Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Are Jesus and Jehovah the same? What is the Trinity?

Jehovah is the name of God in the Old Testament (which was originally written in Hebrew). It is a contraction of a Hebrew phrase which means: "The One who was, is, and who ever will be". As the years passed, the notion began to develop among the Jews that it was irreverent to pronounce the name Jehovah, and so they addressed God as Adonai, which simply means “Lord”. Most English Bibles followed the same convention and translated Jehovah in the Hebrew Bible as LORD. Hence, the name Jehovah is not well known.
 
The Bible teaches that God is one, and yet there are three persons in the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son, who came down to earth as Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. The word “Trinity” has been invented to describe this concept. The Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament, and explained more fully in the New.
 
Our observation of the Trinity in the Old Testament will be enhanced by learning a few things about Hebrew:-
  • Number is singular (one), dual (two), or plural (three or more). (In contrast, English has only singular and plural).
  • There are two Hebrew words for "one": ehad refers to a single but composite entity. In Genesis 1:5, the one [ehad] day is made up of evening and morning. In Genesis 2:24, the husband and wife form one [ehad] flesh. In Ezra 2:64, the whole [ehad] assembly was made up of 42,360 people. In contrast, the Hebrew word "Yahid" refers to a single undivided entity.
  • Verbs in the past tense can be singular or plural – unlike in English; the same form of the verb "go" is used irrespective of number. "He went and they went"
  • The Hebrew words "El", "Eloah" and "Elohim" are all rendered "God" in our English Bibles. The first two are singular, while the third is plural. The third is also rendered "gods" in some cases.
  • In Biblical Hebrew, there is  no clear occasion where the first person plural is used to refer to the singular as a colloquialism. So when the first person plural is used, we take it as genuinely plural. 
The Bible begins by saying:
“In the beginning, Elohim [plural] created [singular] the heavens and the earth...And Elohim [plural] said, Let us [plural] make [plural] man in our image [singular]” (Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:26).
Note the consecutive occurrence of singular and plural. The Trinity occurs right in the first chapter of the Bible, which was written shortly after creation!
"Hear O Israel: Jehovah our Elohim [plural] is one [ehad] Jehovah...Jehovah your Elohim [plural], He [singular] is Elohim [plural], the faithful El [singular] ..." (Deuteronomy 6:4, 7:9)
Again, the interplay of singular and plural hints at the plurality of persons in the God-head.

God is love (1 John 4:8) and also eternal (Isaiah 41:4) and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). However, love is a transitive verb. Whom did God love in eternity (before He created everyone)? Answer: there always been more than one person in the Godhead!
 
Having established the plurality of persons in the Godhead, let us identify these persons. One of these persons is the Spirit of God, who is mentioned explicitly in Genesis 1:2, Judges 13:25, Psalm 51:11, etc.

There is one entity in the God-head who cannot be seen by sinful humans - we would die instantly (Exodus 33:20). There is another entity who can be seen face to face, as a man talks to a friend (Exodus 33:11) [Note: friends don't use mirrors in conversation, so this is not just an image or mirror reflection of God]. This entity is called El Shaddai (God Almighty) 48 times in the Old Testament (the first occurrence is Genesis 17:1). He is also called the Angel of Jehovah [Angel means messenger]. In Genesis 16:7-8, he appears and speaks to Hagar. In Genesis 16:13, she refers to him as Jehovah himself [she didn't die when she saw him!]. Similarly, Israel refers to God and the Angel synonymously (Genesis 48:15-16).
 
We also meet the Angel in Exodus 23:20-21 - God's name is in him and he has the authority to forgive sins, and thus must be God himself (Mark 2:7). This Angel (Sent One) is the Son and King who is referred to in Psalm 2:7-12, Daniel 7:13-14 and Proverbs 30:4.
  
Thus, there are three persons in the Godhead – the Spirit of God, the Visible One, and the Invisible One. Their more familiar names are: the Holy Spirit, the Son and the Father. In fact, the Son is called "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).
"I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I; and now the Lord Jehovah and His Spirit, have sent me" (Isaiah 48:16)
Here again, we see the three persons, with one of them being sent. Sent where? To earth! The Bible teaches that He came to earth as Jesus Christ. All the above passages were written before 600 BC.
 
It is also interesting to see the terms for God used by Job, that ancient non-Israeli follower of the true God. In Job 1:21, he uses the term Jehovah. He uses the plural "Elohim" in Job 28:23, the singular "Eloah" in Job 29:2, and the singular "El" in Job 31:28. He also occasionally refers to God as Shaddai, the Almighty One (Job 27:10). Thus, Job was aware of the trinity. Look at Job's knowledge:-
"I know that my redeemer lives and that he shall stand in the latter day upon the earth. And after my skin has been struck off, yet in my flesh I shall see Eloah" (Job 19:25-26)
Although Job lived more than two thousand years before Jesus Christ, he knew that one of the Divine Persons would be his redeemer, and that he would come again much later; moreover, Job would rise from the dead and see him face to face.
 
In the New Testament, the trinity is implied in verses such as Hebrews 9:14, Ephesians 2:18, Matthew 28:19, John 14:26, 15:26, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Peter 1:2 and 1 John 5:7. In some of these verses, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are merely mentioned - this is enough to establish that each of them is divine, since God does not take kindly to putting divine and human persons on the same level (see Matthew 17:4-5). You may also want to check: Distinct functions of the persons of the trinity.

How can we have three persons and yet just one God? Isn't the Trinity self-contradictory?

This is like asking: how can God be without beginning and end? How could God create the whole universe in within a week? The simple answer is: We don't know. God is beyond our understanding. If He could be completely figured out, He would no longer be God! Notice that some unanswered questions are part of any worldview. Atheists cannot say where the cosmic egg that exploded in the big bang came from (and their theory of evolution is completely unsatisfactory in explaining what we observe in nature). Nor can Muslims explain who made Allah. I agree that the concept of the trinity cannot be fathomed completely by the human mind. God foresaw this, and so He's provided us with many analogies:-
 
In one dimension, three line segments would be three different figures. However, in two dimensions, you can have three line segments making up just one figure (a triangle). At our level, one being implies one person. At God's level, He is One Being, yet Three Persons.

Genesis 1:1 says: " In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Notice:-
  • In the beginning: that's time
  • Heaven: space
  • Earth: Matter
Past, present and future are all time, but they are not the same. Similarly, space has three dimensions (length, breadth and height) and matter has three ordinary states: ice, liquid water and steam are all water, but they're not the same, and there exists a temperature and pressure (called the triple point) at which all three coexist.

We speak of being united in matrimony – if our spouse dies we feel as if a part of our life has been taken away – and yet, husband and wife are, after all, two different individuals.
 
One common accusation leveled at the doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit amount to 3 gods as surely as 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Consider the following three sets:-

A = {1, 4, 7, 10, ...}
B = {2, 5, 8, 11, ...}
C = {3, 6, 9, 12, ...}

The number of elements in a set is called its cardinality. The cardinality of each of these sets is the same, say N (which is infinite). If we put all the elements together, we obtain the union set:-
 
D = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ...}

Now what is the cardinality of D? It should be N + N + N = 3N. Well, ask any mathematician. The answer is not 3N but N. N, N and N together just make N! Note that this strange result applies only when N is infinite; if N were finite, the answer would be 3N as any layman would expect. Here we have a beautiful analogy of the Trinity. We have three persons, each infinite, and each fully God; yet, they compose only one God together. The Trinity is not absurd or self-contradictory anymore than Georg Cantor's set theory is!
 
Of course, no analogy is perfect. I cannot figure out God completely, but that does not prevent me from believing in Him because the evidence still points to Him, and experiencing Him. Somewhat like: I don't understand Maxwell's Theory of Electromagnetism, but I believe in it, because there is enough evidence for it, and although I don't understand it completely, I can still use electricity at home. The same applies to the Triune God.
 
Further Reading:
  • Crossley, Robert. 1978. The Trinity. Downer's Grove, Il: InterVarsity.
  • Wood, Nathan R. 1978. The Trinity in the Universe. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishing Co. 

How can you claim to know God, or describe him? By definition, he is unknowable!

This is like asking “Do you know electricity and magnetism?” No one really knows it completely. Those of us who are from a science background understand something of it; everyone knows at least a little of it! In particular, you don’t have to understand Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism or quantum electrodynamics to use electricity at home!

In the same way, we don’t completely know or understand God – but we can know Him and understand Him to the extent that He chooses to reveal Himself to us. The good news is that He has revealed something of Himself to us. While God tells us that He is much higher than us (Isaiah 55:9), the Bible also tells us that God has revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus (John 1:18). Thus: You can know God to the extent that He has chosen to reveal Himself to humans.

Is pain good?

This world has a lot of pain that cannot be linked causally with any specific misdeed:-
  1. Disease-ridden animals torture each other in a desperate struggle for survival
  2. Women go through menstruation and child delivery
  3. Some people (not necessarily bad people) undergo misfortune, such as the loss of a loved one, destruction of property, etc.
  4. Some people undergo oppression, abuse, etc.
The Bible tells us that God is not the author of this pain.

Liberals and Muslims believe that God is the author of pain - He created a rotten world. Atheists and Biblical Christians say that such a God is not worthy of worship even if he exists. Muslim apologists reply that he is, because pain is good. The following are the reasons they offer, and my responses.

Pain is a helpful signal. Leprosy patients don't feel pain in their limbs and so don't realize it when they hit their limbs against something or burn them. So they don't tend to their wounds because they don't feel them! Hence their limbs deteriorate. Thus, pain is a blessing in disguise. But this explanation is inadequate. Why couldn't God think of some better warning signal? Why are animals carnivorous? Why does child delivery have to be so painful?

Pain is cathartic - it is good for you because it makes you a better person. This argument is invalid because:-
  1. Even people who use this argument use pain killers, anesthetics and toil-reducing machines. This proves that they don't really believe it.
  2. Both Islam and liberalism deny that man has a sinful nature – people only choose to commit sinful acts occasionally. If this is the case, there is no logical reason why pain can be cathartic because most pain in the world has no direct correlation with wrong choices. Chronic medication can only be cure for chronic disease.
  3. Defending this argument requires documentation to prove that precisely those people who need extra catharsis are the ones going through the greater pain. No proponent of this argument has ever provided such evidence. There is in fact, every indication to the contrary. For example, in WW2, Germans who were complicit with the Nazis (the bad guys) did not suffer as much as Germans who opposed the Nazi atrocities (the good guys).
  4. The Koran does not address the problem of pain and suffering using this (or any other) argument. This argument has merely been invented by Islamic apologists to defend their religion.
To summarize: Pain is intrinsically bad, and the gods of Islam and Liberal Christianity who made pain an intrinsic part of their world are not worthy of worship even if they exist. "Pain" is one of the many subjects in which the truth lies in between two errors:-
  • The atheistic error: The existence of pain and evil proves that a good God does not exist
  • The Islamic error: Pain is good because God created/designed the world to include pain
  • The Biblical truth: Pain is bad and God is good. He has allowed pain in response to man's rebellion against Him.

Is something good because God proclaims it to be good OR does God proclaim something to be good because it is good?

This is called Euthyphro's Dilemma, but was perhaps first posed by Plato. His point was that if the the first premise is true, then God is being arbitrary (which means that the notion of a sensible kind God is discredited) whereas if the second premise is true, there is a value system higher than God, which means that the idea of a supreme God is discredited.

The Biblical answer is BOTH. However, Plato's consequences don't follow. Let us see why:
 
God is a Trinity and His qualities enable perfect harmony, love, peace and joy between the three Persons of the Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This proves that God is not arbitrary but "intrinsically good", and yet this "intrinsic goodness" is not consistency to some ideal "above" God because it is fully characteristic, expressed and validated by the Persons of the Godhead themselves.
 
It is worth noting that Plato's question nails Allah, who is not a trinity.