I once read somewhere that Trinity Sunday is the only feast of the year that celebrates a doctrine. However, I’ve come to realize that statement is misleading. For God is Trinity, and we can hardly say that God is merely a doctrine. In fact, a primary error with regard to the Trinity is the attempt to understand the Trinity as formula rather than as experience.
The word Trinity is not in the Bible. But we use lots of words that are not in the Bible to explain the truths the Bible reveals to us. The words “transcendent” and “Incarnation” are not in the Bible either, but both describe biblical truths about God. The Bible is the record of how God has revealed himself to man. Theological statements such as “God is Trinity” are the result of the church’s inspired reflection on that revelation.
This is not entirely different than the way scientists develop laws and principles about the world. It is said that Newton discovered the law of gravity when an apple fell from the tree and hit him in the head. That is to say, the law of gravity resulted from reflection on and experience of the creation–just as the doctrine of the Trinity results from reflection on and experience of the revelation. The difference is that one must have eyes of faith in order to see the revelation.
One consequence of the fall of man is that we lost our sacramental vision. Because of sin, man cannot see God. He cannot see that the creation is an outward and visible sign of a glorious Creator. Man tends to see the visible world as an end in and of itself. Or, if he sees through the physical to the spiritual, his vision is not 20-20. His vision is clouded and he falls into error or heresy.
It is only through our experience of redemption in Christ through the Holy Spirit that our vision is fully restored to us. This is why, in all the resurrection appearances in the gospels, some act of revelation had to take place before people could actually “see” the risen Christ. The Father reveals himself through his Son. We are able to comprehend, or “see” the revelation through the Spirit. The Trinity must first be known as an experience before it can be understood as a doctrine.
This is precisely what Jesus tells us in the gospel (John 3:1-15). “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The word “see” in this verse does no mean merely to look at. It means to know, to understand. Without the gift of the Spirit, by which we are born again, we cannot know God or understand the nature of his kingdom.
The same point is made in the epistle (Revelation 4). St. John saw an open door in heaven and a voice invited him to “Come up hither.” “Immediately” he was “in the Spirit” in the presence of God. Only through the Spirit was John able to ascend into the presence of God and see heavenly things.
We must first know the Father through the Son in the Spirit before we can understand that God is three persons who are united in one substance of being. We must be worshipers of God before we can be theologians. This has important implications for the mission work of the church. It suggests that there are limitations to the effectiveness of purely rational arguments in evangelism. We can’t bring people to knowledge of the Trinity by mere force of argument. For how can we get people to see, by mere logic, what Jesus himself says they can’t see unless they are first born again? Evangelism must always begin with the prayer that those who are spiritually blind may be given the gift of sight. Conversion only takes place when God enables someone to see.
When we understand that we are spiritually blind because of sin, we understand that sin involves the loss our contemplative nature. This is why the gift of restored vision in Christ leads to worship and contemplation. The ability to see leads us to understand the genuine meaning and value of created things. Now we look at the creation and see the glory of the Creator. Now we look at bread and wine and see the body and blood of Christ. Fallen man lacks this vision and, therefore, is drawn away from worship and contemplation. He focuses on the physical as an end in and of itself. This is the very definition of idolatry.
This is especially evident in the modern world. Lack of contemplative vision causes people to see things in utilitarian terms because they are blind to the intrinsic value God has given them. When we see the creation as a sign of the Creator, we begin to understand the value and mystery of each part of the creation. We are moved to wonder and exploration–exploration, but not exploitation. For one who truly sees understands that we can explore and enjoy the majesty and mystery of God, but we cannot use God or his creation for our own ends.
The modern world does not value worship because it has no sacramental vision. All things are valued only in economic terms, or in terms of what I think of them–in terms of their subjective value to me, not the objective value God has given them. However worship and contemplation are central activities for the person who truly sees. For when we are born again, we begin to see the kingdom in all things and the Spirit calls us to “Come up hither” into heaven where we can see God.
Our restored vision enables us to see God’s Trinitarian nature. God the Father, whom we cannot see, who is beyond our comprehension, is continually making himself know in tangible ways through his Son, who is the very image of the Father. And we perceive the revelation of the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit, who opens our eyes to see. Three persons, yet only one God–“As in was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.”
The more we see, the more we realize that the there is much more to see. We talk about eternal life, about the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Sometimes we wonder what it will be like. We can begin to contemplate eternity by imagining how we will experience the world when the vision provided by faith gives way to fully restored sight; when we not only join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the Spirit by faith, but actually spend time in conversation and fellowship with them; when we not only commune with God through sacramental signs, but actually see God.
We know God in Christ through the Spirit. But we do not yet fully understand God as Trinity. This is a good thing, for it means that there is much mystery to explore and discover, both in time and in eternity. As St. Paul says, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:13).