A Theology Thursday post.
Yesterday when I went to check on my next Moodle assignment for my Systematic Theology class, I was genuinely overjoyed to find that this was it:
Your church has asked you to teach a Bible instruction class to a group of 7th and 8th graders. When you come to the doctrine of the Trinity, how will you approach the subject? What will you say? What will you not say? What analogies will you use, if any, to clarify the doctrine?
I know. I’m ridiculous. I mean, my heart actually leapt. Then, even though the post due date isn’t until next Wednesday, I went ahead and posted something today. Yeah, it was the first post up. What are you implying?
Look. It’s not like I think I figured out the secret of the Trinity and can now expound it in such a way that even the most skeptical skeptic will fall down in worship (of the Trinity! not me!), although I wish I had and could. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of time to mull it over, and talking about it seems to be what I do. Second theology class I took as an undergrad, I had a group assignment which was essentially, “Figure out how you would explain the Trinity to a Muslim,” and it’s been all Trinity all the time ever since. Three years after that I spent a big chunk of time trying in earnest to explain the Trinity to real Muslims. Then I tried my hand explaining it to atheists (which is trickier, because if you can’t even get past the existence of God issue, it’s hard to make sense of anything else), and now I work for a church and teach a confirmation class of–usually–eighth graders. So, maybe I don’t entirely know how to explain the Trinity, but I’ve sure had a lot of practice trying. I use different analogies for different audiences, but this (with some edits because I’m already blabbing on and on) is how I answered my assignment.
I get the idea that most of the youth of my church have absorbed some sort of impression that Jesus and God are different entities, even though ostensibly it is a Trinitarian church. So when I talk to them about the Trinity, my main goal is to get them to see how Jesus is one with God. Another relevant detail is that our church has a camp property in [Boondocks, New England]. It’s on a pond. This is what I usually say:
“How many of you have been to Camp? You know [Boondocks] Pond, then. You’ve been boating on it and swimming in it and stuff. Did you know that, in order for you to be able to do those things, someone has to take a water sample to a water testing plant so they can make sure the water’s safe?
“When the testing facility tests the little cup of water, they can tell everything they need to know about [Boondocks] Pond–even though it’s just a cup of water! When Jesus came to earth He was like [Boondocks] Pond in a cup. Everything that was true about God was true about Him. It’s why when, right before Jesus was going to die, and His disciple Philip said, ‘Jesus, show us the Father,’ Jesus was like, ‘Hello? See me? You’ve seen the Father.’ Jesus is God just as much as the Father is God. Jesus showed people everything they needed to know about God.
“Now, what about at camp in the mornings? You know how the mist rises off the pond? That’s still [Boondocks] Pond, too. That [Boondocks] Pond is a little like the Holy Spirit, because you breathe it in and it gets inside you. The Holy Spirit can live inside you, too. He isn’t you (sorry–no matter what you may think, you’re not God), just like the vaporised water of the pond isn’t you, but He can be in you.”
I prefer this analogy to the traditional ice-water-vapor analogy because all three “manifestations” of [Boondocks] Pond can exist simultaneously. I recognise, however, that there are some drawbacks. The analogy of the Holy Spirit is a little weak, in particular, I feel. (The Holy Spirit actually empowers us to live God’s way, where as inhaling water vapor is just sort of–passive on the part of both the vapor and the one inhaling it.)
I’m also aware that the personal element gets lost in this analogy. For seventh and eigth graders, however, I’m sort of okay with that. I think, given where most kids are intellectually at that stage, their hang-ups with Trinitarian ideas are going to be more spacially conceived than personally conceived. Although I haven’t tried this, I have a hunch it would work better to say, “Now, imagine [Boondocks] Pond has a personality . . . ” and “sci-fi-ing” it up from there, than to start talking about remembering God, knowing God and loving God (Augustine’s idea). Frankly, I’m not sure I even really understand that one–it sounds more like the progression of a relationship than “three persons” to me. Once I tried using CS Lewis’ construct about dimensions: we live in a spacially three-dimensional world but have “one-dimensional” personalities, whereas God, being more than we are, has a three-dimensional personality. But when I said that, some kid said, “So God’s got multiple personalities?”
I’m curious to see which forum gets the most dialogue going. What did I miss? Skeptical Skeptics? Describe your skepticism. True Believers? How would you explain the Trinity?