The idea that God is the ultimate hat trick—that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once—is something that has always confused and challenged Christians and everyone else with a normal, binary-style brain.
But a look at the opening of the Gospel According to John perfectly explicates the triune nature of God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
And there it is. That’s the whole three-bite enchilada, right there.
What (I believe) John is expressing there is that God exists in three ever-present simultaneous modes*: Absolute and unchanging, exuberantly creative, and within the heart and soul of every person. He uses the word God to refer to the absolute and unchanging aspect of God’s reality, Word to refer to the exuberantly creative aspect of God’s existence (by which, as we shall see, he means Jesus), and light of men to refer to God as the Holy Spirit.
Badda-bing, badda-triune nature of God.
Let’s break down John’s words to look at them more closely:
In the beginning
That’s the Big God, God the Father/Mother/Everything, eternal and unchanging—the same one, if you’ll note, that with the exact same words opens the Bible: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
was the Word
The reason that John echoes Genesis’ In the beginning, God, with his, In the beginning, the Word, is to bring home the idea that the Word, which is Jesus, is God.
Attaching a word to something—naming it—is how you individuate that thing; it’s how you separate it from the giant, all-encompassing absolute that is everything else. That’s why naming something has always been appreciated as a sacred act of consecration: it’s the moment that bestows inviolate, unique identity. The name of what God is when God individuates—when he/she steps from the absolute world to the relative world—is Jesus.
and the Word was God.
That’s to again illuminate the point that God and Jesus are one—just as I remain the same person whether I am asleep or awake.
He was with God in the beginning.
Huh? Huh? Did you catch that, the way John so artfully transformed Word into He? That’s John making sure that we’re all fully tracking the idea that God and Jesus are one.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Now this is the radical moment in … well, the entire Bible. Because it declares that Jesus is the very means by which all of life is created: it is through him that all things are made. And though that’s not usually how we think of Christ–we usually associate the act of creation with the big absolute God—it’s perfectly right that we do understand Christ as the creative agent and catalyst for life. Because if you’re a Christian, you believe that Jesus is the means by which the very nature of your life is changed, is wholly recreated. It is through Jesus Christ that you are born again.
So yes, of course, you would be born again the same way you were born the first time: through Jesus.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
God the absolute became Jesus the differentiated, became the Holy Spirit so differentiated that he/she/it exists in the heart and soul of each and every person.**
And that’s the mystical triune nature of God, explicated in four short sentences.
And people say there’s nothing wondrously miraculous about the Bible.
* I am aware of the troubling history, relative to the doctrine of the Trinity, of the word mode. But I don’t care. Language is language. I couldn’t think of/find a better word than “mode,” so that’s the word I used. I figure enough time has gone by that no one will accuse me of heresy for doing so. (Though this is the Internet, where ignorance and anonymity are forever fusing to produce … well, you know.)
** Many Christians, of course, believe that the Holy Spirit is awakened only in those who first accept Jesus Christ as, as they say, their personal lord and savior. I’m acutely uncomfortable with that assertion, as it so readily feeds into the conviction that only some people understand the truth. That conviction is how wars are begun.