Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Trinity - A Statement of Faith

I was quite intrigued by that statement by Bruce Prewer with which I began my Introduction at the start of this service.

The Trinity is not a definition of God but a cry of faith
from the heart of the Christian experience.
A cry of trust and commitment,
a cry of love and adoration.

Most preachers I know dread the thought of preaching meaningfully about the Trinity.  I think that’s because whenever we try to explain it we end up have to make ordinary words mean something different from what they usually mean for it to make sense.  And even then we are not sure it makes sense anyway.
Bruce Prewer recognises this when he says: “God is a profound Deep, into which all our busy and clever words can fall without a sound.”

This invites us to think of God as being like a deep well.  We can throw our wisest and most majestic words into this Mysterious Deep that is God, and they never touch bottom.  There is no splash.

For me God has always been a wonderful Mystery.  I use “mystery’ not in the sense of a puzzle which clever minds can solve, like in a detective story, but as an un-chartable, indefinable Personal Reality.  God the Mystery interacts with our lives but eludes our grasp.  God is a Mystery who leaves us on our knees in wonder and awe.

Way back in the 1200s that famous author called Anonymous left a book about God which today is published as “The Cloud of Unknowing”.  That was his, or her, way of trying to describe the wonder of God, whose Mystery can never be fully understood or explained by mortal minds.  In fact the closer we come to God, the greater is the shining darkness that confronts us and overwhelms us.


A common response to this is to resort to metaphor.  The many Hebrew names for God have embedded meanings that try to express something that we understand God is like:

YHWH – I am who I am
Adonai – Lord or Master
Elohim – God our Help
El Shaddai – God Almighty

I think of these as being like the facets of a diamond – each giving us a unique view into the heart of the diamond.

We as Christians also use metaphor to help us understand something about God or Jesus – name such as Abba or Eternal Light, Prince of Peace, Joy, Lover, the Word, Brother, Saviour – and of course we have talked in recent weeks about John’s metaphors for the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counsellor, Friend.

Of course, the real problem is that we can really only think in terms related to time and space, and God transcends time and space.  God is spiritual, not physical. 


Trinity is not a Biblical term.  None of the Bible writers ever used it, and yet it has become so central to the Church that we use it to determine who is in and who is out.  By that I mean that the Trinity is the central mark of the catholic faith.  For the Councils of churches through all time since Nicaea different churches may have diverse ecclesiology and theology but so long as they affirm Jesus as Lord, and God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then they are welcomed as truly Christian.

So the Trinity is not a side issue.

But it is so darned hard to explain other than resorting to a circular kind of argument.

God is God is God!

But God came among us in Jesus.  Jesus was God, even though he spoke of his Father being someone he could address as “Abba”.  So we naturally called him Son of God.  Jesus is a visible, tangible expression of God for us – in our humanity.  Jesus and the Father are One.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.  As our Comforter, Advocate, or Friend the Holy Spirit is the spiritual expression of God in relationship with us.

In the History of theology, the Creedal statements affirming the Trinity were essentially born out of the contemporary heresies of the day.  That perhaps is why it was so important – and we are locked into it now as the central and defining feature of catholic Christianity.

We use this tricky language of there being ONE God but THREE Persons.

But let us go back to my opening remark.

The Trinity is not a definition of God but a cry of faith
from the heart of the Christian experience.

I think I can unpack this idea with less difficulty than trying to create an understandable definition of God.

One idea that has been explored in our Experience of God as Trinity – as Three in One – is the idea of community.

In this Icon image on the screen we have an image that reflects the story we read from Genesis.  In that story it says Abraham had a vision of the Lord and then tells of three men who came along with amazing news.  These three represent God.

The original image was created by AndrĂ© Rublev in the 1400s in an Orthodox Church in Russia.  But even though it is about that Old Testament story it is clearly a Christian image – it makes us think of the Lord’s Supper – three sitting around a table with a chalice in the centre of it.

In this the Church is saying that our God is radically different from the idea of individual Gods for these three are one – they exist in a sense in community.

Ours is an egocentric age.  When “post modern” people define themselves they do so over against everyone else.  We want to do our own thing.  We want to find ourselves.  Others are just things to be used for our pleasure.  We speak endlessly about “my rights.’  Our individuality is what defines us.

If God exists in community and we are created in the image of God, is this individuality an appropriate expression of our life in God?  I think not.

French writer Teilhard de Chardin wrote that this was in his view a fundamental flaw in modern thinking.  He said:

its mistake is one which causes (us) to aim in exactly the wrong direction.  It is to confuse individuality with personality.......  If we are to be fully ourselves we must advance in the opposite direction, towards a convergence with all other beings.”

Maybe Teilhard de Chardin was right; we have confused individuality with personality.

God in three Persons?  Perhaps this points us to that communal personality which is the absolute Highest State of Life.  Perhaps true Godliness here on earth only flowers in the communal experience.  Perhaps this is the kind of joyful ongoing beyond death which we hint at when we speak of “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  Maybe “heaven” is entering far more deeply into the experience of communal love; into communal personality.  And dare I say it, more and more into the communal experience of the Trinity.


If the Trinity is at the heart of our experience of God – as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – then I think it is worth giving some time to think over how can it be expressed in the way we live as Followers of the Way.  I can get away from the ABIDE language of John when I think about this.

“The Father and I are ONE for He ABIDEs in me and I ABIDE in him.  And you will be one with me if you ABIDE in me.

No comments:

Post a Comment