Have you ever wondered what God was doing before the creation of the world? It seems like an impossible question to answer, and yet the answer that the Bible gives is both simple and important. In a prayer that he prayed in John 17, Jesus said to the Father, “You loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
This answer takes us into the truth that Chrstians call the Trinity – that God is (and always has been) three persons, who exist in the oneness of perfect loving relationships.
One of the most famous verses in the Bible that gets at the ‘Oneness’ of God is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word used to suggest that God is one is the same word used to say that Adam and Eve were one following their wedding – it doesn’t have in mind a mathematical concept of one but a relational one. In fact, when Jesus prays for the church, one of the requests that he makes to God the Father is, “that they may all be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.” (John 17:22-23) The prayer is for loving unity among his followers, and Jesus sees this as something that echoes that kind of unity that he has with his own Father.
The Father & The Son
In order to understand the Trinity, the best starting point then is to read through one of the Gospels and look at how the Father and the Son relate to one another (John’s gospel is great for this).
John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 5:16-23 – “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these he will show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.”
John 5:26 – “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”
John 8:28 – “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
John 10:28-30 – “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no-one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no-one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
John 14:6-11 – “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
From these verses and others we can see the shape of the relationship that the the Father has with the Son. The Father loves the Son and he initiates, directs, honours and sends the Son. The Son respects the Father, loves and obeys Him and returns that honour. The Father is the initiator. The Son is the accomplisher.
Let us stay in John’s gospel and look at the relationships the the Spirit has with the Father and the Son.
John 14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”
John 14:26 – “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”
John 16:7 – “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
John 16:13-15 – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The Holy Spirit is a person in the Trinity, just like the Father and the Son. He can be lied to or grieved, and should be thought of as a ‘He’, not an ‘it’. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son and brings life and beauty.
The Father initiates, the Son accomplishes and the Spirit beautifies.
The essence of the Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Spirit in loving relationships. The three persons are important. The relationships are important.
Three persons, so close in love and purpose and relationship that they are one. That’s God. It’s the Trinity.