Reflection 5/24: The Trinity
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
Consider something simple, an irrefutable fact that is so basic that we scarcely remember when we learned it: 2 + 2 = 4. Without resorting to fingers or popsicle sticks, I don’t think I could explain such a simple truth because an abstract description would be largely incomprehensible. Moreover, you would explain in terms different than I would use. It’s hopeless. Some truths are inexplicable, even though the truth is obvious.
As Christians, we grapple with the theology of the Trinity: three co-equal, substantive “persons” (or essences) comprising one God. As an abstract thinker I can conceptually wrap my mind—and heart—around the Trinity, but I’ve never preached on it effectively. No one has ever told me after a Trinity sermon, “Thanks Neil, now I understand what has mystified me my whole life.” Fat chance: preaching is a humbling art form.
There are many things to say about the Trinity, some more helpful than others. I like the image of our God being so large that God is a community and a complementarity—and always a unity. I understand that God-language, Jesus-language, and Spirit-language are themes and threads that run from the absolute beginning of the Bible to the very end, and these myriad scripture passages are essential to our understanding of a trinitarian God. The triune formula infuses both sacraments and creeds, as well as worship and prayer.
Yet, the early church took four centuries after Jesus to identify a “trinitarian ballpark,” and we’re still trying to figure out what happens in that ballpark. Parenthetically, something like the fog-bound racetrack—an impenetrable fog that settled around the Preakness race last week—so that the crowd and announcers couldn’t see the majority of the race until the horses emerged from the mist near the finish line.
Like so many things, the Trinity, and the truth and fact of it, should be allowed to rest easily and lightly upon us. As I would advise, to enjoy a rose, look at its delicacy and smell the sublime scent deeply. Under no circumstances should we try to understand a rose by pulling its petals off.