When most people hear “Trinity,” they think to Carrie Ann Moss’ character in the Matrix movies. When many (most?) Christians hear “Trinity,” they think “concept of God I (maybe) affirm, but don’t get.” But how many think of the Trinity as practical—a source of encouragement and comfort when you’re at the end of your rope?
Joe Thorn does, and we should be grateful for that. Because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t his latest book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God.
Preaching to ourselves
Born out of Thorn’s self-described “dark night of the soul,” Experiencing the Trinity was written because the author himself needed to be reminded of the truths found within. Working too hard for too long with too little rest left him burnt out and in need of help. And where he found the greatest help was in God’s Word, by preaching the gospel to himself.
Even as he writes to help us “reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief” (18), Thorn openly admits he’s writing because he needs the reminder, too. And this is something too many of us writer types forget too quickly: when we write, it’s really helpful that what we’re writing be something we’re living or working through ourselves, especially when it’s on issues of faith. It adds weight to what we’re saying for our readers to know our words aren’t theoretical. We don’t think this is maybe kinda sorta helpful possibly. We believe it’s helpful to you because it helped us.
So when Thorn writes a simple phrase like, “Your hope is not your own obedience, but the obedience of Jesus Christ” (73), it’s because he’s had to wrestle with it again and again (like hopefully all of us have). We don’t get away from this reality as we grow in our faith. If anything, we’re forced repeatedly to realize just how often we rely on ourselves instead of on Christ.
We try to make deals with God, or we make sweeping statements about all the things we do in service to him… but none of that brings us any true comfort. If anything, it leaves us in a bigger mess than before because we’re focused on the wrong thing. We’re looking at ourselves, rather than Jesus, because seeing him and knowing him—or, beholding him—changes everything:
You cannot feel your way to the glory of Jesus, for it is essentially the totality of who he is and what he has done. You must give yourself to not just knowing about him, but knowing him. And the more you know him, the less appealing the world becomes, the less painful your trials are, and the more you grow in contentment, because this glorious Christ is yours and you are his. (1o3)
That’s good news, isn’t it?
The right book for the right time in my life
Note to Self, Thorn’s first book, was a much-needed and timely encouragement. Experiencing The Trinity, likewise, came at just the right time in my life—a time when I’ve been really reminded that it’s easy for me to run on fumes, and carry on as though everything is grand for a fairly significant period period of time. And for the most part, people don’t seem to notice. (Which either says a lot about them or me, I’ll leave it for you to decide, dear reader.)
When I read his encouragement to “draw near to the Lord by faith,” and “set your heart on his promises and ask for his divine assistance,” (88) I really feel the pull—the way the Lord is using that encouragement as if to say, “Hey you, pay attention: that means you, too.” The Lord will indeed provide for those in need. When he writes that the comfort of the Holy Spirit that may not be relief from temporal discomfort but “rest for your soul” (119), it’s not just for other folks—it’s me, too. So maybe I shouldn’t forget that, huh?
Not your ordinary devotional
I’m generally not a fan of “devotional” books—the ones filled with pithy encouragements, designed to brighten your day. It’s not that they’re bad, because many are quite good, but I’ve found too many paint too small a picture of God. But I have a pretty simple rule: if Joe Thorn writes it, I read it. What he offers in Experiencing The Trinity is a book that blends appeals to the head and the heart they way they were always meant to be. As a result, it actually succeeds in what it aims to do: give encouragement for the weary, not through sweet sentiments, but by proclaiming our spectacular God. While you may still not “get” the Trinity (and if you don’t, you’re in good company), you will grow in your appreciation of the importance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and find some relief for your weariness in the process.
Title: Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God
Author: Joe Thorn
Publisher: Crossway (2015)