Water, ice, steam – three forms, all H2O. Shell, white, yoke – three parts, all egg. The shamrock – three leaves, all clover. These are various ways (and somewhat helpful ways) that we finite human beings have found to describe the truth of Trinity – one true God revealing Himself in three distinct persons. But, as I have been meditating on Hebrews 1.3 lately, it occurs to me that, perhaps, the intended biblical metaphor for the Trinity is the sun. Here Jesus is referred to as “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature.” Clearly, this passage is teaching the deity of Christ. There is the imprint metaphor (“the exact representation of His nature” – like Lincoln’s likeness on the penny). And there is also the radiance metaphor. Jesus is the sunlight that emanates from the Father. Think it out…
The sun, essentially, is a great ball of white hot gases, burning (thankfully) millions of miles from the earth. If we were even slightly closer, there would be no survival. The sun’s intensity would consume the earth like a newspaper set too close to the edge of the fireplace. The sun, like our God, is “a consuming fire” (Hebrew 12.29). And our God, like the sun, “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6.16). But this inapproachable, consuming fire kind of God is also the giver of life to all the earth – “in him we live and breathe and exist” (Acts 17.28) – much like the sun. Dangerous and deadly as the sun can be, it is also the giver of life to all the earth. Without sun, there is no life. So it is with our Father in heaven.
But how does the sun give life? Well, it sends forth its “radiance” to the earth in the form of sunbeams. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of them directly and powerfully (walking through a thick wood when the rays of the sun suddenly burst through the trees in a shaft of beautiful light). So it is with Jesus, “the radiance of [God’s] glory.” Jesus appeared like a sunbeam - startlingly, beautifully, and visibly - to man’s sight some two thousand years ago. And so also He often shines – bright, powerful, almost visibly perceptible – from the pages of Holy Scripture, into the conscience and mind’s eye of the believer. Jesus, like the rays of the sun, is the visible manifestation of God that we can see and approach without being consumed (“the radiance of His glory”). And, like the radiance of the sun, He is always present and pervasive, even when not in a dazzling beam. Even on a cloudy day, we walk in the radiance of the sun, though we don’t often think it true. We are able to see trees and birds and human faces because the sun is always radiating its light upon the earth. And so it is with our Jesus. He doesn’t always manifest Himself in stark, bold ways – but He is always there.
The Holy Spirit, then, might be compared to the heat that radiates from the sun. Unlike the light of the sun, its heat cannot be seen – but it is no less pervasive than the light, and no less vital to our existence. So it is with the Spirit. We never have, and never will, see the Holy Spirit. But we know that He is there. We sense His presence. And we cannot live without Him.
So there is the biblical metaphor: the white hot ball of gas, the sunbeams that radiate from it, and the heat that it produces on the earth – three different manifestations, but all equally sun. When we see those shafts of brilliant light breaking through the clouds, we say to ourselves: ‘Look at the sun.’ And on a warm spring day, after the gray and gloom of winter, we say to our companions, let’s take a walk out in the warm sun.’ We know, by instinct, that the light and heat that emanate from that ball of gas are just as much sun as the ball of gas. And, if we know God truly, we know, by spiritual instinct (and by Scripture), that the visible light and felt heat that radiate from God are just as much God as the “consuming fire” that is now so distant from us.