What if the Trinity, instead of being an abstract and unfathomable mystery, is really something much simpler? What if, by presenting Himself as Three Persons in One, God is attempting to clarify rather than obscure His nature in the human mind? The more I think about it, the more I believe this is so.
In Genesis 1, we meet a plural God, Elohim. He is a God who is One, yet calls Himself We. He talks to Himself and keeps His own counsel -- and one day He bends down to create a Them.
"Let Us make man in Our image... Male and female He created them."
Here we have the very first Us and Them in all of history. Yet it is God's intention that ultimately the Us and Them become One.
After Eden, we see God beginning to reveal His triune nature as he interacts with man. First, we encounter a cloud, a pillar of fire, a burning bush -- all of these indicate the presence of the Unseen God – God whose spirt-form can never be looked upon by mortal eyes. But there is a second Person -- the Angel (or more accurately, the "Messenger") of The Lord, who takes on a human appearance and walks and talks with men. This manifestation of God can be safely looked upon and even touched. Thirdly, the special anointing power of God is indicated -- the Spirit of The Lord, who comes upon men like Samson, Saul, David, and Elijah. He rests upon them, cloaking them with a special ability to carry out their calling; but He is free to leave if the heart of the anointed one is unfaithful to God's commands.
By dividing Himself into three recognizable Personalities in the Old Testament, God explains Himself thus to humanity:
"I am the creator, the lawgiver, and the judge. I am the lamp to light your way and the fiery fortress to shield your back. I am willing to speak to you face to face, discussing my plans with you like an equal or even wrestling you in the dim light of morning, striking hands in an agreement man-to-man. I do not sit in lofty places issuing commands and keeping my distance. I am the invisible Presence hovering around you, making you strong and courageous, able to carry out My will."
We could never have conceived of such a full picture of God's nature had He only used one of these three forms. If He were only fire, we'd be terrified of Him. If He were only a human face, we would fail to reverence Him. If he were only an empowering presence, we would claim His power for our own. But by being these Three-in-One, we begin to know Him for Who He is.
In the New Testament, the Triune God comes more sharply into focus. The roles become even more distinct and defined -- again, for the purpose of making Himself knowable to man and drawing man even closer into relationship with Himself.
The Self-Existent Holy One, formerly perceived as flames and thunder, is introduced anew as Father. The Messenger of The Lord, previously perceived as a mighty human warrior, condescends deeper into the human condition, and is begotten as a baby and called the Son. He experiences human life from the inside out and explains to us the Father. The invisible hovering Spirit, the external empowering Presence, is redefined by the dual metaphor of sperm and seed. He is now the germinating life of God Himself, implanted in a believing heart. He is the genetic material of God providing us with an entirely new nature which enables us to be called the sons and daughters of God. The Son cheerfully owns us as joint-heirs, taking His place of honor as the Firstborn among many brethren.
The Holy Trinity of power fiercely displayed in the Old Testament becomes a Holy Family in the New Testament -- a Father, a Son, and a Spirit who makes siblings of all who will receive Him.
Again, the Trinity is necessary to explain what God is to us.
The Father without the Son would appear to be merely a disinterested judge, punishing people for their sins. The Son without the Father could appear to be a great human teacher but nothing more. The Father and Son without the Spirit would leave us on the outside looking in.
Because God reveals Himself in a Trinity, we see a grieving Father who loves us all so much that He is willing to sacrifice His only Son, sending Him to die in our place. We see an obedient Son who propitiates a holy God with His own blood shed on our behalf. Most amazing of all, through the Spirit we see a way in -- a way to become partakers in the divine nature, members of the Holy Family, heirs to all the riches of God in Christ.
If God were not a Trinity, He could never illustrate so plainly both His nature and His intentions for His relationship to man. His character is too complex to be housed in one form, limited to one role, demonstrated in one manifestation. It took a community of Three to show us Who He is and how deeply He desires for us to live in relationship with Him.
Can there be any more spectacular words in all of Scripture than those of Christ in John 17?
21 May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.
22 I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.
23 I am in them and You are in Me.
May they be made completely one,
so the world may know You have sent Me
and have loved them as You have loved Me.
When seen in this light, the Trinity ceases to be an abstract metaphysical mystery and instead becomes a precious and meaningful reality -- something meant to be experienced rather than analyzed and cherished rather than challenged. When we ponder these things, the greatest mystery is no longer the Triune nature of a single God, but rather that He would invite fallen mortals into that perfect Community – and that He would do so with eagerness and delight!