Toward the Other

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Tony Woodlief shares lessons for daily living from the Trinity.

Writing decades ago about the decline of theological understanding among Englishmen, Dorothy Sayers offered a tongue-in-cheek summary of what the average Christian might say, were he put on the spot to explain the Trinity: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult— nothing to do with daily life or ethics.”

Of course the renowned British writer intended humor, and expected her educated readers to reach that last part and think, Well, of course the Trinity has something to do with daily life! Yet, evidence shows that for far too many of us, Sayers’ commentary rings true. Modern surveys regularly recount how little even committed church-attending believers know about the essentials of their faith—whether it’s Jesus’ sinlessness, the necessity of repentance for salvation, or even the flesh-and-blood resurrection of Christ. If that’s the case, then how much less can we expect the average professing Christian to be able to explain the Trinity?

In fact, I confess that for most of my Christian life, I had an interest in theology but wouldn’t have quibbled with the assertion that the Trinity is a theological abstraction offering no guidance for daily living. Trying to understand it was more like an intellectual hobby, but the real heart of Christianity was, to me, all about loving Jesus: the Father gave us His Son, and the Holy Spirit came as a Helper once Jesus had to leave, but it was really all about Jesus.

The Lord, of course, glorified His Father (John 17:5). And He spoke of the Spirit as a Person sent by the Father (14:26) and whose presence is such a blessing that we should recognize the benefit of Christ departing so the Spirit might arrive (16:7). In everything, however, He pointed to the Trinity as the full expression of the Godhead—perfectly one and integrated in His relationship with us.

While the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention the Trinity, it was worked out as orthodox Christian doctrine in the early centuries of the church, based on the words of Christ and the teaching of His apostles. In other words, our Savior, as well as the leaders He anointed to shepherd His church, believed it was foundationally important. But why?

One reason has to do with a proper understanding of—and reverence for—each Person in the Trinity as God. Truly believing, for example, that Christ remained fully God during His torment and crucifixion is to embrace the great love God has for us, in that He Himself, in all His magnificence, was humiliated for His beloved.

That’s a transformative, heartrending truth, and it’s not the only one. Pondering the Trinity even more deeply, we find a lesson about love that is immediately applicable in our everyday lives.

Think on this: The Trinity is one God, made of three distinct Persons who share a single essence and live in perfect, loving communion. This indivisible community has existed since before the ages, and the Persons of the Godhead need nothing from man. In them is eternal peace, love, and affinity. Yet inexplicably, God crafted man and by grace invites him to participate in this community—through the Son’s incarnation, death, and resurrection—for all eternity (2 Pet. 1:4).

We can’t help but ask “Why?” Is it because we make good pets? Anyone who surveys the mess man has made of himself and the world knows that can’t be the explanation.

The Trinity is one God, made of three distinct Persons who share a single essence and live in perfect, loving communion.

Is it because God was in some way lonely, or incomplete without us? No, because He is not alone: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwelling together in harmony.

Is God bored? Does He need someone to bow down to satisfy His ego? Of course not—those are human emotions and desires born of sin-sickened flesh. The inescapable, inexplicable reality is that this perfect community, which is our God, invites us to join in communion with the Persons of the Trinity out of pure, overwhelming, undeserved love. The likes of you and me are invited to the heavenly banquet table because of God’s great loving kindness. All of this is more than we can fathom, but what does it have to do with daily living?

The great and first commandment, Christ tells us, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). “And the second,” He continues, “is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I don’t know about you, but my neighbor is nothing like God. So how can the commandment to love my neighbor be like the commandment to love God? The answer is not that God and my neighbor are similar, but that in each case I am called out of myself to an other-orientation. Just as the Trinity consists of Persons who honor and celebrate and love one another, you and I are called to live for and with and unto others.

Imagine a neighborhood where everyone lived this way—or a church.

Imagine the daily blessing of simply waking up—no matter what our aches and pains—into a community where any one of our brothers and sisters of faith would give us anything we need, and more than that, would literally throw him- or herself in front of a truck to save our unworthy lives.

Imagine the bliss of feeling such great love beating within our chests that we would likewise give our own lives for any one of our brethren. Or being able to look left and right in our pews, without remembering the wrongs committed against us, bearing nothing but good will toward all.

To so many unbelievers looking on, the Christian walk is pointless self-denial, and the Trinity is some kind of mythical, confusing invention. But the Trinity points the way for every Christian to the type of community we are called to embody: each of us honoring one another, joining our wills in perfect affinity with our Father in heaven, laboring in love for the salvation of every lost sheep—even to the point of death.

“I do not ask for these only,” Christ prayed to the Father, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 ESV). Into fellowship with the triune God we are called, and thereby into fellowship with one another, that the whole world might see and desire the heavenly kingdom.

If that isn’t relevant to the everyday life of the Christian, then what is?

The article was selected from In Touch magazine.

 

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