Every Wednesday, my family and I gather at our church for midweek Bible study. During that time, I joyfully teach some of the littlest members of our congregation, the four and five year olds.
One aspect of our time together involves catechizing. A few months ago, I posed question six of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “How many persons are there in the Godhead?” Eagerly, the children shouted, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!”
Their enthusiasm (and volume) showcased that they were well-catechized. After a few laughs and discussion, a few questions about the mystery of the Trinity still loomed.
“Miss Portia, how is there one God but three persons?”
“So, Jesus is God too?”
“Is it one body and three heads?”
I’ll admit, that last question made me chuckle quite a bit.
These questions served as a springboard for more conversation, and as I explained the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the children, the more curious each child grew. Before I knew it, I was inundated with questions about the Trinity that I did not expect from such a young group. As I tried to simplify my answers to their inquiries, I stumbled over my words. I was somewhat embarrassed at how poorly prepared I was to explain such an essential part of Christian doctrine.
Most Christians might agree that the concept of the Trinity is difficult to understand. Our finite minds cannot comprehend a perfect, infinite, and complex God. Nonetheless, we are called to know the triune God and to teach what we know to others.
So exactly how do we explain such a vital concept to the young ones in our care?
Lose the illustrations and analogies
When it comes to illustrations and analogies of the Trinity, many run the gamut from bad to horrific. The egg, the forms of water, and the apple are just a few that come to mind. While seemingly helpful, each illustration falls short in one way or another.
For example, the example of the Trinity being like an egg fails to capture each person of the Trinity independently as God while also being one in essence. Conceptually, the egg analogy illustrates the Trinity as three parts of one God. This depiction falls flat because each person in the Godhead is, in fact, God. In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem explains that when we genuinely adhere to biblical teaching, God’s attributes are evident in all three persons of the Godhead, making each person fully God.1
Throughout the Bible, we find many passages that help shape our understanding of the Trinity. Some passages shed light on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit being equal members of the Godhead. Colossians 2:9 says, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” And when Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:3–4, we learn that he actually lied to God.
There are even passages in the Bible that mention all three persons of the Godhead. One of the most familiar passages is found in Matthew’s Gospel: “When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matt 3:16–17 CSB).
Instead of using illustrations and analogies, I’ve found that teaching exactly what the Bible says is the better option for explaining the Trinity. In fact, I believe that I would have been better prepared to engage the questions of the children in my class by simply opening up my Bible and providing responses directly from the pages. Specifically, the collection of aforementioned Scriptures provide an excellent response to the question, “How is there one God but three persons?”
Not only is the Bible sufficient for helping us to understand the Trinity better (as much as humanly possible), but it also serves as a reliable guide, keeping our explanations of the Trinity within orthodox Christian parameters. We equip our children well when we offer them the Scriptures as the primary way to learn about the Trinity.
Be quick to pray, slow to speak
As much as I love to rattle off a quick comeback to theological questions, I’ve learned that providing a slow, well-thought-out, prayed-over response is much wiser. This is especially the case when teaching about the Trinity.
The Trinity is a divine concept that requires divine clarity. Thus, we need the wisdom of God to understand and discern the things that concern him. If we aim to both understand and teach the Trinity correctly, then we must fervently pray for the wisdom of God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says,
Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12–14)
Jesus’s promise here gives us the confidence and courage to ask for divine help to understand the Trinity. And not only can we have confidence and courage in asking for understanding, but we can also rest assured that our prayers are heard and rightly answered according to the will of God. Ultimately, God is glorified in our desire to know who he is and to share that truth with others.
Naturally, there have been moments when children have asked me questions that have initially left me stumped or caught off-guard. Instead of quickly rattling off a response, I’ve taken those moments as opportunities to pause and invite the children into a time of prayer. And it is often during prayer that God provides me with the clarity and courage to respond to questions like, “Is it one body and three heads?”
It’s okay not to understand everything right away
There is no harm in acknowledging that we don’t know everything right now. To make such acknowledgment is an act of humility. It is trusting that God (who knows all things) has chosen how much he will reveal to us and the timeframe for those revelations.
But God will not leave us without answers or clarity forever. What we know now in part will one day be fully revealed. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end” (1 Cor 13:8–10).
One day, the unknown things of this life will be made known to us. One day, God will answer our questions about the Trinity. One day, our understanding of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and their relationship with one another will be abundantly clear.
Until then, we can have faith that our partial understanding of God and his Trinitarian nature will one day become full. We should make haste in communicating this truth to the children entrusted to us.
One of the best responses that I’ve provided to the children is, “I don’t know. I don’t know everything like God.” I consider this one of the best responses because immediately the children made the connection between my response and God’s omniscience. (We had discussed this attribute in class a few weeks prior.) My willingness to accept my limited knowledge (and to acknowledge that in front of the children) lent itself to another opportunity to learn and talk about God.
Keep learning and teaching
While the “how” of teaching the Trinity to our children is important, I’d argue the “why” is equally important. Our call to know God is not in any way diminished by the things that we don’t understand or struggle to communicate. I can think of many reasons to bolster our knowledge of the Trinity, but the most important reason, I believe, is that we are called to be lifelong learners of God, and we are to humbly teach others all the things that we are learning about God. The case for this is made clear in Matthew 28:18–20:
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In addition to being another passage where all three persons of the Godhead are mentioned, this passage communicates two imperatives for the believer :
- We are called to make disciples.
- Our disciple-making must be predicated on teaching what is true about God, as he has revealed.
The children in our homes and churches are some of the first disciples that we’ll make. Accordingly, our commitment to teaching them about the Trinity and biblical truth, on the whole, is rooted in Jesus’s command to make disciples.
My encouragement is to keep learning and teaching; even when it’s hard. Stick to teaching what the Bible actually says about the Trinity. Don’t rely on fancy illustrations or words. Remain steadfast in prayer and thoughtful in your responses. Finally, use questions where your knowledge of the triune God is limited as opportunities to share and discuss the more explicit attributes of God. Above all, trust that God will make much of our feeble efforts to know and love him more.
The Trinity: An Introduction (Short Studies in Systematic Theology)
Regular price: $13.99
The Deep Things of God, 2nd ed.
Regular price: $12.99
Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (audio)
Regular price: $24.99
Meditations on the Trinity
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- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 269.