Monday, 30 May 2016
Today is one of those days in the church year that is—how shall I put it?—not embraced with open arms by preachers. We have that rather awkward theology of the Holy trinity—God in Three Persons; Three in One. We affirm that every Sunday in our Creeds:
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
God the Father; Jesus Christ his only Son; the Holy Spirit; and yet we are monotheist. Non-believers like to ask how can we claim to be monotheist s when we believe in three Gods? If you really think about it they have a point. How can there be three persons and yet one God? Theologians have been dancing on the head of that pin—probably from the beginning of the church. And we poor preachers have to try and address it on this day every year in 10 or 15 minutes.
The Creed was supposed to settle it once and for all. If you believe that I have a great investment opportunity that will give you annual returns of 100%. Theologians are still writing and debating it and probably always be.
And what does the churchgoer in the pew think about it? Well more to the point do they think about it? Probably not. Be honest how many of you think about the Trinity—perhaps except this Sunday when we celebrate the Trinity?
Does it really matter; should it matter to us? In some ways perhaps it doesn’t. What does it matter if we believe in the Trinity or not give it a second thought —much less an third or fourth or fifth? Well, It actually does matter. Not so theologians can dance around the subject and get into debates about it. With apologies to my systematics professor, Gary Badcock, does that really matter to you and me—at least on a day to day basis in how we live our lives.
What I believe does matter is the image(s) we have of God. This is tied inextricably to the Trinity. If you ever engage in conversation with someone who says he or she is an atheist, ask them who the God is that they don’t believe in. They will probably say they don’t believe in a big man in the sky who will give us things if we ask in the right way; as Janice Joplin sang; O Lord won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz. The question is then, who is the God you believe in? Or you might consider which God do you believe in? What image of God do you hold in your mind even when you don’t think about it?
Is it one of God with the long white beard sitting on a throne in heaven with Jesus his son, with blue eyes and blond hair on his right hand and the beautiful white dove that descended on Jesus at his baptism flying above their heads?
The wonderful and absolutely essential thing about the Trinity for me is that it gives me a more complete picture of God—more but not the whole picture. No picture can capture any more of God than a possible glimpse but it does give me the best picture that I can conceive of—at least in this point of my life.
So what then is the image I have of each of the persons in the Trinity? That is something that I find changes for me depending on where I am in my life. One that I found quite interesting was proposed in a novel that was very popular a few years ago; The Shack byWilliam Paul Young . It is an allegory in the tradition of Pilgrim’s Progress. It gives us an allegory for the Trinity in the form of three people—not persons. Each of the persons of the Trinity becomes a character in The Shack. The Father is Papa, a deliberately peculiar name for an African American woman. Jesus, true to reality, is a man from the Middle East. And the Holy Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman.
I like Young’s allegory for the trinity for a number of reasons. First it gives a picture of the three Persons that is very non-traditional. God the Father is a woman —an African American at that; the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman and Jesus the Son is a middle eastern man who is “wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled up above the elbows revealing well-muscled forearms. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome—not a man that would stand out in a crowd”.
No blond haired blue eyed Hollywood Jesus here. Second, I like that women are in the majority—two women and one man. Third, God the Father becomes God the Mother and a black Mamma at that named Papa— go figure. We need to have our stereotypes and expectations turned on their heads. In that way we will have to consider and not just assume we know who and what God is. If our image of God has not changed for a while perhaps it should.
The Trinity can, if we do not try and put God in a preconceived box, give us as full a picture as possible of the Divine which is the thing that creates and continues to sustain all of creation. We will inevitably try and give an image to all that God is. The problem is when we freeze that incomplete and of necessity, inadequate image and believe we know what and who God is. This is one of the reasons I prefer the old words of the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father which art in heaven; which rather than who; being rather than a person. It goes on, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. God is working in this world and in us and enabling us to grow as things grow in the earth.
Think of your image of God. Who and what is God for you. How does that image of God affect how you live and breathe and have your being? How does that inform how you live your life today and every day? Think about what else God might be that you had not even considered before. Think of how that God loves you and each and every part of God’s creation. Thanks be to God.