How do we teach our children about the Trinity?
The Trinity is mysterious, of course, to us adults. God is infinite. We can never fully understand him or get to the bottom of his mysteries. Moreover, God is unique. He alone is the Creator. He alone is not dependent on the world or anything in it. Nothing within the created world serves as a complete model or analogy for him.
One of the things that we can say to our children is just this. There is no one like God. Nothing in creation gives us a complete picture of who God is. Jesus is a complete picture of God (John 14:9; Colossians 2:9). But though we can know him truly, we do not know him completely. He is God and is infinitely deep.
Should We Use Analogies?
“God’s work of salvation, when applied to the individual believer, involves all three persons in a united work.”
Since nothing within the world is a full model for the Trinity, we must be cautious about using analogies. Analogies are never perfectly transparent models for the Trinity. Some people have used a triangle to represent the Trinity. A triangle is one triangle with three sides. But that is not an adequate analogy. Each side is a part of the triangle. But God does not have parts.
The Father is not a part of God, but God himself. Likewise, the Son is not a part of God, but God (John 1:1). This inadequacy highlights the fact that if we are going to teach our children about the Trinity, we should first learn about the Trinity ourselves, and not make mistakes when we explain it. It does not mean that we cannot use a triangle as an example. But if we use it, we should tell our children that it does not actually represent God well.
Similarly, some people have used the example of water. Water has three states, solid (ice), liquid, and gaseous (water vapor). But this analogy is also inadequate. It is not the case that God merely appears in three forms, one after another. Rather, God is Father, Son, and Spirit always, even before he appears to us.
As we already noted, this is mysterious. We can never dissolve this mystery into a transparent representation of God.
Rely on Divine Instruction
So what do we do? We can use what the Bible itself gives us. Some parents may feel a burden to make up creative ways to communicate God to their children. But thankfully, we have the Bible. God has spoken to us. He has told us about himself. He has told us that he is one God and three persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Bible gives us clear and true communication about God.
There are several places in Scripture that directly present us with all three persons of the Trinity. Consider, baptism, for example — both Christ’s and ours. Of Jesus’s baptism, Matthew writes,
When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17)
The voice from heaven is the voice of the Father. The Son is baptized. The Holy Spirit is “descending like a dove.” The unity of one God is not so immediately visible in this passage. But the passage describes one stage in the series of acts by which God — the one God — accomplished salvation for his people.
The Trinity is also manifest in the one name that we are baptized into: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). There is one “name,” underlining the unity of God. The name is tied to each of the three persons.
We see other explicit mentions of the Trinity outside of baptism. For example, God’s work of salvation, when applied to the individual believer, involves all three persons in a united work.
When the Helper comes, whom I [Jesus] will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
The giving of the Spirit to the church involves all three persons.
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)
The resurrection of Jesus involved all three persons of the Trinity.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
As we open the Bible with our children, we should not neglect to pray for them, that God would teach them about himself through his word and through the Holy Spirit. It is impossible for any human being to truly understand spiritual things apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14–16).
Immersed in the Trinity
Outside of explicit texts, we also see broader patterns in the Bible. Preeminently, it is the Father who speaks. But the Father speaks the Word, according to John 1:1. This pattern is the background when God speaks to us in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is like the breath of God (Ezekiel 37:10, 14). The Holy Spirit also dwells in us and enables us to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). We can tell our children that this process is going on when they read the Bible or hear it read.
“The Trinity will always be mysterious. But we can teach it to our children because God teaches it in the Bible.”
Prayer involves all three persons of the Trinity. We pray preeminently to God the Father (Matthew 6:9). Jesus intercedes for us, making our prayers acceptable (Hebrews 7:25). The Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers our prayers (Romans 8:26). We can tell our children that this process is going on when we pray.
Adoption to become God’s sons involves all three persons of the Trinity. God is our Father, to whom we relate as sons. Jesus is our elder brother (Romans 8:29). He is the eternal Son, and we have the privilege of being sons only because he is the Son first (Galatians 4:4–5). The Holy Spirit dwells within us, teaching us to cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).