“It is what it is.” I have said this many times in my adult life when talking with friends and family. These words seemed to me to be most appropriate in situations and circumstances that appeared intractable or to which I could not see any good option for resolving. So my summary assessment became simply, “It is what it is.”
I recall a particular conversation one evening when waiting for a Seminary course to begin. My acquaintance spoke with earnestness about his critique of Seminary education—how it was organized and the content of the coursework. I tried to listen carefully to him and to acknowledge the points he made which I thought were valid. He continued to repeat his critique with even more zeal. Finally, to convey my personal assessment about what could be done about the legitimate concerns we had talked about I said, “It is what it is.” I am inclined to think that I am not the only one who has thought this or even said this when confronted with difficult life circumstances.
I wonder if this may also be a helpful answer regarding questions about the doctrine of the Trinity. Many people have wrestled with how to conceive of the teaching of Scripture regarding God as One yet three. For Muslims and orthodox Jews the very notion of a tri-unity in God is out of the question—God is simply ONE. Even among Christians there have been many who could not conceive of God as simultaneously ONE and THREE: Thus you have the range of heresies from Arianism (affirmation of Deity to the Father alone) and Modalism (affirmation of ONENESS to the point of negating the distinctiveness of the “Persons” of the Godhead).
When we try to conceive of God based on the description given to us in the whole of Scripture we have little choice but to conclude that God’s nature is Tri-unity. This is the short answer which historic orthodoxy has given to the question, “What is God?” Some of the ablest minds in the whole of the Christian tradition have grappled with this question and have left impressive speculation and dynamic metaphors to help themselves and others to think rightly about God’s nature. (The Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine and Aquinas are the most notable ones that come to mind.) Yet in the end we have to say with them, in effect, “We are beholding mystery and fall on our faces in worship.”
I have found this truth of God’s Tri-unity to be satisfying and helpful for many different reasons. To start with it is the only tenable way to harmonize the varying affirmations and statements in Scripture about God—otherwise one must quietly suppress and ignore outright some passages. Yet this doctrine also satisfies my creative bent in that it helps to explain why in life we constantly encounter the wonder of mystery. Scientific advances and new theories about the functionality of the world and the human body only deepen the mystery of life as we experience it. Why are things the way they are? This is a question that has no answer unless one knows the holy Triune God and interprets reality with that in mind.
The assertion made above will be challenged by many people and those challenges will be rooted in very different world-views. The secular person who believes (and that is the operative word) that science and technology are the way to solve the problems of humanity will mock and call the doctrine of the Trinity a superstition whose proper place is in history books. Adherents to Islam will puzzle over it and condemn it as heresy because the Qur’an teaches them that it is an error of the Christians. Those who style themselves as “Free-thinkers” may acknowledge the historical importance of the idea in religious history but relegate it to the status of dogma which the Roman Catholic Church made up for a variety of reasons. The new crop of spiritual relativists will embrace the notion of tri-unity in part in order to demonstrate that it is an idea which describes the nature of life in general and not merely that of God (understood as transcendent in monotheistic religions); this becomes a starting point for re-imaging a plethora of spiritual paths which lead to God (as understand by each person or group). I could go on with more specific examples but perhaps this establishes the general point.
Like the Deity of the Lord Jesus the doctrine of the Tri-unity of God forces people to respond in one of several ways: Reject the doctrine outright, modify it to fit their notion of God’s nature or embrace it as it has been articulated within the orthodox Christian tradition. The Tri-unity of God is what it is: This doctrine is foundational because everything else in the descriptions in Scripture about God’s creating and saving work is based on it. This is why the heresies of the first five centuries of the Church consumed so much time and energy by Church leaders. They rightly perceived these doctrinal disputes as core to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
There have been times when I have in frustration quietly sighed, “It is what it is.” That was resignation before seemingly immovable circumstances and a demonstration of un-faith. I think now that I said the right words but applied them in the wrong way. Instead of assuming that those circumstances which I could do nothing to change had to remain that way I rather could have affirmed by faith the reality of the living God in the midst of them with me; to trust and worship God in the Tri-unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, by whom and through whom and for whom all things were made.
These are not mere words. This is a summary of the inexhaustible treasure of Scripture’s testimony to the living Triune God. The Truth is the One who was, is and will be! And that Tri-unity has invited us all to partake of the divine nature through the Lord Jesus Christ, by the indwelling Holy Spirit to the eternal glory of the Father.