Q. 6. How many Persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There are three Persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
“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, NRSV)
Mystery and meaning are not opposites. Rather, a mystery is something that has more meaning than we can comprehend. - Kirk Kilpatrick, as quoted by Dennis Covington, “What Do Coincidences Really Mean?" Redbook, August 1995, 44.
At the very heart of Christian spirituality there is a notion called "the Trinity." It's so central that one of the great theologians of the 20th century, Karl Barth, said, "Trinity is the Christian name for God."
“What too many Christians do not understand is that before the Trinity was ever a doctrine or a theology about God, it was an experience of God rooted in a relationship with God. The problem today is that because we have lost our Trinitarian grounding, we don’t know what to do with Trinitarian experiences. In fact, we can be afraid of the full range of Trinitarian spiritual experiences, and so we end up in a limited relationship with God. What is a Trinitarian spiritual experience? It is an experience of God that is open to God as God fully is, not necessarily as we want God to be.” - N. Graham Standish, “Discovering the Narrow Path: A Guide to Spiritual Balance”, p. 70.
“… exploration of the Trinity is a spiritual, relational, and experiential exploration, and not a purely theological one.” - N. Graham Standish, “Discovering the Narrow Path: A Guide to Spiritual Balance”, p. 70.
In Romans 8, Paul doesn’t try to line out a systematic theology of how God works. He uses Trinitarian terms interchangeably — the Spirit, Father, Christ — but doesn’t try to make it a treatise on metaphysics. Rather, Paul sees God at work in a uniquely relational way, both within God’s own nature and with humans.
After admonishing his Roman readers in verses 12-13 to discern the difference between living in the flesh (focusing on the self-oriented life) and the Spirit (focusing on the God-oriented life), Paul then shifts the language to relationships — “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17) Whatever the Trinity is in being, the purpose of God, the three-in-one/one-in-three, is to bring humans back into relationship with God, rescuing us from having to try to define ourselves through self-destructive pursuits.
You can approach this passage and others that seem to reference the Trinity in two ways: either you can try to figure out which Person of God is coming and going and doing what and when, like assembling a puzzle. Or, you can simply focus on the fact that God’s very nature, God’s being, God’s focus, is internally and externally relational. Our connection with the Trinity is not to be an intellectual pursuit where we simply meditate and ponder the nature of God, but a heartfelt relationship that is made real through the Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ/Holy Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
In other words, the Trinity is not primarily defined by the distinctiveness or unity or “substance” of the persons involved, but rather as a circle — a dynamic community defined by love. To see one is to see all — to dance with one is to dance with all, being invited into the circle and into a love relationship where we see God face to face, as children hold hands and dance with loving parents.
The truth is that we’ll probably never understand the Trinity by trying to define it. Even Paul, one of the most prolific writers and theologians of his day, runs round the idea. The only way we’ll really “get” the Trinity is to join the circle and live into that relationship. The Christian story is a Trinitarian story. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the core of reality is a God who lives as a community of happy, delighted love.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Cor. 13:13)
Today’s Lectionary Readings
Morning Psalm: 32
Evening Psalm: 40, 92