One of the hardest concepts for people to grasp, both Christians and non-Christians alike, is that of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all being separate and at the same time one. This is often referred to as the Holy Trinity.
Quite a few people have struggled with understanding this idea, even though the bible clearly shows that this is the case. People might think, “How could even two people be totally different and at the same time be one person?” If they can’t understand how it is possible for two people, they certainly can’t understand how it is possible for three people. Since this is a foundational belief, if a person doesn’t comprehend this, they are missing a lot of what is said in the bible.
At first glance, it might seem that it is a total contradiction that two people can be individuals and the same person at the same time. As it happens, there is an example that we can use to gain a better understanding; the marriage of a Christian man and a Christian woman.
When a man and a woman become married, they are joined together under God. They become one. They are still individuals, each with their own thoughts, feelings, goals, bodies, and so forth. They can and do function separately.
At the same time, they are in union with each other. Ideally, both people contribute to the married unit, adding to it so that the unit is stronger than either person is individually.
To give an idea of how this works, I’ll use the example of my wife, Ella, and me, when we do yard work together.
When we do our work on our yard, the goal is to have the yard healthy and looking good so we can both enjoy it. The yard is already planted with grass and as I am the gardener in the family, both the garden and the flower beds have already been planted. When we work together in the yard, it is primarily to cut the grass.
Ella actually likes running the mower, even though I must start it for her. (Our mower can be temperamental and hard to start.) I get the mower started and she starts mowing. While she is mowing, I do a walk through the yard to make sure there is nothing in the way that the mower can run over that could be damaged or cause damage to the mower or anything else.
Then I start up the weedeater. Ella dislikes using the weedeater, but I don’t mind it a bit. I trim the edges of the yard and around objects. The mower can’t reach these areas. It isn’t uncommon for me to also tie things out of the way to make the mowing easier, while I’m weeding. I may pause to pull out specific weeds, too. For instance, both salsify and prickly lettuce simply get more vigorous if they are just mowed over, so these need to be pulled.
When needed, I’m ready to stop to clean the mower and to refill the tank and get it started again. If Ella needs to rest, she signals me and I can take over for a few minutes while she rests.
When we finish, I pull out the garden hose and attach the sprinkler while Ella walks around to turn the water on.
Through this fairly simple process, we are functioning as a single unit. From start to finish, the yard gets done in roughly a third of the time that it would take for either of us to do it on our own. Our shared goal is fulfilled with much less effort or time for either of us than would be the case if we did it individually.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that marriages don’t always work in union. Sometimes the husband and wife go in different ways, setting their own goals and direction above those of their spouse. This invariably leads to trouble, sometimes minor and sometimes major. Virtually all marriage difficulties are caused when the marriage stops functioning as a single unit to some degree. As a unit, a marriage is strong, but if that unit breaks down even a little, trouble arises.
The point is that our marriage is a union. We never cease being separate individuals, yet we are one at the same time. If a person makes an agreement with Ella, they are making an agreement with me also. When we want to accomplish something, we work together toward the common goal. We discuss the matter, sometimes at length. The closer together we function, the stronger the unit is, the easier it is to achieve our goals and the happier we both are.
In a similar way, God the father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are separate individuals. At the same time, they are one; a single unit. Their goals are the same and they all add to the unit. The biggest difference between their union and a marriage, as I described it, is that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are in perfect union. Whereas marriage difficulties arise when the husband and wife try to work outside of the union, the trinity never works outside of the holy unit. They are constantly after the same goals and continually work together.
It isn’t difficult to understand how God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are both separate and one at the same time. In fact, their example gives married couples something to strive toward. This is also humbling. When we have difficulties with our spouse, we can know immediately that we have both strayed from the ideal of a perfect union. Put in another way, fights and disagreements in a marriage as symptomatic of disunity.
In a nutshell, that is when we most need the example of how God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can be separate and the same at the same time.