In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
A friend of mine teaches philosophy and theology. One day, we were discussing some particularly complicated Christian belief, and my friend remarked, “People don’t always appreciate that Christianity is a very intellectual religion.”
My friend didn’t mean that Christianity is only about ideas. We also have to act in a good way and we need to worship God and pray to God in order maintain our relationship with the Spiritual.
But still, human beings are thinking creatures. We use our minds to make our way in the world. So how we think about God will govern how our religion affects our lives.
This is especially true for us Christians. As my friend remarked, Christianity highly values the life of the mind. Perhaps the best evidence of this appreciation is the doctrine that the Church celebrates today: the doctrine of the Trinity—the belief that God is “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
That simple statement has perplexed students young and old in every confirmation class. It has been the subject of countless books and articles. Different ways of understanding the Trinity caused the split between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church; that schism has endured for a thousand years.
Our neighbor across 35th Street, The Community Church, is Unitarian. This denomination was established specifically by Christians who opposed the idea of a three-person God. In their view, God could only be a Unity—not a Trinity!
And we have to admit that this doctrine is complicated. What could be more challenging to the mind than the words of the hymn we sang: “Three in one and one in three?”
But my own thinking about the Trinity is that we should get away from just seeing this doctrine as a paradox or a source of controversy.
Instead, we would do better to see how it helps us to get closer to God. And I would argue that if we adopt this approach, our thinking will not only get clearer; it will also enrich our praying and our acting.
The view that I favor regards the Three Persons of the Trinity as “aspects” of the one God. But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aren’t just any “aspects.”
In fact, they appear to be the perfect three ways to focus on how God appears to us and how we are to respond to God’s initiative. They present the essential facts about who God is, and they tell us how to approach him.
For example, the Second Person—i.e., The Son–reminds us that God once shared our human experience. The Divine was incarnate–“made flesh” in Jesus of Nazareth. If the Incarnation hadn’t occurred, God would seem impossibly remote.
And when Christ assumed human form, he learned personally how we struggle with pain. And by offering himself on the Cross, he gave proof that God shares our suffering.
Jesus felt what we felt. Because of the Incarnation, we are assured that God knows us as we are. We feel that Jesus is our “friend”—but, even more, that God will always understand us and forgive us.
Yet Christ isn’t in himself “God;” and the Second Person isn’t all that we know about the Divine. Beyond the historic life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, God is Creator of the Universe– omnipresent and all-powerful. This exalted concept of God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, helps us appreciate what the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins called, “the grandeur of God.”
This Person also reminds us that because God is transcendent and infinite, we shouldn’t be surprised if we sometimes find God to be puzzling. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “His ways are not our ways.” While we might see Jesus as our friend, God the Creator remains ultimately beyond human language.
The Third Person of the Trinity is perhaps the easiest for modern people to grasp. After all, even those who aren’t conventionally religious are able to use the term, “spiritual.”
They sense that certain events are “meant to be.” They have experiences they attribute to a Higher Power. God sometimes seems to be directing them in certain ways. And so “coincidences” occur that indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
And finally, beyond the benefits attached to each aspect of the Trinitarian God, we may find that the whole doctrine helps us to deal with the perennial problem of doubt. If an aspect of God is hard for me to fathom, one of the other persons can still serve to strengthen my faith.
People who find it hard to conceive of the Divinity of Christ, for instance, may have a concept of the spiritual. They may feel the presence of God in Church or in nature.
I myself often feel closest to God through the First Person of the Trinity. I don’t see how we could explain the existence of the universe—and especially the qualities of beauty and human love—without there being a Creator, the Father or Parent of all that is. That intellectual aspect also reassures me when I encounter passages in Scripture that are hard to interpret.
No wonder, then, that the Church sets aside one Sunday a year to remember and celebrate this idea. The Trinity is the way we Christians think of God; and for us, it’s the best way.
And now unto same God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.