C.S. Lewis on the Trinity

With the continuance of The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen, and with my interaction with the first three of six total rounds (post 1, post 2, post 3), I pulled C.S. Lewis’ great work, Mere Christianity, off the shelf. I wanted to re-read some of his thoughts on the Trinity, as I remembered them being quite insightful.

What he shares is not so ‘theological’, though it is because he is thinking about God, which is what theology is about. But we still might term his thoughts more philosophical, and some even practical.

Nonetheless, here are some of Lewis’s thoughts on the Trinity:

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already. (Harper Collins version, p161-162)

Now, by no means do I think this is THE proof for a Trinitarian belief. But what I do believe is that it addresses the frequent argument from a non-Trinitarian that belief in a Trinity is too complicated and unreasonable, meaning, it doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t expect this to ‘convert’ any non-Trinitarian. But for those of us who believe in a three-personed, Triune God, we see from Lewis’s words that this is not an unreasonable understanding of the biblical data. As Lewis said above, ‘In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.’ And he, then, goes on to exclaim, ‘It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.’

We worship, follow and give our lives to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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26 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis on the Trinity

  1. You should read Flatland, if you haven’t already. It is another famous book that treats sort of the same subject. I don’t know whether Lewis was inspired by it here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.

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  3. I am new to your blog, but I’m so glad you posted that quote from Mere Christianity. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about God’s creation of humanity in His image and how it requires both male and female to give an accurate picture of God’s divine character. I’ve been convinced that the union of male and female into one flesh in marriage, however flawed by sin we are, is a reflection of the eternal unity within the trinity. The man and woman still maintain individual identity while almost mystically becoming something entirely new in the unity of marriage, just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate beings while constituting something beyond our comprehension: the Godhead.

    My problem was that there seemed to be incongruity between the union of two in marriage and the union of three in the Godhead (and I’m not proposing polygamy as a means of reconciliation). But your C.S. Lewis quote turned on a light for me: marriage functions in the “two dimensional” realm of human existence to picture what we could never imagine in the “three dimensional” realm of eternal divinity.

    • I think the child of the marriage union would supply your third person of the Trinity in that earthly analogy. Remember that Christ is “the Son.” Remember also that the analogy only works one way, as man is created in God’s image and not vice versa. Considering the Trinity as an analogy for the human family has led some rather misguided persons (usually with ulterior agendas) to think of the Holy Spirit as a woman. We must be more careful.

  4. Travis –

    I’d also suggest that the Holy Spirit is not inherently male. God is neither male nor female. Nor asexual either, but rather male and female are male and female because they image that which was already in their Creator.

    • Not male but certainly masculine, if we are to set any stock by the authority of scripture–which we must if we are to be obedient believers and not to create God in our own image.

  5. I would say God is both masculine and feminine. Where did women get there femininity from? I don’t negate Scripture shows God as Father, even the personal pronoun He being used. But, in and of Himself, God is neither male nor female.

    • I sort of agree with you. However, I think there is an assumption in your argument which is not self-evident: that whatever God creates has to be present (in some fashion) in His nature. I can think of at least one thing God created which doesn’t exist in His own nature: the ability to sin. Therefore, not all that He creates has to be an attribute of God Himself.

  6. But God created male and female, calling them good. Yes, before sin entered, but nonetheless labelled as good by their Creator. So I am still convinced that female images God and male images God. Each do not fully image God, but together they do.

    I might suggest reading The Shack. Some good quotes about the non-maleness and non-femaleness of God.

    • That’s a good point. I concede the point that both masculinity and femininity are (somehow) present in God’s nature, but I would still feel uncomfortable referring to any of the three Persons as “She.” I think we must respect the masculine pronouns with which God chose to describe Himself.

    • By the way, I’m currently writing a novel in which my heroine is a Christ-figure, though I do so with all due fear and trembling and with the knowledge that any representation I make of Him is (in far bigger ways than gender) necessarily imperfect.

  7. Travis –

    I think we must respect the masculine pronouns with which God chose to describe Himself.

    I’d say that God was revealing Himself in an ancient near-eastern, patriarchal society and Jewish mindset. So it would go that God would reveal Himself as a He. I am ok with that. There is something important with those, important to me even to know God is my Father. But this does not intrinsically point out that God is a male or masculine. I think it’s ok to note that God is a mother to me, much better than my earthly mother, though she is amazing. I know it sounds weird because of our framework. But, again, God is not male or female. He embraces the good of both. Again, The Shack might help with this.

    Awesome about your novel. I too hope to one day write both spiritual-theology and novels. We shall see what doors open. And, yes, our descriptions fail. Even biblical descriptions fail in communicating the fulness of God. But I think God wants us to communicate about Him through such words, and other means.

  8. Scott,

    I seriously don’t understand why some parts of the church today seem so determined to make a point of saying that God is neither male or female.

    God chooses to reveal Himself to us all throughout the Bible as “He”, Jesus referred to God as His Father and our Father, and He taught us to pray to “Our Father”.

    Yes, female imagery was sometimes used, like Jesus speaking of a hen gathering her chicks. However, the overwhelming proportion of gender specific references to God are in masculine terms.

    I believe it is dangerous to take something that the Bible consistently refers to in this way and try to put a different spin on it. We can end up with an unscirptual view of God very quickly, one that is very different then the one shown in the Bible.

    Incidentally, I found “The Shack” to have much in it that didn’t line up with the Bible. It was a very troubling book in my opinion.

  9. Cheryl –

    I know my thoughts can sound ‘liberal’ and ‘unbiblical’, but I definitely do not want to dishonour the God who gave His life for me. So please understand my starting point is Scripture. But, we have to understand how Scripture came to us – in an ancient near eastern and Hebrew-Jewish context, which included being in a patriarchal society where women were nothing. It’s not that God did not use such a people and reveal Himself. That is the testimony and grace of Scripture. The utter amazement that God would use humanity to tell us about Himself.

    But do we honestly think God is a male. I am not trying to be crude, but does God have a male reproductive organ? Does God have other body parts to distinguish Himself as male or female? I know this is ridiculous, but here is another problem. Is God Anglo-American white?………Of course not. How do we know? Well, we think this through that God is neither white nor black. Jesus came as a middle-eastern person, so he had some pretty dark skin and black hair. But that does not mean God is middle-eastern either. God is not intrinsically male or female, just as God is not intrinsically white or black or brown or Jewish or Belgian or American or Chinese.

    But, when male and female come forth, we know that our good God created both and could have only created out of who He is as embracing both characteristics. When God creates whites and blacks and browns, He is not any of these colours specifically, but there is something in Him that allows Him to create all three colours (and more).

    I don’t mind referring to God as He. But God is not a He, just as God is not white or Jewish. I hope that makes sense.

    If you are interested to read my thoughts on The Shack, I have written three articles.

    • Yes, God revealed Himself to an ancient Hebrew culture. So what? Your conclusion that, because they were patriarchal, they therefore mistakenly conceived of God in masculine terms (or that He revealed Himself to them in masculine terms because they wouldn’t otherwise accept or understand Him) is absurd. There were female deities even in antiquity, and sometimes even in Israel (e.g., Ashtoreth). It is mere question begging to base your argument for the non-masculinity (or bi-gender-ality) of God on the fact that ancient Israel was patriarchal.

      Yes, God revealed Himself to the ancient Hebrews. Note, significantly, that He did not reveal Himself to ours. Why therefore we feel it safe to revise the words of Scripture in light of modern sensibilities and philosophies long divorced from Christian theology is quite beyond me. Unless you claim to be a prophet or you can (as you claimed) produce some Scriptural evidence in support of your argument, you have no right to revise Scripture as you see fit and spread false teachings. Take care, friend, that you do not propagate heresy; Scripture’s warnings are clear regarding the consequences.

      Your argument that just as Christ’s Jewish ethnicity doesn’t denote God’s Jewish ethnicity so Christ’s maleness doesn’t denote God’s maleness fails on three points. Firstly and most importantly, it is a non sequitur. It does not follow that because the Incarnate Christ has some qualities which God the Father lacks (e.g., sex organs, finitude, temporality) that the Father lacks all. To be a Christian at all requires us to affirm that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3 italics mine).

      Secondly, while God may not be Jewish, the Jews were certainly God-ish. That is to say, God formed and crafted that culture/ nation from the very beginning, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that they share some characteristics—not because the Jews projected their own image on God (as we are in danger of doing now) but because God stamped the Jewish nation with something of His essential character. It is a slippery slope to go the opposite tack and assume that anything you don’t like about Scripture must be the result of cultural and human influences; for then how do you judge which attributes of God are true and which are to be revised in light of this spurious modern “enlightened” understanding of ours? To say that there remains any sort of standard of judgment at that point is a mere fiction. At that point we make God in our own image, and thereby become idolaters.

      Thirdly, I think you are failing to distinguish between sex and gender, between maleness and masculinity respectively. Sex is a physical and biological reality; gender is a spiritual and metaphysical reality. You don’t even have to be an animal to possess a masculine or feminine nature, as is evident from the fact that both God and angels were described as being masculine even when they did not take human form. (It is my belief–and this point is admittedly speculative–that in the modern mind gender has been reduced to a mere cultural construction, rather than an essential aspect of our natures, in order to blur the line between the two sexes for the sake of indulging in sexual immorality.) Moreover, even on the human level, the ability to produce beings of both genders does not necessitate that one is both genders. Is a man half woman, or a woman half man, because they can produce offspring of the opposite sex?

      • Travis –

        Your conclusion that, because they were patriarchal, they therefore mistakenly conceived of God in masculine terms.

        I never said they were mistaken, but that God was communicating within their context. God was gracious enough to limit His revelation in their context, though He was much bigger than their context.

        Yes, God revealed Himself to the ancient Hebrews. Note, significantly, that He did not reveal Himself to ours.

        First, we didn’t live back then. Secondly, He has revealed Himself in our culture. Think how Paul found great security in quoting pagan poets to communicate the truth of who God is (Acts 17). Why can Paul utilise pagan, Greek poetry-philosophy to communicate who God is and we cannot utilise our cultural context? Must we all adapt to being ancient Hebrew?

        To be a Christian at all requires us to affirm that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”

        I’m not sure if quoting Heb 1:3 about Christ being the exact representation of God’s being points to God’s inherent maleness or that God is solely male, or even to God’s inherent masculinity or that God is solely masculine.

        It is a slippery slope to go the opposite tack and assume that anything you don’t like about Scripture must be the result of cultural and human influences

        I didn’t say I didn’t like that Scripture reveals God as Father. I like it. I need it. Oh I need it desperately. But that is one aspect of God’s revelation about Himself. I want to know the full tenor of who God is.

        Sex is a physical and biological reality; gender is a spiritual and metaphysical reality.

        I didn’t realise gender was spiritual? There are lots of spiritual beings without gender, right? I’d love for you to flesh this out more.

        Again, please note that I am not trying to walk heretical paths. But I am trying to consider the infinite One we serve and worship.

  10. Scott,

    I understand what you are saying and agree with you to a point. However, when God refers to Himself consistently in one way, and more importantly IMO, when Jesus referred to Him constantly as our Father and His Father, and taught us to pray to God as our Father, it is obvious to me that we are intended to relate to God as a Father–not as a Mother or a female figure.

    It seems to me we should just let Scripture stand here with the emphasis Scripture gave us in this matter and not try to add to it in anyway.

    By the way, thanks for the links to your articles on The Shack. I don’t have time to read them now. But I may come back to them later.

  11. Thanks Cheryl. I cannot concede that God is a male. I want to be in the confines of who God is when I explain God. But God is not inherently male.

    My Shack articles are lengthy. So will take some time to read. The third article is the one that addresses God bein revealed as the African American woman.

    Let me ask this – would it have been offensive if God He had only been an African American MALE?

  12. Scott,

    It is probably very true that God is not “inherently male” as you have said above if you are referring to physical body parts as one of your previous comments spoke of. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that He has revealed Himself as male all through the Old Testament and that is the way Jesus related to the Father, spoke of Him and taught us to relate to Him too. If the Bible is truly our standard, then is that not the way we should relate to Him today?

    Or can we just adopt some other idea that says that was the Jewish, ANE mindset that was being addressed and since we are neither Jewish nor live in the ANE culture, it is fine for us to think of Him some other way? And to maybe even think of Him as our Mother? I’m sorry, but that simply does not work for me. If Jesus Himself tells me to address Him as “Our Father”, then that is how I will do it and that is how I will have to continue to think of Him.

  13. Pingback: Does God Have Gender? « Travis Lambert

  14. Cheryl –

    If the Bible is truly our standard, then is that not the way we should relate to Him today?

    Yes, I say the Bible is our starting point, and the place where our theology is best worked out. But here are a few points we must consider:

    1) Does the Bible reveal everything about God? I’d say that I am pretty sure it doesn’t reveal everything about our God. It is the greatest summation of the revelation we do have, revelation that was sufficient to help us understand Him and His redemptive purposes (2 Tim 3:16). But I am not sure it is the full revelation of ALL of who God is. We are finite, God is infinite. If God laid it all out to us, we couldn’t take it all in. I have always loved this verse in Deut 29:29 – The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

    So I believe there are things about the nature of God that are not laid out specifically in Scripture, but are not out of bounds to the vastness of who God is.

    2) Is God a shepherd? Yes, the Bible tells us so. Is God a father? Yes, the Bible tells us so. Is God a judge? Yes, the Bible tells us so.

    But, is God a web designer? Is our answer, ‘No, because the Bible doesn’t say so.’ Is God a prime minister? Is our answer, ‘No, because the Bible doesn’t say so.’

    I have no problem referring to God as these, and other things, as I believe there is something about these roles-titles that allow us to understand the nature of God. It’s just that a web designer and prime minister weren’t really around in ancient near eastern and early first century Jewish times. So God revealed who He was in the context of those cultures, though it was not FULLY who He was in ALL that He is, since He is so infinite.

    For God to reveal Himself and draw people in from an ancient near eastern, patriarchal, early first century Jewish cultural context, God knew exactly how to make Himself known to such a people. It’s a beautiful reality that He is so committed to revealing Himself in OUR context.

    3) What does it mean to picture God as a father? Is it to envision Him with a deep voice, long beard, almost like a Gandalf? Or is it to picture the quality characters of the father that are needed for us to understand who are called ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’? What’s the purpose of the association with the father? It’s to help us understand God’s heart, not what He looks like or if He is male.

    Is it an offense to portray Jesus as a white, Anglo-American when in fact he was a dark-skinned middle eastern person? I don’t think Jesus gets too upset. But is God, in His essence, white or black or middle eastern? He is not inherently any of these. But He came to us in the form of a black haired, dark skinned middle eastern man (most probably). It made the best sense as He came into a first century context.

    Or does God get made if we refer to him as god (lower case g)? Why would He? The original languages of Hebrew and Greek don’t focus on capital or lower case letters. god is elohim/yahweh and theos. Is it ok to refer to god as god and still know that we worship and follow Him?

    In the end, this has a lot to do with cultural barriers that get in the way of knowing who God really is. I am not trying to open the door for loosey goosey stuff. But I am challenging our box that says God is male, God is white, God is a 21st century upper-middle class guy. I don’t think you think all of that, but many do. And one barrier is to limit God as male. God is Father, I will always refer to Him as Father. It’s within who He is since He revealed Himself as such. But God is neither male nor female – He embraces both. And in Christ there is neither male nor female. It’s not that we become androgynous and loose our personal maleness or femaleness. It’s that we reflect who our good God is in the good character qualities that were in both man and woman in the sinless Eden. That’s beautiful stuff.

  15. Scott L,

    Maybe it will help you to understand why I feel the way I do if you know that I came out of some teachings a few years ago that had gotten off into some pretty far out and heretical stuff.

    Part of the reason for it was that Scripture was taken way out of context many times, and another part was because people believed that God was showing new things about Himself and the way He wanted us to do His work in the world today. (It was the hypercharismatic movement). The result was often something that bore little resemblance to what we have been taught in the Bible.

    At that time the verse, Jude 3, where we are told to defend the faith once given, or once for all given to us–depending on the translation you read–became very important to me. Also the verses in II Timothy 3:16-17 that speak of the Scipture being sufficient to give us what we need to be Godly and to serve Him. Since then I have shied away from anything that seems to go beyond what the Scriptures teach us because doing so seems to go against what those two verses teach and also because I have known first hand the mess we get ourselves into very quickly when we add things to the Bible’s teaching.

    I am not saying that there is not more to God then the Bible tells us. What I am saying is that I believe what He has told us is what He wants us to know and what we need to know at this point. And to push beyond it is more then “the faith once given” and we can easily be getting ourselves onto treacherous ground. We will have all of eternity to learn the rest!

  16. Cheryl –

    Sorry only now just commenting back to you. I want to let you know that I understand the difficulty you share about. I am a full continuationist, believing that God is still communicating/speaking today and that He is still revealing Himself. I see the Scripture as our starting point, and I would say that whatever we believe God is speaking today will not contradict the tenor of Scripture summed up in the living Word, Jesus Christ. But I know some of my charismatic-Pentecostal brothers and sisters have made it hard for such a case with abuse and misuse. But I am convinced that the response to abuse and misuse is not that we abandon such, but that we do such with healthiness.

    So Scripture is my starting point. But, as you comment, and as I have, Scripture is the great revelation of God but does not contain everything about such an infinite person as God. I will never go against Scripture and conscience, as that was Luther’s great thesis. But, at this point, for me to acknowledge that God is not inherently male/masculine, or that He embraces female/femininity, I do not believe this contradicts the Scripture nor my conscience in getting to know the vastness of who He is.

    Again, I will always refer to Him as Father, for He is such. That is one of the greatest revelations I have had of His heart. But it does not stop there. God knows very well how to mother. Not because He is female, but I believe that He has that characteristic. And the reason He could create female and call her good is because she imaged something about who He is.

    I hope you understand my heart and story.

  17. Thanks Scott,

    I appreciate your writing back and explaining more fully where you are coming from too. I am still a contuationist too in that I believe all of the gifts of the Spirit that are spoken of in Scripture are for today. But I do, as I am sure you have gathered from what I have said, stop short of accepting ongoing revelation of who God is or new ways that He has for us to walk in that are not spoken of in Scripture. And that is a direct result of what I have experienced and the understanding of Scripture I came to at that time. I found out how frighteningly easy it is to go somewhere you wish you never had and how very difficult and painful the road back is. I simply can not afford to take such a risk again.

    It is obvious you love the Lord. And again, I thank you for your comments back to me.

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