It’s always an interesting exercise to think about our image of God. Certainly we can consider this on a number of levels. There are our emotional strata: “Who is God to me?” Perhaps we might even think about how it is that we experience God, recounting ‘God moments’, so to speak.
It’s an interesting exercise which never fails to engage people, even people who’ve been in church their entire lives. Because for all of the rich symbols and sacramental signs of God in the Church, there are a lot of us who have either never really thought about our image of God, or we are limited in our scope. Perhaps we can’t get beyond seeing God only as the “Old Man” in the clouds with a long white beard, or something. Whatever the case, there are almost always reasons for the ideas and images we have of God—and they’re probably more commonly held than we might think.
But for all of the thoughts and familiar images of God that give us comfort, there is still a subject which often confounds, namely the Trinity.
Apparently unless you are in a systematic theology class or in a heated debate with a Jehovah’s Witness, this important part of our theology doesn’t seem relevant. And if we do get around to it, either no one wants to hear about it, or the apparent complexity of explaining it makes heads spin. It’s really kind of sad that one of the foundational theological statements of our faith seems so convoluted that we’d rather just avoid it…
I suppose there might be the fear that in discussing the Trinity, we could unwittingly lapse into some heresy. Maybe that’s why we don’t really talk about it that much. Maybe we’re all too worried about going too far off the orthodox reservation—then again, I could just be completely out of touch with what people really talk about. Either way, the subject of Trinitarian theology is not as freely discussed as the weather or sports.
It makes perfect sense, really, for a multitude of reasons. Especially if we consider how it is that we derive our images of God—through personal experiences, for example—it makes sense that we would not really have a framework for understanding the Trinity. I mean, when was your last “Trinity moment”, and what was it like? It’s hard to place, because honestly we experience ‘God’ in a multitude of ways through the Three Persons of the Trinity, as each one speaks to different parts of our lives. But then, luckily today is Trinity Sunday, and what better day to try to sort it all out?
Scripture commends to us the oneness of God, (“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One.”) and the Church affirms this as it has been commended to us. We say that we believe in One God who creates all that is—the God of the Old Testament; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and the Father of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament tells us of how this God continually called humanity back from our destructive tendencies. Prophets who were called by God to deliver the message came and went. Overall, we weren’t very good at listening or about returning to God.
Then, as a fulfillment to God’s message through the prophets, God joined us in human life, by sending Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Living God. What this meant for us was that not only did we finally have God with us to demonstrate all the stuff we had been hearing, but God also experienced what it meant to live as a creature in an intimate way.
But Jesus had to return to God so that the Holy Spirit could then come and fill the world with God’s Presence. While this meant a kind of “goodbye” for Jesus’ disciples, it meant hopeful news for the Church that they left behind. This is because Jesus is no longer limited by his location and is with us always in spirit. So there is no need for believers to hop a plane to find Jesus the way that we would were he still here in a bodily way.
Finally, as promised by prophets, and Jesus at his Ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the world. We may only understand this in the way that a fish understands that it’s wet—because we’re a people who have never been without God’s Holy Spirit in the world. This is the same Spirit which God used to empower Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. This is the same Spirit which even communicated God’s message of redemption through all of the prophets. Now, this is the same Spirit which lives in all of us.
The Holy Spirit helps us to pray, and urges us to pray when we need to. The Holy Spirit helps us to read and understand what God is telling us in Scripture, and then helps us to try to live that message in our daily lives. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit is the Presence of God, and because the Holy Spirit is within us, we can never be far from God.
Now, I know that none of this is really new information to many of you. We say the Nicene Creed which covers all of the same information; our collects normally reflect some Trinitarian theology and even the Eucharistic prayers model it. But for all of that, how can we conceptualize the Trinity as Three in One—and more importantly, what does it matter to any of us in our daily lives?
Well, as much as I’m sure that you all would enjoy hearing me read from the Capadocian Fathers, or even other theologians who are more qualified to talk about all of this—instead, I’d like to ask you to try to use your imagination with me.
Now, if you would, imagine three people. This would be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in this kind of ‘dance.’ This is a movement which the Patristics (a group of Early Christian writers) called ‘perichoresis,’ which is a Greek term which has the same root as the word choreography—dancing.
This dance is a kind of intricate procession that unifies these three, and by their shared love, and the movement and sharing of spirit they are somehow one being. What’s great about them being “Three Persons” is that they are able to share in their love, but in such a way that allows others to be part of that love—it’s not a one-to-one thing, but a community thing. After all, that is what Jesus hopes for all of us in his High Priestly prayer; that we all could be one. Yet these Three Persons are somehow perfectly one.
Where this affects us, and all of Creation for that matter, is that the Father who calls us to be in community, sends the Son to teach us how to live in loving community, and the Holy Spirit then draws us ever closer to God, and invites us to be part of a much greater community than we could ever imagine. It is a thing which is far greater than any individual because, of course it’s in this community of faith that we learn who we truly are.
Now, I understand that I haven’t unraveled for you the mysteries of the Trinity. But, for what it’s worth, I can offer what this mystery of the Trinity means for me—perhaps something of it will resonate for some of you, as well. My Trinitarian God Image, if you will.
In the Trinity, I find that God is one who calls us to be in community in a more perfect way. I see a God who creates us as creative beings who seek to mirror and know our Creator. This same God empties himself and becomes one of us just to be near us. Above all, I see a God who is holy beyond knowing, but still finds a home in our sometimes hardened hearts, and will stop at nothing to remind us of unconditional, self-giving love. It’s that same love and spirit which unify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and which calls to us to be in communion with God. The good news here is not only that there is acceptance, but also the promise that in and among these three, there is infinite room for all of us to find our place.
If nothing else, I hope that all of us hear and understand this particular point: it is God’s very nature to love, and accept. This, I think, beyond theological rightness, is reason enough not to miss the powerful meaning of God as Trinity.