Statement of Faith II: The One True God
In The Jewish Approach to God, Rabbi Neil Gillman cited that Jews believe that God is echad, which means “one.” He spent an entire chapter discussing that concept at great length, and I will touch on a few brief points in this post.
First, there is the shema. Jewish men recite the shema daily. It is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word for “one” in that passage is the Hebrew word echad, which implies more than just a number. It means more than, “God is a single unit,” although it means that, too. Echad means that God is uniquely God. God is unique because he is God.
So, now my atheist readers are raising an eyebrow and saying, “Ha! You worship three Gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! How does that jive with ‘God is one.’ Christianity loses, atheism wins!” Well, dear atheist reader, I’m going to try to explain it to you. Wipe the drool from your lower lip and continue reading.
I have outlined in this post that there is a fundamental difference between the polytheism of Indian religions like Hinduism and the monotheism of Christianity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each echad–uniquely God–while retaining their individual identities. Some atheists assert that we are worshiping three Gods in One. We are not: we are worshiping three Persons in one God.
Nothing about “personhood” suggests that it must be unique to an individual essence or soul. One could easily make the argument that an essence or soul could have multiple persons attached to it. That is not the case with humans, God’s image-bearers. Our essence contains only one person attached to it. Not the case with God; his essence carries three Persons attached to it: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Why, if we are God’s image-bearers, then do we only have one person attached to our souls while God has three? Would it not make sense that we should have three persons attached to our soul? Well, that is actually a very good question, and tough to answer. Scripture is silent in this regard, so we must be careful when attempting to draw inferences from it. The best, and most reasonable, explanation is that God chose to attach only one person to a human soul instead of three. That is our ontology, the way that God made us, and why he didn’t make us another way is simply a mystery.
One last point bears touching on before I close the discussion of the Trinity. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion, rivers of ink (and blood) have been wasted trying to explain the Trinity and Dawkins complains that much of it remains a mystery. So I ask, “Why the double standard?” Science accepts abiogenesis as a potential theory about the origins of life, despite failing in every way to substantiate it. The origin of life remains a mystery. Yet many hold out that one day, we will substantiate abiogenesis and solve the mystery of life. Why, I ask again, are you allowed to have mysteries of science, but I am not allowed to have mysteries of faith? I am doing the same thing as you are doing with abiogenesis, but for that you label me a “fundie” or “deluded.”
In The God Delusion, Dawkins explains that a certain agnosticism is warranted when the evidence is scant. Just like atheists can remain agnostic about the origin of life and still be called reasonable, we can call the Trinity a mystery and still be reasonable.
God, though three, is really one (echad). This is one of the great mysteries of faith, and instead of filling us with skepticism it should fill us with wonder. The wonder of echad is that God is the only God (see Is 44:6).