Daddy, Brother, Companion
“Almighty, Triune God”
[Line 4 from “Morning Prayer”]
“And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
—United Methodist Church “Articles of Religion”
“The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
—Church of the Nazarene “Articles of Faith”
“The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.
—Southern Baptist Convention “Basic Beliefs”
“The one triune God exists and reveals himself as three persons, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
—Fellowship of Evangelical Churches Articles of Faith”
My Muslim friends are okay with the Old Testament. To them the stories and names are familiar—Adam, Abraham, Jonah, David—and clearly tells of the One, true God opposing the polytheists and those who dare have any other god but the Almighty Creator. To the casual reader there is no hint of Trinitarian thought that my faithful Muslim friends readily equate with polytheism.
It is the New Testament that offends. The Almighty Creator is God. Jesus Christ is God. This nebulous thing called the Holy Spirit is also God. They are, in Christian thought, wholly God…all the time…in all places…in all ways. “You worship three gods!” they tell me.
“No we don’t”, I quickly reply.
“Of course you do,” they continue, “your belief doesn’t even agree with your own Old Testament where is clearly states that ‘the LORD, your God is one’!”
“Yeah…but….” I don’t know what else to say. Neither do most Christians at this point. Some try out a hopelessly limited analogy of:
an egg (one egg made up of three parts—shell, white and yolk)
or a woman (one person with three roles—a daughter, a wife, and a mother)
or water (one substance with three states—solid, liquid, and gas)
or, my personal favorite, a “Three in One” coffee sachet! Surely the 3-in-1 coffee packet is a God-ordained gift to the church, right? The Newsboys even sing about it—”Our God is Three in One!”).
Unfortunately, each of these falls short. None of these things exist as all three parts at all times and in all ways.
“But what?” my friend pushes.
“It’s hard to explain,” are the only words I can convince to pass my lips.
“Yeah, sure is.”
Nabeel Qureshi, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells of his journey to Christ and the nearly insurmountable mountain questions such as these became for him. It was impossible for a man to be God, yet that is exactly what Christians taught… and with great enthusiasm! The idea of the separate entities all existing as one person was simply impossible—it was a “ridiculous doctrine that merited divine retribution,” Qureshi told himself.
Then, one day while sitting while sitting in a undergraduate chemistry class staring at a diagram of a nitrate, the professor ended her lesson by saying:
“These drawings are just the best way to represent resonance structures on paper, but it’s actually much more complicated. Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time.”...“it’s all the structures all the time, never just one of them.”
—Nabeel Qureshi, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”
Before that moment the very idea of a Trinitarian God—three persons simultaneously existing as one God—was ridiculous. But now, having realized that such a things exists in nature—in the very building blocks of creation—suddenly made the whole notion of a simultaneous 3-in-1 a possibility. It would take a long time for Qureshi to move from “possible” to “probable” to “I believe it to be true.”
The key was in understanding the difference between a BEING and a PERSON. God is ONE being with THREE persons—just as one molecule exists in all of its resonance structures simultaneously. WHAT is God? God is One (and only one). Who is God? God is Father. God is Son. God is Holy Spirit. Each person exists simultaneously along with each of the others as one holy, eternal, almighty, loving Being.
The picture of an atom in my daughter’s chemistry textbook are simple representations of something much more complex, but they are the best we can do. I mean, who can really comprehend the fact that the chair I’m sitting in as I write this is mostly empty space? In the same way, the triune designations of Father, Son, and Spirit represent a reality far more complex than we can really fully comprehend or explain.
It’s good to have people like Qureshi to think about such things as this. In the end, however, I’m not sure how much our One God expects or demands that we fully comprehend. If a cognitive, intellectual understanding of the Triune teaching of the church is necessary for salvation, Church membership, or a seat at the table of Jesus, we all might be in jeopardy.
It’s no wonder so many people only see God as being One. When God sits far away on the heavenly throne so far from the messiness of our human lives, all that can be seen from such a distance is a vague silhouette of oneness. But when God is Emmanuel—with us, connected, personal, unafraid to get his hands a feet dirty by walking with us in the scruffiness of our lives—we can begin to see more of God’s true identity as:
not only Father, but Shepherd (Psalm 23:1) and Daddy (Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6);
not only as Son, but Brother (Mat 12:48-50; Rom 8:29) and Friend (John 15:15; Mat26:17-30);
not only Holy Spirit, but Bringer of New Life (John 3:8, Ez 37:1-14), Companion and Guide (John 16:13), Power-giver (Acts 1:4), and Fruit-bearer (Gal 5:16-26)