The Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. “Let’s go to Los Angeles,” the Spirit suggested.
“No, no, no,” said the Father, “They’re all so liberated, they’ll spend the whole time calling me ‘Mother’ and they will just do my head in.”
So the Spirit sat back and thought. “I know, what about Jerusalem? It’s beautiful and then there’s the history and everything.”
“No way!” the Son declared. “After what happened the last time, I’m never going there again!”
At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had a idea they both thought was excellent:
“Why don’t we go to Canterbury?” said the Son.
“Perfect!” cried the Holy Spirit. “I’ve never been there before!”
This idea of three persons, able to chat to each other and maybe even argue is just one way that we can interpret or misinterpret the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Trinity is one of the most challenging Christian theological concepts.
The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, a great philosopher and theologian who devoted years of his life to study to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity and to trying to explain it logically. One day as he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this, he suddenly saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup, came and poured it into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine went up to her and said, “Little child, what are doing?” and she replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” “How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” To which she replied, ” And you, how do you suppose that with this your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.
John Wesley famously said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”
If we try to see the Trinity as an explanation of God, then we are going to tie ourselves in knots. It is much healthier to see the Trinity as the question, not the answer.
The question is how do we experience one God three different-yet-connected ways?
We experience God as our Creator; we experience God in life of Jesus; and we experience God in other people and in ourselves.
Creator, Jesus, Spirit, one God three experiences.
We believe in God the Father, who created us. We sometimes miss the importance of our Christian view of creation. Perhaps we are anxious in case some Darwinian biologist comes and strikes us down with scientific insights. But, of course, understanding evolution no more disproves the doctrine of creation, than understanding how a telephone works disproves the existence of British Telecom. As Christians we believe in a God who creates.
The chief rival to creation during the time of the first Christians was the view of the Greek Philosophers. They thought that matter was eternal, it had existed forever in the past, and would exist forever into the future. Matter was shaped into its present form by a god (that is definitely a god with a small ‘G’) who Plato called the ‘Demiurge.’ This god, the ‘Demiurge’ was not very bright, and simply operated according to blueprints, called ‘Forms’; and it was these blueprints or Forms that were really sacred. Matter was seen as something base and unimportant, it was shaped by a the most undivine of deities, into objects that were only interesting because of what they told us about ‘divine blueprints’ for life.
The Jewish and Christian God who created a world, and ‘saw that it was good’ was a radical departure. Christianity sees creation as ‘good’ and we should rejoice in our createdness. It is somewhere that we can encounter God.
We believe in God the Father, and we believe in God the Son. God does not only create us, God is a part of that creation, and enters into a relationship with it. God loves creation, and has shares in its joy and in its sorrow. God walks along side us the path we walk, has knows our temptations, our loneliness, our pain and doubt. And in the teaching of Jesus we experience comfort, inspiration, challenge. If we are honest sometimes we can struggle to encounter Jesus when we read the Bible – it was written almost two thousand years ago, and the meaning can sometimes be a little opaque to us. Although I do recommend sitting down and reading through Luke’s Gospel – it’s a much easier read than most of the Bible and very compelling. But if you do find scripture opaque I recommend getting a commentary or book to help you through – it’s not just ‘a good read’ it’s a place where we can encounter God.
We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not get as much ‘Press’ as the other two. She is altogether more ‘Ghostly’ than the Father and the Son. We all know about Fathers, we all now about Sons, but ‘Spirits’ are outside of most of our experiences.
As I have said before the word for the Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures is ‘ruach’ a feminine word – the Holy Spirit should be a ‘she’.)
The Holy Spirit is just as important for our Christian view of life as her consubstantial, coequal and coeternal colleagues in the Godhead.
We have been created by God, we have God before us. God is revealed in the human life and teaching of Jesus, we have God beside us. God has come and made her home in us, we have God within us.
To have one human being, Jesus, in whom God dwelt, is profound. To know that our species, with its many faults and failings, with its capacity for hatred, war, and genocide, to know that our species is capable of being the place where God touched the earth, is an awesome thought. The species that produced Hitler, Stalin and Rupert Murdoch, has produced Jesus Christ, who we call the Son of God.
This is an awe-inspiring idea, but there is more… To know that God, the Holy Spirit lives inside us all, must change the way we see ourselves and our neighbours even more.
And so we encounter God in three distinct-yet-united ways. And The Church over centuries developed the idea of the Trinity to explore this fundamental experience of God. And as the threeness and yet oneness of God developed theologians started to describe how at the very heart of God there is a relationship – the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian God is not only loving, our God is love.
And we are made in God’s image, some say that image is our free will, or our ability to create, or our ability to reason. But where I believe God’s image can be found more than anywhere; where God’s imprint is most vividly seen, is in between people, in relationships. In the places where people meet, form bonds, interact. In community. In the love Christians should have for each other, and in our love for the world.
Like all theology, the idea of a Threeness to God is not scientific but artistic truth – a human construction, but it is one that speaks of the profoundest and deepest Christian truth. We find this truth time and again in the teaching of Jesus, but it finds powerful expression in the idea of the Trinity: God is all about relationships. If we want to honour God we do that in our relationships.
Trinity is a perfect working model for Christian faith. A faith that is, more than anything, an invitation to relationship, relationship with God and with all humanity.