I’ve had experiences with antitrinitarians and Semi-Arians. Several years ago, a well-known antitrinitarian advocate showed up at my door, asking to share some important truths about the nature of God. Given my curiosity and love of theology, I decided to entertain his ideas. What followed was over an hour of proof-texting, as he vigorously jumped from passage to passage, making pushy little arguments to prove his opinion about who God was and is.
His antitrinitarian argument was based on the existence of a single Lord—the Ancient of Days, the Father and Supreme Ruler of all. Jesus was God’s vicegerent, whom He knighted as divine after He emerged from the Father’s bosom. He told me not to worry if this sounded like procreation because Jesus had been brought forth from the Father far back in eternity, too distant to fathom. This was important because the Son was designated the sacrifice for sin. The man argued that Jesus was not fully God, for He needed to die to save us. He told me that the Holy Spirit was nothing more than the character of Jesus, His energizing force that emerged whenever the Father and Son were present.
My generosity and interest in theology led me to accept this man’s offer to share his position, but I robustly rejected his conclusions about the nature of God. I still do. I thought his fragmented use of sacred text failed to consider all the evidence for the diverse unity or triunity within the being of God. We should expect to see God’s unity reflected amid plurality.
Arius, a fourth-century bishop, upheld the Father’s divinity while devaluing the Son as inferior. Arianism is committed to a completely transcendent God who cannot enter human history or be truly present with us. Philosophical traditions such as Platonism have also influenced the concept of the Trinity by sanitizing God’s holiness and transcendent qualities. Aristotle’s concept of the “unmoved mover” prompts a view of God as distant and beyond emotion because He can’t appear weak. These views suggest that God can’t be affected by our suffering, yet the Bible conveys that God is wholly embedded and present with us. As theologian Jürgen Moltmann notes, a distant and impassible God is a “loveless being” (The Crucified God, 1974, p. 222)
I do not claim that I can map out the complexity of God’s nature, but the revelation of one God in the fullness of the Father, Son, and Spirit certainly engenders a sense of awe. I affirm the position of the Trinity, not because it perfectly explains the nature of God, but because it defends the eternal mystery of God’s essence. God’s complex unity, which exists in tension with plurality, is the mystery of a vastly superior being, yet it is not inscrutable. Love is the defining quality of God’s being, so He is relational by nature. God is first and foremost the One who is with us—the One who comes to dwell among us, understanding and participating in creation. The baptismal recitation of “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” is a good example of this relational reality, which presents a familiar God who invites us into His life of love (Matthew 28:19).
Affirming difference helps me better comprehend the dynamic nature of God. I affirm God in three persons, but I deny personal distinction based on origin. Each person is distinct from the others yet one in essence. God’s unity is not rooted in aloneness but in shared equality—a nuanced monotheism of plurality amid unity. I seek to avoid the error of viewing God as undifferentiated, existing as solitary on the one hand and in three distinct God’s on the other. I see one God existing in relationship as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian views of God fail to capture this attribute of love. God is not a solitary unity because His very nature is love. We should understand this because we all desire and need to be part of a family; we all seek to see a loving father relating to his son and vice versa. Language that includes the “Spirit of God” also conveys personal aspects of God that are often neglected—His gentle caress, His soothing breath, and His brooding over us—rather than conveying poetic forms of power without the substance of God.
While the Bible mentions other beings—angels and humans—only one being is of God with no one else like Him. Distinguishing God from all other realities is important (Deuteronomy 6:4). The nature of God is best understood not through philosophical definitions and doctrinal formulations but as the One who exists as three inter-loving persons who give and receive. This view of God is helpful against common extreme views in the Christian culture, such as those that reduce God to worshiping Jesus only or generalize God as nationalistic, centering Him around power and authority.
Do we reflect a biblical view of God—as Father, Son and Spirit—or do we reflect a fragmented, pagan, or cultural view? Which descriptions of the Trinity have you found helpful or lacking? Are you hung up on the number three? Do you find the concept of the Trinity compatible with monotheism, the belief in one God? What is your position on the idea of a triune God?
Craig Ashton Jr.