God Math: The Trinity

Jesus asked his disciples: “Whom do men say that I am?”

            The disciples responded saying: “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead;” others said “You are Elijah, or one of the other prophets of old.”

            Jesus answered saying: “But whom do you say that I am?”

            Peter answered: “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

            Jesus’ eyes grew large and a puzzled look appeared on his face. “What?”

            Today is Trinity Sunday, the day in the Christian calendar set aside to remember the triune God that we worship. If you ever have any questions about the nature of this trinity I urge you to read any Christian theologian… really read any of them. At some point or another I think every theologian has addressed the trinity. There is no doubt in my mind why so many have tried to explain trinity theologically; it is because trinity is not an easy concept to grasp. Trinity is what I like to call a headache word, if you don’t think too hard you’ll be fine, but if you try and think about it, headaches will be the result.

There is a pretty famous bumper sticker that you may see driving along the road; ‘Jesus is my copilot’. Whenever I see a car with this sticker I try to stay as far away as possible. I know that they are just making a statement about their faith, but I am always afraid one of these people will hand the steering wheel over to Jesus at some point. I often wonder if these people would board a plane if there was a big sticker on the wing saying that Jesus was the copilot. Maybe they would, I think I would stay clear. It isn’t that I don’t like people professing their faith; I just get a little nervous that someone might someday really think Jesus is going to come down and start driving for them.

            There’s another bumper sticker out there, the one that reads ‘Got God?’ I don’t know how to respond to this one. Umm, yes… wait, no isn’t it the other way around, God’s got me. I look at these things and instead of just taking note that I am driving behind someone of faith, I start to analyze the theology of their bumper. I doubt that this was the person’s intention when they put the sticker on, but I can’t help myself. I think that to accept faith blindly sort of makes faith meaningless, to accept without questioning doesn’t lead to understanding.

            We hear a lot about Jesus; not just in church but in all kinds of settings. We also hear a lot about God the Father. Jesus and God aren’t all there is however, we have a trinity that we have to deal with. I want to see the bumper sticker that says “Got Spirit” or “The Holy Spirit is my Copilot” but we seem to want a duality, not a trinity. We kind of leave the Holy Spirit behind, focusing on the Father and Son. Sure there is often talk about the work of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit, but I don’t think we as Christians give the Spirit anywhere near the attention we give the rest of the trinity. If you want to test this little theory, ask any Christian to explain the three parts of the trinity, what their roles are, what they have done throughout history. Any Christian will be able to give nice long histories of two parts of the trinity, but when it comes to the third I am willing to bet most Christians will be at a loss to give anywhere near as detailed a description of the Holy Spirit as they were the rest of the trinity.

            I think we like the Father/Son part best because it is the easiest to understand. Father/son relationships are something most people can relate to, it is something most people have at least seen on some occasion. But we don’t have any real-world examples of the relationship with this Spirit thingy. I think that is one of the reasons we have such a hard time understanding this thing, this Spirit. What does it do, where did it come from, why did it get such an important place in the structure of God.

            So what is this Spirit doing? What role does it play in our lives? And more importantly, how can we understand it? The Spirit doesn’t speak, doesn’t send us prophets, and doesn’t even make itself known to us in any direct way. So what is this Spirit doing? What is the purpose of this weird thing?

            We have precious little to learn from scriptures, but what little there is speaks wonders of what the Holy Spirit is. Even scripture though doesn’t define what the Holy Spirit is; referring to it as a comforter, a counselor, and advocate, and a helper. How can we hope to understand what this thing is if we can’t even narrow down what it is supposed to be doing for us? In the Old Testament we have all of three direct mentions of this Spirit, each time being sent by God. An interesting note, when the Spirit is written in the original Hebrew it is in the feminine, something that was lost in later Greek translations of the word and subsequent translations into the English language where it became associated with the masculine. By the time we get to the New Testament we find many more references to the Holy Spirit and some indication of what this thing is supposed to be doing.

            We learn from the New Testament that baptisms will be done with the Spirit rather than water, the Holy Spirit will descend upon people that follow Jesus. We also have the imagery of the Spirit coming down as a dove when Jesus is baptized, and as flames when the disciples are given the ability to speak in tongues. But I think that the most important thing we can know about the Spirit is where that Spirit is; it dwells inside every believer.

            I really like the imagery we found in the reading from Romans today. God pours out his love into our hearts through the Spirit. I think this is just a fantastic way to look at the Spirit, God’s love in an almost physical form that can go from God right into our hearts. Thinking of love as something that is physical, something that can be passed as easily as you would pour water from a pitcher into a glass; this is how I think the Holy Spirit works.

            This Spirit, the often ignored part of the trinity, is really important for us. Imagine a world without the spirit; imagine a world without our divine counselor and guide, without our advocate. The Spirit is what is with us right now. The Spirit is our helper and our guide. The Spirit is the physical embodiment of God’s love in our world.

            The Spirit opens doors for us. It provides us with direct access to the divine in our everyday lives. In a world where people are so often deeply invested in what their scriptures say, I think it is often easy to forget that scripture is not the only source for understanding God’s will. Let the Spirit be our guide.

            I think that it is unfortunate that Protestantism grew out of a focus on scripture alone; I think that we lost something there. If you look at the Jewish traditions there are tons of extra-scriptural traditions and beliefs, stories that were passed on orally at first and later written down. I attended a series of lectures by Elie Wiesel, a famous Holocaust survive and acclaimed author whose most famous work is probably his own autobiography of his time in the concentration camps titled Night. He was lecturing on the book of Job and it was fascinating to hear this story with all the Jewish oral traditions added in. The oral tradition doesn’t change much of the story, but it kind of fills in some of the gaps to the story.

            Unfortunately reading the written accounts of Jewish oral history is not something you can just sit down and do. It is difficult; it is a skill that needs to be learned. Just like reading any other religious text, you need to know how to read it before you can sit down and actually read it. This is a source of frustration at times because I know these really interesting stories are out there, I just can’t figure out how to find them, let alone understand what I am reading.

            All this is getting around to the point that just reading our Bible will not tell us everything we need to know. In between complex legal codes and ancient traditions that we would find unusual, if not abhorrent, in the modern age, we do find some useful guides, but to suggest that this is our only source for understanding the divine will is preposterous. No book, no manuscript, no laws no matter how detailed can tell us about a God that is so complex we have to split it up into three parts just to try to understand.

            The Spirit moves invisibly around us and through us. The Spirit is poured out for us; it washes over us, acting as a guide for us. To focus on the Father and Son alone ignores what may be the most important part of the trinity for us, the counselor we have with us every day. It is the Spirit who moves us, the spirit that guides us.

            Father, Son, Holy Spirit, a God in three parts. A holy trinity, each part being equally important, each part equally as mysterious. But it is the Spirit that has remained with us. Every Sunday we come here and look up at the cross on the altar. The cross is empty for a reason. Jesus left, leaving the Spirit behind. The Spirit is the way we can access God, the path we take to find out the divine will for our lives. The Spirit is the embodiment of God’s love, poured out for all of us, God’s love washing over us. Can there be a better image for the perfect divine love?

 

Father, Son, Spirit; God who is three in one, be with us. Help us to understand your will for us. Help us to listen, to see, and to feel you moving in us, working your will through us. Remind us of our humanity so that we may be reminded of your love. Wash over us, pour down on top of us, love us and hold us; we ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.