Trinity Me This

If you follow the Reading Ramblings entries here, you know that this coming Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday.  One Sunday a year we take time to consider the Trinitarian nature of the Biblical Christian faith.  After spending the first six months of the Church liturgical year focused almost exclusively on the Son of God made man, we pause to draw our breaths and affirm that we are, still, Trinitarians.  We profess a faith that tells us not just of God made man, but of God not made man.  

We confess the Athanasian Creed on that Sunday, according to Church tradition.  The creed is long enough to simply use that as the sermon, and in my first congregation I once preached an entire sermon on that creed which may have run 45 minutes long.  The creed isn’t the point of the Sunday, though.  The point is that we profess belief in a single God with three persons.  Not three gods.  Not one god with schizophrenia.  What does this mean for us today?  How do I assure others of the importance of this doctrine to our faith life when I’m just as guilty of not fully considering those blessings on a more regular, less academic basis?
That was, oddly enough, the thought I woke up with this morning.  While that’s a good thing in certain ways, it isn’t the typical morning’s train of thought.
Here are three reasons why the doctrine of the Trinity is important to me.  
1.  It paints the picture of a God who, though He became like me, is not like me.
2.  It affirms the honesty of God.
3.  It grounds me in reality.
It paints a picture of a God who, though He became like me, is not like me.  Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  Isn’t a great deal of the comfort of trinitarian doctrine the idea that God has become like me?  Yes, it is.  That’s how close God is.  He knows me from the inside out, as the one who created me, as the one who took on my flesh 2000 years ago, and as the one who works on me from the inside out today.  All very comforting indeed.
But I’m the heir of Greek philosophy, which tells me that my body and everything physical around me is a pale lie based on spiritual realities.  I hear even Christians talking raptly about leaving their bodies behind to enter the purity of spiritual life after death.  And a good half of the world or more, geographically, is still wrapped up in the notion that all physicality is an illusion we’ve convinced ourselves of which we need to leave behind in order to achieve enlightenment and free ourselves from suffering.
This is the kind of God I’d expect to have.  A god more or less like me.  A God that is above the physical, who disdains it and finds it distasteful, however good his reasons might be for allowing it or even creating it.  This isn’t the God of Scripture, though.  The Biblical God remains above creation in that He is not a part of it, but He also affirms the basic goodness of the material world.  Physicality is not ultimately the evil of creation – sin is.  
This god is counterintuitive to me.  He affirms what I am inclined to disparage.  He created what I sometimes wish wasn’t here.  To me, that’s a good sign.  And it is one of the dangers of some of Western Christianity’s exclusive focus on Jesus, the Incarnate second person of the Trinity, or on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  It’s the danger of speaking of God only in the vague title of god, and not in the more specific way of God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.  By focusing on any one aspect of the trinity to the virtual (if not official) exclusion of the others, I make God more like me, and less like who He describes himself as.
2.  It affirms the honesty of God.  The first time I began to understand the technology that Star Wars developed, I was disappointed.  The idea that some of the things I am shown on film are not real – not just in the ontological sense (I know interstellar travel isn’t real) but in actual terms (that there was a big green screen that the actors were pretending in front of and that got filled in with other stuff after they were done shooting their scene; or the idea of vast portions of a film existing only digitally on computers, not actually in sets and props and costumes) – was very disappointing.  I’m obviously one of the last of my kind – people who see movies and assume that there are physical dimensions to everything on screen, that a bevy of craftsman labored to create stunning backdrops or painstakingly shot stop motion action scenes.  Of course there are different types of craftsmen now, doing the equivalent digitally.  But it’s not the same, in my mind.
Likewise, and related to the first point, a lot of people these days have no problem with the idea of God just waving his hand to remove sin and suffering.  Why all the fuss and bother of a long-range plan that involves taking on human flesh and bone and actually walking in our shoes for 30 or so years before dying horribly and then coming to life again?  That’s so expensive – you could just edit out sin, like photoshopping a picture.  Just wipe away the imperfections and cellulite with a few clicks of the mouse.  
People today assume that God had to tell this big story to a bunch of people too dumb to understand the truth.   He had to talk in child-like, tangible terms because they would have no ability to understand an undo function.  But since we’re all smart and stuff, we can dispense with the illustrated story and settle for a set of installation instructions.  In a foreign language.
God did, does, and will do what He did, does, and will do.  The fact that He chooses to do it in a way that I might not helps with my first point above, but it also demonstrates his honesty.  I’m not sure how I would feel about a God who made up a clever story that really wasn’t true.  If the story wasn’t true in the details, can I trust the overall point of the story?  What else am I being misled about?  Ultimately, the idea of a God who gets down and dirty in his creation is important because that is the way He has decided to do things, and I want to hold him to his Word, so that I can hold on to his Word.
3.  It grounds me in reality.  This is probably a rehash of the first point, so I can revise this for Sunday morning.  But in a day of virtual everything, God comes to me through physical reality.  Through what He has created.  Through the life and death and resurrection and ascension of a specific man who lived at a particular point in human history in an identifiable area of human geography, yet was more than man.  Through water on the forehead of a baby or engulfing an adult in immersion.  Through bread and wine.  My faith is not all in my head or heart, it exists and is embodied and affirmed through physicality.  
The Trinity matters today.  It matters every bit as much now as it did in the early centuries of the faith when people were struggling to make sense of it.  That struggle hasn’t ceased.  Nor has the temptation to discard it entirely in favor of something we can explain.  These are good reasons to hold onto it and give thanks for it.  For God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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