The Trinity is a concept that at first glance seems to defy common sense. How can three be somehow equivalent to one? This basic biblical teaching has been derided by non-Christians (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims) as being nonsensical or even “of the devil.” In his book, “Beyond The Cosmos,” Hugh Ross expounds on the fact that the Trinity is only possible in an extra-dimensional framework. Human beings are limited to the four dimensions of space and time, and no one trying to conjure up religious doctrines on his or her own would ever come up with a trinitarian concept of God (something that truly is nonsense if the four dimensions of space and time are all that exist). That is why as a revealed truth it is only found in the Bible, the only holy book requiring the existence of extra dimensions to make its doctrines internally consistent.
While the Trinity can only be properly understood from the perspective of a transcendent God not limited to the four space-time dimensions we are limited to, there is a very real sense in which a trinitarian construct is at the very heart of the universe itself. Our very existence is based on this concept of a three-in-one “tri-unity.” First of all, our existence is based in God, the very “ground of our being,” who is a Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, we ourselves are a kind of trinity of being, as we are made up of a physical body, a mind, with its emotions and will, and an eternal spirit made in the very image of God. Without all three being united in one, our existence as human beings would not be possible.
Likewise, our very existence in space and time has a kind of trinitarian construction. We exist in the three spatial dimensions of length, width and height, and we experience time as past, present and future. I can’t imagine it being any other way, of course, but that is because of my human limitations. The very mind I imagine things with exists in that construct, and so naturally, that is the only thing I can easily picture.
In so many ways, the reality of existence itself plays out in a kind of trinitarian framework — something that naturally fits with a theistic worldview. The main competitor to that, the worldview of naturalism, purports that there are only two basic components of reality, namely matter and energy. Everything can be reduced to “particles in motion”— to the laws of chemistry and physics. But the biblical worldview claims that in addition to matter and energy, there is one more basic component, and that is “information.” John begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.”
If you think about it a moment, you realize that something has to have an uncaused, eternal existence in order for there to be anything at all. In order for there to be contingent entities, there has to be at least one non-contingent entity for them to be contingent to. A materialist has to propose that either the universe itself is eternal, or that there is some physical state, such as the imagined “quantum foam,” that can generate universes by “quantum vacuum fluctuations” or some other natural process that has itself eternally existed. If there is no Mind — no eternal “Word”— then that is the only option left. The two-level reality of matter and energy alone, however, just isn’t enough to explain our existence. That third level of information is the key. It is primary and points to the Mind — the eternal “Word” — behind it all. Raw information itself — in terms of the design of the universe and of life — is, of course, a contingent property that comes from the eternal Mind behind it. At any rate, these three contingent properties — matter, energy and information — form the “trinitarian” context of physical existence.
Actually, there are many features of the natural world that express this “trinitarian formula,” and these provide us with easily understandable analogies to help us picture the Trinitarian nature of God. Of course, any analogy we could use to illustrate the Triune God would only be partial, and so pushing any analogy too far will lead to error, but properly understood, they do help us get a handle on reality. The sun is a good example of a helpful analogy. It exists as a hot ball of gas, but we perceive it by the light it sends us, and we experience it through the workings of the energy it gives us. Many aspects of the physical sun are analogous to God. Just as we cannot fly our spaceship up and land on the sun, neither can we nonchalantly approach a holy God on our own merits. Either way, we would be consumed in the process. Thus, in this aspect, the physical sun is analogous to God the Father and his holiness. Now, without the energy the sun provides, there could be no life. In the spiritual realm, the same is true. We only can know about the sun through the light it sheds on our world, and similarly, God reveals himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ, who referred to himself as “the light of the world.” And just as it is the electromagnetic radiation coming from the sun that powers all of life, so it is in the spiritual realm, as God works in his Spirit in and through us to bring about and to nourish spiritual life.
Many other examples could be given, including light itself. For a photon of light to exist, there has to be the interaction between and electric and magnetic fields along with energy. So, light exists as a kind of trinity. Without all three existing as a unity, there would be no light. Likewise, we experience light in terms of colors that can all be constructed through the three primary colors. A mixing of red, green and blue in the proper proportions will yield what appears to our eyes as the entire range of colors we can perceive. Our world is literally filled with examples of triuneness.
Triuneness is also an integral part of the subatomic world. Atoms, for instance, are composed of three main components, protons, neutrons and electrons. A further breakdown of these into their components likewise reveals a trinitarian structure. Neutrons and protons are each made up of three quarks. While there are six types of quarks, they are grouped into three pairs (up and down, charm and strong, top and bottom). On top of that, each quark also comes with one of three “color charges,” labeled red, green and blue. Likewise, leptons also come in three pairs (electron and electron neutrino, muon and muon neutrino, and tau and tau neutrino). Based on this trinitarian motif of design, I would predict that if we could investigate the 6 extra space dimensions that theoretical physicists believe exist at the tiniest scales, we would find that they too are grouped into 3 pairs. It seems unlikely now that we could ever actually show that empirically, but who knows what future scientific breakthroughs will allow.
While the 4 fundamental forces of nature would seem to break the trinitarian motif, it still exists in a slightly different form. Only 3 of the fundamental forces are operative on the atomic scale: the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. The fourth force, gravity, is a very weak force that only has effect on the macro scale. Thus, on the atomic scale, the forces that operate are likewise, in effect, another “trinity.” It’s analogous to the relation between the 3 dimensions of space and the one dimension of time. In both cases, rather than being a “three in one,” it’s a “three and one.” Thus, the trinitarian nature of these realities is evident.
Truly, this trinitarian construct is at the very heart of the universe the Trinitarian God created. Earlier, I referred to the fundamental components of the universe as the “trinity” of matter, energy and information. Another way to look at this is that everything within the physical universe consists of matter, energy and the space-time manifold they exist in, which is another “trinity of existence.” Of course, one can easily think up examples that don’t fit quite so neatly into a trinitarian formula, but even with many of those, if you look a little deeper, you’ll find that they too exhibit this principle of tri-unity.
Taking this into the spiritual realm, we can see our Christian experience itself can also be expressed as a kind of trinity. Put into fancy theological terms, they are “justification,” “sanctification” and “glorification.” Justification refers to our spiritual birth, that is, our conversion to Christ. For some, that takes the form of a dramatic, clear-cut conversion experience, while for others, including many who grow up in the Christian faith, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when that transformation occurs. Once we are justified before God on the basis of our placing our faith in Jesus Christ, then the process of “sanctification” begins to take place. “Sanctify,” of course, means to make holy, and this refers to the life-long process of being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. “Glorification,” then, refers to the eternal life we receive upon placing our trust in Christ. We already have the guarantee of that eternal life in God’s presence, but we only experience that fully upon being ushered into heaven after we physically die. That is when we enter our “glory,” or perhaps I should say “God’s Glory,” and thus we use this term “glorification.”
Likewise, there is that great Christian triad that Paul refers to in I Cor. 13 — namely, “faith, hope and love.” Other spiritual attributes could also be listed, such as joy, peace, etc., but these are the basic three upon which all of the others depend. When we make Christ the Lord of our past, we receive faith — the faith to accept God’s forgiveness for all of our sins and shortcomings. When we make Christ the Lord of our present, we receive love — the perfect love that casts out all fear. And when we make Christ the Lord of our future, we receive hope — the hope we have in the promise of eternal life.
So let us resolve to take care of our triune nature. God has entrusted us with a physical body that he calls "the temple of the Holy Spirit,” and so we need to take care of it through proper nourishment, exercise and rest — another kind of “trinity.” God has given us a mind to use for his glory. We need to nourish it with continued learning, as we contemplate the many levels of triuneness in his creation. And God has created us with an eternal spirit made in his very image, and we are to strengthen that by nourishing our spirits through our daily walk with the Lord.
God has revealed himself as a Trinity, “three persons in one being,” and the physical world God created has within its very makeup a trinitarian construct that illustrates many aspects of God’s being. However, no analogy we can contemplate, whether from the natural world or from the spiritual world, can truly capture the essence of the triune God. Any analogy we use can at best only illustrate certain attributes of the Triune God, but they can never express his totality. In fact, if we push any such analogy we can come up with too far, it will result in a truncated and incomplete view of God. Nevertheless, as we struggle to understand the infinite God within the context of our limitations as human beings — which is all we can ever do, the use of such analogies can at least help us towards a partial understanding. We must, however, guard against taking any such analogy too far and thinking that it captures the total essence of the mystery of the Trinity. It will always be beyond our total understanding. But we can at least gain a partial understanding and through that deepen our relationship with and worship of the Triune God.