What separates Christianity from the other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam? Christians believe in one God that is three.
God is mysterious, yet He is revealing. He wants us to know Him. He uses metaphors and stories to reveal who He is. The persons of God are the same, yet different. This individualistic unity allows God to love in a other-focused paradigm. His love is not self-centered, but on the others persons of the Godhead.
At creation we learn our birth story. It is here that God is called Elohim which indicates a plurality of deity. Yet when Elohim is used to refer to God, it is always modified to be singular. Elohim is more than one, yet He is still one. In the Shema, God declares that He is One. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” (Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!)
After creation the stories begin where God reveals the contradictions of Himself that can only be answered in the mystery of the Trinity.
God, who cannot be seen, is seen.
Moses is described as a man who has seen God face to face and lived to tell the tale (Ex 33:7-11). Yet, a few verses later, we learn that God’s face cannot be seen (Ex 33:18-23). God’s appearing to the ancient heroes of our Bible is preeminent in our understanding of how God relates and participates in our story. The Lord appeared to Abraham, again, and again, and again. The Lord appeared to Hagar. She declared “I have seen the One who sees me.” The Lord appears to Isaac. The Lord appears to Jacob who confirms that “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The New Testament reinforces this invisible attribute of God who “has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Which is it? Can God be seen or not?
The contradiction disappears when we expand God to include a person whose face CAN be seen. From the start of Israel’s history God revealed himself as more than one: a divine entity who can be seen, and one who cannot. Yet they are both the Lord.
God sends God.
Throughout Israel’s history, when God visits humans, He is more often than not titled as the “Angel of the Lord.” Angel means “messenger” or “one sent.” Yet in every story where the “Angel of the Lord” appears with a message, the human responded with worship and titled the “Angel of the Lord” – God. They knew they were talking not just with a representative of God, but with God Himself. We witness another contradiction. God sends God.
In the Old Testament, we see glimpses of what becomes clear to us in a stable in Bethlehem. God sent God, and we call him Jesus. When we see Jesus, we are looking into the eyes of God, born of God and sent by God.
Jesus’s life reveals more of the three persons of the Godhead.
With the birth of Jesus, we believe God conceived God. At his baptism, we witness the three manifestations of our one God. We hear the voice of the Invisible God, see the Spirit in dove form and view the Son. To this day, baptism is linked to God as three as we obey Jesus’s command to baptize using the names of our triune God: Father, Son and Spirit. In John 14-17, Jesus describes the intimate and mutual relations between the three persons of God that spills over to those who love and follow him. “I and the Father are one.” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” “I will send the Helper from the Father… He will glorify me.” “I glorified the Father and now He will glorify me, so that I may glorify you.” “May they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us … the glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”
It is this interconnected, mutual love and glorification that is at the heart of the mystery of the Trinity. These three persons are more than unified. They are perfect oneness. Yet, because they are three persons they can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other. It is this Love among the godhead that birthed a family.