The Trinity, as a conceptual effort to better understand Jesus’ own use of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in Matthew 28:19 regarding baptism (its only appearance in the Gospels), has a very long history, dating back to at least the early Christian thinker Tertullian in ca. 200 C.E., when he coined the term trinitas. Although I do not agree with its basic premise of “three independent yet co-existing Persons,” I have come to understand its desire to make better sense of who God and Jesus are in the territory of the human-divine realm.
A main objection to the Trinity is that the term itself does not appear in the New Testament, yet the Matthew verse seems sufficient to allow it to serve as the foundation, since it is Jesus Himself who introduces this idea quasi-conceptually. He wants us to more seriously consider the divine realm, with which the Jews of his time were at best rudimentarily familiar in their own writings, as for them, it was still more an idea than an experience. Jesus shows us the divine realm in person as His experience through His miracles, in particular. I have recently come to understand that we can not simply reject the Trinity because it “came later” after Jesus—-no, I do think He introduces it conceptually, yet does not elaborate much at all. He does want us to consider it, though. Jesus is primarily interested in our spiritual transformation, after all.
I will begin with the Holy Spirit, because its “independence” likely does not exist. I would say that the Holy Spirit is an expression of God’s will, rather than an independent force or entity, since no one has ever conceptualized the Holy Spirit’s “independence,” and indeed, it hardly gets discussed at all. In John’s Gospel, Jesus mentions “the Advocate” to the disciples after His resurrection, again without elaboration. This reduces the Trinity to its proper focus, that of the nature of the human-divine realm.
Several years ago, I read a book entitled No One Sees God, the sentiment of which serves as the host for our consideration of the Trinity. We can not see the nature of the human-divine realm unless we (literally) witness Jesus (which hardly anyone does these days) or from a miracle performed by God. The basis for the Trinity is the super-naturally miraculous, it functions outside our own influence and is not explicable by scientific notions or measurements. God provides us with spiritual sustenance in ways we humans can not do by ourselves. Jesus Himself is the only figure who has ever embodied the human-divine realm, hence the Trinity tries to explain His nature as a summation of His mission on Earth, trying to answer this nagging question of who is Jesus?
To be clear: Jesus was and is not God Himself. His divinity came in the last years of His life during His mission to His fellow Jews and eventually the Gentiles. It is a steady transfusion of Spirit likely over his entire lifetime, culminating in the wisdom and miracles of His mission. How do I know this? Gods do not get flogged and crucified, gods do not bleed “blood and water,” gods do not get resurrected because gods never die, and gods are persuasive in ways Jesus was not: to His disciples and other followers, the Pharisees and the Romans. While Jesus does singularly straddle the human-divine realm, His divinity is one-directional from God, and He admits this repeatedly in John’s Gospel. This is where the Trinity breaks down conceptually, because it loses track of these facts. Nonetheless, I still find it useful, and admire those who have perused it through all the many centuries, since it is an effort to make sense of what we can never humanly see.
So, an alternative. By our time, after post-Lutheran religious wars as well as science, medicine and the endless theological speculations of very learned men, any Christian doctrines must now be strained through that nagging, very mystical question: what really happened in the Tomb? I would say that Jesus was always necessarily special in the Biblical description, but what about His “apprenticeship” (ages 12-30), before which there is no evidence of either ministry or miracles, nor any proof of divinity? It does me no good to think that He had already been eternal since the creation of the universe, but had never shown Himself until just before Herod the Great died, after the Maccabean revolt had energized the Israelites, but were now again threatened by Herod Antipas? Jesus is born of a human mother (whether virginal or not — either way is fine with me), retains “ordinary” human form throughout His life, and evolves (“wisdom and stature”) until God tells Jesus at His baptism it is now His time to (try and) save the world. It takes Him a long time to even reveal to His disciples that He is the Son of God. I don’t think they would have accepted the Trinity idea, struggling as they were, since Jesus was always way beyond them, anyway. His ministry unfolds until and through Holy Week.
The disciples eventually reject Jesus precisely because they can not “straddle the gap” between the human and divine which He presents them, so it is really no surprise that He is rejected by the Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot to me is not “the worst person ever born,” but rather represents our collective doubt about human claims of divinity. Jesus then dies the worst (fully human) death imaginable (the first time I read a detailed medical description of crucifixion, I fainted for the only time in my life), and everything implodes. Why is it called Good Friday? Jesus has to die, still only human, for the divinely miraculous to happen. I have never been happy with the idea that He “triumphed over death” — He didn’t, rather He died terrorably, at the nadiring point to make us accept the viability of Easter on Sunday. Jesus becomes divine after being dead in the tomb by “an act of God.”
So what is that “act of God?” Physicists doing Shroud research speak of what they call an “event horizon,” in which gravity is momentarily suspended to allow Jesus to rise off the rock, with the tautened Shroud completely around Him, and, in a millisecond, His bodily image is projected onto the linen, front and back sides (without distortions) with the radiation of a small sun. He ascends (after grilling fish on the beach) to remain in Heaven with God, perhaps forever. His post-Resurrection appearances to either Mary or at Emmaus seem to reflect his varying “state of matter.” Ask a physicist.
In a solar system analogy, God is the sun, Jesus is Mercury, and the rest of us are other planets, depending on our faith (I used to be out beyond Saturn, in my younger years). Jesus always hovers in the tightest orbit around God, which shrinks and shrinks throughout His life, and collapses altogether at the moment of His Resurrection. He then is swallowed into the sun, perhaps forever. For me, there is no “fully human, fully divine” Jesus, there is only His “evolving toward the divine” until it actually happens, under the auspices of God. As a man, Jesus can not affect the weather, bring forth birth or change the laws of chemistry or gravity by Himself. He did not create them, God did. Jesus did not claim to be God, even at the point of death. He was God’s begotten Son, and there is a very real difference. He was an electro-magnet, not of His own creation, but of His very necessary embodiment. I think this is what “the beloved disciple” understood in the Tomb (and in the Upper Room) in the greatest piece of Scripture: John 20: 1-9. Jesus’ evolution thus provides an example for our own spiritual journeys, since none of us will ever be divine, at least in this earthly life.
Since Jesus has the number “3” on His forehead on the Shroud, I could certainly be wrong about all of this. Is this about “I spent three days in the tomb, and rose?” John’s Gospel portrays God’s “spiritual transfusion” into Jesus over three Passovers, eventually resulting in His clear-cut, post-resurrection divinity to His apostles, Paul and others. Jesus straddles the chasm between the human and divine, as no one else does. I think Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. was more right than not, though he was shouted down. Since then, theologians have often gotten too bogged down in the intricacies of the Trinity, forgetting that we are actually trying to answer Jesus’ own question to us: do you want to be more spiritualized human beings, or not?
2016; extensively revised: 2020