The Trinity: Mysterious But Intelligible

As finite creatures, human beings will never know and understand the infinite God as God understands himself. That is why revelation (God unveiling himself) is so important within the historic Christian faith. Yet while the Trinity doctrine is mysterious, paradoxical, and ultimately incomprehensible to the human mind, it can be discussed in a meaningful, understandable, and logical way. Let’s consider three ways in which the Trinity makes sense.

  1. It is important to appreciate that the doctrine of the Trinity has been formulated by Christian thinkers in such a way that it avoids being a formal logical contradiction (A cannot equal A and equal non-A at the same time and in the same respect). For example, the Triune God is one in a different respect (essence) from the way God is three (personhood).
  2. The Trinity doctrine is an understandable teaching in and of itself even though human beings can never fully comprehend just how God is ontologically triune (three in one). Yet imperfect analogies do provide meaningful insight into God’s triune nature. For example, a single triangle with three sides is helpful in connecting the important concepts of “oneness and threeness.” Additionally, the analogy of one family with three members illustrates the ideas of “unity and personal diversity.”
  3. Reasoned and careful theological inferences drawn from Scripture about God do make sense, even though God’s nature and being can never be ultimately or totally comprehended.

The difficulty that human beings have in grasping the Trinity doctrine is that God is in certain respects different from anything in the created order. For example, the teaching that one being subsists as three distinct persons is completely counter to all human experience (though the truths of quantum mechanics are similarly foreign to normal human experience). This is, of course, the difficulty with human analogies of the Trinity—God is in some respects “wholly other.” But more truths than just the Trinity are beyond human comprehension. Many things God reveals about himself are unfathomable, including his infinite attributes.

Mystery necessarily accompanies human encounters with the biblical, transcendent God.

For more on the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, see “How Can God Be Three and One?” in my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.

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