Jeffs Jottings on the Trinity

11 Jun

The Mystery of God


The story of the people of God in the Old Testament reads rather like the account of a father with his children; He loves and teaches them, but sometimes is disappointed with them and things don’t go so smoothly as they would like; think of all the positive stories of choice and protection throughout the account of the people of the Old Testament, but also of the troubles and disasters that befell them, like the story of Joseph and his time in Egypt or of Moses in the inhospitable desert. But in the New Testament we learn of Jesus as a real Son of God, an example of how human beings should be at their best even in very trying situations – arrest and execution. Gradually over time the followers of Jesus become aware of his inspiring way of life and his genuine love of God and of all, showing them how they should live.

This powerful inspiration, this special understanding of God would in time be expressed as a threeness in God as Father, the Son and the holy Spirit. Unfortunately this expression of belief by Christians became like some of the nursery rhymes our children learnt off by heart which often had a hidden meaning that was never known or brought to their attention. This developed into a part of a statement of belief for Christians that they recited regularly but never sought for its significance. This doctrine of the trinity we still say in our creed was even defined by the councils of the Church and is still believed by Christians as a mysterious chant whose meaning to tell the truth is really a unknowable.

This doctrine of the Trinity is the most distinctive belief of Christians. We express it with words which don’t mean what they mean in every other context; a father is a male who in relationship with a female helps to beget another of the same species – but that’s not like God the Father.  To us a son is the male offspring of a sexual union – not so the Son of God.  Spirit, when it is not a drink is a mysterious being or, better, a vitality shown in lively activity -how do we understand the Holy Spirit?.  In the Christian doctrine of the Trinity each of these three terms have a different meaning from what is normal; not that we know what that meaning really is – God is a mystery.  We are taught it as absolute truth and repeat it in our prayers and creeds, and even see it as distinctive of our religion – Christianity; but we have to admit that we don’t know what it really means.

Our creed is unlike the beliefs of other monotheists, such as Muslims and Jews; atheists have no belief in a god and polytheists are different again, having a number of gods for different purposes and with different characteristics etc. and often these gods have what might be called various incarnations – different ways of appearing to humans.  We Christians, as you well know, speak of the presence of the Son in the human person of Jesus of Nazareth. We Christians have rigid teachings about God that must be believed and expressed, namely that there are three persons in the one God. This is to be believed religiously – without question or doubt.

I have to admit myself that I don’t really know what we mean when we faithfully hold the doctrine of the Trinity – that there are three persons in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. What I want to say is not anything to elucidate the meaning of this creed, but rather consider the implications of this part of this part of our creed. The question I want to try to elucidate is not about the words used, but rather to look at the challenging question about them which might be dramatically expressed with open hands and shrugged shoulders, as ‘so what?’  I am regarding faith not as the acceptance of mysterious doctrines or explanations about our religious beliefs, but as the implications of these beliefs in the practical living out of our faith – I am taking faith not as accepting statements, but as living, trying to live, in a particular way.

The Father relates Himself to us in the reality of the whole of the on-going process of creation. The Son, being genuinely human in our world, illustrates what is the very best in human behaviour. And the Spirit of these two expresses the ultimate of relationships for all. The Trinity is a community – a community with dynamic, vibrant and creative relationships – totally transcendent, yet making sense to us as parents and offspring, or as two lovers and the love between them; a family or group with its various relationships. But we still have to consider for ourselves the implications of this way of thinking of the doctrine – the answer to the challenge ‘so what?’

The practical consequence of your belief in the Trinity should be accepting what you are, being the best you can be whatever comes your way and enabling and accepting real love for and from others. This means your aim in living is to focus your attention on your attitude of emotional and practical love for all others whom you encounter and for the world in which you live. You must try to live as the Trinity is believed to live – entering into all the practicalities and setbacks of the universe (the creating Father), having and showing real concern and love for others whatever the trials (Jesus), and thereby being enthused and inspiring and empowering others with vitality and energy (the Holy Spirit).

We must treat the world as something we are helping to create – to become what it should be – sharing in the creativity of God the Father!  We must accept or even overcome the difficulties and the failings of our world and its inhabitants – living in and for others however hard or even punishing that may become – being human like God the Son in Jesus.  In this way we shall enthuse and inspire others with strength and love – as we believe the Holy Spirit does for us . The relationships in the trinity express how we (ought to) live.  When we say the “I be;ieve” and make the sign of the cross, let us not be accepting a group of unknown words, but be committing ourselves to live our lives in a particular way.  Finally, I suggest we can recall all this to ourselves so as to keep this practical attitude of our creed by reciting to ourselves regularly, “the trinity, not a mystery but my story” – of my life.


Postscript: I was inspired to write what I have after reading this:-

“At the heart of classical Trinitarian theology is the conviction that the one who remains the unknown God, is, nevertheless, wholly expressed in uttered Word and given in outpoured Love; that God, we might say, puts Himself entirely into the life He is and the work He does. Suppose then that instead of lazily assuming that the doctrine more or less boils down to saying what those who forged it struggled not to say, we turn the tables round and entertain the possibility that growth in understanding the unknown God is to a large extent a matter of learning to put more of ourselves into everything we are and do, thereby becoming a little more alive and thus participating somewhat better in God’s creative work.”   (Believing Three ways in One God by Nicholas Lash, 1992).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: