What IS This Thing Called the Trinity?
For most Christians this last Sunday, June 15, was “Trinity Sunday.” Non-Christians might ask, “What IS this thing called the Trinity?” In fact, many Christians also ask this question!
The word, Trinity, is not actually in the bible. When I said this in my sermon last weekend, many church members were shocked! They think of the Trinity as a major tenet of our faith, and yet the word is never mentioned in the bible. The idea of God having three different aspects, however, IS in the bible. The first place in the bible where all three aspects of God are mentioned together is “in the beginning:” Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 God is present as the Creator; the Holy Spirit (see last week’s blog) is present as the wind (Hebrew Ruach: Wind, Breath, Spirit), which sweeps over the waters of creation.
And Jesus is present as the Word or Logos, which God speaks and all comes to be. This is corroborated in the beautiful prologue of John 1: In the beginning was the Word/Logos, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were created through him…”
The second place theologians say the trinity is found in scripture is in Saint Paul’s sign-off at the end of 2 Corinthians: “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:13. A third place the trinity is found is at the baptism of Jesus: Jesus is of course present, and then the Father/Creator aspect of God says, “Behold, my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” The Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus comes down from heaven in the form of a dove. (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke3:21-22; John 1:29-34). Finally, in last Sunday’s gospel, Matthew 28: 16-20, what is known as Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he ascends to heaven, or his, “Great Commission, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”
Okay, admittedly, that is not a huge amount of scriptural support. The Trinity was more fully fleshed out when early Christians defended their faith in the creeds. By 325 CE the Nicene Creed made the Trinity “official,” depicting God as Father/Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and describing the workings of all three aspects. I have actually been to the ruins of the Church in Nicea, Turkey, today called, Iznik, where the Nicene creed came to be in 325 CE!
It felt pretty cool to stand there where such amazing history took place. Now every time I say the words of the Nicene Creed, it has a much deeper meaning for me.
As some of you know, we also named our golden retriever Iznik, after this amazing place.
But if we are truthful with ourselves, even for Trinitarian Christians, the Trinity is still difficult to understand. For kids’ sermons on Trinity Sunday I sometimes use H2O to “explain” it. We think of H2O as water. but H2O can actually exist in three different states: liquid, solid and gaseous, and can even materialize as all three at the same time: water, ice and water vapor or steam. But it is all still H2O. Three forms, or aspects, yet one substance.
Saint Patrick used the Shamrock. Marin Luther used a less precise example, which I have also used in children’s sermons: an apple. He said that an apple has three parts: the red skin, the white flesh of the fruit, and the core, but it is still just one apple. When I was about fourteen and in confirmation class, my teacher asked us how we understood the Trinity. I said, “Well, I am Linda, just one person, but different people think of me in different ways, depending on our relationship: to my parents, I am daughter; to my sisters, I am sister; to my friends, I am friend.”
The older I get, the more I like that fourteen-year-old definition I came up with, because to me, what the Trinity is all about is: relationship! In fact, a few years ago, as I finished my doctorate at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, I ended up doing an independent study on the Trinity with Dr.John Hoffmeyer. This independent study yielded a 45 page research paper, so if there is anything else you want to discuss about the Trinity, just ask!
For me it all came down to the fact that the Trinity is about relationship.
The Trinity reveals a God of relationship. In fact, even within God’s own being, God exists in relationship: Father to Son, Son to Spirit, Spirit to Father. Father and Son are in fact relational words: you cannot be a Father without a child. You cannot be a Son without parents.
The implication, therefore, is that if God exists in relationship, then we too experience God in relationship: in our relationship with God, and in our human relationships. As my favorite line, from my favorite musical, Les Miserables, says:
So…this day, each day, may you experience God-made-flesh in all your relationships!
May you see God in all you encounter, and may you reflect God to all you encounter,
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright June 18, 2014