Last Sunday we were faced with Pentecost Sunday. Today we are faced with Trinity Sunday. Some ministers try to avoid Trinity Sunday altogether, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that I haven’t a clue what I am talking about.
Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a me from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”
For me Trinity Sunday symbolises all the failures of institutionalised Christianity.
I grew up in Singapore amongst many religious beliefs and cultures. In Hinduism some say there is a total of approximately 330 million gods. I have a difficult enough time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I can’t imagine how I would cope with 330 million gods. The explanation given is that all gods are just educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE god, who is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”
I love to describe God as Mystery, BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, it has now become my own way of expressing the Trinity.
We Christians have indeed forgotten that even the Trinity of CREATOR, CHILD, and SPIRIT are merely educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.
Perhaps we are not very good at putting our toys away. I suspect that Jesus knew nothing about the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus who insisted that we must be born again in order to see for the kin-dom, or household, or family of God. In the words of Nicodemus, who longs to see the one who is Divinity, Nicodemus asked Jesus: “How can an adult be born a second time?”
Well, it’s Trinity Sunday after all. So, we might as well put our toys away, or set aside all the words designed to teach us something about the Trinity and imagine for just a moment, that we are born again into a new life, a life without our treasured toys.
I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity.
The Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Scholars tell us that this was probably a later addition to the text.
- The doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century. It was then developed over hundreds of years.
- The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars.
- Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the losing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity.
- No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity.
- Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy.
Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape.
The doctrine of the Trinity is but a feeble attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible mystery of the very nature of our God. Some of those creeds cannot begin to unravel the mystery of the creator, nor can they fully describe the magnitude of the revelation provided in the life, death and resurrection of the one we call Christ. When it comes to the power of the Holy Spirit, all our creeds together cannot tell the story of her wondrous beauty.
The doctrine of the Trinity is just a tool to help us along the way, the Trinity is not God, nor is God the Trinity. The Trinity is merely a way to speak of the unspeakable. And yet down through the centuries we have used the doctrine of the trinity as an idol and demanded that we worship the Trinity as if it were God’s very self.
For when it comes down to it, what we know of our God finds expression in our attempts to describe God as a relational being. For what is the doctrine of the Trinity if it is not the declaration that God is Creator, Christ and Spirit, intimately connected as One; at God’s very core we find a relationship. This should be our first clue that any understanding of God must begin with relationship. Surely it is more important to experience God than to explain God. Surely it is more important to relate to God than it is to preserve a doctrine that has long since failed to describe God.
I believe that the point of religion is much bigger than belief. For if a religion does not help us relate to God or to God’s creatures, or enhance our experience of creation, then religion is not life giving and all its doctrines are but fleeting attempts to deny death.
It is far more important to have a relationship with our God than it is to understand doctrines about God. When the doctrine of the Trinity helps us relate to God’s creatures and to God’s creation, then it can be said to be life-giving. These experiences are universal experiences that tell us about ourselves.
Relationship is what makes us what we truly are. And what makes G-o-d God, is relationship.
Trinity Sunday is about me and it’s about Creativity God and at best it’s about relationship.
But reduced to a formula that we must believe, the doctrine of the Trinity runs the risk of inhibiting our experience of God and robbing us of a life-giving relationship with God and with the world that God loves.
I am convinced that the only way to ensure that the doctrine of the Trinity remains life-giving is to free it from the confines of the past. Despite its fear, the church must re-examine its creeds and confessions, open up our dusty doctrines to the light of the 21st century so that those that fail to enhance our relationship to God and to one another can be given a decent Christian burial and those that nurture our relationship to God and to one another can thrive.
We need to prioritize relationship and experience over ancient creeds and doctrines, lest our preoccupation with correct belief causes us to miss an encounter with our God.
We cannot hope to understand the nature of God. Sometimes it is possible to identify God, before God gets away. But most of the time we only recognize God after God is gone, like the drifter who wants to tell you his story only you do not have time, so you hand him a dollar and walk away. Or the woman with the tearstained face who disappears while you decide whether to ask her what is wrong.
In their presence we fail them. It is only after they are gone that we know who they were. We did not know. How could we have known? Who expected Christ to show up looking like that? That might well be God, the Holy One, coming to us in ordinary space and matter, longing for an intimate encounter.
St. Augustine, a 4th century bishop helped to craft the doctrine of the Trinity.
Augustine’s metaphor for the Trinity is that God is: Lover, Beloved, and Love itself. May we learn to walk humbly with that love.
The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbour
by Karl Rahner
A New Christology
Marcus J Borg, Dominic Crossan: Notes from the Jesus Seminar