Christians’ understanding of God is pretty complicated. On one hand, we believe God is one, and on the other hand, we claim God to be the Trinity. The Trinity is a more complicated teaching of the church than the teaching on the oneness of God. Not that the oneness of God is easy to understand or fully comprehensible, but the fact is the concept of the Trinity confuses people and theologians more than the oneness of the Creator. Now, the Trinity does not mean that there are three gods or that one God has three parts or that there is one God in three forms. Historically, the church believed that one divine essence (Latin: essentia, Greek: ousia) exists in three persons (Greek: hypostasis) as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that can exist only in relation to each other and in each other. They are not fully separable from one another, yet neither can they be reduced to each other. Obviously, this does not answer all the questions arising from the concept of the Trinity. Because of its complexity, many Christians see the Trinitarian understanding of God primarily as a theory rather than as a practical teaching.
Here, I will show you how the Trinitarian understanding of God is practical and how it can be incorporated into our everyday lives as a way of seeing, thinking, and acting. If you want to go deeper, you will find a lot of treasure in mystical and theological literature, but here are the basics.
Humans have a trinitarian structure.
From a theological and biblical perspective, humans cannot be reduced to their bodies — we are more than that. Human beings have souls animated by the Spirit of God. Together with the body, that gives us a Trinitarian understanding of humans: body-soul-spirit. Although our knowledge in these matters are limited, almost all faiths of the world acknowledge that humans are more than their bodies and have something spiritual or spirit-related inside them. In the Christian faith, the Spirit is seen as something that comes from God. In short, the Spirit is God’s breath, keeping us alive. The body is the material aspect of human beings. It is the gift given to us by God in which the Spirit of God dwells. The soul is the individuated aspect of the Spirit and the body that comes into being as we live and experience the world. The soul is personal and is defined by the way we live, feel, and respond to reality.
How would this be practical to us? Well, the Trinitarianism of humans helps us see that we are connected to God in a well-rounded way. Our body, our emotions, our intuitions, our secrets, our fears, and our dreams as part of who we are all share in God’s image. Everything in us has the potential to be sanctified by God; therefore every thought, every emotion, every word, every action is a chance given by God to get closer to him by opening ourselves to his love and justice. We can serve God bodily, emotionally, and thoughtfully, either by integrating our thoughts into a whole or surrendering to God with the component that we think is easiest. Some people surrender their body to God very easily but not their thoughts. Then they should start from their bodies. For some people, surrendering their thoughts to God is very easy though their emotions often overpower those thoughts. Those people can start surrendering their thoughts first.
Crosses patterned after Trinity
Living Beings interact in Trinitarian patterns.
All relationships between all living beings have a Trinitarian pattern due to God’s presence everywhere at all times and to all beings. Wherever two or more creatures interact, God is in the midst of them. God is the sustainer, savior, forgiver, judge, and healer of wounds happening in relationships. Yet the most basic presence of God in all relationships — including the interactions between people who don’t believe in God or don’t recognize the Lord’s presence — is to be a witness to what people do to each other, to animals, to nature, and vice versa. As such, the basic structure of any relationship is Trinitarian, which can be diagrammed in a triangle of Creature(s) — God — Creature(s). In fact, in Azerbaijan we have a proverb hinting to this structure (though the people who use that proverb don’t believe at all in the Trinity). Growing up, I often heard the proverb that said (lit. trans.), “Throw the fish into the sea; even if the fish does not know the good deed, God knows what you did.” People used this proverb to encourage each other to do good in the sense that even if the people towards whom we do good do not know or understand it, God knows, and that matters more. In that very proverb, you can see a simple Trinitarian pattern: one creature (human) who does good — another creature (fish) who receives the benefit of the deed — and God who witnesses the benevolent action.
So how would this be practical to us? In many ways. First, whatever we do for good or bad cannot be done under the assumption that if humans don’t see it, then no one sees it. God, whose word and perspective have the ultimate importance, sees because the Creator is ever present to all of us. Second, God is at hand, ready to help at all times. The help he gives may not be on our terms, but in his love and mercy the Lord aids us in our troubles and in our joys. Third, every relationship we enter is a chance given to us to serve and open others’ path to God. Or to be opened to God through another’s help. So we have to honor and treat our relationships and others with dignity.
The Rhythm of life and time is Trinitarian.
I know some of you will say I’m stretching this reflection a bit too far, but bear with me, will you? What is faith if not over-stretching up and forward to grab the Beloved’s hand? The Trinity-filled pattern of life maps onto time, space, and human relationships. All things (except God) are in time, and time has a Trinitarian pattern in that it began, it continues, and it will end in God’s presence when the faithful remnant will be called to contemplate the divine love. If that seems too abstract, remember that all the stories we tell in life have a Trinitarian pattern: they began, they developed, and they ended. Your life began, and you are in the middle of it — you know it will end. All the games in life we play for the search of a job, security, faith, and God have this pattern. Even trivial games like checkers move through the phases of a beginning, middle, and end. But this Trinitarian pattern mapped onto time is not just one, two, three. The Trinitarian pattern of life indicates a birth, a rise, and a fall; good, bad, and none; truth, lie, and in-between.
So how is this practical to us? For one, remember that there is always a middle ground between any two extremes. But more than that, recall that life does not fit into binary patterns like good and bad, truth and lie, love and hate. There is always something in life that slips away from those rigid binary oppositions. Let’s leave some room for uncertainty and a mixed middle ground in our relationships. We are here today; tomorrow we will be soaring; and after that we will be gone. When the ups and downs of your life scare you, think of a life devoid of that development with no rise and fall and with no turning points. What a boring life that would be!
I hope what I wrote here is enough to convince you that life is patterned after the Trinity and the teaching on God as the Trinity is as practical as any other mystical teaching. On my part, I believe that in God all human concepts and ideas finally collapse. God is one, yes, but that does not reduce him to a number. In God, oneness and many-ness come together because the Creator of the world transcends these most important concepts. And in the world he built, we live based on the patterns laid down by God whether we want it or not.
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