One in Nature and Three in Person
Oh, boy! How many have heard that “explanation” of the trinitarian nature of God? Yes, I see all those hands. Okay, now here’s the real question: How many of you understand what that means? That’s what I thought. Not a single hand – well, one or two tentative not-quite-shoulder-high hands at best.
So, let’s try to break this down.
In what sense is God a “person”?
Dr. Norman Geisler explains, “Each individual member of the trinity… has all the basic elements or powers of personhood: mind, will, and feeling.” The website gotquestions further explains, “When we say God is a ‘person,’… we mean that God possesses ‘personality’ and that He is a rational being with self-awareness. Theologians often define person as ‘an individual being with a mind, emotions and a will.’”
So when we say that God is “three persons,” what we are saying is that each member of the Godhead—God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit—can carry on a conversation with the other “persons” in the same way that you talk with a friend.
Each of the Persons also functions differently in certain contexts, such as in our salvation, the creation of the world, and so on. (Our book Knowing the Truth about the Trinity has a lot of verses explaining this.)
Confused yet? You’re in good company!
How is God “one in nature” (or essence)?
Dr. Geisler explains,
By “essence” or “nature” is meant what something is, and essence is a set of characteristics—properties necessary to the thing being described. For example, it is necessary to the essence of a triangle that it has the following characteristics:
- It must have three sides
- It must have three corners or angles
- The sum of the three angles must be 180 degrees.
What Dr. Geisler is saying is that there are certain non-negotiable things that makes God God. Each of those is equally present in each person of the Trinity.
To recap, the essence is the “what” of God, and the persons is the “who” of God, meaning there is one “what” and three “whos” in the biblical God. Yet, in spite of that, there is only one God! “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Confused yet? Good! The great thing about our God is that He is so far greater than our minds can grasp that we understandably become confused when we try to analyze concepts like the Trinity. Still, we can confidently say that the trinitarian idea of God is firmly taught in the Bible, so we can take it as truth, despite our lingering confusion.
Think about this. If God was enough like us that we could fully comprehend Him, then He wouldn’t be great enough that we could trust Him with ourselves and our future.
Might I suggest the following books for further study:
God in Three Persons (Cal Beisner)
Dr. Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003), p. 287.
Is God a person? https://www.gotquestions.org/is-God-a-person.html
Geisler, p. 292.