I’ve been studying the Bible for over 38 years now. I am constantly reading everything I can to better understand the word of God. One of the most difficult things I have encountered is trying to explain the Trinity.
This blog post is part 4 of the series Eight Steps to Experiencing His Victory
On the one hand, it’s so easy to explain. Yet, on the other hand, it’s the most difficult to explain. One reason for the difficulty is that a created being (me) is trying to explain the uncreated, eternal God who created all things to another created being (you) through limited human understanding and language.
How can words completely describe God? They can’t. We must try our best to explain what the Bible clearly communicates even when it blows our minds.
Every Example Has Its Limits
The Bible describes God as being one and also three persons. There is only one God, but over 70 times in the New Testament we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (who are all called God at one point or another) are together at the same time.
So the question arises, is God one or three. The answer is yes. The Bible reveals that there is one God in three persons. Difficult for our minds to compute.
People have tried to come up with examples in an attempt to explain how God can be one God in three persons. I have never been satisfied with the explanations because they can’t really explain the complexity of who God is.
The main reason these illustrations fall short is that they are all impersonal. God is relational and something that is non-relational cannot explain or show how God can exist. Three of the main illustrations I always hear to explain how God can be one and three at the same time is Water (H2O), an egg, or a shamrock.
These illustrations, if taken past their purpose to their logical conclusion, will bring a person to a wrong conclusion:
- One such mistake is called modalism, which teaches that God is one person who has revealed Himself in three forms or modes. This connects the Father with the Old Testament and creation, Jesus with the New Testament and redemption, and the Holy Spirit with Pentecost and sanctification. One God, three modes, at different times.
- Another mistake is to picture the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three different parts that combine to make a whole God.
- A final error is called tritheism, which asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three gods that share the same substance.
Let’s look at these three illustrations and show how they can be misunderstood if taken too literally. Then we’ll look at what is the best illustration I’ve heard in attempting to explain the Trinity using a created thing.
The Example of the H2O: Liquid, Ice, and Vapor
Many try to liken the Trinity to H2O. It takes on three different forms liquid, ice, or vapor, yet it’s still H2O. It is awesome that it remains H2O in its various states.
I am not a scientific person. I have only taken the basics in high school and I don't remember a lot from those years. So when I think of liquid, ice, and vapor I see three totally distinct things. Liquid is liquid. Ice is ice. Vapor is vapor. In my mind, each mode can never exist at the same time. It is either liquid, vapor, or ice.
The problem is that this is how some people think of God. They think of God either as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but not all as existing at the same time. God just shows Himself as one of the other, not all three at the same time. These people think of God in a modalistic way rather than three persons interacting in love.
The Example of the Egg
An egg is also used as an example of the Trinity. An egg consists of three parts: the eggshell, the egg white, and the egg yolk. This is very true but the “parts” of the egg are three very different things. The shell is not like the yolk or egg white. It is an entirely different substance.
The trouble with this illustration is that people can see God as made up of three different things that make up God. The Father is the yolk, the Spirit the egg white, the Son is the shell that is visible on the outside. Good as far as it goes, but once again the picture is of three very different substances combine to make one egg. It makes people see God as different substances rather than one
Saint Patrick was a missionary to Ireland. The Trinity was an important belief for him. He wanted to help the people to be able to visualize the Trinity with something that was very familiar to their culture, the shamrock.
A shamrock is a three-leafed sprig of young clover. The three leaves are all interconnected to make one sprig of clover. The problem with this illustration is that there are three leaves and people could easily mistake God as three separate Gods that are joined together for a specific purpose.
Last week I wrote a post on Understanding God as Trinity, In response to the post my friend Glenn Lykken, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astrophysics, at the University of North Dakota. sent me a reply that opened my understanding to a new idea of how H2O can be used as an illustration of the Trinity. In response to this article, he wrote about how someone spoke of the Trinity using the idea of H2O. He said:
This works good for me when one considers the triple point when all three state coexist in equilibrium.
When I asked him what he meant by “triple point,” he told me to look it up on google. I did and here is what I found on Wikipedia.
- In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases (gas, liquid, and solid) of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.
- The single combination of pressure and temperature at which liquid water, solid ice, and water vapor can coexist in a stable equilibrium occurs at exactly 273.16 K (0.01 °C; 32.02 °F) and a partial vapor pressure of 611.657 pascals (6.11657 mbar; 0.00603659 atm).
In other words, all three exist at the same time in perfect equilibrium. Now that is getting closer to the understanding of the Trinity but still lacks one thing that illustration from nature lack, that is the interrelationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Thanks, Glenn, for providing such a wonderful illustration for us. I know it is probably baby-level physics, but if you’ve never taken a physics class it is wonderful new information.
Leave a Comment Below
Next week we are going to continue to describe who God is by speaking of this interrelationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But before I leave, I would like to encourage you to leave a comment below.
Are there any other illustrations you’ve heard to try and explain the Trinity? If so, in what ways does the illustration fall short?
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