For my birthday last year, my husband bought me a pair of silver earrings in the shape of Asian clouds. Since moving to Mongolia, I had noticed that clouds, as portrayed in Asian art, often have a distinct style. I sometimes spend my free time drawing clouds, trying to mimic the shapes and lines. I liked the earrings but, even more than that, I loved that he saw them and thought of me.
I love feeling known and I HATE when people believe untrue things about me, even if it’s something insignificant like my favorite color. One of the easiest ways for my husband to tease me is to say untrue things about me as if they were true. I cannot help but set the record straight, even if I know he’s joking. [insert example if you can think of one]
I bet you can relate. Maybe not about the earrings or the teasing, but about the general desire to be known and understood. We tend to hate misrepresentations about ourselves (unless they make us look better than we actually are). Being known helps us to connect with others so we can build meaningful relationships. These relationships shape us and give us life. Knowing others and being known is critical to our social and emotional health.
God also longs to be known. That’s why he spends so much time revealing himself to us. He also hates when people believe untrue things about him. He’s constantly, gently revealing who he is and constantly correcting our incorrect thoughts and beliefs. In theological terms, we generally call the true things “orthodoxy” (right belief or the established, accepted doctrine) and the false things “heresy.”
Today were going to look at some heresies related to the trinity. The goal is to reveal untrue ideas we have about God so we can better know him based on truth.
Because the Trinity is such a confusing doctrine, we often use metaphors to explain it. Metaphors can be helpful for explaining one aspect of truth…but can be disastrous when carried to their logical conclusion. Here are some common metaphors others may have shared with you…and you may have shared with others…that tend toward heresy.
Metaphor #1: God is like an egg
Common explanation: The egg is made up of three distinct parts but there is only one egg. There was a yolk, the shell and the white part.
The problem: The yolk is part of the egg and can be completely separated from the rest of the egg.
The heresy’s name: partialism (dividing God into parts).
Metaphor #2: God is like water
Common explanation: Water can be steam, liquid, or ice just like God is the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit.
The problem: The same molecule of water cannot be all three things at the same time.
The heresy’s name: Modalism (the idea that God is presents himself with different faces at different times)
Metaphor #3: You can be a Father, Son, Brother, Boss, Employee, etc. at the same time
Common explanation: In the same way that you, as one person, can have a variety of roles: daughter, mother, sister, employee, boss, student, etc. at the same time, one God can be father, son, and holy spirit at the same time.
The problem: While emphasizing the oneness of the Trinity, the different roles aren’t distinct enough…the Trinity, as portrayed in the Bible has three distinct beings that interact with each other but are one God.
Arian Heresy: If you accept that there is one God, and three persons…perhaps the other persons are inferior to the main God. For example, perhaps Jesus is not really God. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, see Jesus only the son of God, created by God, not eternal, still with some divine qualities, but not equal with the Father. Mormons would argue, along similar lines, that Jesus is a god but he is subordinate to the God.
Denying “personhood:” Some Holy Spirit as an impersonal force rather than a distinct person. Scripture, however, describes the Holy Spirit as having a will and emotions and the Holy Spirit does distinct things like teaching and comforting.
Denying One God: Occasionally Christians are accused of being tritheists (having three Gods). We know that we do not have three Gods, we only have one, but you can certainly understand why this would be confusing for those on the outside looking in (particularly for Muslims, for example).
Oneness Theology (a.k.a. modalism): This is the idea that God exists in different modes (or as different people) at different times. In the Old Testament he was the Father, in the New Testament he was Jesus, in the Church age he is the Holy Spirit.
These details matter because our most important relationship in life is our relationship with God. In order to have a good and growing relationship with him we need to be constantly discovering who God really is.
WHY IT MATTERS
We’ll see the implications of parts of the trinitarian doctrine as we explore other things in the future.
Next week, for example, we’ll talk about how the way we understand the relationship between the Father and the Son has affected the way some understand the role of women in church leadership or the properness of subordination in marriage.
Having a good view of the Trinity makes the Incarnation (the Son becoming human) so significant and has implications for how we lay aside our privilege to minister to those around us.
Understanding correctly how fully human Jesus was helps us to see him as a realistic example for our lives rather than an impossible standard.
Our understanding of life after death is affected by how we understand the Trinity (Christians have a much different view of life after death than Mormons do, for example).
AND, FINALLY, A FUN VIDEO
And, finally, here’s a video that briefly covers the metaphors above and points out some other heretical teaching.