(John 3:16-18) Have you ever wondered what God is like? Scripture tells us that we’ve all been created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26), but have you ever wondered exactly what that means? What does that tell us about ourselves – and more importantly, what does that tell us about God?
The Church’s teaching about God is contained in the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the central mystery of our Christian faith.1 Catholics believe that God is a Trinity; He is one God in three persons. When we talk about the Trinity, we’re not talking about three different gods. We’re talking about one God, who is “a unity of Persons in one divine nature.”2
This concept isn’t as simple as it might seem at first glance. I was about 8 years old the first time someone tried to explain it to me. “The Trinity,” they said, “is like an egg. There is the shell, the white, and the yolk – but it’s all still the same egg.”
I must have looked a little puzzled, because they then tried a different tactic. “Or think about water,” they said. “Water can be in the form of liquid, ice, or vapour – but it’s still the same substance.”
After mulling this over for a few minutes, I shut my eyes tightly and imagined a pot of boiling water, with the Holy Spirit rising up to heaven in the midst of a cloud of steam … maybe not quite what they had in mind.
But perhaps the image of the Trinity that has been the most helpful to me is one that I encountered much later: the image of love. In the Pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, we read, “To be in the image and likeness of God is not simply to have intelligence and free will, but also to live in a communion of love.”4 What is the example that God models for us? The Father begets His Son in the love of the Spirit, and in doing so He gives Himself completely to His Son. The Son perfectly returns the love of the Father by giving Himself entirely to the Father in that same Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the mutual love of the Father for his Son and of the Son for his Father, an eternal exchange of life-giving love.5
This all begins to make sense when we see the love of God reflected in our own lives, especially in the Sacrament of Marriage. “Like the Persons of the Trinity, marriage is a communion of love between co-equal persons, beginning with that between husband and wife and then extending to all members of the family. … This communion of life-giving love is witnessed within the life of the family, where parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and relatives are called to live in loving harmony with one another and to provide mutual support to one another. … These relations among the persons in communion simultaneously distinguish them from one another and unite them to one another. … Therefore, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinctly who they are only in relation to one another, so a man and a woman are distinctly who they are as husband and wife only in relation to one another.”6
Still feeling a bit confused? If so, don’t worry. God is beyond our limited human comprehension, and there are many things about Him that we won’t understand until we get to heaven. We can, however, be certain of one thing. Wherever there is love, God is there. For God is love.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 CCC, 261.
2 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006), 52.
3 Ibid., 53.
4 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Nov. 17, 2009), 35-36. Available from http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/love-and-life/upload/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf; Internet; accessed 9 June 2014.
5 Cf. Ibid.
6 Ibid., 37.