As a Christian, I believe God is One.
I also affirm and confess God to be Father, Son and Spirit.
For a major part of my Christian journey, I have found much difficulty and struggled with this belief and confession that God is One and yet Three, Three and yet One.
For over 40 years in my journey, whenever I raised questions and queried on this Triune Being and Nature of God, the answers offered inevitably ended with it being an inexplicable Mystery to be accepted and affirmed in faith, by the faithful. This has been told to me time and time again by well-intentioned Sunday school teachers, bible study leaders, pastors, preachers that I had come into contact with. Theologians with their opinions and using theological terms* also failed to aid me in comprehending, in an experiential manner, this Mystery.
Like a child however, I accepted and trusted their opinions and advice and carried on in my journey, believing in, but without understanding and comprehending experientially how, God can be One and Three.
The resultant for me was that during forty over years of my Christian journey, I remained unclear and confused, as to Who is this God Whom I believe in and confess to be. As such, whenever this issue arose in discussions with others of similar or diverse persuasions and beliefs, my faith in my God would be tried as I could not explain to others in a reasonable manner the Triune Being and Nature of my God. How could I, when I had no clarity, was confused and could not grasp and comprehend it?
I had always taken the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 22:37 seriously: “ Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Not being able with clarity to comprehend with my mind the Triune Being and Nature of God had a constraining and restraining impact on my love for God, in heart, soul, mind and being. There was an emptiness within me that needed to be addressed if I was to be whole in loving God.
I felt sad with this feeling of lack of wholeness, in loving and relating to God, time and time again, whenever I was challenged to give an explanation as to how God can be Three and One at the same moment.
Yet, notwithstanding all of these, I considered myself a Christian and plodded along believing in this Triune God. Arising from the lack of clarity, confusion and lack of wholeness on my part, my relationship with God had periods of distinction.
As a young Christian, I tended to relate to God in a distinctive discriminative manner: Father as Father, Son as Son, Spirit as Spirit. They were Three Individuals to me. They were Three Gods with distinct personalities and roles. I could not comprehend or understand how all at once, Three could be One or are One.
I formed and had a distinctive and separate relationship with each One. Father was the One who gave and sent the Son into the world. Spirit filled the Son at His baptism by John the Baptist. Son was the one who died on the cross at Calvary.
I saw three distinctive Personalities having distinctive actions and roles in the Scriptures. It was only natural relating with each One separately, while suspending my deep-rooted lack of clarity and confusion as to their Triune Being and Nature. I just accepted Each as God. For all intents and purposes, I was relating to Three Gods.
It did not help when a number of preachers, pastors and teachers that I came into contact with used and applied the analogy of father, mother and child in the family - three individuals, one family – to try to explain how God can be Three and yet One at the same time.
For me, this analogy does not address how three individuals can be One Being. Rather, this illustration groups three individuals under the collective noun of ‘family’. They remained three individuals – Three Gods.
As such, issues and angst soon arose within me. I found myself asking questions: Would either of the other Two be jealous if I spend more time with or pray more often to One more than the Others? How do I find an equilibrium treating Each of Them equally when for different needs and purposes, I approach a different One? Like a juggler, how do I juggle these Three relationships to maintain harmony and rest in my relationship with Each and all of Them and They with me. How do They relate One to Another?
These tensions were continually present in me in my early years as a Christian.
The next distinct period commenced when I was introduced to the writings and sayings of the desert fathers, Christian mystics and as I ventured into and practised Christian meditation and prayer. I also read books and materials of writers of other faiths and persuasions.
I became acquainted with individuals and authors, who in their writings described their experiences as “being lost in and one with God”. In letting go of self, many describe experiencing “bliss” and union and oneness with God, where many of them expressly stated or impliedly suggested that the distinction and barrier between self and God ceased to exist.
There were many instances where passages of Scripture were used to augment the point that we can be One with God. “I and the Father are ONE” (JN 10:30) “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us” (JN 17:21), and other similar ones were referenced for this purpose.
These writings and practices influenced me to slowly relate to God as One. In doing so, the distinction between Father, Son and Spirit subtly disappeared. I began to relate to Father, Son and Spirit as expressions of the One God: The One God manifesting and relating to me as Father, Son or Spirit.
As I related to God in this non-discriminatory manner, I felt that it did not matter as to whom I was relating to. I was just relating to God. Father, Son and Spirit are just different conduits through which I approach God, Who is One.
Opinions of God revealing Himself as Father in the Old Testament, Son in the New Testament and Spirit at Pentecost seem logical to me. The terms Father, Son and Spirit are just ways, roles that God takes or masks that God puts on to communicate and have a relationship with me.
The predominant analogy that influenced me during this non discriminatory phase is that God is like the three states of water:- One God(H2O),Three expressions or states( solid (ice), liquid(water), gas(vapour)). It made sense to me.
However, other questions arose. Does it mean that there are many ways to God? Is Jesus the only way? If I am one with God and lose myself in God, do I continue to exist or become part of God or have I always been a part of God? If so, is there any real distinction between Jesus and me? If there is no distinction between Father, Son and Spirit, then how does one explain Father giving and sending Son? Who became man, Son or Father? Does it really matter? When Son died at the cross did Father die too? Who did Son commit his spirit to at the cross? The list goes on…
I found myself knowing less and less as to Who is my God.
It affected my state of being to become like a pendulum swinging from discriminatory distinctions( Three Gods) to non discriminatory distinctions( ONE God- Three States; one with God), poles apart separated by a mystery that had to be embraced and accepted by faith.
Unresolved tensions remained and it became increasingly difficult to cope with the pressure of relating to a Mysterious God without comprehension. I continued having difficulty loving and relating in wholeness, in heart, soul, mind and being to a God shrouded in Mystery.
But isn’t this Mystery supposed to have been unravelled in the Person of Jesus, the Son Who became a human being, to enable us to know God in a real and authentic relationship?
Jesus revealed the solution for and to me one morning when I visited and celebrated communion at the Riverton Baptist Church in Perth, Western Australia, in 2008.
As I was about to eat the bread wafer, in my mind, Jesus spoke to me. He asked me who was I eating the bread wafer for? My answer was: ”for myself”. He then commented that I was not only eating the bread and celebrating communion only for myself but also for the person beside me. His comment confused me. How was this possible, I asked? He answer: ”joint heirs”.
Legally trained and practising as a lawyer, I understood right away – a joint and several relationship.
In a simple joint relationship, you and I are jointly considered to be one. All that each of us has is considered jointly ours, in that we each own all (one hundred percentile) of everything each of us owns jointly.
Though we may be two distinctive (several and separate) individuals, if we are also in a joint relationship, we are considered to be one. The best illustration is found in the bible illustration of marriage quoted by Jesus: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark10:7,8)
Modern day examples can be seen in a simple joint account in a bank or joint owners of property. In order to operate the account or deal in the property, all joint account holders or owners must agree and act together. One cannot act or deal without all the others.
The joint and several relationship that was in my mind in response to when Jesus said “joint heirs” to me, is a joint relationship with a twist. The relationship allows any one of the parties in the joint relationship to operate or deal with the joint account or joint property as if all of the parties are dealing in or operating it.
The action of one is the action of all jointly. It is like the either/or signatory authority and agreement given by all joint account holders to enable any one individual to operate the account and deem themselves as operating the account jointly with that individual. All joint account holders are bound to and responsible for the actions of that individual.
With this relational vehicle in mind, I was awakened to understand, relate and explain how God is One and Three at the same moment.
In the joint, Father, Son and Spirit are ever One, without discrimination, in relationship to and with me and in my relationship with them. In Their joint, when I relate to Son, I am at the same moment relating to Father and Spirit. In loving Father, I am at the same moment, with the same intensity and passion, loving Son and Spirit. In petitioning Spirit, I am at the same moment petitioning Father and Son.
In the joint, the Person of the Son and the Father are one (Jn 10:30), to see Jesus is to see Father also (Jn 14:9), to know Jesus is to know Father (Jn 14:7). All are fully in, into and participate in the Being and actions of Each. That is why, Paul in Colossians 2:9 could write; “For in Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily.” and John in John 1:1 “In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
However, in the several, Father is Father and not Son or Spirit, Son is Son and not Father or Spirit, Spirit is Spirit and not Father or Son. Thus it may be said that Father sent, Son came and Spirit made happen.
Blessed with this revelation, I am able to dynamically relate to God as always ONE(joint) and Three(several), all the time.
Currently, relationally and dynamically, I believe that I am growing to relate and know a little of Jesus as really Jesus, Father as really Father and Spirit as really Spirit, in Triune Being and Nature – Father, Son and Spirit clearly discriminated in their distinction (individuality, seperateness, severalness) on the basis of non-discriminative equality** (jointness).
Precisely because relationships are ever dynamic, and who we are include being the sum of all our dynamic relationships, the relationship we have one with another is authentically real. In this relational dynamism, even as we can get to know another, we will not fully ever know the other, for all of us are ever-dynamic beings in ever-dynamic relationships.
As such, I believe and can accept that I will ever be dynamically relating to and ever growing in knowing Who Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, Is and Are, continually. (JN 17:3).
Knowing the Whole, Real and True Nature and Being of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit may forever be beyond my grasp, but, dynamically and relationally partaking of the Divine nature and participating in the Divine communion and union is ever a possibility, can be a experiential reality, for me, in the here and now, in and through Christ Jesus. (Jn 17:21-23, 2 Peter 1:4)
In relating to God Father, Son and Spirit, in this fashion, in Christ Jesus, I become more infinitely attuned to my frailty and the dynamic who I am, in the dynamic Full, Filling and Emptying Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. (Philippians 2:5-11)
At the same time, because of Who, Father, Son and Spirit are in the man Christ Jesus, and who I am and we are in Him, I am encouraged to press on, in my pursuit and desire to know Them as They really are, in continual wonder, amazement and awe, joint heirs with you in Christ, in Whom all Who Triune God Is and Can Be, in hope that all of us will be blessed.
Here, I share what has been freely given to me that you may be blessed too, in communion and fellowship one with another, in Christ, into and with Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit.
Father’s love, Christ’s peace and Spirit’s empowerment be yours today.
* Theological terms:
“homoousious" (Greek meaning same essence, being),
"consubstantialem" (Latin meaning (con)together with that which (sub)under (stans) stand – that which is the base of a person or thing, that which is at the heart of someone or something. Literally referring to the most real part of a thing or person. Daniel Merz, SSL “Consubstantial with the Father” Revised Roman Missal.
** My take on Masao Abe’s comments on Ching-yuan Wei-hsin, a Chinese Zen master in the 9th Centuary Tang Dynasty.
“ The master’s first understanding, ‘Mountains are mountains; water is water,’ represents a discrimination through objectification. In his second understanding, ‘Mountains are mountains; water is not water,’ he overcomes objectification and discrimination and realises the non-discrimination of mountains and water. At this point, however, he is still not completely free of discrimination, for by negating discrimination, he remains in non-discrimination. In order to attain the final state of awakening, he must overcome non-discrimination and thereby attain the third understanding, ‘mountains are really mountains; water is really water.’ Here in this final understanding, mountains and water are clearly discriminated in their distinctiveness on the basis of non-discriminative equality. This is the starting point of Buddhist activity and creativity.”
Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue – Masao Abe Edited by Steven Heine Part one of a two volume sequel to Zen and Western Thought; pages 101-102