As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.“No one is good—except God alone.
These words have always troubled me to one extent or another. Let me explain why. The story which they came from was about the rich man and the kingdom of God. It is a well known and often cited story to indicate that God’s grace is a gift and impossible to earn but when the words above are isolated from that story they suggest a truth that goes counter to many current Christian beliefs. the primary belief being the concept of the Trinity.
Before I delve into why these words are troubling to me let’s look at the history of the concept of the Trinity. The concept of the Holy Trinity was made into Christian doctrine more than three hundred years after Jesus. Terms like “the father, the son, and the holy spirit” were used much before that time. Ignatius of Antioch was perhaps one of the first theologians to coin this phrase. Jesus did of course mention God the father and the Holy Spirit but without a codifying statement about any relationship.
When we talk about things like the Trinity it is very easy to get bogged down in “church speak”. That is using special words to describe the varying conflicts that were present in the early church leaders. I try to avoid that as much as possible in this blog. Instead I will give you some simple words I found in Wikipedia that I think describes what went around the discussions of the trinity.
Although there is much debate as to whether the beliefs of the Apostles were merely articulated and explained in the Trinitarian Creeds, or were corrupted and replaced with new beliefs, all scholars recognize that the Creeds themselves were created in reaction to disagreements over the nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These controversies, however, were great and many, and took some centuries to be resolved.
When there has been conflict within the church a new creed was usually developed to exclude those who thought differently. The Nicene Creed is the predominant one today that attests to the concept of the Trinity. We are taught that basically the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three equal parts of the same God and cannot be divided but are three in one. This concept is often called “a mystery of christian faith” in that the very concept is difficult for human beings to understand.
Getting back to the original purpose of this post, when I read the words “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Jesus seems to be telling us that he is not the equivalent of God and that he was shocked that someone would even make the comparison. Of course the concept of the trinity had no meaning in Jesus’ day among Jews and Jesus was a Jew.
The questioning about the validity of the Holy Trinity is not accepted in many Christian churches. We are told to just accept it on blind faith. We are told we must pledge our allegiance to that concept. To do otherwise is to risk our membership. To me that is the sad part of the church today; many seem to unwilling to admit that maybe those involved in the past church history my have developed a man-made concept that is really not critical to being a follower of Jesus Christ.