Published on Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:00

(The text of Mike's sermon preached in Brampton on Sunday 16th June)

One of the most puzzling aspects of Christian faith is the idea of the Trinity. This is the claim that there is one God, but that God is also in three persons (Father, Son [Jesus] and Holy Spirit). From fairly soon after Jesus’ life his followers realised that Jesus was not only God’s son, but that Jesus was fully God too.

The three parts of the Trinity are all God in themselves, but together they form not three Gods but one. Confused? You are not alone.

For centuries, Christian philosophers have sought to explain how God can be one and yet three. There are various analogies that are trotted out to explain the Trinity, but none of them really work. For example, some have said that God is like water, which can come in three forms as solid (ice), liquid or gas (steam). However, this doesn’t really work. The idea of the Trinity is that God is not three aspects of the same thing, but three independent things that are also one thing. Ice is not the fullness of H2O, but Christian faith says that the fullness of God is found in Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

The problem is that we like to visualise things. But the way we see means that we can only see one thing in any one place. If we paint three colours on one surface either the last colour painted is the only one we see (if the paint is allowed to dry) or we end up with muddy brown (if the paint is wet and mixes). But that isn’t right either; Christian faith teaches that God is one, but that the three persons of God neither dominate each other, nor blur into one non-descript mess.

I think that the best way to think about the Trinity is through music and dance. Imagine three figures dancing together; each one is fully part of the dance, and yet each one is fully themselves. Think of a musical chord of three notes – each note is fully part of the chord, and yet we can hear each note clearly in its own right. The three are one, yet the one is also three. It’s much easier to hear the idea of the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity than it is to see them. Unlike a child, The Trinity is best heard and not seen!

This analogy has its own problems, it’s not perfect, and yet there is something very important in what it expresses. Whereas the philosophers tend to treat the Trinity as a problem to be solved, if we see the Trinity as music and dance we start to view it as something in which we might participate and enjoy.

The beauty of God is that from before time began the three persons of God have been joined together in a perfect dance; God is united together and each part of the Trinity delights in the others. But this is not an exclusive dance to which no-one else is invited. God invites each one of us to learn the steps, join in the dance and participate in the on-going creativity of God.

The other benefit of thinking of the Trinity sonically is that it makes it much simpler to understand the nature of sin. If we think of the Trinity as a 3-note harmonious chord, then sin is nothing less than us ignoring God’s music and playing a tune of our own that it discordant with God. We can hear the discord of sin very easily. By contrast, the human being following God’s will is one who hears God’s music and joins in harmoniously – when we participate in Jesus we are shown how to start playing the right notes and contribute to the symphony of God. We don’t always get it right, by any stretch, but the indwelling of the Spirit empowers us to practice the musical instrument of the soul.

This is what we do when we gather together as Christians. We seek to listen to the music of God and to watch the dance. Stumbling, hesitant, sometimes getting it wrong, we learn together to join in. We encourage one another. We grieve with one another when the chords clash. It’s part of the reason I think sung worship is so valuable to many Christians – it’s an embodiment of being participants in the music of the Trinity.


Professor Jeremy Begbie takes credit for the musical analogy. You can hear him describing his thoughts here.

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