+ This past week you would think, at least according to my many priest friends on Facebook, that this Sunday was some kind of apocalypse. No one, it seems, wants to tackle the Trinity. You know what I have to say to them? Boo hoo!
I think it’s a bit funny, myself. I don’t mind trying to tackle this incredible mystery. But, I’m also not too afraid of preaching a bit of minor heresy here. After all, you’re all pretty forgiving of such as a little heresy, right? But, here it is.
There’s no getting around it. The Trinity. God as Three-in-One—God as Father or Parent or Creator, God as Son or Redeemer and God as Spirit or Sanctifier. It is difficult to wrap our minds around this concept and mystery of God.
The questions we priests regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one? How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three? Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? Well, we would be if we were Mormons. But, we’re not Mormons.
Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history. The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.
Certainly, I struggled with this concept for years. It was only when I was studying for the priesthood, in a systematic theology class I took, that I came across a book that broke down all the barriers for me.
The book, by a nun of the Dominican Order, Mary Ann Fatula, was called The Triune God of Christian Faith. Now that title alone would turn most of us off. Certainly when I saw it on the syllabus, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself: Great, this is gonna be fun. But despite its title, this book was amazing.
Fatula was wonderful in how she took this very difficult concept of the Trinity and made it accessible, at least for me. Some of the points Fatula makes are downright beautiful and poetic in attempting to understand what the Trinity is: She begins with the belief that our very beings are “etched with the signs of Trinitarian origin.”
In a sense, we have proof of the Trinity’s existence in our very bodies and minds. Our psyche, for example, is Trinitarian, made up of three distinct aspects. It’s still one psyche, but it makes its self known in three different ways: memory, knowledge and love. It, in a sense, reflects the relationship the “persons” of the Trinity have with each other.
She stresses that although they are the same, they are still distinct and different in what they do. The Son (Christ) and the Spirit, she explains, are exactly what the Father (Parent) is, without being who the Parent is.
I’ll repeat that: The Son (Christ) and the Spirit, she explains, are exactly what the Father (Parent) is, without being who the Parent is.
Let’s look at it from another perspective: The Trinity starts with the Incarnation—our belief that Jesus is God made flesh—God made one of us—fully God, fully human.
“Because of Jesus,” Fatula says, “heaven will be joined to earth in our very bodies.”
In other words, because Jesus was both a part of heaven and a part of earth, in Jesus, we find a perfect balance. Heaven and earth have come together. The Holy Spirit, released at the death of Jesus on the cross, (this is what we commemorated last Sunday on Pentecost Sunday) is now poured out upon us. Before his death, Fatula says, the Spirit was confined by the “opaque boundaries of Jesus’ human existence.” His pre-resurrection body could only “’contain’ rather than convey the Spirit.” At his death, the dam broke, in a sense. The Spirit poured forth into our lives as a lasting presence of God among us.
This Spirit, according to Fatula, is the Father and the Son’s embrace of us, “their kiss, their joy and their delight lavished upon the earth.” By the Spirit, we come to know both God as our loving Parent and God as our redeemer—we are encircled and drawn close to God.
So, what are talking about here is not three gods, as some people seem to think. What we are talking about it one tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways.
Now we’re getting a real idea of what the Trinity is. I do not think I preached any heresy in what I just shared. But if I did, God’ll forgive me.
All of this is, hopefully, very helpful. It helps us to make sense of this sometimes confusing and difficult belief. But ultimately what we have here are symbols and analogies of what the Trinity is. They are ways of taking something incomprehensible and making them, in some small way, tangible. We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is not how we think about God.
As Sandra Schneiders has said, “God is NOT two men and a bird” (referencing the popular images of God the Father, Jesus and the dove of the Holy Spirit).
What is important is how we believe in God. Or more important than that, how do these views of God help deepen our relationship with God and with each other? How do they bring us closer to God? Because, let’s face it, that is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?
Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God. Our goal is to know God. Our goal is to love God. Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.
I can say that I, in my own life, have experienced God in that tri-personal way many times. I have known God as a loving and caring parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people, when I have felt ostracized and turned away by people. I have also known God very profoundly in Jesus—the God who has come to us as one of us—the God who took on the same flesh we wear—who suffered as we suffer and who died as we all will die. And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life. As we all have, at various moments in our lives.
So, today, as we ponder God as Trinity—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our life, remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us. God can not be limited or quantified or reduced. God can only be experienced and adored and pondered. And, of course, loved.