By Moses Bean
Christmas celebrates not just the incredible love and peace of the almighty God, but also the amazing revelation of who he is. We worship him in spirit for the joy of his salvation, and we worship him in truth for the profound beauty of his name. We do not stir up our emotions in a fog of mystical babble; rather, the clear truth so enthralls us that all the world’s ills fade away.
For to us a child is born
To us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
But how could Jesus simultaneously be the son of God and the Everlasting Father? And if you consider that the Holy Spirit is specifically sent to counsel us, we might have in these verses a hint (though only a hint) of the triune nature of God. How is this possible? A common complaint about Christianity is that the doctrine of the Trinity is irrational, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a careful examination of it reveals deep resonance with the very nature of rationality itself.
The doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up as follows: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet he is one God.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 226) Although this is not explicitly stated in the Bible, many scriptures, such as Isaiah 9:6, point to it, and taken altogether make it very clear. So it is important simply because it summarizes Biblical truth—a truth that is radically proclaimed with the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus.
Searching for Analogies
But how do we understand it? Many popular analogies fall far too short. For example, to compare the three persons of God to the three forms of water—liquid, solid, and gas—does not represent that there is only one God or that he is intelligent. Similarly, to compare God to a man who can simultaneously be seen as a farmer, a mayor, and a father is more illustrative of the heresy called modalism. “This analogy is very deficient because there is only one person doing these three activities at different times, and the analogy cannot deal with the personal interaction among the members of the Trinity.” (Grudem, pp. 241)
One of the better analogies comes from mathematics. It is terribly deep but also wonderfully simple: although each of the three dimensions of mathematics is perfectly unique and coherent and exhaustive in and of itself, the three only exist (even in our minds) as a single phenomenon. For example, imagine a two-dimensional mathematical plane. We imagine ourselves floating above the plane or below it or even passing through it; regardless, our vantage point is always three dimensional space. The same is true when thinking of a one dimensional line and, though it can be difficult to translate into geometric language, of any form of math. No one is actually capable of thinking in anything but three dimensions, regardless of whether we are able to clearly articulate our thoughts.
Yet at the same time each of the three dimensions contains and reveals the whole of mathematics. For example, a (three-dimensional) cube can be accurately translated, drawn, and studied on a (two-dimensional) plane, such as is represented by drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper. Then that very same information can be translated into a linear sequence—for example, into 1’s and 0’s for computer binary so that it is stored on a hard drive. In fact, a single two inch line segment ( ______________ ) has just as many mathematical points on it as would be contained within a cube the size of the Milky Way galaxy. Ad infinitum: each of the three dimensions contains all mathematical truth.
(What about time being called a fourth dimension? That is an analogy. Time behaves like a dimension, but there is much more to it than that. For example, since even a simple, one-dimensional line segment is composed of a sequence of points, it is an expression of time. And the fact remains that we are only capable of thinking in three dimensions—not one or two or four or eleven. Anything else is just a gloriously abstract analogy.)
Although the three dimensions cannot necessarily be thought of as rational, they are both inseparable from and required for any and all coherent information and creative communication. First, all mathematical truth is contained within them, available to be discovered by rational people and translated into, for example, English. Second, math is the context for communication and language because those phenomena are entirely dependent upon patterning. Perhaps the easiest way to see this is to consider how the pattern of black symbols you are staring at was translated into computer code and back again—for numbers are nothing more than words. (For more on this see http://leaderu.com/theology/image_creator.html.) And third, every single quanta of creation is a medium for mathematical data—abundantly rational, creative (literally!) data.
By the way, if you think this all sounds frighteningly mechanistic then you probably just had a bad experience with math class growing up! The mystery, splendor, and complexity of it are boundless. But the three dimensions of rational thought are not just limited to pure math. We can find similar interaction in the semantics of language though it can be much harder to pin down. Consider, for example, how the concepts of freedom, knowledge, and determinism weave together. Although each concept is perfectly unique and coherent in and of itself, we cannot define one without having the other two in context. For where is there freedom without knowledge of options and where is there knowledge without a foundation of non-negotiable (pre-determined) truth? Perhaps we could even put the concepts on an xyz graph where x would be polarized by freedom/slavery, y would be polarized by knowledge/ignorance, and z would be polarized by determinism/randomness.
Abiding in Truth
All that is simply to say that the Trinitarian notion of unity in diversity—the revelation that God is three eternal persons—is abundantly, beautifully, astonishingly, infinitely rational. Oh that our hearts could be guided by truth!
Alas, we surrender so quickly to deception and wander so easily astray. We pursue things that our minds know to be worthless and let our fickle desires trump the good and best in life. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand,” says the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome. “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells within my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24)
The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son to set us free by paying the price for our sin and giving us new life. We care called to continually meditate on this truth so that it enlivens our spirits.
For truth transforms a person. For example, most anyone who wins a multi-million dollar lottery surely experiences a sudden and overwhelming overflow of joy. The things they will be able to do with all that money! The people they will be able to bless! And besides that, forget you, nine-to-five job! And forget you, debt hounds! Oh, the freedom, the future! …Uh-oh, wait, they read one of the numbers wrong and…ahhh…ohh…eeeh…not getting…a dime. All at once they fall from the pinnacle of joy to the ground. Now that hurts.
In such a case the only things that change are inside a person's skull—their understanding of the facts. In similar fashion, God changes us by enlightening our minds with the knowledge of his love—a personal, zealous, all powerful love.
That is the truth in which we want to abide. Through trials and tribulations, grief and sorrow, the foundation for hope always lies in who God is.
I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)