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Reflections on the Trinity (2)

I want to return to something I referred to in my last post (and have written about elsewhere), namely, my struggle with this doctrine during college. I found the Trinity difficult because it just seemed too strange to be plausible. Also, it seemed arbitrary – why three? If God has existed from all eternity past as a community of persons, why not four, or forty?

What has been most helpful to me on this doctrine is the theology of Karl Barth, particularly his doctrine of the “infinite qualitative distinction between God and man.” In referring to Barth I am not endorsing his theology wholesale – there is so much in it that I do not understand, and some things I find perplexing (for example, his doctrine of election). Nevertheless, Barth’s Commentary on Romans, with all its emphasis on God as “wholly other,” forced me to think through the distinction between creature and Creator more deeply than I ever had before. I soon realized that whatever problems existed in my mind about the Trinity must be subsumed under this distinction (I think other difficult doctrines such as God’s sovereignty and human responsibility should also be understood in light of it). Since God is infinite, and I am finite, I am totally dependent upon revelation in order to know Him properly. Trying to figure out God by finite speculation is no less impossible than trying to count to infinity by finite successive addition. No matter how long you count, you will still be an infinite distance away from your goal! I was reading a book about Barth by a guy named Bromiley, and I ran across this quote which summed up what I was thinking perfectly. “The problem of mathmatical triunity is a false problem, since we are here dealing, not with our world, but with God, in relation to whom we are wholly dependent on what God has revealed concerning Himself.”

The best analogy that I have heard for this distinction (though no analogy is perfect) is that of an author and his story. The characters in the story stand in a different relationship to the author of the story than they do to each other. Frodo’s relationship to Gandalf is qualitatively different than his relationship to Tolkien. It has been this consideration, more than anything else, that has put an end to my resistance to the doctrine of the Trinity, not by taking away the mystery, but by making room for it.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” -Job 38:4

Who are you, I man, to answer back to God?” -Romans 9:20

“How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” -Romans 11:33b-34a

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways.” -Isaiah 55:9

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” -Psalm 139:6

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I’m excited to be teaching an online cohort on arguments for Christianity. We will dive deep into 6 topics, with a view to real conversations and the pressing questions of our culture. Lots of time for interaction. This will be fun! You’re invited to join us!