The latest book reviewed at my book club was "Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion" by John Polkinghorne. It was an ambitious overview of a variety of topics where science and religion both inform the discussion, such as the nature of reality, human agency, divine action, human nature, the historical Jesus, the Trinity, time, evil, diversity of religions, bioethics, and eschatology. As you might imagine, Polkinghorne merely scratches the surface of each of these topics. However, it's valuable as an overview from someone who has both a background in physics and theology. At our bookclub, we only discussed a few of the chapters, but one chapter we spent a fair amount of time on was "Divine Reality: The Trinity."
As an Anglican priest, Polkinghorne affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. He compares the strangeness of the doctrine of the Trinity with that of quantum reality, noting that "the everyday habits of thought may also require some revision when one engages in the task of seeking to understand divine reality."
Later he states, "Just as the physicists had to struggle with the duality of wave and particle because that was the task that nature had imposed upon them, so the theologians have had to struggle with trinitarian insight because the encounter with the one divine reality is inexorably shaped in a way that demands triadic understanding. It forces upon us thinking stranger than we could have thought. The process begins in the pages of the New Testament, as its writers are driven to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and the work of the Spirit in their hearts, though they know also that the God of Israel is 'the Lord alone' (Deuteronomy 6:4)."
The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed strange. We struggle to find apt metaphor because there is no equivalent way of being here on earth. On the one hand, traditional Christian belief regards polytheism as heresy, so Christianity rejects the idea of three Gods. On the other hand, modalism is also to be rejected as heresy (the belief that the three persons of the trinity are three ways of approaching God.) I was raised to understand the Trinity using the metaphor of the egg: yolk, white, and shell. What they each correspond to I have no idea.
Is the concept of the trinity so difficult to grasp because it is beyond human imagination and description? Or is it an incoherent idea which developed from melding the monotheism inherited from Judaism with the elevation of Jesus as divine by the early Christian community?
Polkinghorne believes that the distinct relationships between Persons in the Trinity are essential to the idea of God being love. Can there be love without an object to love? Does love only make sense in the context of relationship? In speaking of the Trinity, he writes "The concept of what one might even dare to call a 'divine society' casts light on that fundamental Christian assertion that 'God is love' (I John 4:16). A strongly monistic picture of deity would seem to imply a static understanding of the role of divine love in the intrinsic divine nature, along the lines of the unrelentingly narcissistic self-regard of the God of Aristotle."
How do you understand the Trinity? What metaphors have you heard and found helpful or dismissed as inadequate? Do you accept or reject the concept of the Trinity?
I'm attracted to the idea of the divine society and find that morality and concepts like love make much more sense in that context. However, I can't escape the utter befuddlement I experience in making sense of the doctrine of the Trinity and am curious about the history of the development of it.