The Confusing Trinity

I have questions about the Trinity. Some say Jesus was begotten at his resurrection, others say from birth or from his baptism. When was Jesus begotten of the Father? Also if Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t the Holy Spirit be Jesus’ father instead of God the Father? Is the Holy Spirit really a person or just a form of energy?

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Working through the Trinity . . . no small task!
It seems like you’re in the process of working through the doctrine of the Trinity, which is no small task! It is a question that has been written about by some of the greatest Christian thinkers across history. The Church Fathers tried to explain it using the creeds, but—as you’re finding out—they didn’t really clarify much.
I want to take a different approach and pull you up out of the details to survey the landscape of our faith.
When I run into thorny biblical or theological problems, I pause and ask one simple question: “Does it matter?” That is, is there anything critical to my faith and practice that would be lost if the answer turned out to be “A” rather than “B?” If the answer to that is “No,” then I might still be interested in the question, but it turns the question into an intellectual exercise rather than an anxiety-filled challenge to my faith.
When it comes to the exact nature of the Trinity, I don’t find that the answer affects my faith one way or another. I accept that God is not only greater than I am, but qualitatively different. My limited, mortal mind can go only so far in understanding the infinite and complex majesty that is God. St. Paul says that we see only through a dark glass and that we can know only in part while on this earth (1 Cor 13:12). To think that we can fully comprehend the nature of God is as futile as ants trying to analyze the human mind. We would have to be greater than God in order to fully define God’s nature. And we’re not.
If understanding the exact nature of the Trinity—either all together or in each of its persons—were important to our salvation, to being a disciple of Jesus, or to fulfilling the Great Commandment, then Jesus would have explained it to his disciples in a way that we could all understand. But he didn’t. Neither did he single out the great intellectual minds of his day for special praise. Instead, Jesus put the spotlight on a child and told his followers that, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4)
Part of that humility, I think, is being able to accept the limits to our own understanding. The Church has not been good about this across the millennia. The debates over the exact nature of the persons of the Trinity have caused the church to splinter, hunt heretics, and kill and torture children of God, just for having a different understanding of something that comes to us as a mystery. Jesus made plain the things that were necessary for eternal life: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28). When our adherence to other doctrines causes us to violate that central teaching, then we have lost our way.
So my non-answer to your question about when exactly Jesus was “begotten” and this one about how exactly Jesus was conceived are that I don’t think it matters. And, if it does, I will have to trust my eternal future to God’s mercy because I surely have no clue and will not proclaim to know something that I find unknowable.
My faith is not about what I think; it’s about what I do—how I behave towards the earth and its inhabitants that God charged us in Genesis to “keep.” There are many other things in Christian doctrine that I find fascinating; but, in the end, it is my ability to love God and love my neighbor as myself that matters. The rest is whimsy and noise.

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Author: Anne Robertson




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