The one true God exists in three Persons, each of whom possesses the whole essence of Deity. As often stated, God is three in one. This state of being, called trinity or triunity, has been explained by various illustrations and analogies from the realm of nature. Unfortunately, many of these have been imprecise and, therefore, of questionable value.
For instance, Bible teachers have often used the illustration of the roots, trunk, and branches of a tree to describe the Trinity. However, such an example is inadequate because it fails to demonstrate inherent and inseparable otherness and oneness--that is, simultaneous plurality and unity. Though the tree illustration clearly presents plurality--for the root is neither the trunk nor the branches--the unity pictured in the analogy is weak. A type of unity is suggested, but not such that, if any one of the elements existed, so also would the other two, or that, if any one of the elements ceased to exist, so also would the others. This illustration fails because the components are severable; the roots, trunk, and branches may exist independently of each other. The essence of each is not changed when separated from the anothers. Similarly, other common analogies of the Trinity--the egg (yoke, albumen, shell), a man (employee, husband, citizen), and water (liquid, ice, vapor)--have serious shortcomings which do more to hinder and mislead than to aid understanding.
However, an acceptable analogy may be found in the "illustration of the Trinity in infinite space with its three dimensions." (See note 1) This concept of space has been expounded at length and with great clarity by Nathan Wood and is worth examining in detail. (See note 2)
Consider a volume of space in the form of a cube. If we drew a line from the front lower right corner to the front upper right corner, we could say that this line denotes height. The dimension called height describes not only the edges but an infinite number of vertical measurements throughout the cube. No part of the cube is exempt from being described by height. The space of the cube is, in its entirety, described by height, so that all of the space is included in height.
Similarly, that property or dimension of space called width is demonstrated to describe all of the space, and all of the space is found to be width. The third dimension, length, also describes all of the space, and the space is likewise all length. All of this is simply to say that space is three dimensional. This is the nature of space--all of space.
In applying these observations, we see that height is all of space, width is all of space, and length is all of space. Therefore, that space of which height is all is the very same space of which width is all and of which length is all. While each is all of space, space does not exist unless all three dimensions exist. For example, if there is no height then there is no space. Space that is not three dimensional is not space at all. It is not reality but only imaginary. Reality requires all three dimensions. Space really exists, and it exists in three dimensions--no more and no less.
Note 1. H.L. Geer, Baptist Review (July 1880), quoted in A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 11th ed. (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1947), 344.
Note 2. Nathan R. Wood, The Trinity in the Universe (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978).
In space we observe inherent and inseparable threeness and oneness, plurality and unity, otherness and identity. Height clearly is not width; height is other than width. The same can be said respecting each of the dimensions with reference to the others. This is otherness. It is also true that each dimension contains all of the same space as others do. This is identity. The three dimensions are coexistent and coequal.
The triune God is the only true God. He alone can say, "I am." Any god in whom there is unity but not plurality is not God but merely a product of the human imagination. People who believe in a unitarian type of god have no god at all. They worship an invention of the human imagination. God, who has graciously revealed Himself through His Word, reveals Himself as three and yet one. Otherness is evident in the fact that the Persons of the Holy Trinity are differentiated as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are three Persons of the Trinity and each is Deity, just as there are three dimensions of space and each is all space. Neither is there confusion between the Persons of the Trinity nor between the dimensions of space. Each is distinct from the others. Each dimension is not a part of space, but is space--all of it. Each Person of the Trinity is not a part of Deity, but is Deity--all of the essence of Deity. As each dimension contains all of the essence of space, so each divine Person possesses all of the essence of Deity. Yet, just as a concept of space consisting of less than three dimensions is not a concept of reality, so a concept of Deity consisting of less than three divine Persons is not a concept of reality. it is not a true concept of the God who exists.
The triads of gods common in ancient and present paganism also fail to satisfy the analogy because they present otherness but not identity. The true, self-revealing God appeared to man in the person of the Son saying, "I and my Father are one" Uohn 10:30). In this statement, we see both otherness and identity. The Son also said, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). Again, we see both otherness and identity, as also in the statement, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1, emphasis added). The Godhead revealed in the Bible consists of three Persons, each of whom possesses the one divine essence of Deity.
As the dimensions of space are coexistent, so are the Persons of the Trinity. As the dimensions of space are coequal, so are the Persons of the Trinity. The analogy of space, as far as it goes, is accurate. In this way space, even though it is silent, gives praise to its Maker by its triune constitution.
What we immediately notice, however, is that the analogy is limited. It fails to portray the relationships of the Persons of the Trinity that are denoted by the terms "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit." We turn, therefore, to another aspect of God's creation.
Time demonstrates otherness and identity in its three tenses: future, present, and past. There is no confusion between the three. Each is distinct from the others. Nevertheless, time does not consist of less than all three. It is impossible to conceive of time as having only one or two tenses.
The three tenses of time exist concurrently. The future, the present, and the past now exist concurrently, they always have (since creation), and they always will. Time affords an example of inseparable unity in its three tenses, which are of the same essence. However, this is not to claim that a point in the future is simultaneous with a point in the past. Herein lies the uniqueness of future as compared to past.
Time is inseparably three; there is plurality in time. However, time demonstrates unity, as all tenses are aspects of the same phenomenon. In its flow, every point or moment in time shall have been first future, then present, and finally past. All of time flows from the future through the present into the past. The year 2100 A.D. is some distance in the future, but it steadily comes closer until it becomes present and then proceeds into the past. Thus the future is the source of all time. (See Note 3). No point of time in the past has come anywhere but from the future. Each present moment also flows only from the future.
But the future is tantalizingly unknowable. Financial speculators, investors, the lovelorn, the accused awaiting trial, the sick, the suffering all earnestly yearn to know the secrets that the future holds. What an array of astrologers, tea leaf readers, fortune tellers, and other selfstyled prophets have preyed upon the victims of human curiosity about the future.
Yet, there is a simple way to know the future. All of the future shall be revealed as the future becomes present. No point of future time is exempt from becoming present; the present completely and fully reveals the future. The present, therefore, is the revealer or expression of the future and, indeed, of time itself. We touch and experience time in the present.
Note 3. The triune concept of time presented here is taken from Nathan Wood, TheTrinity in the Universe, op. cit. Wood's terminology, such as "source," "expression," and "interpretation," has been adopted.
As the present reveals or expresses the future, so the past explains or interprets both the future and the present. The experience of the past teaches us what to expect from the future. We react to and are guided in the present by what the past has taught us. The past instructs concerning both the present and the future. Yet there is a sense in which it is the present that leads us to the future.
The analogy is clear. The Father is the source-the very term "Father" denotes this. The Son proceeds from the Father (John 3:31; 5:30; 5:37; 6:38; 6:57; 7:28; 8:16; 8:42) as the present proceeds from the future. Though begotten of the Father, the Son is co-existent with the Father, (John 1:1-2) just as the present is with the future. The Son completely and fully reveals the Father, as the present does the future. It is the Son who "was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). It is in the Son that the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). As our contact with time is in the present, so our contact with Deity is in the Son, Jesus Christ. He alone points to the Father (John 14:6; 17:3). He alone reveals the Father (Matthew 11:27). The present is the "tangible" expression of time; the Son is Immanuel, "God with us." The present, which comes from the future, is the only way to the future. The Son, who comes from the Father, is the only way to the Father (John 1:18; 14:8-9).
As the past proceeds out of the future and through the present, so the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things" (John 14:26, emphasis added). The procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son is thereby also from the Son:
"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." (John 15:26, emphasis added)
It is the Holy Spirit who teaches and testifies of the Son and the Father. In the process of salvation, the unregenerate sinner is taught and convicted by the Holy Spirit and given an understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son, who then brings the repentant and believing sinner to the Father. No one knows the Son but by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. No one comes to the Father but by the Son. The analogy afforded by the three tenses of time presents a clear correspondence to these relationships.
The teaching or interpreting function of the Holy Spirit with reference to the Father and Son is also set forth in John 16:13-15:
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you."
For comparison purposes, note the following three columns:
1 2 3
Father Son Holy Spirit
Future Present Past
Source Expression Interpretation
The following observations may be made:
1 begets 2.
1 is the total and only source of 2.
2 reveals 1.
2 is the only means of knowing 1.
3 explains 1 and 2.
3 influences, guides, and motivates with respect to 1 and 2.
The past teaches, leads, guides, and controls. The events of the past are great teachers, teaching us many lessons to be applied to the present and the future. Likewise, the Holy Spirit teaches us concerning the Son and the Father, and neither the Father nor the Son can be understood except by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (I Corinthians 2:11-13)