All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Yesterday I did my best to briefly summarize why Jesus must be God. Today, I want to do the same with the question, Why must God be a Trinity?
If we are honest, the Trinity seems, at best, a math problem or a religious puzzle to solve. At worst, it is a man-made construction not supported in the Scriptures, as many in history, and still today, have proposed. But before trying to figure out how God is one-yet-three and three-yet-one (and you won’t figure that out!), I suggest we ask why God must be a Trinity.
The easiest way to summarize the answer is this: God must be a Trinity if he is to be a God who is love. This means the Trinity is good news! God does not just love (a verb), though he does do that! But he is more than doing. His very essence is love (a noun). God can love because he is love. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity exist in perfect loving relationship with each other. This loving community of persons are united in their being and purpose, yet diverse in their roles, responsibilities, and functions.
If God is merely one–individual, solitary, and alone, in relationship with no one–he can be or create many things. But he cannot be love. To be love, by very definition, requires relationship with someone other than yourself. The alternative is called vanity.
Allah, the god of Islam, for example, can be many things. He may even have the capacity to love. Yet, he cannot be love. Love can’t be his very essence. If love is not a god’s essence, it can be created and, therefore, destroyed. If love is not a god’s essence, then something else must and will be. This is not good news.
If we reflect further on God as Trinity, there are numerous applications. Here’s two:
- Human beings are made in God’s image. Thus to be human means we are communal beings designed to live in loving relationship with each other.
- The church is to be a diverse unity of persons, who together have a common faith, identity, and mission, yet individually have differing gifts, roles, functions, and activities.
Ultimately, because God is a Trinity—because he is love—the Father can, out of his great love for us, send his Son to atone for our sin and appease his holy wrath. The Father pours out his wrath on his own Son on the cross. The Son completely satisfies God’s wrath, paying the debt we owe with his blood. And in his resurrection, he conquers death so that all who repent of their sin and trust in the Son, are welcomed by the Father into this loving, harmonious, diversity unity of three through his giving us his Spirit. Do you see what this is? It is a Family working in unity, with complementary roles, to rescue lost, rebel orphans and bring them into the Family.
And this is good news. For you, for me, and for the world.
Scriptures to consider: Genesis 1:1, 26-27; Psalm 110; Matthew 3:17-18; Matthew 28:19-20; John 15-17 (esp. John 17); 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 4:1-7; 1 John 4:7-21