1+1+1=1, or What's Up with the Trinity?

See, it all started one day, when God got tired of lifting all those huge rocks. So he said, “Hey, skeptics, you think juggling big rocks is tough? Watch THIS!

That pretty much sums up the Trinity doncha think?

Then we start hijaaking on what is the first cause, and wot not, which is pretty much unanswerable in the first place. The whole chicken and egg problem. Surely something had to preexist, and his assertion that something more complex than his creation pre-existing makes sense. Especially given his information technology background (i.e. can we create an information system more complex than our own brains?)

Damned if I know. (Actually, damned if I don’t know, too. Heh.) It doesn’t really explain how “God”, a being, can be different persons, too. They do not exist physically separate, so we can’t use that to differentiate their personhood. They cannot really have different “personalities”; how could Jesus be more loving than God, or the Holy Spirit wiser than God the Father, or the Father less perfect than Jesus? So, their personalities cannot be different, their spirits are not different, and they all exist in the same “space”. In what manner are they separate persons? Also, is “God” a person, or not?

It’s not shared by all theists, though; perhaps it is a Christian belief inherent in the belief in the “complex” trinity? Keeve says in another thread “In the Jewish prayer “Shema”, we say that “God is One”. This does not only mean that there is one God and that there is only one God. It also means that He is entirely uniform, undifferentiated and noncomplex, through and through. My understanding of that, is that if there would be any kind of complexity to His nature, then He would be somewhat different over here than He is over there, in which case this part is lacking something and that part is lacking something else, which means that He is not perfect, which is an unacceptable conclusion. Therefore, He must be non-complex.” CMKeller adds: “…a simple thing is capable of designing things more complex than itself. Today, we use simple computers to design and model their more complex successors.”

Actually, I think it’s entirely possibly that we can, if we set up the right conditions. I mean, the laws of physics are simple mathematical fomulae, but they can “create” amazingly complex reactions. We have created a “natural selection” of computer programs, and if we just leave them be they “grow” programs that are superior than any human has done. So I think we could certainly set up a system that could be more complex than our own brains. Heck, if you just want to set up a huge number of circuits and informational access, we could easily make one more complex than our own brains (whether it would function better is highly doubtful at this point in our knowledge, but complexity does not always correlate with greater functionality; bacteria and beetles have complex humans beat hands down when it comes to functionality in terms of survivability.)

Yeah, who was watching over the world while God spent 33 (or so) years as Jesus? Wasn’t it rather irresponsible of Him to leave the world unattended for so long?

The Creed of St. Athanasius is wrong. It’s not scripture and it was written hundreds of years after Christ was crucified, so why should I (or anyone) believe it? St. Athanasius never even claimed to have divine revelation; he simply read the scriptures and tried to find a feasible explanation.

The truth (yes the truth) is that God the Father is the supreme God of the earth. His son, Jesus Christ, is also a God. The Holy Ghost is a bodiless, yet very important spirit that helps men to know of the truth. They are three very separate beings, but one in purpose. This is important because it’s not like Jesus said to God, “Let’s have repentance.” And God said, “Yeah right, that’s a dumb idea!” Such an idea is preposterous. This is how they are united.

The Bible even teaches the complete separateness of the Godhead when Jesus Christ was baptized in the river Jordan. God the Father spoke from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

A man studying to become a Catholic preacher once brought this passage of scripture up in a meeting and asked why the church still taught the trinity doctrine. He was asked to leave the meeting and he eventually left the church.

Thats where we dissagree, there is not only 1 perfect thing but many things that are diffren’t can be perfect. Because perfection is about being good all the time and never sinning, hence why even those famous old testament guys even sinned at least once. (except for elijha i think) complex or simple you are going to have diffren’t parts but lacking in something does not necessarily mean you are less perfect because of it.

“No one is good–except God alone.” --JC

So Elijah is God then, too, if he never sinned? :slight_smile:

Hum, I don’t know that Jews, or even all Christians, will agree with you here. If God is Perfect, can He lack something necessary for perfection in any part?

What could God the Father lack, that Jesus could have, yet both be wholly perfect and wholly God?

MrMcPlad: a little presumptuous? These are your fellow Christians, here, who may have had relevations equal to yours. ::waves:: Hi RT!

Tertullian had his “Credo quia absurdum est.” By which he seemed to be saying “You can’t make this sort of stuff up!” Although, looking at mythos around the world, both logical and mystical, I would be inclined to reply, “Oh, but you certainly can.” :wink:

Why couldn’t G-d be ‘differently perfect?’ For instance, (not-great analogy incoming) a perfect pizza shares only a few qualities with a perfect cheeseburger, but both are still perfect.

Personal belief:
The way I look at is: G-d is infinite. Perception is not. We organize the fractions of His Infinitude that filter through our perceptions into 3 distinct segments. G-d has gone along with this perception of Him, because it’s easier to explain than infinity, and because it is true for our value of true. However, he has tried to also add to this his essential oneness, to great confusion.


I’ve long wondered why the concept of God seems to be necessarily tied to one being. The Nicene Creed does not use that language, but rather refers to the three persons being of one substance, which is how I have seen orthodox Christians explain it.

The idea of three manifestations of the same being is called modalism and is a heresy, and as I understand it, was part of the reason for adopting the Nicene Creed.
As for the oneness of God, I’ve always enjoyed the reading in John 17. In it, Jesus offers a prayer with the apostles present. Here are a few verses (in the King James Version):

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

JOH 17:21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

The oneness of G-d is emphasized because it is heavily stressed through out the Old Testament. Since this is time period where G-d seems to be talking directly to people, I am more interested in that then what an average person considers heresy.

“You shall have no other G-d before me.” is in my Bible.

The Nicene Creed isn’t.


??? I didn’t challenge the oneness of God. My point is that the definition of God doesn’t necessarily mean a single being (some people make the analogy of a team being a single unit yet composed of multiple beings).

The quotes in John is from Jesus (I assume that’s in your Bible), and he is praying that the apostles become one even as he and the Father are one. I don’t believe he was praying that they merge into one being.

The Trinity is not a Jewish concept. It was adapted from other religions that had a multiple-beings-in-one God concept, including the Hindu and some pagan religions. That is why some Christian groups opposed the implementaion of the Trinity.

The experience of God, and of Man. The Love of God for Man, and of Man for God, and of Man for Man, tribulation, strife, and human joys and human desires.

But that assumes that Jesus was born to provide God with something. I think that He was also born for us. What could Man lack, and Jesus have, that both might become become greater than before?

Sorry for the mysticality, but I just never seem to be able to use logical theology to describe faith.


Yue Han:

Yes, but in this case we’re not talking about different things, nor a thing that can be lacking a quality necessary for absolute perfectness. God has every aspect necessary for absolute perfection in absolute measure, right? If God is One, if His essence is the same, then Perfect-god-essence A is the same as Perfect-god-essence B. I mean, can you have two things that are the same essence and are absolute perfection in every aspect and have them be different in any meaningful way? If God contains all things Perfectly, He can neither lack something necessary for Perfection, nor contain something that is not Perfect. Neither can any of His persons, if they are to be wholly God as well. I think.

So He is not three beings, we just perceive Him that way? That works. However, it’s not the traditional, no-we-really-mean-it-three-persons-one-God of tradtional Christianity that I was attempting to understand.


Um, God the Father hasn’t experienced these things? But I thought He was omniscient! :wink:

Well, I will have to admit not having all that good a grip on just what the heck omniscience is. But could it be that yes, he does know, and the life of Christ is how He knows? The before/after thing is irrelevant. But I don’t really have any authority for that view.

There seems to be no conflict to me, that God might be more than just God. That God’s love might be so great that it is a thing itself does not seem any more or less unlikely than God Himself. That love is the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is given unto man, as Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is therefore the Spirit made flesh, and He was in the beginning, and is now, and ever shall be. It is not all that hard to follow, for me. However, I don’t have an explanation for it.

I myself am more than just one thing, though. I find it likely that you are as well. For so small a being as myself to be able to exceed my own self certainly is not hard to understand. I suppose it would be hard to define, though. You are each and all the many things you are. I certainly do not need to be able to define each of them to believe that you exist without self-contradiction.

Of course defining existence is a slippery little problem in itself, isn’t it? ( Where the heck is Lib, by the way? :))


Yue Han: I like that metaphor for different kinds of perfection. Kind of puts a new light on Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise”! :smiley:

Gaudere, absolutely no metaphor or analogy is going to work perfectly. As I once pointed out on another thread here, the Dogma of the Trinity is an attempt to explain an experienced phenomenon; it’s probably the most “scientific” element in theology in that sense.

For the early Christians, there was “God” in the strict sense: the Guy Up There Who Knows All and Is All Powerful (Call this idea “God(1)”). Then they had experience of Jesus, who identified himself (sort of) with God(1) but was clearly human like ourselves – though possessed of some interesting additional knowledge and power. Then there was the Holy Spirit, felt as God moving within the person. And yet, as an article of faith and a perceived reality, there was only one God. How to explain this self-contradiction?

Well, break out Aristotelian classes, and assume God to have a single ousia, or essence, but to have three separate hypostases or personae. This is the “Essential Trinity” (technical term). To this we add the idea of the Father – God(1) – as Creator, Jesus seen as the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier. (This is the solution to Joel’s dilemma, by the way: “Be ye perfect as the Father is perfect” is not a command to unaided humans but to humans strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be able to be the sort of perfect that God is – God never expects the impossible.) This layout, where their roles vis-a-vis humanity are taken into account, is referred to as the “Economic Trinity” – not with reference to how much it saves (though that does open the door for some wonderful puns, which I’m sure Tracer will post), but because it deals with the different persons’ interrelationships with man, just as economics studies the interrelationships of men in everyday finance.

At rock bottom, Triskadecamus has the important point: the Trinity is not susceptible to logical analysis, because the whole concept is contrary to human conception. Somebody above quoted a teacher of clergy as saying that no matter what you say on Trinity Sunday, you will be wrong. Logic refuses to give us a handle on how it works, and that’s fine: your salvation does not depend on how well you understand how God works, but on merely accepting his love. A child too young to understand the whys and wherefores of human sexuality or even the biology of reproduction can understand that Daddy and Mommy love him/her and loved each other enough to make him/her come into existence.

As for the question of God in Jesus and what was running the world while He was there, the idea of eternity and the idea of things running in parallel tracks is not beyond human conception, though tough. Any science fiction reader has had fun with the idea of someone going back in time and encountering himself – would the idea that an omnipotent God could take on humanity for 33 years and still figure out a way to run the universe while doing it be totally beyond the wise and insightful denizens of this board?

I dunno what Cecil’s beliefs if any are, but I’m certain he has a handle on the concept.

Finally, to throw one more metaphor into the fire, consider that this board is moderated. It is reviewed, posts may be edited or deleted as needed, and so on. The moderator of this board is two people. As regards the roles they play relative to the other members, they are distinct individuals. But they operate as a single entity to review threads and act as moderators. There are two people, but they wear one moderator hat. Perhaps the worst analogy I could construct but it makes the salient point that we know only those aspects of God which he has seen fit to reveal to us. It’s a brain-stretch to imagine him seeing all times as one; it’s a brain-stretch to see him observing everything that happens at any given time at once, noting me typing this, a sparrow pecking at the ground in Cincinnati, an old woman dying in Kuala Lampur, fusion going on in the core of Betelgeuse, and Helium II flowing up a rock on a dark planet in interstellar space. Now try to put them both together, so that he sees all things at all times in one gestalt. Being three persons at once is a piece of cake!

Final comment: as I noted above, the Dogma of the Trinity is an attempt to place into neat human categories a mystery, as Tom commented. The idea that there are three persons – Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit – who together constitute one God is a “fact” of human experience. I.e., there have been people who have known Jesus face to face and who have experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives, who have recognized in these experiences to know the essential unity in distinctness between the two, and who have been led by these experiences to grasp the nature of the Father. Cursory reading of the Athanasian Creed (not the work of St. Athanasius – that is a canard perpetrated years later; the name refers to its systematization of his teachings) to the contrary, it is not essential that anybody buy into the Dogma of the Trinity. It’s an explanation, not a belief. Belief in the Trinity – the three persons in one godhead – is what counts – not intellectual credence in the theory that 3=1 but belief in the God that is described by it. (As a side note, most Christians would understand that Keeves, Chaim, CK, Zev, and so on believe in that God, though their faith consists in stressing the unity and failing to grasp the crucial role of Jesus as a Messiah who epitomizes the role of the Jewish people…something most Christians miss too!)

Okay, I know this smacks a great deal of “mysterious ways” – let’s have the critique!

Well, as an analogy, say there are just three people in the world, all of whom have “human” essence. You can say they and they alone share the human essence. However, you cannot reasonably say that they are One, although their essence is the same.

If “God” is an essence, it makes it rather impersonal. In order to resolve three persons/one God, the “one God” becomes simply an essence, attributes, not a person at all. It seems meaningless to speak of this one God as if it was a person; that’s like speaking of “humanity” as if it were a person.

“Persons” are philosophically considered distinct by differing attributes; it is meaningless to speak if two personalities in one body, if the personalities are exactly the same in every way and occupy the same body. God’s three persons occupy the same physical and metaphysical “space”, and as they are all three said to be wholly God, Perfect and not lacking in any way, it is difficult to see how they can be different. You can have different “perfect things”, but only if the things themselves are different, like pizza and hamburgers. A perfect God the father is identical to a perfect God the son, since they are both wholly God and perfectly God.

Waal, not for me. Seeing all things at once is quite comprehensible. Being three people, each of whom is the same yet somehow must be differentiated somehow…the thought that the “three persons” is only a misinterpretation or is simply a mental excercise to hammer home God’s transcedance of humanity looks considerably more palatable.

Well, I’m going to have to agree here. It seems all the analogies are faulty, and while there is resolution to the dilemna if you choose to perceive God in a manner slightly different than the traditional Christian one, there seems to be no logical resolution for the traditional view. I’m not particularly keen on wholly and unresolvably illogical aspects of religion; if God does not have to “make sense”, a person could believe fully that God commands “love your neighbor as yourself” yet also believe God condones rape or murder. If it makes no sense, so what? Perhaps God is not bound by logic in this instance, or we simply cannot comprehend it, just as He is incomprehensible in the instance of the trinity. Or perhaps He really did plant dinosaur bones for the purposes of deception; it is simply an incomprensible attribute of Himself that He would choose to do so. As long as “it’s a mystery, it’s not subject to reason” stays in the realm of God’s three-in-one nature I am unconcerned, I just hope I don’t see it used often to justify bizarre (to me, anyhow) beliefs that have an actual impact on the world.

Yes, I do see the problem. What we’re trying to say with the “mystery” argument is that when you have Something greater than the Universe, any metaphor from the Universe whatsoever is going to be lacking in some important aspect. This is not due to any fault in the metaphysical structure of this God – that is, you will excuse me for insisting, an observed fact, at least to those who make it their business to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather it is due to the fact that no metaphor can quite stretch far enough to encompass the whole concept.

Uh, getting back to Essential vs. Economic Trinity, consider that while all three Persons are co-eternal, the Father is “ontologically prior” to the son. The classic metaphor here is that of two books or bricks placed on a table, such that while they were put there at the same time, the bottom one holds up the top one. And the Holy Spirit “proceeds” eternally from the Father (and the Son – this is one of the key points dividing the Eastern Orthodox from the West as a whole, Catholic and Protestant alike – the traditional statement, held to by the Orthodox, is from the Father alone; the West early on added the Filioque clause). So you have an “order” of 1) Father, 2) Son, 3) Holy Ghost within the Godhead. (Typically, this gives MPD catechumens a headache in all their personalities. ;))

As for how they can be distinguishable, I’ll trot out another metaphor: the Pauli Exclusion Principle. If you consider an electron orbiting a nucleus at just under the speed of light, the Heisenberg Principle suggests that the only reasonable image for what the electron “is” is that of a cloud of probabilities as to where precisely it may be at any given time. In essence, it is everywhere within its orbital at once. (Parallel to omnipresence is probably intentional on His part, and certainly is on mine.) But every orbital can hold two electrons, identical and “in the same place” – i.e., everywhere in the orbital – distinguished by having opposite “spins” – though what a nuclear physicist means by “spin” has very little to do with what a planet or a billiard ball does.

Suffice it to say that the typical Christian has little problem in telling the three Persons apart, owing to their separate actions vis-a-vis humanity, while insisting on their essential Oneness – which is a perceived fact of God’s Nature to him/her.

Or, if we really want to reach, “There were six men of Indostan…” :wink:

I’ve been thinking!

God is akin to a complete sentence.

You have “I am.” Complete. You could say, “I am he who am” for clarity’s sake.

But also “God is Love” – but, “God is” already – to say “God is Love” somewhat muddles the meaning of “God is”/“I am.”

So, God is the lover who loves the beloved.

“The Lover loves the beloved” is a complete sentence which clarifies the seeming limitation put on a God who is, but also is love.

To say “The Lover loves” is incomplete. The Father loves the Son.

To say “The Lover – the beloved” is missing a verb and we can’t tell the relation between them.

“Loves the beloved” is also meaningless.

Thus you need all three elements to fully see the meaning of God being Love. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit between them.

Does that help?

“Prior” is an awfully strange term to be using when you are speaking of an eternal existence. God the father always was, then, and Jesus always was, but Jesus is dependant and subject to God the father in a manner that God the Father is not subject to Him.

Yes, but different actions and relationships do not necessarily imply different personhood. I act different to a six-year old than I do to a sixty-year old, and I have a different relationship with each of them, but I am still the same person. Properly differentiating “personhood” requires actual difference–the fact that the Savior aspect of God appears “different” to man than the Judge aspect of God does not mean that they are actual different persons. A fundamental difference is necessary, not merely a perceived one, otherwise I would be a different person each time I interact in a different manner with someone. And as mentioned, I have trouble with a fundamental difference being possible within the constraints of being absolute perfection and wholly God. And the Pauli exclusion principle states that two electrons with the exact same attributes cannot coexist within the same energy level. :wink: All this seems to be pushing me towards a metaphorical reading of the three persons of God (not that it makes much difference for an atheist).

So it is a metaphor to explain the relationship of love? That is a possibility. But I can say myself “I love, I love myself, I am loved by myself” and remain one person, so it doesn’t help me with the “three persons” thing.