Three Is the Loveliest Number
Three Is the Loveliest Number
There is something irresistible about overhearing your name being whispered in a private conversation. Usually (of course) I try to stop my ears, but once I could not help taking in this little snippet, which has tickled me ever since:
"Yes, well, Reeves does love that Trinity stuff." (Picture eyes being rolled.)
It was the way this Christian man put it that fascinated me: not "Reeves does love God," but "Reeves does love that Trinity stuff." His choice of words seemed to sum up perfectly a common perception: that there is the God we know and love—and then, in some mental ivory tower far, far away, there is that Trinity stuff.
That mathematical mystery. That mind-bending oddity. That strange, even embarrassing idea. Yes, deep within the Christian psyche today seems to be the notion that the Trinity is an awkward and odd irrelevance, an unsightly wart on our knowledge of the true God. And so, when it comes to sharing our faith, we speak of God's offer of salvation, we speak of God's free grace, but we try not to let on that the God we are speaking of is a Trinity. We wax lyrical about the beauty of the gospel, but not so much about the beauty of the God whose gospel it is.
It is time to stand up and say, "No!" to such nonsense, to turn our backs on the absurd notion that our beautiful gospel could ever come from a God who is not the very perfection and essence of beauty. For the health of the church and our faith, we must be proud of who our God is. And since the Trinity is no mere theological icing resting atop our God—since the living God is Trinity—we must be resolutely and thoroughly Trinitarian in all our ways and thoughts.
Only then will we truly enjoy what sets the living God apart from the gods of human imagination. Only then will we know a God good enough to offer truly good news. And this, in fact, is the nature of the very eternal life for which we have been saved: knowing God. As Jesus prayed, "[T]his is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
Where to Start?
The trouble is, the Trinity seems to be completely surrounded by the most intimidating mental razor wire. For the average Christian, the word mystery is enough to halt all further inquiry. If the Trinity is a mystery, why even bother trying to understand? (Modern connotations of "mystery" don't help. In the New Testament era, a mystery was not a riddle to be solved, but a truth revealed to the faithful—something disclosed, not kept hidden.) Then, for the more intrepid, there is a regiment of supposedly helpful illustrations to negotiate: God is like a three-part leaf, like the three states of water, like the three branches of the U.S. government. They leave one, at the very least, feeling that this God is rather bizarre.
But Christians have not come to believe that the God of the Bible is a Trinity because they have sensed his resemblance to some leaf, drink, or political structure. Christians insist on the Trinity because of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As the Son of God, Jesus reveals a God who is a Father. Before anything else, that is the eternal identity of the God revealed in Jesus. "Father," says Jesus in John 17:24, "you loved me before the creation of the world." Before all things, the God made known in Jesus was a Father loving his Son.