Three Times One is Three, Of Course: John 16:12-15

Trinity Sunday texts at www.textweek.com

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31          Psalm 8          Rom. 5:1-5          John 16:12-15

Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.     John 16:15

Trinity Sunday just begs to be written up like a “Schoolhouse Rock” song. (You know you want to Google “Three is a Magic Number” now. Go ahead and watch it on YouTube. It’s only three minutes long—no kidding!)

Besides teaching ear-catching multiplication, the song echoes many of the symbols and images that have been called upon over the years to help us understand the “ancient, mystic Trinity,” the three distinct Persons who are the one unique God. The three legs of a table. The three sides and three corners of a triangle. The heart and the brain and the body (or, in more biblical terms, the heart and soul and strength). Faith and hope and charity (or, in more NRSV terms, faith, hope and love).

As one of the world’s three (!) monotheistic religions–with Judaism and Islam–we believe in One God. But Christianity is rebellious, difficult. We claim to believe in One God who is also Three. We claim it’s possible to be both monotheistic and trinitarian, to believe in the One and the Three at once. We don’t just believe in the table or in the triangle; we believe in each leg, each side and each corner.

And we believe that each leg, each side, each corner has its own character. They are not interchangeable. They are not indistinguishable. They don’t meld together and disappear into a generic “table” or “triangle” or “God,” but remain distinct, each contributing a particular, individual role to the relationship that is the Holy. 

Three, times One.

Though the Bible never says the word “Trinity,” Jesus loved to draw triangles, connecting the dots between himself and God and the Spirit. As Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for the time when he would leave them, he was making sure they saw more than his own “side” and his own “corner.” He wanted them to see the whole triangle: the stable, complete unity of Jesus with his Father (who sent him, who shared everything with him) and the Spirit (who comes to interpret, to proclaim, to guide).

Two millennia of Christian theology have not helped us to verbalize the Trinity any more clearly than Jesus himself did when he taught his first followers. Church history is fraught with arguments over the concept, and perhaps the limitations of our language are mostly to blame. We become tongue-tied when we try to explain how three and one are different and the same, separate but single, unique but united. Eventually, even our best symbols pale in contrast to the truth. Even our catchiest songs fade away.

And maybe it’s just as well. Maybe words and images need to be gently set aside when their helpfulness wanes, when they become fodder for councils and committees, when we start using them as weapons to determine orthodoxy (what “we” believe) and heresy (what “they” believe).

On Trinity Sunday, we read the words of Jesus, rejoice in the works of God, and rest in the promise of the Spirit. However we imagine it, however we express it, however we rhyme it or multiply it, however we draw our triangles and however we build our tables, we affirm this rebellious, difficult belief: these Three are One. Forever and ever, world without end.

Of course.


First published 5/16/16 on www.bwim.info/blog

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