We are coming up on Trinity Sunday in a few weeks. At least in our tradition, Trinity Sunday is one of those days that experienced preachers try to palm off onto seminarians. How on earth is one supposed to make sense of the Trinity in fifteen minutes? How does one comprehend the incomprehensible? Yet Trinitarian is what we are: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that’s how we understand who God is. Most Christians take that so much for granted that the underlying doctrine seldom comes up. It’s just part of who we are and how we think of God. To others, it’s just plain nonsense.
Muslim acquaintences complain that there is no way we Christians can avoid talking about three gods, and the idea that God Almighty might deign to take on the mantle of human nature is repulsive beyond words. Several rabbi friends have allowed that they can wrap their heads around Messiah, even if they are certain we have the wrong one, but the personification of the Holy Spirit is what defies comprehension. Most individual Christians seem inclined to go with one of the three as their personal favorite but not all three as one. Just because some of us recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday does not lead to understanding. Let’s be truthful, the idea of the Trinity doesn’t make much sense in any ordinary way regardless of what Augustine wrote.
Nevertheless, we Christians afirm that God is one yet present to us in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s not a doctrine articulated in scripture, but there are signs. If we cannot comprehend, we can at least apprehend. For instance, in Jesus we can see and experience all of God that can be seen or experienced in human form. Having said that, I don’t very much care how that might get explained through some early church argument about the true nature of Christ. It’s enough for me to know that God is uniquely and fully present in Jesus, and that Jesus freely expressed his relationship with God as one of father and son. I don’t think he meant that metaphorically. I think he meant that in the same way that my father lives in me as much as my mother lives in me, not as memories but as the reality of my genetic being.
God’s Spirit, however it might be defined, is presented to us in scripture from the very begining as something that has tactile reality in the lives of people. Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets all experienced that presence in very physical ways. The record is clear that God has been and is now with us without the need of corpreality. What is different for us as Christians is the outpouring of that Spiritual presence flooding over and into the lives of many and not just a few. Just as I am unwilling to engage in an argument about the nature of Christ with third and fourth century church fathers, I am also unwilling to engage in argument with those who demand demonstrations of signs and gifts of the Spirit as evidence of true belief. God is not bound by their standards, and neither am I.
The point is that we Christians have come to understand and experience God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in very important and particular ways. This we know. How God might be experienced or known in other ways, this we do not know. We have neither warrant nor ability to put boundaries around God. Having said that, we are also bold to claim the sure and certain truth about God that is given to us through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That means that however else God might be made known to humanity must have some consistency with what we believe to have been made surely and certainly known through them.
As for me, I tend to think of God as God. I hardly ever think of God as Father. I find God most fully illuminated in Jesus and never tire of probing deeper into how he lived and what he said in a life bracketed by a miraculous birth and bodily resurrection from the grave, but I don’t often speak of Jesus as God. God’s Holy Spirit is a reality in my life, but one I can frequently take far too much for granted, and I’ve always been skeptical of those who claim particular gifts of the Spirit as their own. No doubt there is a serious heresy in there somewhere.
None of this is intended to nail down the Trinity in a few blog paragraphs. It’s only intended to open a path for conversation.