How Can I Explain the Trinity to Someone Unfamiliar with Christianity?

By | August 29, 2019


Some people get a question in their head and
it’s so intense they gotta just walk it in from Lexington, Kentucky. So we have in
studio with us–ooh, first name again? Ray. Ray from Lexington, Kentucky, who
came here with his wife and two sons. But he didn’t have to pay for a ticket
for the two sons. They got a free ride! They got a free ride. They’re still
getting a free ride till early June. Ray, your question for Tim. By the way: she’s
pregnant with twins. Just to be clear. Yes, in case that wasn’t clear what that
was all about. Go ahead, Ray. So Tim, my question would be: how would you explain
the Trinity to someone that has never been acquainted with Christianity or
anything like that? Yeah, that is a great question. A couple of years ago, I was
actually at a car wash here in San Diego, and I met a Muslim fellow. He was
going to school at San Diego State University, and he saw me reading my
Bible. I was waiting for my car and I was reading my Bible, and he said:
“Excuse me, is that a Bible?” And I said, “Yes,” and he had a thick accent, you know, I
could tell it sounded like he was an Arabic speaker. And so I said, “Where are you
from?” He said, “Saudi Arabia,” and he’s here studying, and he was fascinated about
the Bible. And he said, “So you’re a Christian?” I said, “Yeah,” and one of the
first things–we ended up–I let my car sit for a while cuz we had a long
conversation, Cy. Can you imagine that? Me having a long conversation? Really? Tim Staples? But we did, and one of the biggest issues for him was the Trinity, exactly this. He said,
you know–and I asked him, I said: “Just by curiosity, what do you think about the
Trinity? What do you believe WE believe?” And he said, “Well, as I understand
it, you guys believe there are three Gods. The Father is a God, and the Son is a God…”
And so it started there. Then I explained, “No, that’s not what we believe.” And what I
did–and this is what I would recommend–I used two analogies. For somebody that
doesn’t believe in the Bible, you know, it’s not going to appeal to them so much
to go to Bible verses and stuff–although if your friend does believe in the Bible…or no? It’d be good both ways. Both ways, yeah. So I mean, there are certain ways you can do it
with the Bible. I suggest–everybody acknowledges the Father is God. Right? So
the key is to show Biblical texts, for somebody who believes in the Bible, where
Jesus is revealed to be God also; verses like John 1:1, “In the beginning was the
Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with
God. All things were made through him, without him was not anything made that
was made.” I mean it’s very clear that the Word is
God, He’s the Creator and so forth; and then “the Word was made flesh and
dwelt among us” in John 1:14. You have verses like Titus 2:13, “We await the
manifestation of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” There’s lots of good
biblical text like that that reveal Jesus is God. And then you have biblical
texts that reveal the Holy Spirit to be God, too, and there’s many of those. For
example, in Hebrews chapter 10, you go down to about verse 15; and you see this
numerous times in Scripture, where the scripture will say, “The Holy Spirit said,”
and then the quotation is usually from an Old Testament passage where
the Holy Spirit speaks as God. “I am the Lord,” for example, “I have taken away your
sins,” or “I will take away your sins,” and that sort of thing. So there’s lots of
Biblical ways to do it. But I think for the one who has a conceptual problem,
they’re gonna say “Okay, I see, the Father’s God, the Son is God, the Holy
Spirit’s God, but how can they all be one God? It looks like there’s three gods,
right?” That’s where analogy comes in. And I like
to use two main analogies. There are more out there. But St. Augustine’s
anthropological analogy, I think, is excellent. He uses the analogy, obviously,
of man. When we look at a man, we see by nature
there are relational distinctions within each one of us.
For example, let’s take me, Tim Staples, as an example. I am. Right? I have being. I
know, intellectually. And I will, as well. So I have being, I have knowing, and I
have willing. These are three things that are real in all human beings, you can’t
deny it. Of course I am, and I know that I am, and I also will to know what I don’t
know. Right? And so these are three really distinct realities. They are relationally
distinct, but they subsist in one being. And the reason why St. Augustine
uses that is, that’s a great way of helping somebody to see how there can be
three relationally distinct realities subsisting in one being. Now where this
falls, as all analogies–and we have to understand that; every analogy we use of
God is going to fall, because God’s infinitely beyond us, we can never fully
comprehend Him. All analogies fail. But it does help us to get at this reality of
relational distinctions in one being. However, it fails in this sense: in God,
His being, knowing, and willing are each infinite; so infinite, in fact, that
they’re distinct persons. Right? They are infinite and coextensive with one
another. My being’s not coextensive with my knowing and my willing, because I am
before I knew anything, and I know that I I would like to know a lot more. So I
will to know what I don’t know. I was before I knew. So we know they’re not
coextensive, but in God they are; and they are each infinite, so radically infinite,
that they are revealed to be distinct persons. But never, never destroying this
notion that we begin with: that they are relationally distinct from one another.
That is, the Father has a relation to the Son; the Father and the Son, a relation
to the Holy Spirit; and those are real. But they do not destroy the fact that
there is one being. There’s not three beings.
One being. So that’s helpful in that regard. However, I like to use the second
analogy that the Catechism actually uses– in paragraph 2205 in the Catechism–
of the family. Because the family helps us to see not just relationally distinct
reality subsisting in one being, but the idea of three persons that all possess
the same nature. Because when you look at a family, right, we’re looking at a family
right here. We’ve got a father and a mom and two children right there, but let’s just
take one of them. So we got father, mother, and child that exist in a family.
They are really distinct persons. And yet, the babies in her womb have the same
nature that you do. Even though they’re little tiny guys in there, they have the
same nature you do, and so what we see here, we use the analogy of the family to
show that there can be three distinct beings–not just persons in a relational
sense, but now we’ve got three distinct beings and three distinct persons–who
all possess the same nature. Okay? The baby’s not less human than
you are or she is. They have the same nature, and yet they’re distinct persons.
Now, when we look at how this fails, however, it is in this sense: in God we
see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; they are distinct persons. They possess the same
nature as well, which we’ve already seen is reasonable because you
three have the same nature. But here’s where it fails: in God, each one possesses
the nature of God. See, with you guys, as I mentioned before, your nature is to be
one being. Right? That’s the nature of being human,
is you are a distinct being as well as a distinct person. But in God, you have
distinct persons; but because their nature is to be God, they have one being.
So it’s kind of a way–these are analogies, of course. If you put them
together, you can see how, yeah, it’s reasonable to have these relationally
distinct realities that subsist in one being;
and it’s reasonable to have three distinct persons that all share the same
nature. Where our minds get blown is, all three of their “natures” is one nature, and
that is God. And that’s where our minds get blown. And that’s why, when we talk
about God as a person, we’re using an analogy, because–He’s not a person, He’s
actually persons–but he’s not a person in the same way we are. We can use the
analogy of persons to try to get at God, but His personhood transcends anything
we can imagine. In the same way, His being transcends anything…you know, this is why
the Fourth Lateran Council, in its definition of the faith in 1215, the very
first thing they did at the Council is, they wrote up a profession of faith. And
one of the principles in the very first part of that Council is, they said: “God is
ineffable.” In fact, they used two Latin terms:
he’s incomprehensible and ineffable. Right? “Incomprehensible,” meaning our minds
can’t comprehend because it’s beyond our powers to comprehend the
infinite; and “ineffable” because His nature, by nature, is unknowable. So He’s
both incomprehensible because our powers are limited; but also ineffable, meaning
he’s unknowable–by anything outside of of Himself–because only God can fully
comprehend God. But the good news is we can use these analogies to help folks to
be able to get at, “Oh I kinda see it,” and then you get back to Scripture and you get
back to Jesus Christ, who revealed it to be true. Ultimately, our faith rests upon
the person of Jesus Christ, who revealed God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we
know it is true because he’s God and therefore he can neither deceive nor be
deceived. So for your walk back to Lexington, that’s a lot lot to think
about, but it’s a long walk from San Diego to Lexington. Oh yeah. A couple days.
Right on. Well thank you, Ray, for the question. Yeah, of course. you

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