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Now browsing: Hometown News > Religion > Scott Elliott

Scott Elliott
This Week | Archive

Three in one: a model for understanding God's roles
Rating: 3.8 / 5 (104 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Jun 22 - 02:58

This year on the first Sunday in June many Christians around the world commemorated "Trinity Sunday," a day we celebrate our experience of the Triune nature of God.

The trinity doctrine can be perplexing (how can three be one?), so I tend to take time each Trinity Sunday to let people know that the trinity is an ancient concept originally intended to help explain how Christians are monotheistic, even though they speak of experiences of God in different roles of the father, the son and the holy ghost (or in more modern words the creator, Christ and spirit).

The idea of using the image of the trinity to help explain Christian experiences of God was created by a lawyer-theologian named Tertullian around the third century.

People were saying Christians worshiped three separate gods, and he went about to prove them wrong relying heavily on logic and images, not just words in the Bible. See, "The Trinity" as such is not literally referred to in the Bible. It's an image, a model, a symbol, a metaphor, created for understanding facets of God.

Tertullian, in essence, argued that Christians understand the one God as having three different personas - a Latin term for actors' masks.

The idea being that we experience God in the world in different roles; just like people experience humans in different roles.

For example, people experience me in three roles of husband, dad and pastor. God can be understood in different roles, too.

As modern theologian Marcus Borg puts it: "To speak of God and three persons is to say that God is known to us wearing three different 'masks' - in other words, three different roles."

In the Bible, God's roles in our lives appear in many different ways and images, lord; savior; provider; midwife; fire; wind; love .... the list goes on and on.

But, Jesus liked to call God "Abba," a word meaning "dad" and "father," and so the named role of father has become central to our faith.

We also understand Jesus himself as son of God or Christ (God incarnate on earth) and so Christ, or son, is a role Christians also focus on.

Finally, the spirit plays a big role in the New Testament as a way Jesus and his followers experience god moving and motivating creation.

Father, son and spirit are the three primary ways of naming the roles god was experienced by early Christians and were rolled into Tertullian's model labeled "trinity," a word that means trio or three.

So today, we can hear the trinity to mean that god can be understood to have three major roles in our lives, creator, Christ and spirit. Those are three roles played out by one God in creation.

That's the original intent of the trinity model, to name the roles of God we see in our religion played out on the world's stage.

But over time the trinity model has grown to be quite confusing in doctrinal arguments, and you are welcome to consider it more complexly if you want. Or you can set it aside and leave the complexities for others, if it does not work for you.

As I mentioned, it is not literally in the Bible, it's a model created by a theologian some 1,800 years ago to help understand god.

If it doesn't help you, don't fret. It's not something you have to "get" any further than knowing Christians celebrate the roles god plays in our lives as loving creator, Christ and spirit.

The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org.

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