This last week as I was driving to Rochester, I kept flipping the radio stations looking for something to listen to. It’s amazing how many stations there are there and how few we have in our area.
As I was flipping I hit a station where someone was talking. I paused and realized that it was a religious station and that the person was preaching. Out of curiosity I paused a few more seconds to ascertain that he was preaching on the Trinity.
“Well,” I said to myself. “I’ll just hang out here and see if I can learn anything that might help me write my sermon for next Sunday.” Trinity Sunday.
The man on the radio was trying to describe the Trinity. He said something like this:
“God is the architect because he designed all of creation.”
I’m beginning to react badly already because I don’t believe God is male, but I keep from changing the channel because I’m wondering what this radio preacher, who doesn’t understand that God cannot be contained by gender, will say next.
So he then says, “And if God is the architect, then Jesus, the Son of God, is the contractor, because he brought all things into being.”
“Wow,” I thought. “Who could the Holy Spirit possibly be?” He didn’t keep me waiting for very long.
“So if God is the Architect and Jesus is the Contractor,” says he. “Then the Holy Spirit is the Project Manager.”
At this point, I’m nearly driving off the road. This is the most absurd description I’ve ever heard for the Trinity. Among other things, the male pronoun is being exclusively used to describe the various parts of God.
At least others who call God “He,” reference the Holy Spirit as “She.”
I’m not listening anymore even though the station is still on because my mind is wandering all about this very male-based concept of who God is.
The first thought that came to mind is that the creeds are really no help in understanding the nature of God and the Trinity, and yet, we mortals want to have a way to conceptualize God.
So when I got home, I Google’d descriptions of the Trinity. Some of the ones that popped up I had heard before.
The Trinity is like water; liquid, ice, and steam; same substance, different forms.
The Trinity is like an egg; shell, white, and yolk; three parts, one thing.
The Trinity is like a three leaf clover: three leaves, one clover.
Of course we know that the later one was attributed to St. Patrick, whose Feast Day has become an excuse for millions to get drunk on green beer every year in March.
Whereas, I’m not usually worried about heresies, I think that there are three that relate to the Trinity that are helpful in disputing some of these bad descriptions of the Trinity.
First there is Modalism; the belief that our one God is revealed in three different ways. Sometimes God is revealed as Omnipotent Creator, sometimes as the redeemer, sometimes as the Holy Spirit. The problem with this understanding is that it denies that God has existed in unity forever, not as three different “modes” that each function differently in our world. Instead, we believe that God is one in three persons or ways that we can perceive. This limits us, our perception, not God.
Next is Tritheism; the idea that we have three Gods who share the same nature, but not exactly the same nature. The problem with this self contradictory position is that God is not of one substance, equal in all the ways that God is revealed to us.
Lastly, there is Subordinationalism; somewhat like Tritheism, it says that God had three parts that are each one a subset of the first. This is where the radio preacher was going wrong, because a project manager is not equal to a contractor or an architect in the sense of the functions that they perform. The second and third functions are supportive to the first.
The point is that if the equality of the three is challenged, we do not have unity, which is required by definition in the concept of monotheism.
At the same time they must exhibit diversity in order for us to be able to perceive God as the one source of all that is and that we receive in our lives.
Each of the statements attempting to describe the Trinity that I shared earlier fails to meet these tests of heretical thought. In that regard, we have learned what God cannot be, in order for us to adhere to our ancient belief in one true God.
But what can we take away that helps us to understand how God works in our lives, in our society and in the world?
There is a very old chart that displays the idea that the Father is not the son, nor is the Father the Holy Spirit, but the Father is God. The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, but the Son is God. The Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son, but the Holy Spirit is God; all equal and yet not contained in the other parts.
The first problem that goes all the way back to the beginning of this discourse, is that by definition, we cannot understand God. To think we understand God is to limit God and how we perceive God working in us and our world.
This denies the creative opportunities that are available to us in seeking to perceive God at work about us.
Just as we are on a journey this year to see the face of God in others, to limit how we might perceive God would limit the way we might see this power reflected in others.
If just about now you have thought, well now I’m confused. I think you may be at the right place, because God is beyond all human knowing. So we should seek God everywhere.
God is mystery, so we should accept the gift that mystery brings to our lives and let go of the anxiety that comes from trying to control everyone and everything about us. To believe in God is not about knowing, it’s about experience.
I believe that though the limits of the universe will never be completely known, that all of creation is a gift from the creator and we should walk softly in this garden.
I believe that even though the fullness of the incarnation may elude my understanding, I will seek to encourage humans to develop their divine nature to be more completely one with God and Neighbor.
I believe that whereas I cannot define the Holy Spirit, I can predict that it will be evident when we humans eliminate the petty things that divide us and get in the way of seeking God’s presence in our lives and others.
All of this moves us toward oneness, which may very well be the point of the concept of the Trinity.
You may be thinking of your own beliefs just now, expanding on the ones I have shared. That is good, because it acknowledges the complexity of the experience of our Trinitarian God.
Leonard Boff, a Liberation Theologian from South America tells us that the holy Trinity teaches us to be a diverse community in unity. Let us take joy in our diversity, hold in gratitude all our blessings, look for the opportunity to feel one with the universe, and truly know God’s love for us, which is deeper and more complete than any human love.
We are the evidence of that love, our existence in this place and time. We can chose to fulfill meaningful lives through our work as a people who believe in one God that we find in all of our existence, or we can curse the darkness and fear the future.
For me, the choice is simple. Join me in seeking God’s presence in everything we do or say, in the face of all of God’s creatures, and in the life we form together.