In response to my last article, Is Jesus God?, I received a very polite and courteous comment seeking to explain the concept of “the Trinity” and why the writer believes that Jesus is God. Because the points he makes are fairly common responses to people like me who deny the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ, I decided to make my response in the form of a blog article rather than just another comment.
Here is the comment on the article:
The Trinity is a tough concept to understand and to explain. So if you don’t mind, I will try to explain to you why I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. First, I don’t think any human can completely understand God. But we can understand a lot about him. One of the things that I believe that jews, christians, and muslims can agree with concerning God is that there has never been a time that he has not existed. The way God is now and the way God was before the creation and will be in the future is the same, and he is not subjected to time. He always is the same. Ok, so you may be wondering why do I believe believe that Jesus is God? I mean he had a beginning and was born of Mary. John 8:56-59 has been a key verse in understanding the divinity of Jesus. It states “Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day: he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to him, ” You are not yet fifty years old, and have seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So Jesus is saying he existed before he was born. He must have existed in some other form. The key in understanding the Trinity is first understanding that there was a time this physical realm (where we exist) and the spritual realm(where angles exist) did not exist. Had Satan asked the Holy Spirit where he was before the creation of the spritual realm, he would have communicated, “before the spiritual realm, I am.”
I know you as Mystic444. If this was thirty of forty years ago, would I be correct in saying Mystic444 does not exist? No, (I am assuming your older than forty) you existed just different than you do now. You exist as Mystic444 because that is the way you can communicate with us in this cyberworld. I hope this makes sense. I am still trying to figure an easy way to understand a complex issue. I am just trying to get you to understand my view and why I believe in the Trinity. You don’t have to agree with me. Since you are well versed in scripture, I used it only once. Hopefully I gave you something to think about.
There is a verse in the Qur’an (Koran) – 16:125 – which says this: [Prophet], call [people] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided (Abdel Haleem English version). It seems to me that your reply offers a very good example of what this verse advocates. Thank you for your politeness and courtesy. I will certainly try to be just as courteous in what I say.
You are quite correct in saying that the concept of “the Trinity” is very difficult to explain. In fact, in my experience, it is so difficult that every time someone attempts to explain it (other than simply quoting the creedal statements of the early Church Councils without further comment) he or she strays into what ‘orthodox’ Christianity would label as ‘heresy’! 😀 (In fact, it appears to me that some ‘orthodox theologians’ think that the Church Councils themselves weren’t careful enough in their terminology. 🙄 )
For instance, I remember my father trying to explain the concept of ‘three-in-one’ to me when I was either a preteen or else in my early teens (in other words, back in the ‘dark ages’ 😆 ). He pointed out that he was – at one and the same time – a father, a son, and a husband. He was a father to 3 children, a son to his mother who was still living, and a husband to his wife (my mother). The problem with this explanation is that it denies – or at least fails to affirm – the ‘personal distinctions’ of the ‘three persons‘ in the “Trinity”; and that is an essential element of the concept. The “Trinity” requires the idea of three very distinct and individual ‘Persons’ who are co-eternal and co-existent; they are able to commune and take counsel with each other. It is not sufficient to say that the ‘three’ are just various ‘roles’ that God plays from time to time, and various ways in which He is related to His creation. But my father was just one ‘person’, not three, despite the fact that he was related in different ways to other members of his family. He, in his role of ‘father’, did not ‘commune’ with his ‘roles’ of son and husband. Unfortunately, if my father had given that explanation in, let’s say, the 16th century, he would probably have been liable to be brought up on charges before the Inquisition for ‘heresy’.
In similar fashion, other explanations of “the Trinity” are also open to charges of ‘heresy’. The concept is not only ‘difficult’ to explain, it is in fact simply impossible to explain; and that’s not only because it’s a ‘great mystery’, but because it’s frankly an impossible set of contradictions, otherwise known as “the doctrines of men”.
Now regarding Jesus’ statement of his preexistence in John 8:58 (before Abraham was, I am): the mistake people make here is that they assume Jesus was unique in his preexistence, and therefore presume that it means he is God. This is simply not true. All human souls/spirits preexisted the conception and birth of their physical bodies, just as they will continue to exist after the death of those bodies. Ecclesiastes 12:7 affirms this: and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. This is also affirmed in the ‘apocryphal’ book “The Wisdom of Solomon” (contained in ‘Roman Catholic Bibles’). Verses 19 and 20 of chapter 8 say this: As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body (Revised Standard Version).
The Jewish opponents of Jesus were somewhat deceitful and hypocritical in their questioning of Jesus’ statement about Abraham having ‘seen his day’, and in their attempt to kill him for saying before Abraham was, I am. The fact is that both the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in the preexistence of souls, reincarnation, and karma. (The Sadducees, of course, since they didn’t even believe in the existence of ‘spirits’, obviously did not believe in their preexistence or existence after death.)
That this was a rather common belief (preexistence and reincarnation) among the Jews is evident in the disciples’ answer to Jesus’ question, who do men say that I am?. They responded that there were various ideas about who he was, including Jeremiah or another of the prophets. That is obviously reincarnation. It is also evident that the disciples themselves accepted this idea in that, as recorded in John 9, they asked Jesus whose sins were responsible for the supposed punishment of the man who was born blind: were his sins or those of his parents the cause? This question recognizes not only that the man’s parents lived and sinned before he was born (thus possibly being responsible for his blind birth); it also shows the recognition that the man himself lived and sinned before his birth into that lifetime, and therefore his blindness might have been a karmic consequence of those sins of a former lifetime. Jesus’ response did not deny that either the parents or the man himself had lived and sinned prior to the man’s birth; he just denied that the blindness was the punishment for any sin.
Jesus was not unique in ‘being’ before the birth of Abraham. In fact, the soul who became Abraham ‘was’ before Abraham was born. So were you and I; and we will return to God who gave us when we “die” as did Abraham.
Having said that, though, the fact is that the wording of John 1:1; 8:58; and 17:5 does not in itself necessitate the idea of the personal preexistence of Jesus Christ before Abraham was born or “before the world was”. John 1:1 refers to “the word”. What is a “word”? Is it not the expression of someone’s thoughts, intents, and purposes? In John 1 the idea would be that God, by His ‘word of command’, brought into existence the wise intents and purposes of His ‘heart’. And God said, let there be… The “word” which expresses His intents was with Him “in the beginning”, and being the purpose and expression of God, it was “divine”. Eventually, God’s purpose found expression in the birth of “the man, Christ Jesus”. As Peter said in 1 Peter 1:20, he was “destined” or “foreordained” (literally “foreknown”) before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for us.
John 8:58, then, could be Jesus’ statement that he existed in God’s purpose and foreknowledge before Abraham was born; and therefore it should not be surprising that Abraham foresaw his day (by a vision?) and was glad. In John 17:5, where Jesus asked his Father to be given the glory he had with Him before the world was, he could be simply asking the Father to grant him the glory which the Father had intended for him in His wise purposes. This would be comparable to the statements of the apostle Paul (in Ephesians 1, for instance) that Jesus’ brothers were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. To the best of my knowledge, ‘orthodox’ Christianity does not believe that Paul meant to say the elect were actually personally alive and present with God and Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. Rather, they believe it means that the elect were ‘present’ in the predestined purpose of God before He even made the world. Even so, it could be maintained that Jesus was ‘present’ in the purpose of God, though he was not ‘personally present’ with God.
As I said, since I believe in the preexistence of all souls, and reincarnation, in keeping with other Biblical verses, I accept that such verses in John and the apostle Paul’s writings do in fact carry an implication of personal preexistence. However, I don’t believe the words themselves necessitate such a belief. They certainly don’t carry the implication of the deity of the preexisting one (or those who preexist).
By the way, you’re correct that I’m over 40. Through the will of the Infinite, I have reached the age of 61. 🙂