The Trinity: Trying to Explain It

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV).

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

Any discussion of biblical teaching about the nature of God is incomplete if it does not address the doctrine of the Trinity. While a handful of modern evangelical churches avoid using the word since it is not in the Bible, all true Christian churches agree with its basic tenet: There is one God Who exists throughout eternity in three Persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to get confused. Is there one God, or are there three? How can three Persons be one God? It is enough to make one scream, like a Monty Python character, “My brain hurts!”

People who have tried to explain the Trinity can fall into one of two extremes that should be avoided. Some will err on the “one God” side and say that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They ignore or explain away any distinctions the Bible draws between them. On the other hand, I have known people who have tried to explain the Trinity and ended up making polytheistic statements. By focusing on the three Persons, they explain the Godhead as three different deities. (Note: Just because your three deities cooperate does not mean it is not polytheism; many polytheistic religions speak of gods who work together.)

People have tried to devise different illustrations to picture the Trinity. A popular one is the egg: a shell, a white, and a yolk are three parts that make one egg. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Gary McGee, tried a similar illustration with a cup of coffee (an important tool when trying to discuss the trinity during a systematic theology class at 8:30 AM!) containing hot water, sugar, and the precious caffeine-laden holy oils of the coffee beans). While the illustrations provide some help, they have their flaws. I can throw out an egg shell and scramble the white and yolk into a single substance; we cannot do that with the Trinity.

A diagram illustrating the relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. By AnonMoos (public domain), via Wikipedia Commons.

Another professor, Dr. Stanley Horton, offered very sound insight on this topic. During one class session, he pointed out the examples fail because God is unique. There is nothing in all of creation that is exactly like the Trinity. We will not understand it fully in this life. We will finally understand when we get to heaven and see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV).

Someday, we will understand fully. Until then, we live with our limited understanding mixed with our trust in an unlimited God.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

St. John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul and Knowing God

This post is written for the commemoration of St. John of the Cross (December 14).

“In order to come to union with the wisdom of God, the soul has to proceed rather by unknowing than by knowing” (St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591).

St. John of the Cross. Painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

After posting two recent articles about how our Lord is a personal God who can be known and reveals Himself to us, I found the above quote by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century monk, mystic, and poet. (Some traditional churches commemorate him on December 14.)

Modern people, living in a society powered by science and technology, assume that we can figure everything out. We have questions; we desire answers; we pursue the information we desire (scientists may conduct experiments or perform other controlled observations); and we draw conclusions. We know stuff because we sought information.

However, the Bible tells us that we can know God not because we figured Him out, but because He found a way to reach us. God chose to reveal Himself not as an abstract concept but as a man, Jesus Christ, who lived and died as one of us.

The dark night of the soul is a term that is often associated with St. John of the Cross. The title of one of his most popular poems, it describes the soul’s journey towards knowledge of God. He believed that one comes to know God only through painful experiences and struggles. He had his share. As a member of a strict order—members would not even wear shoes in an attempt to avoid worldly comforts—he faced persecution, opposition, and even torture: sometimes from people who thought his ideas were too radical and at other times by people who thought he was not radical enough.

What is the lesson in all of this? Whatever you are going through, ask “Where is God in this situation?” He is there. What is He doing? What is He showing you about Himself? What is He showing you about yourself? He is always there; He may just be doing something that you are not expecting.

Some writers speak of the dark night of the soul as a struggle with doubt. St. John of the Cross struggled with his faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa), despite decades as one of the world’s most beloved examples of faithful service to people in Jesus’ name, often admitted in private correspondence to decades of doubt. When you face doubts or questions, do not avoid them. Ask God for wisdom and faith. Continue to follow Him, expecting the answers to follow. Faith grows through testing.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:2-6).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Personal God Who Makes Himself Known

“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth” (Psalms 145:18, ESV).

As a personal God, the Lord seeks to be personal with His people. Psalm 145 praises God for numerous ways that He reaches out to His people, showing them His mercy and love. Take some time to read the entire psalm when you have a chance.

God intimately cares about the people He created. He did not merely create the universe and sit back to watch the show. He intervenes in the lives of His people. He wants us to reach out to Him in faith so that He can respond to us in love and mercy.

In the Old Testament, He revealed Himself to His people through His mighty acts of deliverance and provision. The Exodus from Egypt is a great example of this. So is the restoration of the Jews following the Babylonian exile. The Old Testament records His miraculous acts by which He revealed Himself to His people, along with laws and prophetic messages that revealed His will.

However, He wanted more. He is a personal God. An invisible God performing visible miracles was not sufficient. God wanted to draw a people to Himself personally and intimately.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV).

The ancient Jews of Jesus’ time would have thought that God’s highest revelation of Himself was the Law of Moses. The Bible did not offer philosophical explanations about God. It contained stories about what He had done in their lives, laws to explain His will, and prophetic messages announcing what He would do in response to people’s choices. However, in Christ, God went beyond that. God most fully revealed Himself by becoming a man and living among humans as one of us. To know what God is really like, we no longer need abstract concepts. We have a living human God/Man. To know what God is like, we can look to Jesus.

When Jesus was born, God the Son became a man so that we can have a relationship with our Creator. “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst (ca. 1622, public domain, via Wikipedia).

Through Christ, God invites us to share in the relationship that exists between the Persons of the Trinity. The Father and the Son live in an eternal relationship. They were united and working together at creation. Jesus upholds the universe by the Word of His power. The Father has appointed Him heir above all things. By becoming part of a human family, living as part of a human society, and uniting Himself with all mankind, Jesus invites us to join in that relationship with Him. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind in His image. Philippians 2:7-8 tells us that Jesus assumed human form and likeness. God and man became one in the person of Christ, so that we can experience the full intimacy with God that He originally intended.

Because of Jesus, we can echo the words of Job:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5, ESV).

Maybe we do not physically see Jesus walking around now, but we have a living human illustration of what God is like. We can leap beyond knowing about God (like some distant celebrity or historical figure), because He wants us to know Him personally (like a family member or friend). A personal God wants to be known personally, and He invites us to come to Him by faith.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Personal God Who Can Be Known

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few recent posts have reflected on Jesus’ statement that God is a spirit (here and here). While He is a spirit, He is also a personal Being who seek to be in a relationship with His people. We cannot afford to ignore His personal nature, assuming it contradicts His spiritual nature.

Scripture frequently speaks about the possibility to “know” God. This is a personal knowledge grounded in relationship.

There is a difference between knowing about somebody and actually knowing them personally. As a music lover, I can share a wealth of trivia about some of my favorite musicians. I can tell you the birthdays and birthplaces of each of the Bee Gees, along with the names of their wives, children, and the titles of all their albums. But, I have never met them. I know about them, but I have never had a personal relationship with any of them.

I can tell you my wife’s birthday, where she was born, and the names of her siblings and parents too. The big difference, of course, is that I actually know her personally. We have a relationship. We know things about each other that perhaps nobody else may know.

I also have friends whose birthdays I do not remember. Yet, unlike the Bee Gees, I actually know these people. There are some of whom I can say, “He reminds me of myself when I was his age.” We have connected, done things together, served the Lord in ministry, shared our victories and struggles, etc. Factual knowledge about my wife, family, and friends is surpassed by a personal knowledge and connection.

Job learned the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally:

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6).

The previous 39 chapters of Job’s book recounted a debate between Job and his friends. Did Job deserve to suffer? Was God punishing him for some hidden sin that he would not admit? Was God being unfair by punishing Job for something without telling him what it was? It is tempting to accuse and blame God for things when you view Him as a distant entity, impersonal force, or abstract concept. Job struggled with these questions: Although God did not clearly answer his questions, He invited him to know Him personally.

Proverbs 9:10 parallels “knowledge of the Holy One” with “fear of the Lord.” To fear God is not necessarily to cower in terror. Many Bible dictionaries will define this kind of “fear” as “reverential awe.” Perhaps we can best think of it as giving God His due respect—taking Him seriously.

The person who truly knows God does not try to twist Him to his own liking. God is Who He is. We have to accept Him on His terms. People who know about a celebrity can easily idolize him or her, imagining their favorite singer or actor to be flawless. We might convince ourselves that “I’m sure I would like him even more than I like his music.” Since we only know about a distant celebrity, we may not know their weak qualities or annoying personality quirks that make them difficult to get along with, so we pretend such flaws do not exist. However, when we know someone personally, we have to accept both the good and the bad. Married couples and best friends know each other’s flaws and spend a lifetime learning to care for each other and get along in spite of them, perhaps being the people God uses to help them overcome their weaknesses.

Likewise, the true child of God knows Him as He is. We do not twist or distort the Bible to make Him what we want Him to be. We worship and revere Him for who He is. As a personal Being, we cannot change who He is. As our Ground of Being, Lord, and Savior, He is worthy of our praise and worship.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

God is Spirit: Like the Wind

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

A recent post pondered the meaning of the word “spirit” in relation to several scientific theories. The Bible tells us that God is a spirit but never specifically explains what a spirit is.

However, the Bible provides an illustration, if not a definition. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” can also mean “wind” or “breath.” The Greek word is pneuma, the root of such English words as “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.” The Hebrew word is ruach. Pneuma is translated as both “spirit” and “wind” in John 3:1-8:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (John 3:1-8, ESV; emphasis added).

So, although the Bible does not clearly define “spirit,” it allows us to associate it with “wind” and notice some of its traits.

First, the wind is invisible, but it is real. We do not see wind, but we see its effects. When we see a tornado, we do not actually see the wind. We see the stuff that the wind is blowing around: dirt, debris, some rain or water vapor, etc.

An F5 tornado. Photo by Justin Hobson via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Wind can have some powerful impacts. During Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we got a lesson in the power of wind. At the height of the storm, we could feel our house shaking! The house survived, but not long thereafter we saw fire trucks pulling up in front of our house. Apparently, the tree in front of our house did not survive. It had fallen, yanking a power line down, which then sparked a fire on a utility box of the house next door. Fortunately, the firemen responded quickly enough to avoid any serious fire damage to either house. There was also minor damage to our chimney and some roof tiles missing. All this damage from an invisible force.

One of the trees in front of my house could not withstand the winds of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch

I share the story about Hurricane Sandy because I remember it most vividly and can share a few pictures. Having lived for eight years in Missouri, I could probably share a few tornado stories, but I was usually a few blocks away when the tornado actually hit and did not take photos.

Another photo I took after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is all that was left of a segment of the boardwalk in my childhood hometown, Long Beach, NY. Wind and water tore away the boardwalk, railings, benches, etc. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch.

Yes, wind is invisible and powerful. It is also uncontrollable. We cannot predict when the wind will pick up or slow down. Yes, meteorologists can tell us it will be windy and that the wind will come from this or that direction. But, we do not know when a sustained 20 MPH wind will suddenly speed up to a 40 MPH gust.

Nor can we do anything about it. In the words of the”Alive, a Bee Gees’ song from 1972, “And I can’t change the wind or make it blow the other way.” Try to make a northerly wind change direction. Make it slow down. Let me know how that works for you.

Wind is like spirit. This becomes a beautiful illustration of what God is like. We cannot see Him, but we can recognize His presence and power in what He does. Not everything He does is like Hurricane Sandy or a tornado; some of it is like the windmills one sees in rural areas, providing electrical power for local communities.

Windmills. Image by Piotr Zakrzewski from Pixabay.

Nor can we control God. Sometimes it is tempting to think that we can coerce or manipulate Him with our prayers or piety. Don’t try it. He is God. He is Spirit. He is powerful. He is unchanging. He is uncontrollable. He is Lord. God blows where He wishes; if you look with the eyes of faith, you will see Him in action, but you do not know where He comes from or where He goes. But, you can trust and worship Him.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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