Miroslav Volf wrote a masterful piece in the November 2nd issue of The Christian Century how Christians understand the Trinitarian God as One and God as Love as opposed to the ordinary ways in which the Muslim world thinks that Christians believe. I even sent a copy of it to my nephew who has wondered about these things. Yet, as masterful as Volf was, I wonder if he might need to spend more time explaining that to Christians than to Muslims. More particularly, perhaps he needs to spend more time teaching pastors about it. Oh wait, he’s already spent a lifetime doing that. Right, well, moving on.
Consider the Apostles’ Creed. It is a straightforward, literal statement of faith, and then it suddenly veers into metaphor by saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. There it is in plain language, two separate and independent beings, one of whom is next to, inferior to and not the same as the other. Oh, we say, but that’s a metaphor. OK, so why not take everything else in the creed as metaphor? Who gets to say that this phrase is metaphor and the others aren’t?
The problems gets played out in another way through the common language of Christian godtalk. Some churches, and many average Christians, are stuck on the word Jesus. God, as Father, is little more than a space holder used (along with the well worn ‘just’) between every fourth or fifth word of a prayer. Occasionally someone will go through spasms of Holy Spirit language. That usually happens as part of an argument about how their baptism is more authentic than yours, or that the brilliant idea they want you to adopt is a gift directly from the Spirit.
I’m not sure there is an easy way around this. It is not easy to apprehend the concept of God as One yet known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is impossible to comprehend it. It is comforting to know God as both transcendent and intimate, but, as for me, I have to choose one or the other. I cannot hold them together in the same moment.
We need to be more disciplined about teaching those under our care about the importance of the Trinity, giving them ways to more comfortably use Trinity language in ordinary conversation. As it is, we generally devote to that just one Sunday a year, Trinity Sunday, a Sunday conveniently located near Memorial Day, and, if we are lucky, sloughed off onto a seminarian. A sin to which I can only plead mea culpa.