TRUE MYTHS

Concerning Hidden Realities and Human Destiny

Hidden Realities #3: The Trinity - God's Big Secret

John Carswell | Saturday, September 02, 2017

"I believe in God the Father...and in Jesus Christ, His only Son...I believe in the Holy Spirit..."
- The Apostles' Creed

Hi. I'm a Christian. I believe that God is this thing I like to call the Trinity. Things are about to get weird...

Everywhere you look, we're surrounded by instances of the one and the many. The human race and the many individuals that make it up. Nation-States and the various locales that constitute them. Nature and its staggering diversity of creatures. The list could go and on.

And it strikes me in this that integrity is important: it seems from the above observation that things should be diverse AND similar, both varied AND unified. If we simply look at human society, we can see that it is good when individuals and groups of people retain what is unique and different about them but also manage to find harmony amongst one another. When they do not, unhappiness - even war - is the result.

Dogs and Cats Living Together. Mass Hysteria! Bill Murray. Ghostbuster.

So far in this series, I've dealt with God and with Jesus. Most folks can get on board with God and with Jesus, if not in a religious sense, then at least in the sense that, yeah, it seems like there must be SOMETHING behind all of this (God) and that Jesus guy does have some really nice things to say. Nothing terribly controversial, at least on a surface level...

But the Trinity is where things start getting really tricky for a lot of people. And honestly, that's to be expected! The Catholic Church teaches that the Trinity is not something we are capable of knowing apart from Faith. That does not mean that it's irrational per se, only that it is knowledge that we are not capable of attaining apart from God telling us Himself.

But what really seems to get a lot of people is this idea that God is both One and Three. The theologian Frank Sheed once wrote that he had heard a learned individual once quip that he had no interest in understanding the arithmetic of God. And that's fine, because that's not what the Trinity is about by any means. Christians do not claim that, goshdarnit, when it comes to God, 1 just somehow magically equals 3.

No, when Christians talk about the Trinity, we are talking about 2 different concepts and how they pertain to God. The first thing is that God is One Being. There is indeed only one God. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The second thing is that this One God exists as three distinct Persons. This is where we get tripped up, because when most of us think of "beings" we think of "people" aka "persons" and every person we know is one being, and vice versa. Actually though, there are plenty of beings who are not 1 person at all. Consider a rock. Being? Yes. Person? Not so much. Thus, we can see that Beinghood and Personhood are 2 different things, philosophically speaking.

Trinity Shield

"The Trinity Shield"

Still, the Trinity is problematic for our intellects because while we know plenty of beings who are 0 persons and plenty of beings who are 1 person, we don't have tangible experience of any beings who are 2 or more persons. And for an intelligent being, the concepts of beinghood and personhood are tied so closely together that it just doesn't seem possible.

And this is where the Christian must admit that the Trinity really defies our experience of anything on a natural level. However, that does not mean that our minds cannot reach to it, and even contemplate it. And this is where I come back to integrity. Remember that old bumper sticker "visual world peace"?

Visualize Whirled Peas

Nope, not that.

Visualize perfect harmony. Visualize perfect integrity. Think back on that moment you felt truly happy, that you enjoyed inner and outer peace, even bliss. Visualize perfect love, because, for lack of a better term, Love is how the Trinity WORKS. The Trinity is the perfect bond of love, and that's why when Christians say "God Is Love" we are not being sentimental, but saying something utterly wonderful and powerful. Without getting into the details, let's just say that each of the Divine Persons is fully God and fully not the other Divine Persons, perfectly bound together in love for one another. We have perfect unity, and perfect harmony. The Trinity is the total package, the foundational notion of meaning, Integrity itself. "I and the Father are One."

Yet even as I write this, I'm realizing just how little I have in fact said about so vast a topic, even on a human-level. My goal here though is only to propose the Trinity as the perfect image of Happiness, and to say that that's who God is. Doesn't that sound nice?

OK then...what's next? Ah yes. If God is happy in Himself, then how did all this stuff get here? Why even bother? All this and more, coming at you next time...


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David Llewellyn Dodds commented on 05-Sep-2017 01:59 PM

To jump ahead and/or sideways to Tolkien, Middle-earth, and the knowledge of the Trinity - many Christian commentators on the Bible have taken the "Let Us make man" of Genesis to be revelation of the Trinity, though I have also read a modern Jewish commentator thinking this may be God speaking to His angels (I'm not sure what tradition that has).

In Tolkien's Middle-earth creation story, there is Iluvatar and there are the angelic Ainur, some of whom become Valar, and the angelic Maiar (some of whom eventually become Istari), but (if I'm not mistaken) no clear revelation or hint that God is Trinity, that Iluvatar names either the Trinity or one of the Persons of the Trinity.

Now, Tolkien imagines a long transmission history of Elven, Human, and Hobbit accounts being written down and copied, and presents his works as translations of such texts. So, different being may have known that God is Trinity but not written that down, or told anyone who was writing things down, and so on.

But it is an interesting question, nonethless - did any of the Elves know God is Trinity? Did even the Maiar and Ainur?

In the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" Tolkien imagines a pre-Incarnational thinking about the Incarnation - but I don't know of anything comparable about the Trinity.


John commented on 05-Sep-2017 03:03 PM

A fascinating question! Ilúvatar certainly never gives any indication that He is in fact Triune, yet it must follow (given what Tolkien has to say about the connection between his mythology and our own history) that Ilúvatar is in fact the Christian God. It could be that (in Tolkien's mythology) this is His great gift to us, His Younger Children...to be the race through whom He not only becomes Incarnate but through which he also reveals to the entirety of the cosmos the fullness of WHAT He truly is.

And you know, as I think of it, I'm not sure we even know one way or the other whether the Angels knew God as Triune before the Incarnation?


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About TrueMyths

Hi - I'm John. Welcome to TrueMyths, where I explore music, Christianity, literature, and culture. I'm co-host of The Tolkien Road podcast, and am the author of Tolkien's Requiem. You can learn more about TrueMyths here.

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