I don’t usually post my seminary papers here on my site for a lot of reasons, mostly because they’re largely boring to the general populace. I made an exception for this paper. I think this paper is extremely relevant to the folks who are likely to frequent this page. I hope you find it helpful and encouraging.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the core beliefs that distinguishes Christians from every other faith or religion. Only Christians believe in one God in three interrelated persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This doctrine has been abused, misunderstood, and misapplied throughout the course of Christian history, and these things continue to this day. Yet the importance of the Trinity cannot be underestimated in any context because this doctrine speaks to the unity of God, the relationships of God within Godself, and the profoundness of the invitation we have to enter into this relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The audience I am choosing to relate the doctrine of the Trinity to is my current class at church, comprised of people who struggle with a variety of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, OCD, ADHD, and more. Across all these mental health struggles, the core question that all my class members battle is this: Will God be disappointed in me because I don’t have my life all put together in a nice little package that is presentable to God in God’s perfection and holiness? This fear intrudes upon so many different aspects of faith for those who battle mental health conditions, because they have been taught an inadequate or perhaps even heretical view of God. The doctrine of the Trinity provides a helpful corrective to poor views of God through its emphasis on perichoresis and the unity of thought and action within the persons of the Trinity.
The Good News of Perichoresis in the Trinity
Perhaps the best news available for Christians with mental health conditions is that the three persons of the Trinity are intimately involved with each other in unending fellowship with each other. This is good news for several distinct reasons. Firstly, it means that we do not have a distant God but one who dwells in an intimate relationship with Godself. This is a complex topic that on some level defies adequate explanation because of its uniqueness, but suffice it to say that there is a unique relationship within the persons of the Trinity. “The term perichoresis meaning ‘mutual indwelling,’ is used in theology to point to the relational nature of God. Father, Son, and Spirit exist in unique relationship, and perichoretic relationship has no parallels outside of God. The three persons of the Trinity all dwell in one another.” It is worth more deeply considering the uniqueness of the perichoretic relationships in comparison to the relationships we can have as human beings. A part of the very definition of God is found in the intratrinitarian relationships, and there is a purity of motive in these relationships that is beyond compare in any other beings. “No matter how much I seek to give myself to my wife, my children, my friends, I cannot give myself to them in the same way that the Triune Persons give themselves to each other. Nor do I exist because of that reciprocal giving and receiving. No matter how hard I try, I am not a ‘subsistent relation’—because I am not God.”
The good news of the Trinity extends beyond the perichoretic relationship that God has within the Trinity. God chooses to invite us into his relational nature through the justification found in Christ and our communion with the Spirit. “The three persons of the Trinity exist in real relationship to one another, and because they are personal, we, their creatures, can have personal relationship with them. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that we know and are loved by a personal God.” For a Christian struggling with a mental health condition, isolation and feeling absolutely alone is one of the core problems. The reality of the perichoretic interactions within the Trinity and the invitation by God to engage in a personal relationship with God is an answer to this deeply felt need.
A third reason that the relationality of the Trinity is good news for Christians with mental health conditions is that we can trust in the ultimate victory won over our enemies in the cross of Christ. This can bring peace and even a sense of relief to the Christians battling their mental health as it can usher in confidence toward God and God’s actions toward us. “Because of the work of God for us in Christ, there is no reason for despair. No matter how much a Christian may struggle in this life, no matter how much it may seem that our enemy has supremacy, the gospel of the triune God tells us that Christ has destroyed sin, death and the devil.” This completed work through the cross and the resurrection establishes in fact the reality of God’s victory over the struggles of our lives.
Potential Alternative Bad News Found in Heresies
Having a proper, orthodox understanding of the Trinity is vital for those in Christian mental health communities. Falling into some of the more familiar trinitarian heresies leaves those individuals with predictable problems that cannot be easily resolved except through a correction of poor theology. Arianism is an early trinitarian heresy whose impact is still felt today in the practical ways many people approach the Trinity. Arianism is a sophisticated version of subordinationism that says Jesus was created at some point in the past before the creation of the world. “According to Socrates, an early Church historian, Arius put it in the following nutshell: ‘There was when he [Jesus] was not.” At first glance, this appears to be a deeply technical theological argument with little application to our practical view of the Trinity, but nothing could be further from the truth. If Arius is correct and Jesus is a created being, even a higher created being who helped in the creation of the world, then we are left with something less than God in the person of Jesus Christ. By extension then, the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross becomes something less than the way to salvation. “The logic of Arian teaching meant that Jesus, the perfect creature, only models for us the way to salvation. We follow his example in order to learn how to win grace and to achieve for ourselves deliverance from our predicament.” Jesus then becomes not our Savior, but our moral model. And this is where the news turns sour for those with mental health conditions. Under Arianism, God only accepts excellent performers into his inner circle. Surely nobody battling their mental health “makes the cut” and is instead left on the outside looking in on any relationship with the Trinity.
A similar challenge is left if adoptianism is true. If God chose Jesus because of his exemplary character, then who is to say whether God would choose those with mental health conditions? Beyond that, adoptianism leaves us wanting in our relationship with the Trinity because it is insufficient to have another human being, even one holier than us, as a Savior. “Another human being, a creature like us, cannot save. We need God to save us, and this need points us to another grave failure of adoptianism. It distorts the good news of salvation, making it into a story about rewards earned in exchange for a life well lived.” As with Arianism, adoptianism leaves Christians wondering if they are good enough to earn the grace of God through Christ. This is a deeply flawed perspective, one that ignores the grand sweeping story found in the New Testament and summarized in Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” The clear testimony of Scripture is that we do not earn our salvation, but adoptianism leaves the door open for just this to be the case.
The Good News of the Unity of the Trinity
Another ravine Christians with mental health problems can fall into is the idea that the different persons of the Trinity have separate feelings regarding them. This is an extension of the idea that the Father and the Son were not united in their respective motivations when Jesus was on the cross. Thomas H. McCall expertly addresses a variety of concepts related to this in his book Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters. It is a common conception in modern Christianity that the Father abandoned the Son on the cross as the Father poured out the wrath of all mankind on Jesus. “In this view, the Father turns his face away from and utterly rejects the Son. This utter rejection, these contemporary theologians tell us, is good news. On the other hand . . . the deeply traditional view is this: the Father forsook the Son to this death, and he did so for us and our salvation. But even so, the communion of Father and Son is unbroken.” In the contemporary view, it is quite literally God vs. God, in which the Father wants to exercise his wrath upon Jesus and subsequently humanity, but the Son steps in with eyes of love and saves the day, and us. It is not very difficult to extend these feelings about a wrathful Father beyond the salvation narrative and wonder if the Father is still dissatisfied, particularly when mental health conditions can often cloud clear thinking.
This is why the unity of the Trinity serves as excellent news for Christians in mental health communities. There is no need to worry that the Father is somehow disappointed in them because of their mental health struggles and that they are only rescued by the love of the Son.
The Holy Trinity is completely unified in divine intentions and actions – unless there are multiple gods, we cannot believe otherwise. Some ‘part’ or ‘parts’ of God are not against me while another part is for me. The Son does not love me and bless me while the Father hates me and curses me. Rather, it is God who is for us. No ‘part’ or aspect of God—surely no divine person—wants to see me damned while another wants to see me saved. Not at all! God—the triune God whose essence is holy love—is for us.
Christians with mental health conditions can be confident that the tremendous news of Romans 8:31 – “If God is for us, who can be against us?” – applies to all the persons in the Trinity. They can rest assured that all the persons of the Trinity are for them and love them completely and thoroughly.
Because of this startling fact that every part of God is for us, Christians with mental health conditions can be confident in the love of God. Janet Soskice poetically speaks to this divine gaze of love. “Perhaps the gaze of God is like the gaze of the artist on the completed painting. Each and every pigment is discrete, and no mark is laid down carelessly; yet this green would not be present in its particular greenness were it not for this blue laid down at some time next to it . . . People might be like this under the attentive gaze of love.” A final thought on the impact of the Trinity on those individuals who attend my mental health class can bring this exploration to an end. “God’s being, as triune, is essentially holy love, God’s own triune life is an interpersonal life of holy and self-giving love. All divine actions stem from that love and work in full accord with it. God has created us to know and experience the holy love of the triune life. That life—and nothing else—is what we were made for.” We were created to engage with all the persons of the Trinity in loving relationship. This fact can and should bring peace and rest to even the most tumultuous of hearts.
Christians with mental health conditions often wonder if they “measure up” to God. This concern is most often directed toward the Father, because the Father is shown to be the one with wrathful tendencies, particularly in the Old Testament. The doctrine of the Trinity can act as a salve against these fearful thoughts. The relationality within the persons of the Trinity and the invitation to join in this relationality as a result of the work of the Son on the cross and through the indwelling of the Spirit can bring peace. Further, the unity of the persons of the Trinity in action and intention should cause these fears to dissipate. We can be certain of several things: nobody has done anything to earn their relationship with the persons of the Trinity (even the most holy of people enter into a relationship with the trinitarian God through grace and mercy rather than merit), and yet at the same time our standing before the Trinity is not in question. All of us are loved by all members of the Trinity, and we are invited into the loving holy relationship the Trinity has within its persons. The doctrine of the Trinity, while often considered too complex a theological topic for laity, in reality, is a powerful antidote against the fears of abandonment by God.
 Beth Felker Jones, Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2023), 68.
 Stephen Long, “God is Not Nice,” in God is not…Religious, Nice, “One of Us,” An American, A Capitalist, ed. D. Brent Laytham (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004), 31.
 Jones, Practicing Christian Doctrine, 69.
 Thomas McCall, Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 152.
 Ben Quash and Michael Ward, eds., Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 18.
 Quash and Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them, 18, emphasis added.
 Jones, Practicing Christian Doctrine, 59.
 McCall, Forsaken, 29.
 McCall, Forsaken, 46.
 Janet Martin Soskice, The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 33-34.
 McCall, Forsaken, 143.