During our “Reasonable Faith” discussion at yesterday’s Open House Sunday, we examined the (provocative) proposal that the inexplicable, powerful longing for relationships found in every human heart is best explained by the Christian idea of God as a Trinity and humanity as made in the image of such a God (click here for reflection questions). I know, bold statement.
In my brief explanation of the concept of the “Trinity,” I summarized the analogy offered by C.S. Lewis, a Christian author and thinker from the last century, in his helpful book, Mere Christianity. I want to give you his full texthere, not least because I’ve found it to be one of the most helpful explanations of God as one-God-in-three-persons.
Lewis begins with the general notion of a personal God:
A good many people nowadays say, “I believe in a God, but not in a personal God.” They feel that the mysterious something which is behind all other things must be more than a person. Now the Christian quite agree. But the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market. …
If human beings are personal creatures, as most of us agree is the case, why wouldn’t we expect God to be somehow more personal than we are? Even if that starts to make sense to us in general terms, when we start thinking about how God can be more personal than a human person, our minds shut down and go bananas. So, Lewis offers a helpful analogy using dimensionality, lines, squares, and cubes (emphases added):
You know that in space you can move in three ways—to left or right, backwards, or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body, say, a cube—a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.
Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.
Okay, so how does this apply to the nature of God?
Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings—just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level cannot image it. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cub. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal—something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.
If I’m still having a hard time grasping the idea of a super-personal God — and of course I am (you, too?) — perhaps Lewis would say to me, “Don’t be such a square.” (Da-dum-tsh!)