On the use of analogies in explaining the Trinity

Sassafras2 300A friend of mine asked about using analogies to explain the Trinity to children. I tend to avoid analogies for explaining the Trinity — note, I do not condemn or discourage such analogies if they are used carefully. However, I find that such analogies fall so far short of the reality that they tend to add confusion rather than clarity. The Trinity is the most profound mystery at the very centre of all reality; it is no surprise that this is beyond our comprehension.

When I explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my children I make a point of saying I do not fully understand it and, indeed, no one can because it is just that profound and amazing! This is ultimate reality! I give the child as much as I can but, personally, I do not try to make the mystery more accessible with analogy. Again, I’m not condemning doing that! I’m just sharing what I’ve done.

God has revealed something of Himself in regard to His Being — this mysterious ‘ultimate reality’ — and what He has revealed we can understand and affirm so far as He has granted us the ability. This mysterious God is always and forever One and Three but in different respects.

I usually explain to the child that, just as we understand what it is to know different persons (Mommy, brother, Daddy), we know that there are three distinct persons when we talk about God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But unlike us, these Three aren’t separate each from the other in the same way that we are. Here is part of the mystery! Depending on the age and capacity of the child, that may be enough for the time, or I may introduce language about ‘Being’ and ‘Essence’, and how that distinguishes us each from the other, but in the case of the mysterious Trinity this is the very thing in which the Three are One! It’s heady stuff and I want them to develop an awe of it! I want them to be comfortable with the idea that God is ultimately so amazing that I cannot fully grasp everything about Him! That’s okay! He’s just that profoundly marvelous!

So, my thinking on this approach is that analogies of the Trinity are inherently frustrating and counterproductive. An effective analogy must have some fundamental aspect in common with the thing it is intended to illustrate. But this is precisely where every analogy of the Trinity breaks down so quickly! Nothing is ‘three’ in precisely the way the Divine Persons are Three! Nothing is One in precisely the way God is One! Consequently, the very thing the analogy is intended to do it is profoundly ill equipped to accomplish. The more one uses an analogy to grasp the Trinity, the more failing the analogy becomes! So, instead, I encourage my child to embrace the mysterious nature and awesome incomprehensibility of our marvelous God. I encourage him to hold onto what God has given us, but be satisfied with the limits of our comprehension.

I only offer this as a warm recommendation of the direction I have chosen, not at all as a condemnation or discouragement for those who have chosen a different direction. God must bless our efforts as parents and teachers or all our efforts should surely fail! God grant us wisdom in shepherding the godly offspring He desires!

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One thought on “On the use of analogies in explaining the Trinity

  1. Thank you for the encouragement to “embrace the mysterious nature and awesome incomprehensibility of our marvelous God” and to share that wonder and awe with our children.