Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Shamrock, the Egg and the Water

The Godhead Three in One. Although it has no simple answer, the question in itself seems rather simple: "How can God be Three in One?" While the Bible teaches of the Triune (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), scriptures also depict Jesus talking with God, and sending the Holy Spirit. The notion that God is three persons and yet still wrapped into one being, called Trinitarianism, has been the subject of dispute and examination for quite some time. It has been pondered by theist philosophers, been considered debate fodder for cynics and atheists, and has been the source of contention and church splits. While there are Christian sects that disagree with Trinitarianism, in large the Triune Godhead is considered "the central dogma of Christian theology". [a] The first chapter in the Bible records God speaking as a group.
"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;'"...
- Genesis 1:26
And then states that He is One being in the first line of the Jewish Shema which, historically consisted of this statement alone found in Deuteronomy. [b]
"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one LORD,"
Deut. 6:4
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks with God the Father on several occasions including Matthew 26:29, and John 11:41. In John 16:7, Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave so that the Holy Spirit can be sent. Yet the question still remains: How? How can three still be one at the same time? There have been different explanations of the Trinity, the most popular of which dating as early as the 5th century.

It is said that St. Patrick
used the Shamrock

to illustrate the Trinity during
his mission work in Ireland.

Riddled with Holes

One illustration used today is the Three forms of water. This illustration compares the constitutional masses of H2O - Solid (ice), Liquid (water), and gas (steam) - with the Trinity as three different forms - The Father (omnipresent God), The Son (God in the Flesh), and the Holy Spirit (the God in Spiritual Manifestation). However, this illustration is unable to explain how God (who is one being) is able to communicate as more than one person. It leaves the observer lacking evidence or explanation as of how truly the Godhead is continuously three and one at the same time.

Furthermore, illustrations such as the H2O forms are rather misleading. Illustrations and popular "simple" explanations such as these tear holes in the very fabric of the doctrine of Trinity. The basic principal of almost every rendition of the Trinity explained is that God is one being who is revealing Himself in different ways. After all, regardless of it's form, water is absolutely the same chemical compound. These honest, well intended attempts to explain the Trinity are, in reality, nontrinitarian.

Why can't we get it?

The question of how Trinity "works" can be considered, in ways, similar to questions concerning God and time. The well accepted [1] theory that has been provided as an answer to many such questions is that God is "outside" of time. This theory was widely conveyed by C.S. Lewis, who explains how humans have trouble relating to living outside of our view of time in his book The Screwtape Letters:
"Humans are amphibians — half spirit and half animal.... As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time."
- C.S. Lewis (from T
he Screwtape Letters)
Although this simple belief seems so obvious to many Christians today, a very closely related axiom seems to go unnoticed, and thus causes the idea of Trinity to continuously elude the understanding of modern Christianity: Just as God is not dominated by the "Laws" of linear time, as the Creator of the physical universe, God is also free of the Laws of Physics.

Life in a Fishbowl

To grasp how God and man relates in concern of the Laws of Physics, one may consider a fish living in a sea tank. For a salt-water fish to live and thrive, many conditions must be properly kept: the temperature, the salinity, and even water pressure needs to be near exact. Without these factors being carefully controlled, a fish would perish in mere minutes. As a fish living in the tank, the fish may not even be aware that these factors even exist, because the fish would have no reference to life without these factors. In fact, the fish would not be aware that these factors would exist in any sense unless the temperature would drop or salinity be raised, for it is only when the control has been changed would a fish recognize that there would be a difference to be had. So a fish in a sea tank goes throughout it's existence, oblivious to the delicate balance of rules and laws in which it lives.

However, the owner of the fish tank is very aware, for he hosts the responsibility to keep the environment healthy for the fish's survival. So the owner checks the temperature and salinity often and makes whatever adjustment is necessary as soon as it is needed. While these "Laws" are in full force, the operator is outside of the tank, and thus outside of the laws of living within the tank. The salinity of the water doesn't effect the operator because he isn't built to live within the confines of the tank. (However, if the operator should move within the confines of a tank -like a deep sea diver - there is suddenly a number of changes the man or woman must go under because suddenly these laws would apply.)

Connecting the Tank with the Theory

Mankind is ruled by similar laws - some obvious by our instinctual supplications for food, air, etc. Yet, outside our immediate awareness are laws of time and space - physics. These are laws that we are completely contained within and controlled without our knowledge or interaction. Moreover, we are physically unable to move outside of these laws, because we are created to exist specifically within these specifications.

The Pauli Exclusion Principle [c] dictates that no two objects are able to occupy the same space at the same time. This is a law that we simply are not physically able to overcome: If you want to occupy a space in the center of a highway, you will find that you will not be able to be in your place at the same time a semi truck is there - someone will be moved out of the way - and there's just nothing you can do to overcome that reality.

But just as the operator is outside of the tank and does not have to live within the laws in which the fish is subject, God lives outside of the the Pauli Exclusion Principle. Although we are enable to occupy two spaces at once, the Trinity is able to be three in one.

As human beings, we have been created specifically for the existence within these laws, and have no point of reference to relate to existence outside of these laws. Because of this it is beyond full comprehension of how God physically operates in these ways, simply because everything we understand in the universe exists within the same laws in which we exist.

So what now?

While knowing this truth does not fully explain the how, it does explain why this question has eluded the religious and the nonreligious philosopher alike.
Most Christians will agree that there are things that we simply cannot fully understand about God (at least not until we are joined with God in heaven). For some, this statement offers little deterrent for trying. The understanding of of God being outside of the laws of physics may bring closure to some and vex others. It's all a matter of perspective.

A Christian, group, or church can find some closure in understanding that, yes God can truly do things far beyond our own recognition. Some peace can be held on the subject matter - perhaps agreeing to disagree is more palatable than before with this theory in hand. Rest can be granted in yet another illustration on how God is larger than the issues we face.

The atheist that is truly seeking answers may be given resolution in thes roadblock of belief, while the cynic will be merely angered, feeling the idea that we "simply can't understand it all" is a cop-out conclusion.

Religious philosophers can revel or agonize in the discover of a God beyond reckoning, attempting to ascertain the full extent of the intimate life of the Trinity God.

Regardless of how this viewpoint registers in the full content of it's recipient, it is awesome to be able to see God as intelligent and powerful enough to create the very laws of time and space in an instant. His creation extends to mind boggling proportions, and to place His interest in individuals such as ourselves is, perhaps, the utmost testimony of love beyond reason.

[1] Not everyone in Christianity accepts that God is outside of time. There are sects of people that believe, for different reasons that this is not true. Furthermore, there is much more to be said about the aspect of linear time. It has been said that, yes, time exists for God, but it simply doesn't matter. However, it is my belief through scripture that this is not accurate.

[a] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Trinity, doctrine of the
[b] Explaination of the Shema -
[c] The Pauli Exlusion Principle; Hyperphisics educational website.

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