In the liturgical calendar, the Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday (May 31). On that Sunday, the Church celebrates the Trinity — God as three persons, yet God being one. Although the word, “trinity,” does not appear anywhere in Scripture, the doctrine has been essential to the Christian faith. Jesus himself commands his disciples to use the formula, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in baptisms (Matthew 28:19). As a result, as we reflect on the beginnings of our life in Christ, we should be drawn to examine the relationship of these three persons.
We should acknowledge that the Trinity has always been controversial. Early Church history can be seen as a catalogue of the various heresies against the doctrine. Explaining how 1+1+1=1 has caused people a number of headaches. Enlightenment thinkers such as Emmanuel Kant and Thomas Jefferson have rejected the Trinity outright. Even some Christians have wondered, “What’s the big deal?”
As I learned about the Trinity in seminary, the debate bored me. We spent most of our time pondering the mathematical equation. However, I did not grasp its implications for our faith until I went on a mission trip to Senegal. On the streets of the West African city of Dakar, I observed a friendly conversation between a Muslim and a Christian. As the older, robed Muslim sipped tea, he challenged the Christian saying, “We say that God is one. It is the heart of our faith.” The Christian countered, “How do you know God?” The Muslim responded, “In creation . . . we see the Creator in the land, sea and sky.” The Christian responded, “We believe that we see God in the face of Jesus Christ. And I have a personal relationship with this Jesus because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.” In this description, we have Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is by no means an exhaustive definition of the Trinity. However, it does honor a faith that sustained the Church since its beginning.