I wrote this paper for a recently seminary class. It is pretty lengthy, but I loved writing it, if you have time, enjoy:-)
Trinity in Marriage
There are several mysteries in the Christian faith that are hard to explain in human terms. Some of them include Jesus being 100% man and at the exact same time being 100% God, or the fact that God is completely sovereign in salvation yet there is clearly some response required in man, as well as several of the seemingly contradictory character attributes that God fully possesses like grace and justice, mercy and wrath, and the list could go on. Perhaps none of them are as deep, hard to explain, or misunderstood as the Trinity. As John Calvin said, “While he proclaims his unity, he distinctly sets it before us as existing in three persons. These we must hold, unless the bare and empty name of Deity merely is to flutter in our brain without any genuine knowledge.” Like Calvin, I believe we should try to understand our Triune God.
I believe along with this mystery, another very misunderstood, and possibly most mishandled relationship, is the marriage between a man and a woman. Since we as Christians believe that man was created in the “Imago Dei,” or the “Image of God,” then this means that our lives should reflect the character, attitude, and relationships that God would. So it is not a wonder then that marriage is perhaps the most mishandled relationship because, like the Trinity, it is misunderstood and incorrectly applied. In this paper I want to look at the relationship of marriage and merge it with the understanding of the Trinity, showing how understanding the latter will help us correctly live out the former. In order to even begin to grasp the full beauty of marriage, we must have at least a basic love and understanding of the Trinity.
Basic Workings of the Trinity
Throughout this paper we will focus on how the relationship of the Trinity, as well as the mystery of it, helps us understand marriage. As John Piper said, “The greatness and glory of marriage is beyond our ability to think or feel without divine revelation and without the illuminating and awaking work of the Holy Spirit. The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God.” So, a basic definition of the Trinity is, “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” Another way to simpler understand this is that God eternally exists as three persons, all of one essence, of the same, unified, complete nature, yet distinct in their working. So how is it that God is three distinct persons, yet one at the same time? Great question! If you spent the rest of your life studying this, you still wouldn’t come close to figuring out this great mystery. However, the beauty of our God, and the core of who He is, is Triune. Understanding this will shape the rest of this paper and our understanding of marriage. I will continually makes ties between the two (marriage and Trinity), showing how I believe that since marriage is the greatest covenant between two human beings, it is the relationship that can best show the beauty of the Trinity, and can only correctly operate between husband and wife with a correct understanding of how the Trinity interacts and exists together.
Trinity as One; Husband and Wife Become One
Perhaps nothing is as confusing in marriage as to what it actually means to become one flesh. Genesis 2:25 tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now humanly speaking, this is literally impossible. It is just as impossible to be born again, so we see why Nicodemus was thoroughly confused when Jesus told him it’s the only way to be saved! So what does it truly mean to become one flesh, since this is physically impossible? Well I think since we are created in the Imago Dei, the only way to understand this is to understand how God is one.
Although God exists in three distinct persons, God is literally one. As Wayne Grudem says, “Scripture is abundantly clear that there is one and only one God… God is only one being. There are not three Gods. There is only one God.” However, God is three persons! The way we best understand this is that the Godhead is so intricately perfect, and deeply complex that all three members are God, equally, yet unique individually. Each member gives the other members glory over and over again. We see the Father placing glory to the Son. We see Jesus honoring God the Father, and calling him greater than himself. We even see Jesus honoring the Spirit, and giving him a lot of glory. So, God exists as three persons, all equally loving each other, and giving glory to the other, yet existing in one.
So, what does all of this have to do with marriage? Well, if in Genesis 2:25 God is saying that we are literally to be one in marriage, we would only be able to deeply understand this truth with respect to the Trinity. In the Trinity there are literally three distinct people, but they are so unified, and they are one God. In a marriage there are two distinct people, but, what if we could begin to model after the Trinity and begin to try to act as one flesh? I believe that this is a good picture of what Genesis 2:25 is communicating.
Created in the Imago Dei, we are created for relationships, since the Trinity has ultimate relationship within themselves. As God is one God, so we can begin to try to become one flesh. I believe this practically means loving each other so much, that we seek the other person’s will over our own, and seek their good rather than our own. We can lay down our lives for the other person’s sake, and let them know they are honored. Just as the Godhead loves each other well, we can try to love each other so well, that we begin to become one flesh.
Along with this, we can also be so unified in mind that we have the same will, purpose, and desires in life. Just as the Godhead has absolute unity in their plans, so spouses can have complete unity in their plan, beginning to unify them as having “the same mind.”In marriage that should look like glorifying Jesus with all that we have together, and desiring Him above all else. In this we can have the same purpose and begin to unify ourselves. I think this can practically be extremely beautiful, take for example Jesus and the Father once again. Jesus makes a profound statement in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Wow! That is huge! They are so unified that if you have seen Jesus, you have seen an exact representation of the Father. Whatever Jesus did, the Father would have done too! Now imagine if our marriage was the same way. Say that there was a nonbeliever who needed to hear the gospel. What if your husband or wife was so unified with you in purpose that whether they talked to you or them, they would get the same answer, same ideas? Or more simply what if there were unification about basic ideas in life: the way you use money, raising kids, how to spend time, etcetera, that both persons were so unified that if someone asked either one, “How do you use your money?” they would get the same response. Now that would be beautiful, and probably be a huge step toward landing an extremely healthy marriage. Obviously this is not the only thing, and since we are fallen men we will always fall short of this. This should not stop us from trying to be unified with our spouses however; we should try to model the Trinity in that regard.
Trinity as Distinct; Husband and Wife as Distinct
We won’t spend as much time discussing the Trinity in this section as we did in the last, but it is important to know that just as the Godhead is one, they are also three. This was discussed in both sections above, but a brief overview is that all members of the Trinity have distinct roles, and follow those roles perfectly. All having the same purpose in those roles, they do different things to bring it to completion. This same idea is given biblically in marriage and I believe can best be understood by examining the Trinity and how they carry out their responsibilities differently.
Paul gives husbands and wives a basic framework of how we are to operate unified, but in different roles in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul sets up several different roles to be carried out in marriage. We see that wives are to submit to their husband, allowing him to lead the family well. This is not a “demeaning” thing as the world would see today; rather, this is a beautiful representation of the Trinity. Jesus submits to the Father and the Spirit to both. No Christian who has any type of correct doctrine would say that Jesus is a little less valuable, or a little more worthless than the Father simply because He submits! That’s absurd, and blasphemous to say. In the same way the wife is not lesser, but just has a different role. According to Titus 2:4-5 wives are to love their husbands, to be pure, to work the home well, respect them, and the list could go on with several different verses throughout Scripture. Husbands also are to love their wives and lay down their lives for them. They are to honor them well (1 Peter 3:7), sanctify her and present her pure before Christ, sacrifice for her using Christ’s sacrifice for the church as our example, and once again the list could stretch on.
Now in a fallen world, roles begin to get mixed up. The husband doesn’t feel respected, the wife doesn’t feel loved, certain things aren’t getting taken care of the way they should, and marriages end in divorce. The reason is because this is not how we were created. If the Triune God himself, being equal submits, serves, and carries out different responsibilities, then it only makes sense that we ourselves need to do the same. Both of us are co-heirs (co meaning equal, 1 Peter 3:7) of the same inheritance, which is Christ, yet working in harmony, arriving at that differently. The Trinity is the best model to follow, as they serve in different roles, yet each equally deserves worship as God!
Trinity: Perfect Example of Love
Not only do we have a good example on how to be two different people yet equal, we also have a perfect example of how to love our spouses correctly. The Trinity is the perfect example of love as love fully exists within the Trinity. We know that God is love, and since each member of the Trinity is God, each member loves the other with a perfect love and gives honor where it is deserved. As Dr. Horrell says, “Defined in 1 Corinthians 13, agape [love] is not directed inwardly but outwardly in the sharing and giving of oneself to others. In contrast to Islam, Judaism, and other religions that insist God exists exclusively as one person, the triune God of Christianity is not egocentric, solitary or isolated.” He goes on to say this is why God doesn’t need to create something to love, He simply is love existing within Himself, knowing how to show that to each other perfectly. This too was touched on above, but what if husband and wife responded like this?
In marriage we are created to deeply love each other. Once again, God is love and thus we need to love each other and learn this ultimately from God. The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” As husband and as wife, if we are to reflect the Imago Dei, and truly represent the relationship of the Trinity, we are to love each other, with all of God’s might. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us exactly what love is, which would be a good way to start to understand how to love each other.
No amount of human effort can produce this. We need to learn to adore God above everything first, and be filled with Him and with His love. Then, as John said above, we will naturally begin to love everyone else much more. In a true sense I believe that often is the biggest disconnect. We cannot muster up enough love in and of ourselves to sufficiently love the other person the way God has called us to. This is because God does not try to love, according to 1 John God is love. God the Father doesn’t have to try to love Jesus, or have an obligation that he must fulfill, and this is why the Spirit gets love. No, by no means! Instead God simply is love, and so naturally expresses it amongst Himself. Now, we are not naturally love, rather often opposite! But, if we begin to learn how to love the way the triune God does, our marriages will be much more God glorifying, and more satisfying to us as well as we will receive ultimate love freely and unselfishly (the way God gives to Himself) from our spouse.
Practical Applications: Church in Austin, Marriages Universally
I am currently the young marrieds pastor at a church here in Austin, Texas, so this obviously has practical applications in my life as a worker in the Kingdom, as well as in my personal marriage. I can think of several ways it should change my own thoughts, as well as marriages globally, and I will list a few now.
CHANGES THE WAY I TEACH- Working in this role I am teaching often on what it means to be married, and how we should respond to our husbands or wives practically. Without a view on the Trinity concepts such as how we become one flesh, different roles, etc., are all just “things the Bible says so we have to believe it.” However with a healthy view of the triune God, we can begin to see how marriage is so precious in His sight, and how we should respond to that. This will change the way I teach about certain topics using God as our prime example as to how we should live life.
CHANGES THE WAY I COUNSEL/DISCIPLE PEOPLE- Often when people come to me personally with problems the same thing happens as when I am teaching. I have great biblical texts to point them to, but no practical example for them to model. So we are left with, “just do it because the Bible says!” Although this should be sufficient, it always helps to have examples to follow and respond to! Having a fuller view of the Trinity will do this. Not only this, but it helps us learn to love God so much more! When we see Him for who He truly is, I believe our hearts begin to fall more and more in love with Him! As Jonathan Edwards says in his analogy, “A statue may look very much like a real man to the eye, the resemblance of a very lively, strong, and active man; but yet an inward principle of life and strength is wanting; and therefore it does nothing, it brings nothing to pass, there is no action or operation to answer the show.” In other words, if we only have something that is sort of real to us, or represents something that is real, but no has good solid proof to model, we are often stuck and don’t know what to do. Now in discipleship I have something tangible to point at in the Trinity and how we should spiritually respond to each other.
CHANGES OVERALL VIEW- Understanding the Trinity in marriage simply changes my overall view of marriage. Instead of just loving my wife simply because she is my wife, I now have a good reason because I get to show her the love of God in doing so. If I become more and more “one” with her, she sees a clearer picture of God, and falls more and more in love with Him. This is my highest desire, for her to love God so much, more than anything and anyone else! If I am modeling this to her more and more (and it is easier to model if you actually understand better what you are modeling!), than she will likely be more in love with God as a result. John Owen talks about this in his book, “Communion with the Triune God.” He talks about how understanding the Trinity will result in helping you to see why we should live our lives in respect to Him and how we can practically carry this out.
CHANGES MY OWN LIFE- Not only should this affect everyone I am helping, but most importantly it should drastically change the way that I view God, and how I love Him. I can now more freely love God, because I understand Him more, especially in the area of my life that is most precious to me outside of Him and the one that I think about and cherish the most, being marriage. I can now more fully understand Him and serve my wife out of the overflow of my understanding of the Trinity.
There is so much more we could cover with this topic that this paper doesn’t lend time to, overall however I hope this slightly changes the way you view the Trinity and how it could affect your most important earthly relationship. The Trinity not only affects this relationship, but everyone one in life as well, and not only relationships, but also worldviews, ideas, theology, etc. Overall, the Trinity is the only way, I believe, that we can fully understand the Biblical implications of marriage, and what that should look like for us. Understanding the Trinity sheds light about how we are to be unified as one flesh, yet separate as individual people, how we are to love each other well, the way that God loves Himself and us, not in an egotistic way, but freely, self-giving to another person. It also teaches us this should affect the way we read Scripture, teach, and guide others, the list could go on. All in all, we serve a God that is much bigger than we can fathom. Rather than a single being, we serve a single God who is three persons, meaning at His heart is relationship. The same can be true in our marriage. Rather than living a life strictly thinking about self-benefit, we can focus on another freely, and actually live more fully in the Imago Dei. It is not good that man should be alone; God isn’t, so let us freely love someone else and lay down our lives for their honor and glory. To God alone be glory and power, to all their good before ours.