Trinity


Isaac Newton rejected and argued against the Christian idea of the Trinity. This fascinates me. That particular facet of Newton’s life and belief came out in a biography I just read, Isaac Newton by James Gleick.

We have this popular picture of Newton’s physics describing a mechanical universe and the physics of Einstein, among others, describing a quantum-mechanical universe whose rules are more subjective and strange. The picture is partly right. To say that the physics of Einstein overthrew the physics of Newton goes too far, because Newton’s description of a universe in which time, space, and force are discretely measurable quantities was essential to provide context for what Einstein found. However, Einstein’s quantum-physics discoveries opened the door to finding whorls of wonder at the interstices of the more Newtonian picture of a clockwork world.

Of the two, we tend to marvel at physics more directly because of Einstein. The reality that results from his revelations includes strangenesses that playfully stretch the mind. Space bends in ways we can’t see, as we are bent along with it. Time dilates, and is experienced differently by different observers. Light is both a particle and a wave. Certain aspects of reality do not assume their properties until we look to see what those properties are.

The idea of the Trinity says that God is a person, but more than that, that God is three persons in one. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all different realities of God expressing the role of Godhood in different ways that scripture portrays, yet all of these realities are also God—of whom there is only one. Embracing this seeming paradox is another case of playfully stretching the mind, offering an example of the kind of intellectual joy that the Christian way affords.

In fact, there is no paradox at all in the notion of the Trinity. The challenge lies in recognizing how big God is, and how far above creation he stands. If God created everything, then God also created “oneness” and “threeness.” As the creator who has authority over these concepts, God does not have to be bound by them. Logically, the ruler of “oneness” and “threeness” can elect to be both one and three at the same time.

Newton, a man endowed by God with a special mind able to see the mechanisms in creation in ways that had never been explained before, certainly can be excused for not caring to accept the Trinity. He did not yet possess the cosmology that conditioned later explorers to more readily embrace the weird.

For me, the challenge of the idea of the Trinity is comforting specifically because of its challenge. We find that the picture of the creator that emerges from 2,000-year-old scripture is at least as rich and exciting as what we can discover about the universe that this creator created.