“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 NIV)
Author and theologian Frederick Buechner writes in Wishful Thinking that the “doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is only one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.”
God’s oneness is integral to his Trinitarian nature; Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons but still wholly united as one. This oneness is a big part of what makes God so separate from us. It is an otherness to God that is hard for us to grasp. The analogies used to help us wrap our minds around this concept of the Trinity are often flawed because God is so different than anything else we have ever known or experienced. When we say the Trinity is like a man who is a brother, a father, and a husband, three men in one person, we separate his roles based on who he is interacting with. But God doesn’t simply play three different roles in the world and in our lives, rotating through them as the circumstances dictate. He is always Father, always Son, and always Spirit, and all three are always at work. From the beginning, the Trinity has been – and continues to be – separate and one; distinct and cohesive; different persons and completely unified. Father, Son, and Spirit were, are, and forever will be one.
In John 17:21, Jesus prays that his disciples, from the first century onward, would “all be one, just as you and I are one.” Yet from the moment this prayer left his lips, there has hardly been a period when it has been true. Division and sectarian ideology have been the rule rather than the exception. We trust Jesus didn’t pray for our unity for naught. He knew we would disagree with one another, but even in our disagreements we can practice unity. As Kerry Bender recently wrote in a letter to the NAB churches, “Unity is easy when there is uniformity of opinion; unity is difficult, and all the more important, when there is a divergence of opinions among the body of Christ.” Being in agreement is not a precursor to loving each other. In fact, it takes great love to be unified despite our differences. Thankfully, we have the perfect example of just such a great love on display between the Father, Son, and Spirit – all three separate but one.
Spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to show you where you might have allowed your words and actions to sow disunity and division rather than unity and love; then, calling upon the resurrection power of Jesus, figure out how you can seek God’s shalom in these broken relationships, with the goal of restoring the lost unity.