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Metaphors for the Trinity

The Trinity remains a mystery. Even to long-time Christians, we don’t always have a good grasp or explanation of the mysterious relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

What are your best metaphors for understanding the Trinity?

I’ve heard of the one being: “God is water, water in three forms as ice (solid), water (liquid), gas (vapor).” Or something about “looking out at the ocean, you see the vast body of water, but it is distinct from the atmosphere or clouds that contains the same moisture, which is distinct in our minds as the waves.” Or something like that. Clearly it didn’t stick as well as I hoped.

I was thinking about John 14:

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 

Maybe the best metaphor I can think of at the moment is imagining some incense. God the Father is the source, the actual incense being burnt. God the Son is the manifestation of the incense in a more concrete form, like an incense or joss stick. God the Spirit is the aroma and vapor of the incense that lingers in a room and can follow you on your clothes even after you depart from the source. God the Father is sort of abstract and hard to understand. Jesus is a gift because we are humans and so we relate and learn best from another human. It’s easier to characterize incense when it’s in a packaged form that we recognize. And the Holy Spirit is the invisible quality of God that we cannot see but we can feel and carry with us and in us.

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