The Mystery of the Trinity

medieval church on grassy hilltop surrounded by majestic mountains
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There are many things in our world that we cannot explain. [1]

#1 – Crop circles – Large, circular areas of flattened crops or other landscape that usually appear mysteriously overnight. The first one was probably noted in 1966, and some appear in more complex geometric patterns. Are they the result of UFOs, or a mere hoax that can be easily explained away?

#2 – The Mary Celeste – In November 1872, A British-American ship set sail from New York Harbor with the Captain Benjamin Briggs, the Captain’s wife and two year old daughter, and five others. It was bound for Italy – with enough food for six months and even an upright piano. It was found a month abandoned and adrift, but still seaworthy. Everything was just as it was with nothing missing except a lifeboat. There was nothing alarming in the entry of the ship’s log. No one on this ship was ever heard from again.

#3 – The Bermuda Triangle – A triangular space created by three points consisting of Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. Over time, a huge number of aircraft and boats have disappeared here under mysterious circumstances. In the 1950s, five US Navy planes on a training mission disappeared. The flight leader was reported to have been heard to say, “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.” Is this area jinxed or cursed, are the laws of physics suspended here, or is this seemingly high number of disappearances the result of embellished stories coupled with heightened attention paid to this one area?

We live surrounded by mysteries. But today we in the Church celebrate a mystery of a whole different scale – the mystery of the Trinity. It’s a day when we celebrate who God is – one in three, three in one. We celebrate that this one God is actually three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When confronted with something we don’t understand, we try to figure it out. It’s human nature. And, like the mysteries just mentioned, we approach the Trinity with a highly-prized rationality. We come up with examples or images that help us catch even a glimpse of what it means that God is a Trinity.

There’s the metaphor used by the Desert Fathers, the one that describes the Trinity using Light:  God the Father is the source of light, God the Son is the light itself that illumines everything, and God the Holy Spirit is the warmth that we feel from that beam of light.  There’s Augustine’s metaphor using a relationship of love: Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and the Love that goes back and forth between the two (the Holy Spirit). We could say that God is like a conversation: the Father speaks, Jesus is the Word that is spoken, and he is spoken with the breath of the Holy Spirit. And then there’s the Trinity as a dance between three persons – moving, flowing, working in concert so much that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins.

These are all helpful ways for us to begin to think about the mystery of the Trinity, but the danger with such images is that we’ll try to do with the Trinity what we do with all the other mysteries that fill our lives.  We’ll try to tame it, to explain it away. We’ll lose the holiness and mystery of God to some neat logical understanding of God that we’ve fashioned in our minds.  It happens all the time. We often make God into a grandfather who dispenses a prescribed order of justice – sorting the righteous from the unrighteous according to laws we’re sure we understand so well we could write them ourselves. We sing “What a friend we have in Jesus” – it’s comforting, intimate, and sweet. But the passages in scripture where Jesus says “I came not to bring peace but to bring division” or “love your enemies” or “if you have two coats give one away”, those parts of Jesus’ teaching we tend to overlook. And then there’s the Holy Spirit. We’re fine with a dove; we’re even fine with some different languages making our service a little more chaotic than usual.  But keep it confined to the baptismal font and the celebration of Pentecost. Bring in the idea of a fire that purifies us or a violent wind that causes a raucous in our own life, and we’re no longer on board. The truth is that we feel much safer and in control when God is easily definable and kept at arm’s length. As Sharron Blezard writes, give us “the Trinity in some incomplete metaphors and similes rather than let loose the wildly relational and mind-blowing incomprehensible triune deity hinted at and promised in scripture.”[2]

Let’s face it, we get uncomfortable around the incomprehensible but relational God of Isaiah – sitting on a high and lofty throne, surrounded by flying creatures waiting on him and praising him. The ground shakes, the place feels with smoke, and hiding underneath the hem of his robe, Isaiah is keenly aware of his smallness and unworthiness. And yet with the touch of a coal, all is made right and Isaiah is invited to participate in the awesome, incomprehensible life of God with these words: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” This is a God who is definitely holy, but also just as definitely not cut off from us. 

In fact, it’s been said that holy places are places where we sense two things: 1) that there is so much more than we can see, so much out there greater than ourselves, and 2) that somehow we are connected to all of it.  Grandeur on one hand, our absolute participation in it on the other. Incomprehensible, yet relational. Any infinite God could give us the first; the Trinity also gives us the second.  For only a God who is already a relationship, a community, a conversation could invite us to be a part of that relationship, community, conversation. And not only does God draw us in to participate in the life of God, but God also sends us like Isaiah to call other people into the life of God. It’s a community with unspeakable room, unending love, and absolute freedom. 

And so today we celebrate the Three-in-One, the Trinity. Not as a mystery that can be explained away, but as a mystery that can only be experienced. Perhaps by standing on the edge of a cliff on a clear day and seeing for miles and miles, and glimpsing our own smallness.  Or by holding a newborn baby or celebrating an eighth year of sobriety, and realizing that new life can’t be reduced to mere biology or psychology. Or by seeing someone in need, and feeling the spirit rise up within us that tells us we’re a child a God and so connected to every other child of God.  All this is the mystery of the Trinity.  More than a day for metaphors, analogies, and explanations, maybe today is a day to bear witness to all the holy places in our lives that draw us ever more deeply into the heart of God.

[1] Rebecca Turner, “Top 10 Unexplained Mysteries of the World,” World of Lucid Dreaming, Lauren Cahn, Jacopo della Quercia, “19 of the Strangest Unsolved Mysteries of All Time,” Reader’s Digest,

[2] Sharon R. Blezard, “A Holy, Wholly, Relational God,” Stewardship of Life Institute,

The Mystery of the Trinity
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