The Trinity and Loneliness
We've all been lonely. It's a terrible experience—and difficult to avoid. Family members move away, friendships fade, spouses fall out of love, parents die. But what about God? Is God ever lonely? The answer is, "no." God was alone from all eternity before he created the world; but even then God was not lonely. Even when God was entirely alone, without his creation, he still experienced companionship. This is because God is a Trinity. God is three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all united together into one Divine Being. And each of these Persons has a distinct relationship with each of the others. The Father is father of the Son, and the Son is son of the Father; the Father sends forth the Spirit, and the Spirit comes from the Father; the Spirit comes through the Son, and the Son exists in the Spirit. In other words, within the one God, there is a whole kaleidoscope of relationships. These relationships are not merely shared between the Persons–rather, they are the Persons. The Persons of the Trinity are what theologians call "subsistent relations." They are individual things that are so tied to another that they are 100% relationship and nothing else. Sit and think about this. Contemplate it. Relationships are so important that the three Persons of God are themselves relationships.
But what are these relationships like? The relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the most loving relationships that could ever exist. They are so loving that we cannot even imagine what they are like. The relationships are also perfectly intimate. Human beings grow close by talking to each other, by spending time together, or by sharing a home. But the Persons of the Trinity are different. They don't just live together in heaven talking and spending eternity in each other's company under the same heavenly roof. That would be wonderful. But their intimacy is even closer than that. The Persons of the Trinity are so close, in fact, that they share the same being. We know from the Nicene Creed that the Son is "consubstantial with the Father." This means that the Father and the Son share the same substance–or, roughly, that they are "one in being." All the members of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–are one in being with each other, and that being is God. For humans, we can try as hard as possible to grow close to one another, but we can never share the same being. We are always, to a certain extent, isolated or separated from one another. But not so with God. The Divine Persons are united in complete intimacy. They are all one God. In the words of an early Catholic creed, called the Athanasian Creed: "the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is all one."
We can say for sure then that God is never lonely. This is something unique to the Christian understanding of God. All other monotheistic religions think of God as just one solitary person. Only the Christian God enjoys eternal communion amongst Persons. The preacher for the papal household, Raniero Cantalamessa, puts it this way:
Oh, how wonderful it is to have the Trinity as our God! When we discover the Trinity, we are no longer tempted to exchange Christian monotheism for any other monotheism. I would feel sorry for any God who had no one with whom to communicate and to share his joy with the profundity that is uniquely his. I think he would feel himself tremendously alone and unhappy.1
Truly, our God is great! But his greatness doesn't stop with his own inner life. No. Part of God's greatness is his generosity. God is so generous that he wants to share his inner life with us. He wants to draw all human beings up into his perfect Trinitarian communion. And how does he do this? First off, by baptism. Many Christians fail to see just how extraordinary the gift of baptism is. When the priest baptizes a baby, that baby is washed in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in him. In Romans 8:14-17, we see that when the Spirit dwells in a human being that human being becomes an adopted son of God:
All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God… you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint–heirs with Christ…
The Son receives the Father's love in the form of the Holy Spirit, and this exchange of love is what characterizes His communion with the Father. When we receive the Father's love in the form of the Holy Spirit at baptism, therefore, we take on Christ's relationship to the Father. We become brothers to Jesus, and we stand next to him, sharing his intimacy with the other Persons of the Trinity: "By receiving the Holy Spirit, by communing in Christ, believers enter into divine life."2
Think about this great gift that each of you received at baptism. You are now standing next to Christ in the midst of that perfect communion of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This should inspire thanksgiving. And it should change the way that you pray, and the way that you understand your relationship with God. Try, when you pray, to think of yourself as standing next to Christ and receiving with Him the flow of the Spirit from the Father. Your prayer standing next to Christ becomes very intimate. You are not talking to God across a great chasm. The Trinity is not distant. If you are in the state of grace, then you are right in the midst of it!
So, we ought never to feel lonely. Even when our human relationships fail us, and when we find ourselves alone in the world, we are still adopted sons of God, receiving the perfect love of the Father, permeated with the Holy Spirit, and standing alongside the Son while he teaches us to love like he loves. We should thank God for this gift. But we should also think about all the people who have not yet been adopted by God through baptism. These people are destined for loneliness, and perhaps some even for eternal loneliness, if they go through life without the gift of Trinitarian baptism. Jesus entrusts us with a solemn mission. We who share in the life of the Trinity must go out into the world and draw everyone else into that life. In Matthew 28:19, just before he ascends into heaven Jesus says, "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Jesus is counting on us to heal the loneliness of the world by inviting everyone to share in the divine life. We as a Church should not rest until all have been baptized–until all have been adopted as sons of God. So don't be afraid to approach your neighbors, your family, your co–workers, and your friends. Tell them about the great gift of Christian baptism. And tell them that the Church–and God himself–wants to share that gift with them. They will never need to be lonely again.
Contalamessa, Raniero. Contemplating the Trinity. Translated by Marsha Daigle–Williamson. Ijamsville, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2007.
Emery, Gilles. The Trinity. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011.
The New Jerusalem Bible. Edited by Henry Wansbrough. New York: Doubleday, 1985.
1 Raniero Cantalamessa, Contemplating the Trinity, Ijamsville, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2007), 49.
2 Gilles Emery, The Trinity (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 4.