The Incomprehensible Trinity

We have just returned from my husband’s nephew’s wedding in Moab, Utah. I confess, I was not particularly interested in making a trip to Moab, Utah. It is in the middle of the desert, miles from anywhere, and getting there involves multiple planes, two time zones, and several hours of treacherous mountain driving … all to reach a destination known best (as the travel sites proclaim) for its “unique rock formations.” A day’s journey, to a barren desert, in the heat of summer, the highlight of which would be a view of … rocks? I was sure this was going to be a difficult trip offering only dry, lifeless terrain for our efforts.

But, having now experienced Moab, I realize that describing the geology there as “unique rock formations” speaks more to the limits of descriptive language – and of our human capacities – than it does to the reality of what we entered into and ultimately were awed by in Moab, Utah.

The sandstone formations sprouting throughout the area are seemingly impossible structures; their geometry is inexplicable, incomprehensible. And yet, there it all was … the reality of boulders the size of buildings resting – askew and off-kilter - often hundreds of feet above the desert floor - on undulating rock pillars so narrow and delicate, one wonders how the flutter of some transient hawk’s wings doesn’t topple the whole thing with a feathered, floating breeze.

What I initially imagined would be dry and lifeless … was transformative. In the shadow of such mysterious grandeur and majesty, words and intellect failed, and wonder transported us into an experience of indescribable awe … at the reality…. of the miraculously incomprehensible.

For me, Moab was yet another demonstration of God’s gracious eagerness for us - His creatures – to know and experience Him intimately. It was an object lesson - a physical analogy - for the spiritual reality we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday. The apparently dry, certainly arduous doctrine of the Trinity is essential to Christian faith, inspiring awe and reverence … yet it is also marvelously inexplicable and beyond our comprehension. Even though all Christians affirm this essential doctrine - that God is One over everything, but is also self-differentiated as three co-equal, distinct persons …well, as J.I. Packer has said “… the Trinity confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought the human mind has ever been asked to handle.”

Difficult as it may be, impossible as it is to understand, the Trinity makes all the difference. For, if God exists as three distinct, co-equal persons, it is important (as theologian Tim Keller says) to maintain “doctrinal balance.” So, for example, too great an emphasis on the Father, and we become legalistic, self-righteous, works-oriented Pharisees. We forget that we can neither earn nor deserve God’s Grace. The only way to the Father is through the redeeming self-offering of the Son. But, to place exclusive emphasis on Jesus Christ, is to risk defeatism and ultimately self-loathing; no matter what we do, we ourselves can never be like Jesus; only though the empowerment of the Holy Spirit can we even desire to model our lives after the Son. Yet, too much focus on the Holy Spirit renders us overly mystic and experiential; human feeling takes on primacy, becoming the final arbiter of when and where we feel God’s presence and action. To myopically grasp at one God – without the Trinity – is not only incorrect, it can actually lead us away from God – and back to our Selves… to sin. The One God our souls need is the One God in Three Persons.

We can’t explain this divine reality … only perhaps gaze (as I did in Utah) across the incomprehensible, perfectly balanced panorama of God’s astonishing self-revelation… and, with our baptisms, enter into God’s wonder … gleaning something of both the Divine nature, and our own Baptism-conveyed nature – displayed in the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity.

In a few moments AnnCaroline and Margaret Christine Fox will begin their own journeys into the Trinity as they are baptized into the singular “Name” of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to be baptized into that three-in-One Name?

Unlike in our own day, in Biblical times, a name declared one’s very nature and being. (When God orders Moses to build the Temple, for example, God tells him “I’ll put my name (His nature and Glory) there.”) By extension, also in Scripture, if a person’s nature or character changes, so does his name: Abram becomes Abraham; barren Sarai becomes Sarah, the mother of Isaac; Saul, the persecutor of Christians, - becomes Paul, the author and theologian of much of the NT.

The point is that, with baptism into the Trinity, AnnCaroline and Margaret Christine come into and under the authority of the fullness of our triune God; they receive something of His own character and being … and they (their very natures) are changed. Today, these little girls will be baptized into God the Father… who formed them, and knew them, before the world began … and into Christ the Son - who has saved them and is their redeemer …and into the Holy Spirit - who will now dwell within each of them, as guide and empowerer.

The first Wonder on their Trinitarian journey into the changed nature Baptism brings, is that God, from all eternity has been, before anything, a community of eternally-interacting beings – loving, honoring, glorifying, rejoicing in, and submitting to one another. Our Triune God is the very definition of Love. Even internally, God manifests Love; we see that His love perpetually seeks to Love, eternally moving outward … over-flowing as the source of all Creation. All that exists was created by Love, with Love and to Love. Central to God’s very nature (imparted to us in baptism) is His unbounded Love… compelling us to Love, above all else.

Similarly, if the heart of God has eternally existed as an expression of communal love and mutual glorification, then serving one another is a fundamental expression of God’s nature. Each person of the Trinity gives Glory to the other: The Son glorifies the Father; the Spirit glorifies the Son; the Father glorifies the Son and enlivens the Holy Spirit. Christ’s self-offering on the cross, then, is His actual living out in history - what has been going on in God’s heart forever. Even within the Godhead, God’s power is found in the giving up of power. When we submit our wills to serve one another, God’s character is made real in our lives.

Finally, the Trinity’s wonder reveals the explosive Joy and Dynamism within our God. The energy, delight and vitality of God cannot be contained even within the Godhead! And so, we too are commanded – compelled - by such Love – to Go outward In the Name of God - the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit … out into all the world – as bearers of God’s Joy and Love and Glory.

Now, AnnCaroline and Margaret Christine will begin their own life-long journeys into the unfathomable wonder of the Trinity. It is all too great for them – or for us! Words fail, and language is exhausted. All we can do is respond with grateful, humble, joyful hearts: hearts re-made as young and guileless as these two newly-baptized little ones; hearts refashioned as resilient and fascinating - for God! - as the rock pillars of Moab, Utah.

All we can do is respond - be changed - and GO forth in the power and Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.