What is the best example I can give someone to explain the Trinity?
By Brian Walters, Director of Adult Ministries @ MBC Loudoun
Throughout the centuries many people have tried to explain the Trinity through non-Scriptural examples. For instance, a triangle has three sides to it. Take away either side and it will cease to be a triangle. It is similar with the Trinity (Godhead). Take away one aspect and He ceases to be God. Another example is water. “In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which three phases (for example, gas, liquid and solid) of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium” (Wikipedia). Water under pressure, in a vacuum and at a given temperature below freezing simultaneously exists as liquid, steam and ice, thus like the Trinity. Or how about the example of the American government, one government but three branches: executive, legislative and the judicial. Each branch is distinct, yet they form one government.
I’ve also heard people use the sun, an egg and the universe to explain the Trinity, but unfortunately, there is no perfect illustration to explain the Trinity of God. We are finite creatures and God is infinitely smarter than us (Isaiah 55:8-9). John Damascene (a.k.a. -Saint John of Damascus) said: “It is known and adored in Faith (the Trinity), not by investigating, examining and proving. . . . You have to believe that God is in three Persons. How sublime is this above all questions. For God is inconceivable.” There will never be a satisfactory explanation of the Trinity as it’s incomprehensible and is a truth for the heart that must be divinely revealed.
However, the Bible gives us pictures that show the Trinity in action and associated together, for instance at Jesus’ baptism, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22) or The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) where we see Jesus say “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” and at Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:35).
But the best example that may help someone understand the Trinity may be that of the institution of marriage, which comes from Scripture. In marriage two distinct, but equal individuals of the opposite sex, come together to become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). This is very much like the Trinity in that each person of the Trinity is distinct, yet they are one.
Additionally, within marriage, like the Trinity, you see submission and headship. 1 Cor. 11: 3 says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Paul is stating here that the relationship of the husband and wife is patterned after the Father and Son in the Trinity that we see in Phil. 2:5-11. Jesus willingly submitted to the Father by becoming a servant leader. Jesus did not have to be coerced to submit to the Father’s will. Tim Keller says:
“Male and female are invited to mirror and reflect the “dance” of the Trinity, loving, self-sacrificing authority and loving, courageous submission. The Son takes a subordinate role, and in that movement he shows not his weakness but his greatness. This is one of the reasons why Paul can say that the marriage “mystery” gives us insight into the very heart of God in the work of our salvation (Eph. 5:32).”
In marriage we are to serve one another for the good of the other, devote ourselves wholly to the other, and sacrifice our needs for the needs of the other. The dance of the Trinity does these things. So while marriage is not the most perfect example of the Trinity, it may be the best example of it out there. If you have an example to explain the Trinity I would love to hear it.