At a recent religious education session, our pastor asked the students to raise their hands if they believed that Jesus was God. Only a handful of people raised their hands. While we were frustrated that the students didn’t understand that Jesus is God, as I think about it now, it really doesn’t surprise me.
Many students – and adults – have a hard time grasping the concept of the Holy Trinity: Three Persons in One God. We imagine three persons and, therefore, three different beings. Our language and images of the Trinity don’t help. Many pictures and icons of the Trinity show three different beings/entities/images: God as an old man, Jesus as a young man, Spirit as dove or fire. We proclaim belief in “Father, Son, and Spirit”; three different words, three different understandings, and in our world, three different entities. We say that Jesus is God’s Son. Well, if Jesus is God’s Son, how can he be God? And what, exactly, is the Holy Spirit?
So I’ve been thinking: How can we help students move beyond language to understand that God is One Entity, One Being, experienced in three different ways?
Some examples that catechists have used to explain the Trinity include water, fire, and ourselves.
We experience water in three different manners. We have fluid, flowing water. When that water gets cold, it freezes into ice. When that water gets hot, it evaporates into steam. It’s still water, but experienced in three different ways: fluid, ice, and steam.
We experience fire in three different manners: Heat, flame, and light. We see the flame of the fire. We feel the heat of the fire. A room is illuminated with the light of the fire.
We even experience ourselves in three different manners. Women can be daughters, wives, and mothers. Men can be sons, husbands, and fathers. One person, but three different relationships.
And now God. There is only one God. Yet we experience God in three different ways, three different relationships. We experience God as Creator (Father), who creates and gives life to everything in the world. We experience God as Jesus (Son), who took on human flesh and shared in our human condition. We experience God as Spirit, who inspires us, gives us wisdom, and moves us to do good in God’s name. One God, three different experiences of God, three different styles of relationship with that one God.