The Doctrine of the Trinity is such an important thing for kids (and grown ups) to learn about God. It is no exaggeration to say that our understanding of God as Trinity supplies the bedrock for Christian faith and the gospel. J. I. Packer pulled no punches in stressing its importance:
“All non-Trinitarian formulations of the Christian message are by biblical standards inadequate and fundamentally false, and will naturally tend to pull Christian lives out of shape.”
Teaching your children about God as Trinity therefore should begin at the earliest age possible. In my first The Trinity for Kids post I discussed how to begin teaching the Trinity to young children, emphasizing our need to simply “stick to the facts”, and not giving them more than they can handle. When my kids were very young I just wanted to affirm the truth about God as the Bible presents it. The core affirmations of a biblical view of the Trinity can be summarized as:
1. God is three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit
2. Each person is fully God.
3. There is one God.
As they grow and begin developing higher critical thinking skills however, I want to help them grapple with the great truth of God’s triune nature, encouraging them to reflect and dwell upon this great mystery that God has revealed to us about himself. At the same time however, I want to help them avoid falling into error and any pitfalls that may distort their view of God.
The truth is that there are no fully satisfying explanations of the Trinity, and we should beware of presenting any as though they clear everything up. If there is no sense of tension left for our kids in our explanations then we have probably taught them something wrong. Pictures and analogies can be useful and have their place, but we need to be careful how we use them lest by them we instil a false view of God. Here are some suggestions of a good way to use analogies for kids to further their comprehension of God as Trinity.
The Trinity In Picture Form
This illustration for the Trinity has been around a long time and is probably one of the most useful pictures for affirming what the doctrine of the Trinity affirms and denies. It affirms as a whole that there is one God, that he exists as three persons, that each person is not confused with the other, and that each person shares equally in the full nature of God.
Again, no analogy is perfect, but this one is pretty good. As a good exercise, show it to your child and see if they can tell you how this picture affirms the three things that the bible teaches are true about the Trinity.
‘NOT’ The Trinity in Picture Form
I mentioned earlier that there really are no explanations or examples that satisfactorily explain the Trinity. This doesn’t mean we can’t use flawed illustrations however since often they can be useful to help our kids eliminate false ideas about God from their understanding. Here are a couple “usefully flawed” analogies for the Trinity. Starting with the three biblical affirmations, ask your kids to show you how these examples support or deny what the bible teaches about the Trinity.
Water is one of the most common illustrations for the Trinity since it is ONE substance that can exist in THREE states: solid, liquid and vapour.
With the three biblical affirmations before you, ask your child how water serves to illustrate any of the three. They might point out #2 and say “just like each person is fully God, so each of the three states of water is fully water. No matter the state it’s always H2O.” This would certainly show they were thinking and that’s good. You can affirm them for that, but also help them see the problem this example presents for affirmation #1. According to it God doesn’t exist as three states, forms or even personalities, but as three persons, and each person is fully God all of the time. Water isn’t like that. Water can be a solid, liquid or vapour, but it can’t be all three states at the same time. If we try to compare God the same way, we actually end up saying that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just ways or ‘modes’ that God appears to us at any given moment. The technical term for this error is called modalism, and modalism ends up denying the three persons of God and ultimately distorting the image of God.
An egg is another popular illustration for the Trinity since it is ONE thing that is made up of THREE parts: yolk, white and shell.
Again, with the three affirmations of the Trinity before you, ask your child how an egg serves to illustrate any of those three truths. They might say something like, “well #1 and 3 teach us that there is ONE God, but he exists as THREE persons, just like an egg is ONE thing but has THREE parts.” Again, this is a good sign that they are thinking, but showing them how this too falls short will help them keep the three affirmations in check. While an egg is useful to illustrate affirmation #1 and 3, it actually denies #2 which affirms that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are each fully God. While an egg has a yolk, a white and a shell to make up the whole, each part is only ever a part of the whole, not equal to the whole. The three members of the Trinity however are not merely parts of God, rather each person is equal in their being to the full being of God.
All cleared up? I shouldn’t think so, but really that’s ok. If your kids work through some of these thought exercises and still seem confused, tell them that their confusion isn’t a sign that they’re not getting it. Rather, it’s a confirmation that God is so far beyond us in his nature and being that fully grasping what he is like is impossible. After all, if we could fully explain and understand God, then he wouldn’t be God would he? At the same time, take a moment to help your child appreciate that as far beyond us as God is, he has shown us great love by making himself known to us. You could say something like, “Imagine that a God so great would take the trouble to tell you what he is like, even if you can’t fully understand. It shows us that what Jesus taught us is true; that God wants us to know Him. (cf. John 17:3)“ In fact, that is the very reason Jesus came. The Son of God came in human flesh as Jesus to die on a cross for our sins, and his purpose in doing so was so that people like you and me would no longer be separated from God by our sins, but may be related to God as his children. (cf. John 1:12) That means not just knowing about Him, but actually know him as our Father. Let me close with what Jesus said in John 17:25-26:
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they [Jesus’ followers] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”