God is One. There are three distinct Divine Persons.
These two truths have been held by Christians throughout the ages. They form the basis for our understanding of the faith. With the doctrines of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation they stand at the very center of the Christian faith. Indeed, without a right understanding of the Nature of God and the Trinity the mystery of the Incarnation is nonsense, and without the Incarnation the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are equally nonsense.
In order even to understand the incomprehensibility of the Trinity, we must have an understanding of the truth that God is One.
This means more that there is only one God. I would like to say that it means that God is God. God is holy. God is wholly Himself. As He told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM, YHWH.” Only God determines God. Only God can measure God. He is Himself and He is completely and entirely Himself; there is no other to whom He can be compared. There are no parts in Him. He is not, “this part of Me and that part of Me and the other part of Me.” No, He is simply, “I.” That is His Name.
If we will pay attention, we see this over and over throughout the Bible. When Moses asks God to reveal His glory, He passes before Him and proclaims, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, Who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…” One Lord God. He is not either merciful or just; His mercy and His justice are two ways in which His inexpressible One Glory is revealed to finite creatures who are composed of parts. This is expressed throughout Psalms. “Lovingkindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.” Or again, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne, O God. Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” In Hebraic thought, or at least writing, emphasis is created by repetition. God’s love and His truthfulness are not being contrasted here, nor is His justice and His mercy being opposed. The Psalmist is speaking of them as precisely the same thing; much as when it is written, “Who among us can dwell with everlasting burning? Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?” everlasting burning and consuming fire are not being contrasted; they are two terms for the same thing. Or, “In quietness and trust is your strength, in repentance and rest is your salvation.” Quietness and trust are not being contrasted; neither is repentance and rest; neither is quietness and trust being contrasted with repentance and rest. Quietness and trust are two different terms that express the same thing, perhaps slightly different nuances of the same thing. It is the same with repentance and trust; essentially the same thing. So too with rest and quietness and rest and repentance. Likewise, mercy and justice are not different parts of God or God’s will; they are simply different ways for us (who cannot grasp the fullness of God) to express what is, in the Divine Nature, one indivisible truth or reality. Likewise, love and wisdom and power and righteousness and all-knowledge and whatever other attribute we may ascribe to God, in God Himself there is no distinction. God’s love is wisdom and His wisdom is His power and His power is His righteousness and His righteousness is His love. Whatever distinction there may be is not in God but is entirely in our understanding and expression. If we have one word for that which God is which no man can know or say, it is this: Holy.
One passage of the Bible that I love and that I think illustrates this wonderfully is Isaiah 40. Isaiah 40 beautifully speaks of the tenderness of God’s love. “He will lead the nursing ewes and carry the lambs near His heart.” A moment later, “Who has known the mind of YHWH? And who has been His counselor? He measures the waters in His palm. He weighs the hills like dust in a balance. Before Him all the nations are as nothing and to Him all the peoples are less than nothing and meaningless.” A moment earlier, “Every valley will be raised up and every mountain made low and all flesh shall see the Glory of YHWH… All flesh is like grass and its splendor like the flower of the fields. The grass will wither, the flower fade, but the Word of YHWH stands forever… Behold, YHWH God will come ruling in might with His strong arm before Him. Behold, His recompense is before Him, His reward accompanies Him.” From this exclamation of the might, the glory, and the terror of YHWH we go directly to, “He will tend His flock like a shepherd and carry the lambs in His bosom,” and not as if contrasting these things, but as simply and naturally as one might speak of how rain is refreshing, moistens the soil, and how it causes grass to sprout. In the mind of the author of these words, God’s tender compassion and gentle love is the same as His glory and His terror, as His immutability, that is, perfect unchangingness, eternality, and His complete knowledge and perfect wisdom. He does all that is done, all the inhabitants of the earth are like grasshoppers before Him, He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and He reduces the great of the earth to nothing without effort, merely blowing on them and they wither – like the grass in the hot summer wind. None can be likened to Him, who in perfect knowledge calls all the stars by name and does not lose any of them, whose perfect authority all these obey. He is the Everlasting God, the Maker of the ends of the earth, Who does not grow weary and tired, Whose understanding is inscrutable, and just as He merely blows on the peoples and they are uprooted, so whoever trusts in Him will soar like eagles and run without growing weary. This is not a contrast of different parts of God’s nature, different aspects of Who or what He is. This is simply how we can speak of the One Indivisible God, of the Eternal One.
Someone might ask, How is this relevant to understanding the Trinity?
God is One. We must understand that God is One before we can understand that we do not know how it is that there are three Divine Persons. We must understand that we do not even understand God’s Oneness before we can realize that we do not understand exactly what is meant by that there are three Divine Persons in One God.
The fact that the distinctions between the Persons in God do not have to do with one Person doing or being one part of God and another Person doing or being another part of God is even more clearly – I will not say firmly – founded in the Scriptures than is the above assertion that all the attributes of God are simply different ways we have of seeing God Himself because of our own finiteness and have no basis in the Divine Nature but are based in the fact that we are composed of parts.
For example, Jesus says in John chapter 5 that all that the Father does, the Son does. This means that the Father created the world and the Son created the world. Jesus tells us that the Father draws people to Him, and then He says, “But I, when I am lifted up from this world, will draw all men to Myself.” He says, “This is the Father’s will, that I should lose none of all those He has given me, but will raise them up at the last day,” yet in Psalm 2 it is written, “‘Ask of Me and I will give the nations to be Your inheritance, the very ends of the earth to be Your possession,’” and in John chapter 15, Jesus tells His disciples, “It is not you who have chosen Me, but I chose You,” yet they “were Yours and You gave them to Me,” Jesus prays to His Father in chapter 17. He says, “All You have is Mine and all I have is Yours.” Perfect unity. There is nothing the Father is or has that Jesus does not, nor vice versa. Of the Spirit He says to the disciples, “He will take of what is Mine and make it known to you.” Later, in 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us that, “These things no man knows but the Spirit of God. For who knows the mind of a man but his spirit within him? So, no one knows the things of God but the Spirit of God.” As a matter of course, the Spirit of God is all that God is and does all that God does. Even on Calvary, “By the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without blame to the Father,” we read in Hebrews. Earlier in Hebrews we read of the Son that “He is the exact representation of the Father and the radiance of His glory.” Both these terms suggest that all that the Father is, so is the Son, exactly as His Father is. The only possible distinction between the Father and the Son is relational, for just as the Father is so is the Son. There is no distinction or difference in nature or substance.
I will write more on the relational distinctions of the Persons of the Trinity in another post. It is enough here to demonstrate that God is One. There is no balancing of parts or intentions or desires in Him. All that He is is all that He is. There can be no conflict between His desires or attributes because all His desires and attributes are entirely one without division or distinction, determined only by His perfect, immutable, eternal nature. Let us stand awestruck before this God and rejoice when He strikes us dumb with awe and wonder at Who He is, the Great and the Awesome whom no mind can know, for when we finally realize that we do not see at all, that What and Who He is is completely beyond us, it is the sign that we have glimpsed the edge of His train. It is my belief that just as God is One as no created being is One, so the Divine Persons are distinct from one another as no human being is distinct from his environment and fellows.
Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale