We are well into August. School starts this week! How many of us are starting to think about what we are going to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas? I’ve already seen Facebook posts about holiday plans.
And we are still in the season of Pentecost, or what is sometimes called, “Ordinary Time.” I am not a fan of the latter term, because I don’t think any time can be ordinary! Pentecost, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit, is the very stuff of the Christian life. The Spirit is our life and breath. The Spirit is how we live and move and have our being. We could call it everyday time, but never ordinary!
In the centuries after Jesus left this earth, disciples, converts, theologians and mystics reflecting on the life of Jesus were left with a paradox: God is One. Yet, besides the Creator and Law-giver, we experience God in Jesus and Spirit. The oneness of God was not as static as they had assumed. The character of God had become far more complex, fluid and mysterious. Yet, still, deep in their bones they knew that in the midst of all this difference, God is still one. And so the concept of Trinity developed to name this deep diversity in God which remained also One. Theologians, as soon as the concept gained acceptance, began to argue about exactly how the relationships within God work. None of the arguments seem satisfying. Trinity remains a mysterious paradox.
Jesus gave us a new name for the creator – Father. He described the holy one of the universe in intimate, personal, loving ways. Jesus opened for us an image of the creator which is more like a parent, in family relationship with Jesus and with us.
Jesus was the self-expression of God. Many have read the eighth chapter of Proverbs and here in particular have seen the always-existing word of God, made human in Jesus. Re-read Proverbs 8 when you get home and see if you see Jesus there. Jesus was God pouring out his presence to be understood, an act of communication. God the Word.
Then Jesus excitedly prepared the disciples for something they would never quite understand – the Spirit. This is the part of God which just cannot be put into words! The Spirit is power, wind, mystery, movement, change, light, love, connection…, and the list could go on. THE TRINITY CHANGES EVERYTHING WE NATURALLY KNOW ABOUT GOD. Pause and let that sink in for a minute….
This concept of Trinity was a highly speculative way of thinking and speaking about God. It isn’t specifically taught in the Bible. But it is the best that the followers could do to put into words their experience of living in the way of Jesus.
Trinity tells us that if there are different ways God exists, at the core of God’s being, then it is no surprise that humans will experience God in different ways. This is to be expected. More, it is to be celebrated. Because of this diversity, even in the person of God, we know that we need each other, too.
Picture it like a jigsaw puzzle. I used to love to do puzzles as a kid and I was pretty good at it. First you find all the edge pieces and fit them together. Then you divide up the pieces by color scheme, and within that, by shape. Sort of a divide and conquer technique. But in the end they all have to go together; each piece must do its part to make the picture live. We are all pieces of a puzzle. No single piece has the whole picture, no one piece is more important than another. We need each and every piece to see the picture. A puzzle, with one missing piece, will give you a general sense of the picture, but we don’t know if that one piece might hold the one detail which is the treasure of the picture.
Because of the mysterious, multiple nature of God’s being, it changes everything from either the flat one-god-who-is-responsible-for-opposites picture, or the multiple-gods-in-competition-with-each-other picture. Now we have one God, who interacts within God’s own being, pushing and changing, yet one and eternal. This paradoxical concept of trinity is a healing doctrine, even if it is not easily grasped by the intellect. It heals by holding the torn places together to be knit into one.
If this is our God, then it has huge implications for how we live our lives.
For one thing, diversity within unity leads us beyond the understanding of God as violent. Even the one God of the Old Testament was often seen as violent, instilling fear, making threats and crushing the disobedient. But with the relationship of Father and Son at the heart, we know that this violence is not in God’s nature, nor should it be for us.
Jesus gave this illustration himself: a house divided against itself cannot stand [Matthew 12:25]. If God includes humanity, and this is what the Trinity asserts, then God’s violence against humanity is a house divided against itself: it cannot stand. The same is true for human beings, for humanity is also included in the one being of God. When we divide and fight each other, we only destroy ourselves, something history illustrates all too well.
Diversity within unity has fluidity and movement in it. A God in relationship is never fixed or frozen in place. Think about your families. When one person chose a path, did it impact all the others? Did life go on as usual, or did a new normal develop from the choice, or the thing which changed everything? I saw a video this week of a family who is a perfect illustration. The father was injured and paralyzed from the waist down. But he had always been active, an outdoorsman, and had raised his three sons into that same passion. Now what? Was father simply left out of the family plans. No. The children decided to include him, and it meant hard work. They built a special wheel chair, equipped with harnesses for the sons and grandsons, and took their father along on their adventure into the Grand Canyon. Yes, it made everything more difficult. But by the time you see the end of the story, you know that they have all been affirmed in love between them, they are more connected and whole. Hiking down and up the Grand Canyon in a wheelchair breaks all the rules. But it happened. In it, grace lives.
Diversity within unity also challenges our sense of perfection. It just might be that the Trinity is more represented by Picasso than Michelangelo, as difficult as that might be to accept. But think about it. The ancients believed that God’s holiness would be polluted by any contact with imperfection. That turned into a concept of God which is exclusive, with high fences almost no one can jump. But Jesus became human in every way as we are. He had a habit of hanging out with the wrong kind, those deemed impure by the religious system. He got his hands dirty washing feet, holding children and cleaning fish. McLaren observes: “God’s holiness is drawn to unholiness the way a doctor is drawn to disease. Rather than catching disease, God’s holiness infects the sick with a chronic case of regenerating health” [2, p. 229]. God embraces imperfection, brings it all into God’s presence. And it is good.
That does not mean that it is a “happily ever after” ending. Not all sicknesses are healed, not all accidents are avoided, not all natural disasters are averted. No matter what we think of the awfulness of a thing, God can still hold it, and in holding it, somehow there is healing. God is big enough for that!
This is all fascinating, but what does it mean? Can you think of a time in your life when your whole thinking about or relating to God was changed? It happens to most of us at some points in our lives. Suddenly the God we thought we knew opens to us a whole new aspect of God’s being. It most often occurs when things happen in our lives which just don’t fit our way of thinking. Some of us just walk away from God. “If the story I learned about God doesn’t fit my experience, then there is no God.” Or, “I was told that God is love and if God behaves this way, I want no part of it!” Do you know people who have made the choice to walk away?
Others of us respond by turning to the unlikely, the paradoxical. Like the Trinity. Maybe our image of God can stretch and change. Maybe God is big enough for that. To hold it all.
William Paul Young believed a story could help. So, he wrote a book many of you have read: The Shack. Whenever I think about the Trinity, my mind drifts back to that story.
The Shack completely changed the perspective of God for countless people. Did Young get it all right? Of course not. He wasn’t trying to get it all right. The book feels like he is just trying to stretch our minds to the limits of hope. Could it be that God, in three persons, might be like this? Just maybe so.
“In seminary Mack had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerner’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.”
Later Papa, Young’s nickname for Creator God, says, “You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete picture of reality. It is like looking at a parade through the tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on you own and insignificant. All of these contain powerful lies. You see pain and death as ultimate evils and God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps, at best, as fundamentally untrustworthy. You dictate the terms and judge my actions and find me guilty…. The problem is that many folks try to grasp some sense of who I am by taking the best version of themselves, projecting that to the nth degree, factoring in all the goodness they can perceive, which often isn’t much, and then call that God. And while it may seem like a noble effort, the truth is that it falls pitifully short of who I really am. I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think.”
“Unless I had an object to love—or more accurately, a someone to love—if I did not have such a relationship within myself, then I would not be capable of love at all. You would have a god who could not love. Or maybe worse, you would have a god who, when he chose, could only love as a limitation of his nature. That kind of god could possibly act without love, and that would be a disaster. And that is surely not me.”“All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It’s not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda.”
 Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, chp. 45, pp. 226-230.
 Wm. Paul Young, The Shack.