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!