The Trinity And Us
On this Trinity Sunday, we are cherishing and reflecting on
The characteristically Christian doctrine about God. [This doctrine] declares that there is only one true God; that this God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is distinct from, yet interrelated with, the others; and that all three persons are fully, equally and eternally divine.
This doctrine is easy to say but considerably harder to comprehend, for it is our humanly best attempt to make sense of the great and glorious, gracious and good Creator. “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)
Among the many questions we could ask about this doctrine of the Trinity, the one I want us to focus on this morning is why did the triune Godhead, perfect love-in-communion, having need of nothing beyond himself, decide to create lesser beings to represent him and rule in his stead?
We are thankful he did, and so should remember his nature and his works as an example for our own lives. But, for now, let us consider this question in some depth that we might understand our Creator and ourselves better.
Our scripture focus this morning consists of the first chapters of Genesis and Psalm 8, which is itself a commentary on our reading from Genesis.
Just for a quick tangent: I am being led to the conclusion that the opening chapters of Genesis are unequivocally pivotal for understanding the wisdom of the whole Bible.
What do we learn from the opening chapters of Genesis that lead us to the doctrine of The Trinity?
The Nature of God is Plural
The first thing we learn from Genesis is that in some mysterious way, the nature of God is plural.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:2–3)
Note the order of creation: the earth was, firstly, a place of chaos. “Formless”, “empty”, “darkness”, and “water” are all keywords indicating chaos. The Spirit of God “hovering over the surface of the waters” indicates taking notice of the chaos, then beginning to do something about it.
“Then God said.” With a word, our Creator wilfully and deliberately began to turn chaos into order by dispelling the darkness with light. With the coming of light, life then becomes possible. A beautiful description of Creation is provided here in these verses.
Note how verse 2 refers to the “Spirit of God” and verse 3 refers simply to “God”, without any qualifiers. This may be a minor point but there is suggested here a distinction between God-as-Spirit and God-as-speaker. I won’t wrestle anyone on this point, but these two verses introduce into the scriptures very quickly a plurality in the nature of God.
This plurality comes out much more strongly a bunch of verses later.
From verses 3-25, our Creator made the habitat of sky, earth, sea, then filled it with luminaries above, birds, fish, and wildlife below, each according to their kind.
All of this good creation needs its order maintained, so finally, God created humankind to “rule” and to “fill the earth”. But note how the description of God suddenly changes in verse 26:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
The importance of the creation of humankind is signalled by the change in language here, where the phrases “let us” and “our image” reveal that our Creator did not create alone and cooperated with those others in the process.
There is so much that I could say about God referring to himself in the plural. For now, suffice it to say in the opening poem of the Bible are clear indications the One True God is ‘more than meets the eye’! There is a plurality to the nature of God which is most explicitly revealed in Jesus’ baptism:
and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
All three persons of the Trinity are demonstrably present in the story of Jesus’ baptism.
Then, Jesus explicitly taught the Trinity with his great commission:
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 (Matthew 28:19)
The Trinity is a mystery, of that there is no doubt. But that does not make the doctrine man-made, for God is revealed throughout scripture as having a plural nature of some sort. This makes the doctrine of the Trinity characteristically Christian and essential to Christian faith.
The Communion of God is Love
From elsewhere in the Bible, we know there is a unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that they are distinct from one another. What is important for our investigation today is the relationship between these three-who-are-one.
All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)
The relationship between the Father and Son is unique and complete.
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hands. (John 3:35)
Theirs is a mutuality of love between the Father and the Son.
For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ (Colossians 2:9)
The Father shares his divine life with the Son.
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who lives in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Otherwise, believe because of the works themselves. (John 14:10–11)
The Father and Son indwell each other, and are completely united in purpose.
As for the Holy Spirit, we know it is both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ”. In this way, the Holy Spirit shares an unique relationship with God and an unique relationship with the Son.
Where each of the three persons of the Trinity are equal with each other, there is a mutuality among them, as they glorify one another:
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 16:27)
Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you (John 17:1)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is mine. This is why I told you that he takes from what is mine and will declare it to you. (John 16:13–15)
The thing to take from all this is that the Trinity has existed from before the beginning, it has always existed as three-in-one. There is no hierarchy between them, for they cooperate with one another. They exist as a communion of three, perfect in love and purpose; complete, without need of anything else, nor anyone.
It is because of the overwhelming and overflowing love shared by and among the Trinity, they deigned to create; thus, we acknowledge and declare,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God Created Humankind to Multiply and Rule
Interestingly, the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is a poem clearly written to counteract the negative influence of the Enuma elish, an ancient Babylonian creation myth dating from the 2nd millennium BC, the time of Hammurabi.
If you were raised in ancient Babylonian culture, then your view of human origins would have been based on a story that was as popular as our Santa Claus fable and as socially influential as Darwinism itself. The story came to be called Enuma elish, which are the opening words of the epic.
According to the Enuma elish, the father and mother of the gods, Apsu and Tiamat, are killed by their progeny, the young warrior god Marduk, who then created the universe out of their remains. He created humankind to serve the gods with food offerings:
When Marduk heard the complaints of the gods, he said: ‘I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name. He shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease!’ Out of Kinju’s blood they fashioned mankind. Marduk imposed the service on mankind and let free the gods. (Enuma elish, Tablet 6)
The clear ‘message’ of this ancient story is that humans ought to know their place at the bottom of the divine scheme of things. Our role is to serve the needs and pleasures of the gods.
It was against such depictions and understandings that Genesis presents its alternative view that humankind lies at the centre of our Creator’s intention and affection for his creation. As such, it is “subversive theology”.
The Bible tells us God brought order to the chaos and created humans to multiply and rule:
When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him? You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet (Psalm 8:3–6)
Humans are not gods, not even the highest of his creation, yet he created humankind to rule above all, at his side:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” … God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)
As the “image of God”, the purpose of humans is to mirror God to the world, to be God as God would be, to be an extension of his dominion. This does not represent a form of Deism, where God creates and then leaves his creation to its own devices. The biblical story of humankind is we are invited to partner with God in making this a dwelling place for us with him, for he is still very much at work in the world (Jn 16:7-8).
The point is humankind was not created to serve God as slaves but to serve the world for God and with God. This is not a grace we deserve, but a gift that overflows the love of the Trinity.
Humans Need Each Other to Fulfil Their Commission
So what have we identified so far? The nature of God is plural, that God exists as three-in-one, in a communion of love, self-sufficient, but overflowing with love such that the Trinity created together and appointed humankind to become willing partners in ruling and multiplying throughout the earth, to the glory of God and to our own glory.
Now here’s a question to reflect on: if God is a loving communion of three-in-one, why would he then create humankind as autonomous and expressive individualists? Rather,
be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2)
When we look at the nature of the our Creator, we remember he wants us to reflect him. Instead of an autonomous expressive individualism —where we need nobody and nothing, we ‘go it alone’— the Trinity wants us to enjoy the same communion-in-love as they do, and enjoy it one with him. Consider, what is said of our creation:
So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female. (Genesis 1:27)
Now it goes without saying that humans cannot fulfil their commission from our Creator, to rule and multiply, without each other. Males need females to multiply our race and females need males to subdue the earth. Working in love and cooperation together, we are the image of God on earth. Humans need each other to fulfil our commission from God.
Consider what the second chapter of Genesis says about human creation:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” (Genesis 2:18)
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:21–24)
Now, I am not a Bible translator; however, there are something interesting things going on in these verses that our English translations obscure, for the sake of readability, I guess.
The first point is that what is translated as “God took one of his ribs” is an easy translation for a difficult image, since “rib” is arguably better translated as “side”. So, rather than God cutting a hole in the man’s side and ripping out a rib —which is gross— the story could actually be telling us God tore off one of the man’s sides —probably the left one, since that is the one that works least well on me at least— and closed up the tear with flesh —a point even more gross and queasiness inducing. This makes more sense of the man and woman bonding together to become “one flesh”.
This heightens the point that males and females need each other, I dare say complete each other. A female is not a lesser human but the other half of males —and saying “the better half” is not really helpful!
This may not be tracking with you yet, so let me make it worse: when God declared he would make a “helper” for the man, the word translated as “helper” is a word found in only two places in the Bible. The other place we find a helper for humans is in the Psalms:
I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)
Both God and the woman are called “helper” and this carries no implications regarding the status of the one who helps. The woman is not subservient nor second-class compared to the man. We need each other as equals so that we might fulfil our Creator’s commission on humankind to rule and multiply as the image of God on earth.
When we are not sure how this is to work, we have only to look at the example of the Trinity, who want us to enjoy what they enjoy, a perfect partnership and communion in love.
Our Cooperation Brings Glory to God, or Doesn’t
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He did so by bringing chaos into submission and establishing order. Our Creator then created humans to maintain and extend that order through our own creativity and good pleasure. When we do so, our cooperation brings glory to God.
So what did we do? We turned that good order back into chaos!
When we create chaos out of order, God is not glorified. Indeed, God is grieved to his heart by the chaos we have created for ourselves (Gen 6:5-6).
What then are the friends of Jesus to do?
We are to mirror the nature and works of the Trinity in our nature and works. There is much that can be said about this, but let’s keep it simple: the Trinity is a perfect partnership because the three-in-one is a communion of love. One way we can reflect this into our spheres of influence is to cooperate.
The fallenness and sin of humanity leads us to lord over others and to put ourselves first (Mk 10:42-44). One way the friends of Jesus can serve in our spheres of influence —whether in our homes, among our friends, our teams and clubs, our schools and workplaces, our neighbourhoods and city— is to aim to exemplify cooperation. When we cooperate with others, we lift each other up. We acknowledge the contribution and potential of others, and encourage them to thrive with us.
There are times you will have to take a lead, but you can lead others toward cooperation. This initiative, however meanly expressed, will be such a radical departure from the norm that your valuing of others cannot help but be noticed. And people will come to appreciate you for it. Whether you get a chance to explain the reason for your emphasis on cooperation or not, you will be mirroring the cooperation and communion of the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit can do wonders with a softened heart!
When we don’t seek to cooperate with those around us, we are not glorifying God and are not fulfilling our commission to bear his image to the world. We are not softening hearts but hardening them. To such, Jesus will say, “I never knew you” (Mt 7:23).
On this Trinity Sunday, we are encouraged to reflect on a deep and mysterious doctrine that is unique to Christian faith. In practice, this doctrine reminds us our commission is to bear God’s image to the world, to reflect his nature as a communion-in-love and to reflect his work as a perfect partnership of three-in-one.
One way we do this is by cooperating with those around us, for we know we need each other, for we cannot fulfill our commission to rule and multiply without others.
Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN, USA: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).
“The plural may refer to the divine council or heavenly court (see Job 38:7; 1 Kgs 22:19; Jer 23:18–23) … The ‘let us’ language refers to an image of God as a consultant of other divine beings; the creation of humankind results from a dialogical act —an inner-divine communication— rather than a monological one. Those who are not God are called to participate in this central act of creation. Far from either slighting divine transcendence or concealing God within the divine assembly, it reveals and enhances the richness and complexity of the divine realm. God is not in heaven alone, but is engaged in a relationship of mutuality within the divine realm, and chooses to share the creative process with others. Human beings are the product of such a consultation (אדם ʾādām is used generically here). The ‘let us make’ thus implicitly extends to human beings, for they are created in the image of one who chooses to create in a way that shares power with others.” —Terence E. Fretheim, “The Book of Genesis”, New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004), 345.
See also Ge 3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8.
Ps 106:33; 1Co 2:14; Php 3:3; 1Jn 4:2.
Ac 16:7; Gal 4:6; Php 1:19; 1Pe 1:11.
Mt 10:20; see also 1Co 2:10-11.
Jn 1:33; see also Isa 61:1; Jn 14:16-17,26; Ac 10:38.
Jn 5:18; 2 Cor 13:14.
John Dickson, “The Genesis of Everything”, ISCAST Online Journal, vol. 4 (2008).
Gen 3:8a; Rev 21:3.
New Interpreter’s Bible, Volumes I–XII.