What subject in Christianity has caused as much confusion or inspired as many metaphors as the Trinity? Our Tri (three) une (one) God is someone so outside, so completely other, that we can barely begin to conceive of what sort of person He is.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deuteronomy 6:4)
How do we reconcile this statement with the triune God? Part of the problem lies in our own experience of the world–in the filters we’ve grown up with and through which we always read God’s word. I’ll talk about that in a later post, but there’s also the problem that our language is inadequate to translate the Hebrew. Let’s try this again, this time with some clarification on key words:
The LORD (Jehovah or YHWH–the personal name of God) our God (Eloheem–god–plural) is one (united) LORD (YHWH)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) Here, too, the word for God is Eloheem–the plural form. Some say the plural is used to indicate God’s greatness. Why, then, does Moses quote God later in this story: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . .'”? (Genesis 1:26)
God is one, and yet He is three: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God, in other words, is a corporate being. God is community. God is: the Father, out of whom continually issues the Son (who continually pours Himself back into the Father), and the Holy Spirit, who is the loving commerce between the Father and the Son, so real that this commerce is a person in His own right–the Spirit of God.
So when God created man in His own image, how did He do that? God created Adam, in whom all people were contained. Eve was taken out of Adam, and the entire human race issued from this first couple. God created a corporate man–Adam, who had within him the seed of all men. Man, too, was community. God created Adam in His own image, and God is community.
Like you, I’ve heard this explained differently, but the explanation never seemed quite right. It goes something like this: God is three persons in one, therefore man must be a three-part being–body, soul, and spirit. The sticking point for me was that the two “threes” don’t correspond. You could make a case for the Spirit being analogous to man’s spirit, and the Son (who later took on a human body) being analogous to the human body of Adam. That leaves God the Father to be the “soul,” or as we commonly define that term, the mind, will, and emotions. But Jesus told us that the Father is spirit, and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. If God the Father is analogous to man’s spirit, then the Holy Spirit has to be analogous to man’s soul, and that doesn’t work at all.
When I heard (this weekend at the organic church conference my husband and I attended) that “Let us create man in our image” referred to God’s creating man as a corporate being, it clicked into place in my heart like a stone hewn to fill one and only one place in a skillfully engineered building. It felt like a vastly significant stone; an essential stone. It is not good for man to be alone. God created man to be a community–and not just any community, but the kind of community that God Himself is. A community so tight that it can only be described as one person–YHWH.
We mucked it up by choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge rather than the tree of life. Bad, bad move. This was Satan’s counterfeit tree, allowed by God to give us a choice–so that we could truly love–so that we could either choose Him . . . or not. YHWH wanted us to live by His Son’s life, just as the Son lives by the Father’s life (which He continuously gives back) through the channel of the Holy Spirit. God wanted (and wants) to extend that life and that pure, absolute community, to man. We were meant be one with God and with one another, just as God is one. We aren’t to be divine, however He intended for us to be united to one another and to Him by the holy bond of love.
But no, we ate from the tree of knowledge–we wanted it all–to be like God for ourselves, individually. This is truly Satan’s counterfeit–the rugged individualist who needs no one, who is sufficient unto himself–the rock, the island. Ever since we gave up paradise for individual “freedom,” we’ve been trying to get back to the Garden, but we’ve been trying to get there by our own life. We can’t do it–not without removing the poison of individualism. God made us each unique, but He also made us to be one as He is one. He made us to spread His image and His kingdom over all the earth. He made us to love and be loved by Him and by our brothers and sisters. This is the real circle of life.
His love, Cindy