God the Holy Trinity - a perspective
Posted by : Christ Church 11-Jun-2017 03:15 AM
We worship and glorify one God who is three consubstantial persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. Let us be clear on one point that this is not polytheism which is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. We will have none of it. The first of the Ten Commandments asserts, “I am the LORD your God, …3 " You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus affirmed this when He said, "The first of all the commandments is: … the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” - Mark 12:29. At the same time, time and again we encounter passages in the Bible that tell us that the one God consists of more persons. This is hard for us to understand. We should realise that it is not because of a logical contradiction in the very concept of Trinity, but because of our limitations. That the complexity and beauty of God’s being, His unique nature, surpasses our understanding. He is after all God and we are just mortals.
Some years ago, I wanted to clarify if the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit have the same substance, essence or nature, why do we pray to the Father in the Name of the Son. Admittedly, I began the question to Bishop Santram with a misconstrued statement, “Bishop Sahib, I understand about the Holy Trinity”. Quick-witted as he is before I went any further he exclaimed “Lo here is one and the only person who understood the Holy Trinity”. Friends, I didn’t know then and I don’t know today; no one does. Having said that, when we celebrate this Sunday as the Holy Trinity Sunday, it requires us to instruct ourselves in the dogma of the Holy Trinity, and to strengthen both our memory and faith concerning it. If we don’t do that we will fail to comprehend the very doctrine of Jesus Christ.
The other Christian festivals of the year present the Lord God clothed in His works and miracles. For instance: on Christmas, we celebrate His incarnation; on Easter, His resurrection; on Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Christian Church.
We see that all the other festivals present the Lord in the guise of a worker of one thing or another. But this Trinity Festival discloses Him to us as He is in Himself. Here we see Him solely in His divine essence. We must go beyond and above all reason, leaving behind the evidence of created things, and hear only God’s own testimony concerning Himself and His inner essence. Therefore, the reason why I am preaching on the Holy Trinity, is so that we may have an introduction to the very concept of the Trinity. Let me confess, that I am ill-equipped to make an exposition on Trinity. I will not, therefore, offer you an in-depth discourse on the subject, which in itself is a great mystery of God, instead, offer an overview; one that should be understood as a summary of the subject at its very surface level. I normally preach on the life application of the Scriptural Teachings, but this one is purely doctrinal.
It is in our nature to try and ‘reason’ out everything in our lives. We call it logical conclusions. Science provides us with the means and methods to conclusively prove something which is physical and if we are unable to prove something scientifically, we quickly conclude that it is illogical and pass it on to the realm of fantasy, imagination or even sheer madness. Seen from this perspective, how can we poor, miserable mortals grasp this mystery of the Trinity? How can we who do not understand the operation of our own physical powers—speech, laughter, sleep, things whereof we have daily experience pronounce upon the very nature of God? Therefore, we must accept what the Scriptures tell us, namely: that Jesus Christ is the true God and that the Holy Spirit is likewise the true God, yet there are not three Gods; not three divine natures. There is just one indivisible divine essence, but at the same time we recognise a distinction as to the persons. The reason I have spent so much time in the prologue is that we must clearly understand that a doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture. The expression, The Holy Trinity, is not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Book. It evolved around the third century.
In the Old Testament, there are various verses that distinguish between God the Father and God the Son. A clear example is Psalm 110:1, where David says: “The LORD says to my Lord…” Since David as the king did not have any earthly lord, he must refer here to a heavenly Lord who is distinct from the LORD. Jesus confirms this when He claims this verse is about Him, and implies that He is the Son of God (Matthew 22:41-45).
In other verses a distinction is made between the Lord and His Spirit. For example, in Genesis 1:2 we read, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Again, Isaiah 48:16 reads “And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and His Spirit.” It is obvious that someone cannot be thought to be apart from his spirit; yet a distinction is made. Thus, in the Old Testament we find verses that point us towards God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Son did not come into existence with the birth of Jesus Christ. He is eternal, just like the Father and the Spirit. But in Jesus He became flesh.
Paul caught on to this realisation quite intensely. All through Pauline thoughts, we experience his anxiety to impress upon the believers the preeminence of Jesus Christ on the one part and that he alluded to the Holy Spirit in no uncertain terms. Paul, speaking of Christ in Hebrews 1:3, refers to Him as the express image of God’s substance. Again, in Colossians 1:15 he says of Christ: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” We must take these words for what they say—that all creatures, even angels and human, are ranked below Christ. This classification leaves room for God only: taking away the creature, only God remains. It is one and the same thing, then, to say that Christ is the firstborn of all creatures and that Christ is the true and essential God.
To make the matter as clear as possible Paul uses the expression “image of the invisible God.” If Christ is the image of God He must be a person distinct from Him whose image He is, but at the same time in one divine essence with the Father. He and the Father are not one person, but two, and yet Christ could not be the express image of the Father’s person, or essence, if he were not equally divine and one with the Father. No creature can be an image of the divine essence, for it does not possess that essence. To repeat, Christ could not be called the express image of God if He and the Father were not distinct persons; there must be one imaged and one who is the image. Expressed more clearly and according to Scripture, one person is the Father, who in eternity begets the other; the other is the Son, begotten in eternity, yet both are equally eternal, mighty, wise, just and one.
The same argument Paul employs substantially in Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” This, too, is a significant text, proving beyond all controversy that Christ our Lord, who purchased the Church with His blood, is truly God, and to Him the Church belongs.” It leaves us to inevitably conclude that Christ our Savior is true God, begotten by the Father in eternity, and that He also became man and was born of the Virgin Mary when the time came.
Now, having established the existence of Christ in the Trinity, we must next consider the third person, the Holy Spirit, in Scripture sometimes termed the “Spirit” of God. This Person is not spoken of as “born”; He is not begotten like the Son, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. To express it differently, He is a person possessing in eternity the Divine essence, which He derives from the Father and Son in unity in the same way the Son derives it from the Father. There are, then, three distinct persons in one divine essence, one divine majesty.
Now, when you are asked to explain the Trinity, reply that it is an incomprehensible mystery, beyond the understanding of angels and creatures, the knowledge of which is confined to the revelations of Scripture. Rightly did the fathers compose the Creed, or Symbol, in the simple form repeated by Christians: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son… I believe in the Holy Ghost.” This confession we did not devise, nor did the fathers of ancient times. As the bee collects honey from many fair and gay flowers, so is this Creed collected, appropriately brief, from the Holy Bible. It is fittingly called the “Apostle’s Symbol,” or “Apostle’s Creed.” For brevity and clearness, it could not have been better arranged, and it has remained in the Church from ancient time.
In conclusion, I want to make two statements; One that theology is a personal matter between you and Jesus and you, in the course of your studies of the Biblical principles, may form your personal theology, that is your understanding of God. Second, as for me, my theology conforms the Doctrine of a Triune God, in its totality and I worship Jesus and in doing so I worship God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit together. The Divine and the eternal union are quite unlike any union of persons or matters of this world. The Orthodox Churches of the East have a beautiful way of describing this. They use an ancient Greek word which means ‘dancing in a circle’, like the chorus in the ancient Greek theatre. This means that the three Persons or the modes of God weave in and out of each other in a blissful, dynamic and enteral circle.
- God Almighty, You send Your Word to bring us the truth and Your Spirit to make us holy. Through them we come to know the mystery of Your Holy Being. Help us to worship You, one God in three Persons, by proclaiming and living our faith in You. Grace our time of gathering today as your people that our prayers and our praise, words of our mouth and meditation of our hearts, our seeing and our hearing, may be as you desire them to be. Strengthen us and through us bring glory to Your own most precious name, our and Master Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Sermon by Anand Peter