thus, it is not surprising that we long for union. It is hardwired into our very cells.

But, for the believer, all of this is but a hinting at a much greater truth.

We believe that we were created to share in the divine life of God which is a life of complete and perfect union in love. We are not only physically driven to unite but we are spiritually designed for a union far beyond the biological.

Still, as much as we humans long for union, we also long to remain ourselves. Whether uniting in physical love or in a transcendent spiritual love, the very act of loving implies a separateness of sorts.

If there were no separateness, how could we call it union? A singularity that is one with itself remains a singularity. Love requires an “other”.

And thus we have a portrait of the Holy Trinity: complete and perfect union that retains the “otherness” necessary for love.

As simple as this concept sounds, it is very hard for us humans to comprehend. How can there be one God (perfect union) while there is still the otherness of three Persons within that very Being?

We do not understand, of course, because we do not understand perfect love. Our human attempts at love and union are, at best, mere attempts to imitate the Being in whose image we were created. At worst… well we know how those attempts turn out. We are a broken species.

There are many in our world who genuinely seek God and yet cannot accept the notion of Trinity.

In Islam, for example, it is taught that there is only one God and that Christians are worshipping three. To worship Jesus, whom they consider a human prophet, is an act of idolatry because one can only worship the one true God, not a human. This idolatrous act leads straight to hell.

Others, among them Jehovah Witnesses, believe in the goodness of Jesus but deny the Trinity. How can God have a son?

This is a valid question. If God has always existed and is pure Spirit, what sense does it make to say that He has a son? A son, by all human definitions, is the result of a reproductive act and necessarily implies that the son exists after his father, not simultaneously throughout time.

The problem with this line of reasoning, in my mind, is that it reasons backwards, i.e. it begins with human life and uses it as a basis for describing God. More correctly, we should begin with God as the model for understanding ourselves. We are made in God’s image, not the other way around.

Put another way, if it is true that Jesus is risen from the dead, we ought not dispute anything that he taught. He spoke of God as his Father and explained at the Last Supper that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father and that he and the Father are one.

Why did Jesus use this particular terminology, one that seems at odds with our understanding of parent-child relationships? I do not know, of course, but I do know that there are no human words that could make it any more understandable to us. Words inevitably fail. Yet I know this descriptor can be painful for those who have a negative association with the word, “father”.

Similarly, sometimes I find myself squirming mentally when I hear Jesus described as God’s “only begotten Son”. The term “begotten” or to “beget” is defined in our language as bringing a child into the world through an act of reproduction. This doesn’t sound right to my ears. By all human understanding, God doesn’t do that sort of thing.

But, in this dissonance, I find a clue emerging from my own notion of our backward reasoning. We reproduce. God “produces”, or better, “creates”. Our participation in the en-fleshing of soul (person) into body is a sort of copying, on a simple biological level, of God’s creative action.

Through human sexuality, God permits us, through the loving union of our bodies, to be co-creators with Him, our physical act a participation in His en-fleshing of a soul into a new body. A new person is created (ideally) through the synergy of human love and Divine love.

Sadly, we have cheapened this process through the corruption of our sexuality. But our sin does not stop God’s glorious design. Indeed, He responds to it with more love.

In the case of Jesus, eternal Word of the Father, there is also an “en-fleshing” of soul into human body. This act is different from what occurs in our human “begetting” in that it is the result of perfect love, a perfect love within God and a perfect love of God for His people. While the human body of the Virgin Mother receives the Son, no sexual act is needed. This is not a “reproduction”. The Son does not come into existence by the mixing of human DNA. He already is.

The Father’s act of “en-fleshing” His Son is the prototypical act of “begetting”. Our begetting of offspring is a but participation or imitation of that prototype. Jesus was truly and completely “begotten” as the result of divine Love. I was merely begotten by the love of my parents. I was begotten by a single act in time. Jesus was begotten in eternity through an eternal act of love.

I suspect we do not have a different word for these two types of begetting because the divine begetting is completely unique (“the only begotten Son”) and we typically do not have words that have only one usage, especially when we do not really understand the meaning we are trying to convey.

I’m afraid I’ve wandered off into theological territory about which I have no right to speculate. What do I know?

All I can say is that I believe: I believe in God the Father of all, in Jesus, His only begotten Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God, eternally loving, endlessly merciful.

May He have mercy on me, a sinner.

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