Trinitarianism Critically Explained

We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

—Athanasian Creed

There are two great truths about God which Christians, down through the centuries, have regarded as properly fundamental. The first truth being that there exists only one God. Easy enough to understand—however, the second truth is what admittedly baffles the mind. That second truth is this: The one being who is God, exists as an indivisible unity of three distinct and personal subsistences; namely the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The myriad of questions one could field just dealing with this solitary claim about God’s manner of existence is staggering to say the very least. However, there are a few that rise to the top and are more than deserving of our careful attention.

Where did we get the idea that God is Trinitarian? What basis do we have for trusting such a notion? And if we say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God (and all are distinct from one another), yet there are not three God’s, but one God—how does that not amount to intellectual malfeasance? Logical suicide?

Why is God a Trinity?

Because the Bible says He is.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “So what? Why should I care about the Bible?” And you have liberty to take that posture. But riddle me this: If you’re not viewing the world through the revelatory lens of Holy Writ, what lens are you using? How do you negotiate reality? Can you make sense of your senses? Intelligence? Life? Love, joy, good, evil, guilt, and gratitude? Goldilocks zones and cosmological constants? Sunsets and roses? Pineapples and pomegranates? Basically everything, all the way down to truth itself.

We live in a strange and marvelous world, but proximity and familiarity have robbed us of the ability to clearly perceive the significance of our existence; and it has lured us lockstep into the hazardous haze of peccable indifference. A state of stupor which refuses to even ask for a valid justification that fits our circumstances. However, possessing the requisite apathy to ignore the obvious implications of appropriately appraising the Universe and all its contents does not excuse one from wrestling with said implications. We still have to give an answer for how everything fits together.

The Christian answer is that God made the heavens and the earth with the precision of a master engineer on steroids and the care of a father. That roses paint the ground and sunsets fill the sky for the sake of beauty, because God is beautiful. He made us. He made us intelligent and sensational to live and know the bounties of His imagination. That we were made to drink of joy, seek the good, shun all evil, walk especially in love, and heap praises Heavenward because that’s what you do when you’ve been bathed in magnanimous grace. But instead, we spurned His grace, fought the praise, sped towards vice, embraced every manner of evil to spite the good, and having thus spoiled joy beyond our own mending, we did what any serious villain would do, we sank the world to the darkest depths of our self-imposed misfortune. All for the prize of being riddled with perpetual guilt because we never stopped our sinful wanderings, nor do we want to. Christianity says that this is our heritage and anthem, yet still He showers us with daily, undeserved, and countless blessings. Like pineapples and pomegranates.

Christianity explains things #quitewell, which should come as no surprise. Most true things do.

But it’s not just that the Biblical revelation has explanatory power. No, it’s that denying the Biblical revelation puts you in the precarious position of having to Jerry rig a worldview from scratch on the steam of your own inklings—and that without a shred of epistemic warrant. It’s not the Christian’s fault that asking, “How do you know what you know?” invariably leads to the admission “because God” or else the question continues hauntingly ad infinitum. If you don’t start with Him, you end in absurdity.

So why trust the Bible? If it’s not obvious to you by now, just pray about it.

Does that mean there’s no reason outside the Bible to suspect the verity of Trinitarian Theism? Well I didn’t say that.

The Trinity and Morality 

Feel free to disagree, but when I consider the labyrinth of sensory processing structures teeming throughout our bodies, the electrochemical codes and clusters of interdependent “decoders” which interpret those signals (aka brain cells), and especially the emergent rationalizations which follow such a dance—and allow for theoretical physics and taming beasts of wonder—it just seems asinine from my porch that anyone could arrive at anything else, except that we are the product of unimaginable intelligence and goodwill. To suggest coincidence can account for moral and contemplative creatures like us in a world like this is nothing short of laughable. It’s not just that something exists and might imply a Creator; it’s that you and I exist and can’t be explained without One. In other words, you don’t need the Bible to know that there is a God and you’re breathing His air.

That comes standard.

Why one God and not ten or ten thousand? If a video game can have multiple creators, why can’t our Universe?

Again, the Bible says as much and rejecting it leads you straight to inescapable agnosticism. But corroborating evidence is nice too. Morality demands there be only one God.

If you agree that some things—things like Columbine, Rwanda, the Klan, and 9/11—are inherently and universally wrong, then you, knowingly or not, concede a universal moral law. And besides multiplying explanations beyond necessity, sense would say that in the absence of a single Supreme Lawgiver, objectivity is erased. If transcendent law is a product of deliberating demigods—the conclusion of a multiplicity of wills—rather than a straightforward appeal to an objective standard of goodness, then the law is de facto not objective, but arbitrary (meaning it could have been something other than what it is). If the gods merely affirm the goodness of a standard beyond their deliberations, it would be that standard which is supreme and not the gods together or their counsel.

Moreover, such a standard must be [of essence] personal; since the standard is a standard which archetypically defines ‘good’ personal relations. Which gifts us this problem:

“How do you have a solitary and transcendent, personal standard of goodness if personality necessarily implies social knowledge, which can only be experienced in relationship?” Or to put it even more bluntly, “How can God be personal [and the prime example of perfect conduct] if He’s a cosmic loner?”

Short answer, He can’t.

Multiple gods destroy objective morality and a unitarian god lacks personality, which is the necessary grounding for objective morals (since mere commands are at bottom arbitrary). Even commands given in wisdom must be drawn from a body of relational knowledge, which cannot be obtained apart from being in relationship. So are we done? Is this stalemate?

Not exactly. Monotheism explains too much to abandon it so quickly. However, thinking deeply on it, as we’ve shown, gets us to an impasse. How is it that God, who is before all things and in a class by Himself, is the standard for social conduct if He’s not fundamentally social (or personal, if you will)? I’m a person, however, my personality is certainly not the rule for perfect social behavior and I still require interaction with other persons for full expression of it. If we say that God is just one of many eternal beings, then what makes Him the standard over and against any of the other beings? Would it be a standard above all of them (which only brings you back to square one) or some sort of arbitrary selection? It seems that if we want to say morality is objective and not imaginary or arbitrary, we are forced down the perplexing path of affirming that which our every intuition begs we render impossible. Namely, that Something is responsible for everything and whatever “it” is, it’s a “them.”

God is essentially one, yet exists as a perfect relationship (a diversity of persons) and is therefore, in Himself, the very standard for all other personal relationships. He is the law He requires. He must be.

But how is that logically coherent?

Well, beside the fact that universal, immaterial, and invariant rules governing our mental judgments makes absolutely no sense outside a universal, immaterial, and unchanging mind, the law of non-contradiction precludes us from rushing to a hasty dismissal in the case of Trinitarianism.

It states that two opposing propositions cannot both be true at the same time or in the same sense. “The car is red” and “the car is blue” are contradictory statements only if they are meant to be understood as statements regarding the same car at a specific point in time and in the same sense. If the car is red Monday and on Tuesday it is blue, there is no contradiction because it’s possible that someone changed the car’s color in that span of time. Likewise, if the car’s body color is blue, but is given a color-coded designation of red by an auctioneer because the car doesn’t run, no contradiction exists because the statements are about two separate things.

With that in mind, we’re able to see that asserting “God is both one and many” does not rise to the level of a true contradiction because God is not many in the same way that He is one. Ontological makeup and personality are categorically separate from one another and therefore create a space to seriously discuss Trinitarian Theism, free from the fear of entertaining logically dubious ideations. It’s baffling and foreign for sure, but it’s not an automatic absurdity by any means.

Still, due to the paradoxical nature of Trinitarian orthodoxy, it doesn’t immediately come across as very persuasive. For anyone steeped in day to day life, hearing of a tri-personal being [like the God of the Bible] makes about as much sense as a non-carnivorous lion. Yet we all remember Simba. And just as an aside, I find this to be a compelling mark in favor of Trinitarianism. That is to say, “What self-respecting person would make something like this up? Trinitarianism is either a revealed truth—unequivocally essential to the comprehension of [and proper response to] our terrestrial situation—or else it’s something you’re better off keeping to yourself.

Be that as it may, for beings who sit at the end of a long line of fortunate improbabilities, we shouldn’t be surprised in the least when our continued investigations happen to arouse degrees of wonder which regularly exceed our leaps in understanding. And as it would baffle words on a page to learn the material composition of their author, so we, being authors ourselves and apparent actors on a set, have ample reason to expect an equally puzzling transcendence from our Progenitor.

God is not merely higher up, He is beyond us in a direction that we can’t fathom. We inescapably see life from inside the fishbowl that is time and space. Length, width, height, and seconds. And to imagine something more than the space we know, an active existence utterly detached from the steady drum of minutes in motion, is not unlike a completely color-blind soul attempting to rationalize a rainbow. Color, to that person, may seem like a farfetched reality, the rainbow may even fade into absolute obscurity, nevertheless it dazzles—remaining radiant regardless of the observer’s ability to see it for what it is. The color-blind man may end up trusting the textbook and believe that rainbows exist, but to see them, he’ll need new eyes.

Ergo, the Trinity. 

C.S. Lewis, in his famous work Mere Christianity, said it this way:

“A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine.”

So to sum things up:

God is wonderful on a scale of magnitude that dwarfs even our highest conceptions of grandeur. And part of acknowledging that is acknowledging how inadequate we are to sit in judgement over Him and dictate in what manner He can and cannot be. God is a Trinity. The same source which explains why we can live and move as rational and moral creatures, the source which vindicates and validates our observing biological machines and cosmological conditions tinkered for life’s thriving, is also the source which tells us that reality is stranger still—that our Maker is a plurality of persons. Not only do we find footing in the Scriptures to conclude Trinitarianism, but when we distil morality down to its base, we discover warring principles that only reconcile in such a God. Moral laws are social rules that require social knowledge and volition to pronounce and enforce. And for God to be intrinsically social, He must Himself be a society. Weird, yes. But it threads the needle. 

God cannot be less interesting than us.

A Parting Thought

Rejecting Trinitarian Theism on grounds that it is rationally untenable, especially in this day and age, shows either a serious lack of humility or an ignorance that needs quick remedy. Case in point, physics. Quantum entanglement alone is evidence enough that we meddle in mischief almost too great to ponder. But add in anti-matter and dark energy, particles that are observer-dependent, and even those which conceivably flip the order of cause and effect, and just like that there’s no room left to deny a plethora of things which once seemed impossible. In the realm of physics, there are two predominant theories which try to make sense of the cosmos, the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity shines when explaining gravity and motion, whereas quantum mechanics does best at accounting for the behavior of particles and forces on a subatomic level. To date these theories have not been harmonized because matter appears to play by different rules on a quantum scale than it does when the scale is larger. And interestingly enough, the most promising theory which purports to marry the two only makes sense when you plug in ten or eleven dimensions. 

I say all that so I can say this:

Believing that God is both one and many is no more far-fetched than the most contemporary theory of everything. And if life turns out to be stranger than fiction, which is how we’re trending, what does that say about its author?

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4 thoughts on “Trinitarianism Critically Explained

  1. Hi Zac,
    You state that the Bible says the trinity is true so it must believe it but I don’t see a quote from the Bible in your post. Can you share the verse your referring to?

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      1. Thank you for the link. I must say, though. To require an article as lengthy as this to simply establish the doctrine of the Trinity is in the Bible (of which I am still not totally convinced) and another lengthy article to establish it’s logical possibility feels a bit overwhelming for me. I just want to remind that there are ideologies that are much less complicated. No Muslim or non-Muslim I have ever met finds the Islamic conception of God hard to understand!!!

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      2. I appreciate you reading them both!

        There is certainly something to be said regarding simplicity, but in no way is absolute simplicity a litmus test for determining what is true. There was a time when geocentrism dominated and seemed intuitively correct, but later advances in understanding revealed that heliocentric models better fit the facts, resulting in greater and more complex discoveries about how the Universe works.

        The fact that God is one, I do not deny. It’s simple, beautiful, and true. But like the reality God brought into existence (which simply can’t be simply explained), He too will not be summed up by any digestible span of human explanation.

        A mouse trap is simple, but even with a mouse trap you’re talking about a mosaic of elements, a once living and thriving organism that still holds the shape of its former self (the wood), a blend of nutritious fuel made to power the mechanics of life (cheese), and an intricately formed hash of bonded Iron and Carbon (hammer, spring, and bar)—rudimentary, but engineered nonetheless.

        Simplicity and complexity is merely a matter of magnification. To say otherwise is simplistic.

        God is simple in one sense, but not in every sense.

        “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8‭-‬9

        “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” —Job 42:2‭-‬3

        Blessings!

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