I don’t get the Holy Trinity. So far beyond the grasp of my logic, and even my imagination, that when I think about the Trinity too much, I feel the foundations of my Christian Faith start to shake. But, that’s a good thing.
Sometimes, too often, we who believe in God tend to picture an omniscient deity sitting above the clouds, or hold an image of the outstretched and encompassing universe in our heads, or sense some feeling of ceaseless and potent energy, and are too complacent with that as our understanding of God. As an explanation for who God is, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity also renders some images, but to make cognitive sense of them as One God is… well, impossible. And that really bothers me sometimes. When I first believed in the existence of God, I believed that God is one – and I was done. That was fairly simple. But, the Christian understanding of God as both singular and Triune … that’s just mind-boggling. Yet… shouldn’t God be mind-boggling? For, as St. Augustine says, “If you understood him, it would not be God”. The Trinitarian understanding of God is justly incomprehensible.
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity – that there is only one God, and that God is one in 3 Divine Persons – is absolutely a Mystery. It’s not something to be solved, like a murder mystery that needs a good detective to figure it out. It’s something to be marveled at, something to be pondered in the heart, something to be accepted in faith – it is Mystery, ineffable, of infinite depths. When I was falling away from my faith, I asked my mother many questions about God and her invariable answer was, “It’s a mystery.” At the time, I thought this was a kind of brush off, a copout in the face of something insensible, and I rolled my eyes. I had no appreciation for true mystery. It wasn’t until I truly believed in the ultimate reality that we call God that I understood the truth of my mother’s answer. Mystery is inexplicable and inexhaustible.
My mother had also warned me about the danger of asking too many questions – for it seems she had also experienced the shaking of faith. But, it’s good to wonder, to seek understanding even if just partial. Many small Catholic colleges (I’m thinking of a particular one, Magdalen College in Warner, New Hampshire) want to shake the faith of their cradle Catholic students. The hope is to shake them out of the complacency of conditioning, to get them out of the rut of rote, to cause them to ask reasonable questions so that they may open their minds and have deeper and truer faith. And this can lead them to what St. Anselm calls “faith seeking understanding.”
Anyway, that’s why we Christians have so many attempts to illustrate the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. There’s St. Patrick’s 3 leafed Shamrock, the 3 forms of H2O, and the contemplation of lover, beloved, and love, just to name a few. Much Catholic theology, especially seen in the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, emphasizes the relationship aspect, saying that we understand God as relational, a communion of persons, the giving, receiving, and sharing of self in love. Thinking about this the other day, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. (Duh.)
Finally getting to my ultimate reason for this post, my conclusion was simply this: all that has ever been and all that ever will be is loving. More of a verb than a noun. I think it’s the noun aspect that bothers me when thinking about Triune God. God is not 3 things. We say that God is 3 persons, but not in the sense of human persons, not in the sense of separate individuals. To get me out of the human thought of what person is, I tried to think about God as verb, as loving…
Thinking about God as action led me to think about verbs. And the intrigue with this thought is that verbs usually only make up part of a sentence. A verb is not a complete sentence, even an imperative like, “Eat!” implies a subject and, if the verb is transitive, it also implies a direct object. Most words alone are not complete sentences.
That is not a complete sentence.
That is not a complete sentence.
That is not a complete sentence. (Well… I suppose if it is an imperative… But then it implies a subject, the person who is being exhorted to love. And the verb love needs an object to which it is directed. There may be a question of whether the verb love is a transitive verb or an intransitive verb… But, if it’s viable, it’s a philosophical question not a grammatical one. We can, of course, think of love as a quality that flows through us – but that is more of a noun. In the sense of loving, love is a verb. So, if this sentence is an imperative, then the implied subject is being told to love something or someone (abstract or concrete) the object being likewise implied.)
Because we know that God is love, it does seem to me that we could let this one word stand by itself without a sentence. Love. But, then… What if this love is revealed to us, is communicated to us…? Let us then say that it takes on sentence structure for our sake. And, therefore, as a word alone it is incomplete.
I love you.
That is a complete sentence. Each part needs the other in order to be a sentence. Every part of the sentence is essential to the whole.
This one sentence might be a good way to have some kind of a glimpse-like understanding of the Holy Trinity (mysterious and ineffable as that limited understanding may be). Being only an analogy, however, it is totally imperfect. Being an attempt to explain the sacred mystery, it is utterly inept. We are merely human with finite brains and finite understanding. God’s ways are infinitely above our ways. God reveals Godself to us and we receive through faith.
If we understood the Holy Trinity, then it would not be the truth about God.
I’m curious about other analogies or explanations of the Holy Trinity…. Inept as they may be, I believe there is worth in exploring them…
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.