In his painting entitled, “The Treachery of Images”, surrealist painter René Magritte displays a pipe with the words “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” or “This is not a pipe.” While one might find this witty, obvious, or good fodder for a meme, it also contains a profound insight into the nature of God as Trinity.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe
Magritte explained his words:
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!
Even though a picture represents an object, it is not and will never be the object. In this way, all images are imperfect or “treacherous” as Magritte supposed.
They fall short, unable to completely embody what they represent. As he noted, his pipe cannot be stuffed, meaning it lacks a key property of pipes. One could list many other properties it does not share.
This way of thinking about images has theological ramifications. Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God”, and the author of Hebrews states, “He is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Col 1:15, Heb 1:3).
The terms “image” or “exact representation” refer to God’s depiction of himself. Likewise, John describes Jesus as the “Word”, another term that carries the notion that Christ the Son proceeds from God the Father as His self-revelation. Using René Magritte’s reasoning, we can begin to understand John’s enigmatic statement:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
Unlike Magritte or his pipe, scripture and orthodox theology maintain the perfection of God and his revelation. In other words, if God chooses to reveal himself, his representation must perfectly reveal himself, sharing every property. Scripture even calls it “the exact representation”.
While the imperfect representation of the pipe is not a pipe, the perfect representation of God must be God. More so:
- Since God is love, the image is love.
- Since God is eternal, the image is eternal.
- Since God is a person, the image is a person (and now we’ve deduced why there must be at least two persons of the Trinity.)
While the previous reasoning does not prove the existence of God or the Trinity, it gives rational explanation for how Jesus, as the image of God, must also be God. It illustrates how at least two persons can be one God.