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9. One God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. The essential nature and character of God.

The Holy Trinity

God is mysterious as well as majestic. We do not understand all about Him, which is not surprising since He is King of all other kings and Lord of all other lords. Paul uses three important words in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, describing how God works in a variety of ways through the church: “Spirit” (Greek - pneuma) verse 4; “Lord” (Greek - kyrios) verse 5; and “God” (Greek - theos) verse 6. Verse 3 links the first two together, as Paul writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit”. The word ‘Trinity’ is not written anywhere in the Bible. However, the thought or the idea is assumed throughout. The English word ‘trinity’ means“a group of three, or the state of being threefold”. In Christianity ‘Trinity’ means ‘the union of three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one Godhead’. The Bible’s central message of salvation through Jesus Christ only makes sense if God is Trinity. No person less than God could ever be good enough to atone for the world’s sin. Think slowly and carefully about this. God is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God is three distinct persons. Each One of the Three is fully God Himself. Yet always and forever there has been, is and will be, only one God. This is the mystery of God in His greatness, in His ‘other-ness’. He is not like anyone else we know. Although not a biblical word, ‘Trinity’ is a theological term that expresses what we believe the Bible teaches. The Latin term ‘trinitas’ was probably first used around 200 A.D. by Tertullian. Christians by the 4th and 5th centuries had clearly stated in the Athanasian Creed: “the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity”. (‘Catholic’ here means universal, believed by the whole Christian church). Trinity means that God is one in His essential being, while being at the same time three distinct persons. Each Person is the fullness of the Divine Being and yet each Person is also, at the same time, seen to be a different form of the Divine Being.

The Holy Spirit is a Person Who is fully God. Jesus Christ is a Person Who is fully God. The Father is a Person Who is fully God. Even so, there is only one God. This one God is not made up of Father, added to Son, added to Holy Spirit. In all schools small children learn logically that ‘one plus one, plus one, equals three’. Christians must think theologically beyond even logic! Stop to think again about this mystery of God: there is one God, of indivisible unity, in three distinct Persons. Let your God become greater than you can even imagine Him to be. Faith, not logic, is needed to help us come to the right answers about just Who this God really is. (Hebrews 11:1,6). Three illustrations serve to teach us a little of what this God is like, although they are best used to highlight the differences between God and the example.

You are one human being.You are a child of your parents.You may be (or hope to be one day!) the marriage partner of your husband/wife. Perhaps you are also (or will be) a parent to your own children. As one person you are a child, a husband /wife, and a father /mother. Three persons in one human being. But, the differences with God can be seen in this: once, you were just a child. At that time you were not a marriage partner, nor a parent. God has always been, and will always be, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

We all use water. We wash in water. Perhaps we like to drink cold water, so we put ice into the glass. Ice is just frozen water. In making tea, we boil water on the charcoal fire. We know when the water is boiling because steam comes from the kettle. Steam is just water changed into a gas by boiling. Water can be water, or ice, or steam. Three states of water. But, the difference between this example and God, is that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit all at one and the same time. Water can only be either water, or ice, or steam, at any one moment in time. It can change from being one to being another as time passes. But, of course, God does not change.

Imagine you are sitting in your living room. You are breathing air, though you cannot see it. There is sunlight in the room. You feel warm as the sun heats up the air temperature. The atmosphere of that room is made up of life-giving air, light and warmth. Three things in one. But, the difference to notice about God is that air, light and heat are all caused by something outside of the atmosphere itself. It is the sun that affects all three. God is self-existing and needs nothing outside of Himself in order to be Himself. We cannot understand God partly because God is Spirit and we think in largely physical terms. We also cannot understand God because He is infinite, while we are only finite beings capable of only finite thoughts. Christians do see a plurality within the Godhead, but this is not the polytheism Muhammad was concerned to avoid. Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, believe in one God. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; and Qur’an 112:14). The Old Testament word used here for ”one” (Hebrew – echad), means one in unity rather than one on its own. It is used of a husband and wife being ‘one’ flesh in marriage (Genesis 2:23-24). If God is only one person, how could He love, and who could He love before anything else was created? God has always had a loving relationship within Himself between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Islamic Tawhid, the confession of the unity of Allah or the Oneness of God, instructs Muslims “there is only one God, one truth, one straight line between two points: God and his servants, one family, one couple of parents - Adam and Eve, one human race, one heaven and one hell”. Muhammad did not accept that Jesus was the Son of God (Qur’an 9:30), nor did he accept the Trinity (Qur’an 4:171). Usually Islamic traditions take references to ‘the Spirit’ to mean the angel Gabriel, although the word can also refer to Jesus as a Spirit from Allah, as well as to God’s own creative power giving life to Adam and to Jesus. As the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible, neither is the word ‘Tawhid’ in the Qur’an. The different concepts of ‘One God’ which Christianity and Islam each hold, are both understood from their entire sacred texts, not just 'proof' verses. Muslim scholars teach that “the essence of the divine being cannot be grasped by man by way of comparison and analogy”. They also recognise that “men cannot imprison God in a description”. Yet they appear able to definitely rule out the Christian concept of God the Holy Trinity. The Bible says:“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, and through Whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” Hebrews 1:1-3.

Jesus said: “I and the Father are One” John 10:30; “… the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” John 14:26.

Each one of us needs to decide in Whom we are putting our faith.

Thinking it through.

(a). How can you define the Trinity yourself?

(b). How do you answer a member of another faith who understands that ‘Christians

believe in three gods’?

(c). Is it right or wrong for there to be some mystery about God? Why?

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