Recently, a friend told me, “I’m sort of confused. When I pray, who am I praying to? I mean, I know we’re praying to God, but then sometimes we pray to Jesus or we pray in Jesus’ Name. And by the way, I don’t understand the whole idea of the Trinity.”
When I get complicated questions like these, I must admit, I briefly wish that I’d become an orthodontist, or anything other than a pastor. But let me do my best by tackling the questions my friend posed in reverse order, starting today with the issue of the Trinity.
The word “trinity” isn’t found in the Bible. But with a firm Biblical foundation, the Church has always taught that there is one God of the universe Who has disclosed Himself in three distinct, yet interpenetrating, personalities. The Bible refers to these three personalities as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God the Father is usually seen as the Creator of the universe. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...,” the Old Testament book of Genesis says in elegantly understated language. (Genesis 1:1)
God the Son is Jesus Christ and is also called the Savior, the One Who saves people who repent (or turn away from sin), giving them everlasting life and purpose.
“No one has ever seen God,” the Bible says, “It is God the only Son, Who is close to the Father’s heart, Who has made Him known.” (John 1:18) Jesus then, is the ultimate disclosure of what God is like: God, it turns out, is not a pinch-mouthed tyrant waiting for the chance to trip us up in our sins, but a God of grace and mercy Who wants to give everyone the opportunity to live with Him forever.
God is also the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit Who came to praying followers of Jesus Christ on a day we call Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead.
As the Pentecost account shows, the Spirit makes it possible for the Church to tell others about Jesus Christ. (Acts 2)
But the Spirit also makes it possible for us to have faith in Jesus. The New Testament says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (First Corinthians 12:3) In a dog-eat-dog world filled with selfishness and the constant demand that we prove ourselves, faith in a God Who loves us as we are and died and rose to give us new lives is so counter-intuitive that only the Holy Spirit can give us the ability to believe.
The equal status of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are seen throughout Scripture. Jesus says of Himself, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) He also commands the Church to proclaim His message throughout the world, making new Jesus-Followers (disciples), and to baptize “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” putting both Himself and the Spirit on an equal footing with God the Father. (Matthew 28:19)
And what exactly is the importance of knowing about the Trinity?
Maybe it’s this: God is a big and complicated Being, bigger and more complicated than any of us. More complicated than all of us put together, even. And this great big complicated Being doesn’t really need us. God is utterly self-sufficient. He enjoys full, loving, fulfilling relationships within Himself.
But it’s in the heart of this big, complicated God to love, to reach out beyond Himself. God’s love is more than just good feelings or happy thoughts. God’s love is an action verb, a restless, passionate giving and the will to give more and more of Himself away in love.
God’s love is so huge that it can’t be contained in one personality.
And so, God the Father creates a universe teeming with life, extravagant in all its good and perfect gifts.
God the Son, unwilling to see God’s creation slide into hell, becomes human like us and dies and rises to give us all second chances at God’s love-gift of life.
And God the Spirit emblazons the message and the reality of God’s love on Jesus-Followers’ hearts so that all can receive new and everlasting life from God.
I don’t understand everything about God. But in the mystery of the Trinity, I see the love of God written in large, bold letters.