Opinion Columns & Blogs

Who understands the Trinity?

Did you ever try to explain the Trinity? You know: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: three distinct and separate persons but one divine nature? “You mean like: Hillary, Donald, Bernie: three distinct and separate persons but one human nature?”

No, no, you don’t understand. Those are three different people but here there’s only one substance, one essence, one God. Got it? “But what’s the difference? Aren’t we talking persons and nature in both cases?”

Forget it. Christians have always had a terrible time with the Trinity. For the first 400 years, many sincere followers of Christ tried to explain it. Some said Jesus was born as a man but became a god; others that only the Father—not Jesus—was the God of the Old Testament, and still others that the Holy Spirit wasn’t really God, but just the expression of God’s power. All of these people were condemned as heretics by the Council of Nicaea in 325, but it took another 75 years to silence them completely. And they were silenced just the way you were silenced as a child: “Believe it because I said so.”

Why did Christians have such a problem? Well, once again, blame the Jews; we blame them for everything else. You see, if Jesus had a human mind, (and we know he did) it was a Jewish mind. Jews can’t divide up YHWH into three persons. The Romans and the Greeks had no problem with this; they had more gods than Catholics have Saints, and they insisted on the “divine label” for Jesus. But no Jew in his right mind would ever say, then or now, “I am God,” and Jesus was a good Jew. He could never have blasphemed that way in his Jewish mind. But if he did, as John’s gospel says he did, his Jewish enemies had a valid cause to stone him to death. (John 5:59)

But anybody who reads the New Testament — and especially John’s gospel — would certainly get the idea that Jesus spoke freely about being God. There are over 20 statements like these: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) and “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) If Jesus was such a good Jew, how could he make statements like this? Well, I don’t think he did; I think the evangelists made them for him.

To Jewish minds, to be true man and true god at the same time is an oxymoron. Humanity and divinity are not just different modes of being, they’re opposites. Did he suspend his divinity when he got angry at the temple change-makers who were just doing their job? Did he suspend his humanity when he died and rose from the dead?

These questions — and many more — haunted the Christian towns for the first 400 years after his death. There was more dissention in those days than we’re seeing in our political campaigns today. That’s why Emperor Constantine had to stop it in 325 A.D. “It’s a Trinity” he said, “Shut up and believe it.”

Whether I believe it or not, I agree with the Franciscan Friar, Father Richard Rohr, who says in his book: “The Naked Now”: “Our preoccupation with his divinity did not allow us to hear about his own proudly proclaimed and clearly emphasized humanity.” (pg. 68) Eighty-seven times in the Gospels, he calls himself a son of man: a regular, human, everyday man — “I’m just like you.”

Here’s a man who has all the limitations and illnesses of humanity, but breaks through them all in courage and determination. A man who knows how hard it is to forgive his enemies, yet can say: “Come on, let’s forgive them.” (Luke 17:3) A man who knows (because he’s been there) how easy it is to see the stupidity of others but overlook his own ignorance, and can say: “Let’s take the log from our own eyes and then we can see the sliver in theirs.” (Matt. 7:4) It takes a big man to say stuff like this.

The Trinity is something theologians can argue about and mystics can meditate on, but it has absolutely nothing to do with how I live my life. That’s my opinion, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.