Imagine you are a young child —boy or girl, it doesn’t matter which. A gift arrived in the mail yesterday and now it sits “hidden” on the top shelf of the hall cupboard, tantalising your mind. It’s big, curiously shaped and most captivating of all, it’s from Grandma, the queen of strange and fascinating gifts.
Now imagine yourself the recipient of that gift. If only it weren’t three more months until your birthday! A cautious shake or two before school this morning produces only a single sliding motion deep within the surprisingly light box.
One day, Mum walks over to the neighbours’ place and there’s no time to lose. Easing the package to the floor and touching each surface, you detect only the thin resistance of cardboard—except in a circular area with a little more give. Through it, you can feel the tops of several slightly rounded objects.
The wrapping paper is much too thick to see through, but your heart leaps as you peer through a small gap between the tape and catch a glimpse of bright colours and even the edges of a letter or two. Hearing the click of your mother’s heels approaching the door, you realise that you’ve discovered all you can for now and you hastily put the box back on the shelf and try to look innocent.
Trying To See God
Our knowledge of God resembles the unexpected package-from-afar. Like that mysterious gift, God may seem strange and difficult to comprehend. His presence fascinates us; yet the more we try to explain Him, the less we feel we understand.
People often think of God as distant and even forbidding. However, knowing the God of the Bible, in fact, offers rewards that go beyond the brief excitement of a strange new gift. God grants meaning and sense to our lives and offers a relationship of trust and caring beyond anything we could possibly imagine.
The challenge that obscures our ability to peer into the mystery of God lies in the incredible distance between our ordinary minds and the mind of a Being who spans the universe; between our human confusion and the divine mind that sees all things with incredible clarity. Fortunately, God has ways to reach through these barriers that block our understanding of Him. He uses the Bible, nature and even His presence to provide us with the best possible glimpses of who He really is.
One Yet Three
The Bible declares—as Muslims, Jews and Christians all affirm—that God is One (Deuteronomy 6:4). Yet, at other times, the Bible refers to God as “our Father” (Matthew 6:9; John 17:1 and many others). Other Bible passages speak of God as “the Son” or “the Christ” (Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13) and John speaks of Him as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14). And finally, the Holy Spirit is referred to as God (Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:3, 4).
How God can be Three and at the same time One is a mystery that the Bible doesn’t deal with directly. Yet this explanation is the best that believers have come up with from the hints that the Bible does give.
Though the Bible speaks of God and Jesus as separate Persons, it affirms that Jesus is the “exact representation” of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). The Gospel of John provides a further glimpse into the oneness of God in Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). John also states that the will and actions of God the Father and God the Son are intimately connected. If someone loves Jesus and acts on that love, Jesus says, “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (verse 23).
So what about the Holy Spirit? We gain an insight into the distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit by exploring the original meaning of the word spirit. In the ancient languages of both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated as “spirit” in English referred to a movement of air, a breath or a gentle wind. Like a sudden breeze drifting in through a window on a sultry summer day, the coming of the Spirit, though unseen, has the power to arouse sleepy dispositions and transform volatile tempers, changing the whole atmosphere of the place He enters.
The Holy Spirit proceeds from God and touches every person. He enters deep within the followers of God and He brings a growing understanding of God’s universal principles of the good life.
Explaining The ConfusingSome people have created clever analogies to explain the picture of God being Three and yet One: just like ice, rain and vapour are all water; God is like past, present and future in that they are all different aspects and yet all fall under the heading of time; or how when two people enter a marriage, they become “one.” While helpful in understanding what scholars call the “Godhead,” it still leaves us scratching our head as to how it all works. We can see this Three-in-One picture and create analogies, making the important point that all Three are God but distinct, but ultimately this nature of God is beyond human comprehension. The best we have to describe what we see is the term Trinity. While it points to the picture of God in Scripture, it does not propose to offer a precise definition of all of God’s workings. This bothers our minds that like to classify, organise and pin down information. But why should we be surprised that it’s beyond our abilities to completely understand the fabric of God’s being? If we can define God, classify Him and put Him in a neat little box, He would cease to be God after all and we would cease to worship Him as we move on to other subjects of study.
We find another valuable clue to the differences between the Three Persons of the Godhead in the names Father and Son that Jesus so often used while He was on earth. These terms are obviously not meant to be understood in our human sense, because the Bible says nothing about a divine mother. Rather, the word Son in reference to Jesus can be understood in two ways.
First, as a human being, Jesus was born on earth as the human Son of a human mother. And second, the word Son reflects a relational closeness between God the Father and Jesus in His divine form. All of this provides us with a way to understand that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a divine Family. Yet even our most idyllic and intimate earthly families are just a hint of the close, loving relationship between the Members of the Trinity.
The terms Father and Son also help us to understand the difficult choice that Jesus had to make at one point in the distant past. He was fully God, fully divine, yet He placed Himself under the authority of God the Father (Philippians 2:6–8). Through this, we see Jesus the Son, who is in His Father’s image, acting in accordance with His Father’s wisdom and guidance. We also see God the Father taking pride in bringing glory and praise to His Son.
And the good news is that when we accept Jesus, we are adopted into this loving divine family. We become sons and daughters of the Father and co-heirs with Jesus Himself (see Romans 8:17)!
Jesus our High Priest
The Bible writers also provide a glimpse of God’s character by speaking of Jesus as a Priest, or Mediator, on our behalf before God. Does this mean that He protects us from an angry God? No, no! The Bible assures us that both Jesus and the Father love humans and are deeply interested in our welfare (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9, 10).
When the Bible speaks of Jesus as our Mediator, it means, rather, that the Father reaches out to us through His Son and embraces us in our smallness without overwhelming us with His divine greatness. For if God were to appear before us in all of His divine glory, we would be smitten dead.
So the Bible describes God the Father working through Jesus to create and sustain us, to call us to Himself and to bring about reconciliation between God and us that results in new lives with Him, which will continue forever.
When we are in a relationship with Jesus, He provides everything we need. And the Bible says that through the work of the Son and the Spirit, we can approach God and recognise and praise Him for who He is.
The picture the Bible draws of God ensures us of complete and final justice through Jesus. It promises us that we will rule with Him in an awesome future kingdom of love and peace. These are only a few of the many beautiful ways God helps us to understand a little of who He is in actuality.
The Bible is a treasure-house of glimpses of God. When we gather these glimpses and study them, we don’t get a neatly packaged definition of God. Rather, we find a tantalising introduction to a long-term relationship with a God whose love surpasses all other loves.
The following is a list of Bible verses that provide glimpses of God:
- The Holy Spirit proceeds from God (John 15:26; Luke 11:13) and touches every person (John 16:7, 8). He enters deep within the followers of God (John 14:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 3:16) and He brings a growing understanding of God’s universal principles of the good life (John 16:14).
- Jesus was born on earth as the human Son of a human mother (Luke 1:35).
- The terms Father and Son also help us to understand the difficult choice that Jesus had to make at one point in the distant past. He was fully God, fully divine, yet He placed Himself under the authority of God the Father. Through this, we see Jesus the Son, who is in His Father’s image (John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:1–3), acting in accordance with His Father’s wisdom and guidance (John 5:19). We also see God the Father taking pride in bringing glory and praise to His Son (John 8:54; John 17:1; Acts 3:13).
- The Bible writers also provide a glimpse of God’s character by speaking of Jesus as a Priest, or Mediator, on our behalf before God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 3:1; 8:1, 2).
- When the Bible speaks of Jesus as our Mediator, it means, rather, that the Father reaches out to us through His Son and embraces us in our smallness without overwhelming us with His divine greatness (John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:12).
- So, the Bible describes God the Father working through Jesus to create and sustain us (Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:1–3), to call us to Himself (1 Peter 3:18) and to bring about reconciliation between God and us (2 Corinthians 5:19) that results in new lives with Him, which will continue forever (John 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
- When we are in a relationship with Jesus, He provides everything we need (Philippians 4:19). And the Bible says that through the work of the Son and the Spirit, we can approach God (Hebrews 4:15, 16; Romans 8:26) and recognise and praise Him for who He is (Colossians 3:17).
- The picture the Bible draws of God ensures us of complete and final justice through Jesus (Romans 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17).
- It promises us that we will rule with Him in an awesome future kingdom of love and peace (Revelation 22:1, 2; Daniel 7:9–14, 26, 27)