Monthly Archives: November 2011

Introducing the Trinity to Children

This week I am charged with the task of explaining the deity of Christ to a class of 8- to 10-year-olds. Specifically, I want to talk to them about the Trinity and the part of Christ in that union. A daunting assignment! Let’s face it: trying to explain the nature of the Eternal God using the limited resources of a very human mind renders my task utterly futile. How can the creature hope to understand the Creator, let alone translate that understanding into very limited human speech? And yet, this tenet of our faith is vitally important and must be presented to children as well as adults.

Theologians have attempted to plumb the depths of this subject throughout the centuries with more or less success. The author that, in my opinion, comes closest to presenting the Trinity in a comprehensible way to the layman is Dorothy L. Sayers in her book “Mind of the Maker”. I will not in this forum attempt to duplicate her effort, which took an entire book to lay before the public. I encourage anyone who wishes a greater understanding of the Trinity to study her book. It is heavy stuff, and I found myself re-reading the same page several times in order to fully grasp her meaning; but the effort was so very worth it! What I do wish to do is attempt to translate her work into a lesson fit for my class of elementary-age children.

Most of the curriculum I have come across in the past on this subject has been maddeningly inadequate or even completely wrong. The “egg” analogy, in which the Trinity is compared to the shell, white, and yolk of an egg, really annoys me! In what ways are these three parts equal? Which Person of the Godhead is the shell, which one throws away? I much prefer an equilateral triangle, with each of the three lines representing one Person. Each is equally important to the whole: take one away, and you no longer have a triangle. I also like using St. Patrick’s symbol of the shamrock, with its three equal leaflets forming one leaf.

But Dorothy L. Sayers symbology, in my opinion, far surpasses these, and the challenge of translating her work into a lesson for children is exciting to me. So here goes:

Imagine the God as a mind, with three jobs to do. God the Father is the part of the mind that comes up with an idea. Let’s say this idea is a Word. How can the Father express His thought? That’s where the Son comes in. Jesus the Son is the part of the mind that creates the Word in a solid form. He might write it on paper or chisel it out of stone, but in some way He translates the idea of the Father into a created thing. John 5:19 & 30: “Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing. . . . I can do nothing on My own initiative.” Jesus only creates the ideas of the Father. (At this point, the teacher should write a word on a white board or piece of paper to illustrate. Do not, however, say the word aloud!)

Now we come to the third Person of the Trinity. What does the word “Spirit” mean? It means “breath”. Breath gives us life, as when God breathed into Adam. The Spirit breathes life into the ideas and the creation of the Father and the Son. What else does breath do? It allows us to speak. Have you ever tried to speak without breathing? Spoken words are actually our breath shaped into sounds. It is breath that allows me to speak this word that I have written down here out loud. (Say the word you’ve written on the board or paper.) The Holy Spirit speaks to those who will listen. But He will only speak the ideas of the Father, just as Jesus will only create the ideas of the Father.

So which of these three jobs or parts of the mind are most important? They are all equally important! Without the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Father’s ideas would never be made known. Without the ideas of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit would have nothing to say or create. They all three work together perfectly.

Like any analogy, this is imperfect and falls far short of the complicated and, to humans, incomprehensible truth of the Trinity. To even attempt to explain the triune nature of God seems impertinent. But it is an important part of our faith, and so we must do our best to teach it to them.

I would welcome any ideas out there! I’m sure there are teachers who are much more qualified than to put this lesson into words. Let me hear from you!


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A Living Parable

I have an incurable genetic disorder. I have Celiac Disease. There’s nothing I can do about it; I was born this way. I inherited it from distant ancestors, who in their turn inherited it from their own ancestors. Those who suffer from this disease cannot tolerate any gluten whatsoever. The tiniest, microscopic crumb of wheat flour or barley can make me seriously ill. And so the solution is simple: avoid ingesting gluten. But in a gluten-saturated world, this is well-nigh impossible. The simple rule–avoid gluten–isn’t enough. It is so far from being enough, it is absolutely useless.

My doctor’s solution to this problem was to give me a long list of rules I have to follow in order to help keep well. These rules are exacting and complicate my life, but it is important for me to follow them to the letter. Not only must I avoid eating foods with gluten in them; I must avoid foods that have been prepared in the same area as foods that contain gluten. When I am teaching young children, I must not only avoid touching their crackers or cookies at snack time; I must avoid touching anything the kids have touched with their crummy fingers after snack time. I must wash my hands a thousand times a day in case I have at some time touched something that someone else touched with gluten-contaminated hands. I must have my own toaster and bread maker, my own peanut butter jar and tub of butter, kept separate from those that the others in my home use. And on and on.

This is an imperfect solution because it is so impossible to keep all the rules perfectly. I must be constantly aware of what I am doing at all times, constantly vigilant. Lapses in attention can result in serious consequences. Even if I myself manage to keep all of the rules, other people may not. Whether through carelessness or forgetfulness, people may serve me food that has been contaminated, or use the peanut butter that I had been keeping clean and not tell me, or any number of other accidental offenses. The rules are good and necessary, but they are not enough. How do I deal with that? How can I deal with such a difficult disease?

Well, I could rebel. After all, I didn’t ask to have this disease. Why should I have to live by these stringent, unreasonable rules? It isn’t fair. I should be able to eat anything I want! I could live this way. But I would be sick all the time, and it would eventually kill me. It would hurt those around me, as well, as the people who love me watch me destroy myself with my stubborn rebellion.

I could live in denial. I could tell myself that I don’t have this disease. I could choose to believe that the doctor is mistaken. I could choose to believe that I can eat what I want and won’t get sick. Unfortunately, this won’t work either. I will get sick anyway, because denying the truth does nothing to negate the truth and believing lies won’t make the lies come true.

I could try to follow the rules to the letter, but live this way in bitterness and resentment, railing against the unfairness of it all. What a horrible way to live! How miserable I would be, and how miserable I would make everyone else around me.

Or, I could try to follow the rules with a good spirit, making the best of things and forgiving myself when I mess up, and forgiving those around me who accidentally make me sick. That seems like the best thing I could do. This seems the best way to live my life.

The doctor tells me there is no cure for my disease, except one. When I die, I will finally be cured; my disease will never trouble me again. Unfortunately, I will then be dead and unable to enjoy my Celiac-free state. If only I could die and yet still live in a new, disease-less body. Or if only someone would die my death for me, releasing me from this disease forever, and give me a new life of freedom. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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