Across the board, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity seems to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in all religious studies. Jews don’t understand it. Atheists don’t understand it. Mormons don’t understand it. Muslims don’t understand it. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t understand it. Even a lot of Christians don’t understand it and, when pressed, will appeal to analogies or models that are technically heretical.
It’s been called contradictory, polytheism, and paganism, yet the Church has understood the concept to be at the very heart of orthodoxy since the days of the apostles, even if they (the church) couldn’t articulate it or explain it.
Smart people have a habit of asking good questions and nowhere is this truer than 17th Century mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz who asked what is simultaneously a very simple but very profound question:
Why is there something, rather than nothing?
In fact, Leibniz believed that this was “the first question that should rightly be asked” and with a little reflection it’s easy to see why he believed that. Many of us in asking the deep questions of life will come to a series of regression that leads us from the simple and mundane (“What am I going to do today?”) to the fundamental and profound (“What am I doing with my life?”, “What am I here for?”). Answering those deeper personal questions depends on an understanding of the purpose of life and the cosmos in general, which in turn requires an understanding of where those things came from and why. This chain seems to present a problem of infinite regress, with each step of the chain requiring its own explanation. The most common analogy for this problem is the infamous “Chicken and the Egg” scenario. Eggs come from chickens and chickens grow out of eggs, so which one came first?
I was going to begin my series looking at the points of evaluation for the sufficiency and reliability of a faith system, but before we get into all of that, I want to suggest something. Start with Jesus, that is, with biblical Christianity.
Why is that?
First, everyone wants a piece of Jesus. To the Buddhist, Jesus was a guru, or an enlightened one. To the Muslim, Jesus was a great prophet. To the secularist, Jesus was a great moral teacher. To the Jehovah’s Witness, Jesus is the archangel Michael. To the Mormon, Jesus is the literal son of Heavenly Father, the firstborn and greatest of all his brothers and sisters (us). To Christians, Jesus is God.
Personally, when I buy something online – particularly when I’m not buying directly from the dealer or manufacturer, such as shopping on Amazon or some other retailer – I have to occasionally be careful to check the reviews and user pictures to make sure that what I’m ordering is actually what the picture shows. There are many cases when people will sell knockoff products on Amazon using marketing pictures taken from the actual manufacturer’s website, so what you get in the mail looks nothing like what you thought you were buying and – surprise surprise – they don’t allow returns. We want to know that what we’re getting is the real thing. We want something authentic and genuine.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.