Reflection by Pastor Shawn:
This week is Trinity Sunday and I’d like to consider this question: what are we talking about when we speak of the oneness of God and the three-ness of God? To be truly Christian, we must insist on both: there is only one God, and God is Father, Son, and Spirit. So how can we begin to make sense of all this?
First, we must avoid an idea called modalism. This idea says that God’s three-ness is in appearance or in name only. Modalism logic goes like this: I am a husband, a father, and my parents’ son, but those are just roles I have; there is only one ‘who’ when it comes to Shawn Bawulski. In the same way, modalism says, there is only one ‘who’ when it comes to God. Talk of Father, Son, and Spirit are just different labels for different actions God does in the world. This view is outside of the Christian faith, for many reasons. Here’s one: God is love, in himself, and there can be no love with just strictly one. Love requires a lover, a beloved, and the love between them. God is love (see 1 John 4). So Modalism fails. (Sorry, but the illustration that God is like H20: ice, water, and steam is also modalism, when you think about it. So please stop using it to explain the Trinity…)
Second, we must avoid an idea called tritheism. Tritheism is any view that ultimately suggests that there are three Gods. If Father, Son, and Spirit are actually different essences—even if they are completely united in purpose—then we have forgotten that “The Lord is one” (Deut 6:4). God is not like a sports team, where all the players wear the same uniform and all have the same purpose of winning the game, and so together are Manchester United or The Cubs. There are not multiple Gods. God is one, and there is exactly one God. Tritheism fails.
So what is the distinction between Father, Son, and Spirit? They are not the same “who”. But they are not different Gods (not different substances, to use a technical term). The difference, and the only difference, is found in relationships. The *only* difference is the Father eternally gives existence to the Son, the Son eternally receives his existence from the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. Crudely, the Father “fathers”, the Son “is fathered”, and the Spirit “is breathed”. There are three existences of the one God *and the only difference between them is their relationships.* God exists three times over, so to speak, and the only distinctions between the three are their relations of origin: the Son and Spirit find their origin in the Father, in different ways, and that makes the three different existences of the same God.
Why does this matter? It all seems a bit mysterious and technical; what does this matter for your faith and life? There are many ways it matters, and here’s one: you can and must worship Jesus. The Bible makes it very clear that God and God alone is to be worshiped. We are not to worship not-god: to worship the likes of the sun or fertility or war or Caesar or money or anything else that is not-god is sinful idolatry. But we are to worship Jesus, and that’s because Jesus is God. But Jesus is not just another name for the Father. The Father and the Son are the same God but not the same “who”, so to speak: the Father and the Son can love one another because they are lover and beloved. So in this way, simply by worshiping Jesus as God, as all Christians do, we are Trinitarians, whether we know the technical details or not. And we must say similar things with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who is God made present to us.