Trinity Sunday is one of those Sundays preachers dread – Why? Because it’s all been said! – It’s a bit like Christmas and Easter only worse – How many takes can one person have on one event?
What’s worse about Trinity Sunday is that there is a very real danger of heaping heavy theological analysis on top of a concept that is already a theological construct in itself. The idea of the Trinity is a human attempt to represent the various ways in which God is experienced by humanity and Creation. Once we start talking about how the different persons of the Trinity are inter-related it gets even more complicated and involved and what began as an attempt to clarify only deepens confusion.
This confusion is nothing new – The doctrine of the Trinity was the battleground of the early Church and real blood was shed because of it. The Creeds as we have them today in which the Trinity is central are products of theological wars both verbal and physical and we must be aware that many of their statements are not simply definitions but arguments over and against other views that were prevalent at the time.
We misunderstand them if we treat them as absolute definitions or descriptions of what God is really like internally. Writing in yesterday’s Irish Times (29th May 2010) the anonymous religious columnist who goes simply by the initials G.L. points to the Athanasian Creed which you will find hidden away on page 771 of your prayerbook. That creed which hardly ever sees the light of day makes it clear that everything we say about God is insufficient and incapable of capturing God’s essence. It speaks of ‘the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible’ – It is a much more humble document than the other 2 creeds and perhaps the better for it, in that the more we make absolute our own particular understanding of God the more we are inclined to exclude others from his Love. It is a sad but common human frailty that we tend to think that we can only become greater if others become lesser.
I am always nervous when I hear people who claim to ‘have’ the Truth because that is a blasphemous statement. We cannot possess the Truth but rather it that Truth which is indistinguishable from God which possesses us. Every time we make a claim to know the mind of God and claim the authority to impose God’s will on others we are trespassing.
Our concept of Truth is largely to blame – we are operating from a post-Enlightenment idea of objective ‘Truth’ which can be isolated and identified. The Trinity properly understood does not attempt to do this – rather it points to the fact that Truth is only found in relationship with God. I was discussing this recently and one of the participants in the conversation came up with the following statement. It was so good I wrote it down.
"Knowing the Truth" isn't some 'protestant think exercise.' "Knowing the truth" is about how we are in relationship with God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, in the Communion of the Holy Church.”
I think it’s a great statement because it says that Truth is found in simultaneous relationship with both God and our fellow human beings. It is not just an exercise of the mind but of our whole being. Truth is about how God is present to us today in the world as he was in the past and will be in the future. The Trinity is one way of expressing that Grace of God in our lives; Pure Love which offers itself to us with no limitation and no conditions. It is not so much in our understanding but in our response that we find Truth, the Presence of God in our lives expressed both directly and through the whole of Creation.
Are we aware of that Presence? – I am not so sure that we are. We live in an increasingly busy and noisy world with more and more communication but less and less conversation. Have you ever looked around a restaurant or a train station or a meeting and observed how many people are not really PRESENT to one another but rather interacting with an anonymous individual on the far side of the world through the screen of a mobile phone, iphone or laptop computer. We are so caught up in the virtual world that we neglect the REAL important presence in front of us. I know this because I am one of those who is sometimes guilty of this kind of behaviour.
In the same way I wonder in our fascination with the trivial do we fail to recognize the REAL PRESENCE of God in our midst. That is what the Holy Trinity is about – the various ways in which God has made made himself available to us and continues to do so and will continue to do so. The Trinity is a reminder that we are not alone and that whatever life throws at us there is a presence offered to us that may not take away all the pain and discomfort but will never lever leave us and will walk alongside us in good times and bad. The Trinity proclaims that God is REAL and that we are always in his PRESENCE. What could be more simple than that?