What do we make of the Trinity?
What do we make of the Trinity? I hope that it’s all crystal clear after our video earlier. Perhaps not. Probably not. I am not of course saying it was not helpful, but I doubt somehow that 5 minutes is enough time to fully understand such a profound mystery. I suspect that it is a lifetime of learning under the gentle teaching of the Holy Spirit.
In the end, as helpful as it is to try and figure out a way of understanding the trinity in the wonderful world of maths and quantum physics where we find that the basic structure of life is based on something called fractals and imaginary numbers or the multiple universes and multidimensional space, more often than not, we remain left in a fog of confusion.
I wonder what the early Christian writings had to say about the Trinity, given that the official doctrine wasn’t agreed until about 3-4 hundred years after Paul’s letters. And yet, we find in the letters of Paul clear references to a 3 person Godhead. However, little time is spent on deciphering the how and the metaphysics in Paul’s works, instead the focus is on relationship.
In Galatians 4, Paul says this “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father” . For Paul’s use of the word Sons, we should readily understand that this should mean Sons and Daughters, and only reflects an extremely patriarchal society when women had a limited role, though it should be noted at this point that in the early church, women had real roles of leadership, it was not until after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire that the equality seen in Christianity was lost as Christianity took on the behaviour of an empire that it was now a pillar of.
We see the great work of rescue and redemption God has set in motion with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent ongoing mission of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, whose mission is to help bring about a full healing of God’s creation. In Romans 8:27, Paul describes God as a heart searcher. “ the one who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit”. We read earlier and heard in the readings today that as believers in Jesus we are no longer controlled by our sinful nature but by the Spirit, and that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. It was writings such as these among others that finally became the footnotes for the idea of the Trinity among the early Church. Perhaps the most important key point in all of this is it all comes about because of Jesus. If we take our eyes off of Jesus then we will likely get lost.
Tom Wright, whose work Tony Hazell has used for the small group ministry recently and who used to be bishop of Durham has this to say; “Once we glimpse the doctrine – or the fact! Of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realised) is nevertheless simply a quasi-personal source of general benevolence. Christian faith is much more hard edged and craggy than that.” In other words, it is simply not good enough for us to rest on our laurels and to think it is all OK as long as we feel good about it and that we get a nice warm sensation inside. Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher or ethicist, he was the one through whom God’s rescue plan would be carried out. The problem, and there is one, is that this challenges all the other world views to the core. It is because Jesus died, was raised and now living in that other dimension of creation that we call heaven, that the early Christians came to think of God as Father and Son. It is because Jesus is in heaven, whilst the Spirit can make him present to us here and now that we see the Spirit as a distinct member of the divine Trinity. It is because of Jesus that we think of the trinity at all. Without Jesus being who he said he was and is, there is simply no need for the concept of a trinity at all.
Jesus teaches us about relationship and makes it really clear that relationship between us is very important and that this is why the whole law can be summarized to love for God and love for each other. This is the heart of the trinity. The trinity is about a unique relationship based on Love. Love is about trust, forgiveness and the willingness to put our own needs second to the needs of the other, which may mean the need to say sorry, sometimes even if we don’t think we have done anything wrong.
Paul says this about love in Romans 12. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud… Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” and in 1 Corinthians we have that famous phrase that I sure you all now but is always worth listening to again with fresh ears. Sometimes we hear the words of well known phrases and we forget to listen to what they are saying.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered’ it keeps no record of wrongs” and finally it always perseveres.
It is love that lays at the heart of the Trinity, a relationship that Jesus invites us into. We, as children of God, are invited to live within the world of love as experienced by God himself.
Some of you will know of a book called “The Shack” There is a scene it it which brings to life what the Trinity may be like, or at least as far as we can take it in, and the relevance it has for us in our lives.
The setting is the morning after Mack arrived at the shack, the place where his daughter was murdered, and he is getting ready to share breakfast with 3 rather odd Characters.
“Mack stood in the bathroom, looking into the mirror while wiping his face dry with a towel. He was searching for some sign of insanity in those eyes staring back at him. Was this real?....of course not, it was impossible. But then he reached out his hand and slowly touched the mirror. Maybe this was a hallucination being brought on by all his grief and despair. Maybe it was a dream and he was asleep somewhere , maybe in the shack freezing to death? Maybe… Suddenly, a terrible crash broke into his reverie. It came from the direction of the kitchen, and Mack froze. For a moment there was dead silence, and then unexpectedly, he heard uproarious laughter. Curious, he exited the bathroom and poked his head through the doorway of the Kitchen.
Mack was shocked at the scene in front of him. It appeared that Jesus had dropped a large bowl of some sort of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere. It must have landed close to Papa because the lower portion of her skirt and bare feet were covered in the gooey mess. All three were laughing so hard that Mack didn’t think they were breathing.
Sarayu said something about humans being clumsy and all three started roaring again…….
As he leaned against the doorway watching, Mack’s mind was full of thoughts. So this was God in relationship? It was beautiful and so appealing. He know that it didn’t matter whose fault it was – the mess from some bowl that had been broken, that a dish that had been planned would not be shared. Obviously what was truly important here was the love they had for one another and the fullness it brought them. He shook his head. How different this was from the way he treated the ones he loved!
Reflect on that for a moment. If this story manages to give a picture of the relationship at the heart of the trinity, is that different from relationships that you have? If the answer is yes then now can be the time to ask Jesus to take you by the hand and let you see and experience the love in God’s kitchen.
As God’s children, we don’t have to put up with a life of second best. We don’t have to hide behind masks. We can enter into the Holy of Holies and experience God’s all encompassing love. Not so that we just feel good, as important as that may be, but to be changed and to be filled and inspired to go out and share that relationship with others. The relationship that we find in the trinity is the Pearl of greatest price, it is the “how” that enables us to heal the world in the Power of Jesus.
The call of Jesus is urgent. Love one another as God has loved you.
Will you follow the call?
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit