Most of the things we talk about in church on Sunday still sound fine on Monday-sharing, listening, being kind-but others only sound right in church.
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."
"I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity."
We sing, confess our faith and baptize new Christians with trinitarian formulas, but you seldom hear someone in line at Starbucks say, "How 'bout that God in three persons?"
The Trinity is confusing. We usually say Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but sometimes you hear Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; or Almighty God, Incarnate Word, and Holy Comforter. I heard this one recently-Womb of Life, Word in Flesh, Brooding Spirit. This may become your new favorite: Primordial Nature, Consequent Nature, and Superjective Nature.
We sing "God in three persons," but one theologian suggests it would be more accurate to sing "God in three hypostatic modes of being." That is not going to catch on.
The Bible does not contain the word Trinity. Jesus does not talk about it. Not until the fourth century did church leaders formalize the idea at the Council of Nicea.
Different theologians express it in different ways.
John Calvin: "to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity."
Too bad that will not fit on a bumper sticker.
This is Karl Barth: "God is the speaker, without whom there is no word and no meaning, the word who is the speaker's word and the bearer of the meaning, the meaning which is as much the meaning of the speaker as of the word."
Glad he cleared that up.
For most of us the hairsplitting intellectual gymnastics of arguments concerning essence versus substance seem obscure. The analogies I was taught in Sunday school are inadequate, but are still helpful in catching a glimpse of how one God can work in three different ways at the same time. Father, Son, and Spirit are like water in the form of liquid, ice, and steam. They are like the sun, the rays of the sun, and the heat generated by the sun. They are like the memory, understanding, and love that exist in the same heart.
I am not recommending the idea that Jesus is the pitcher, the Spirit is the catcher, and God the Father is the umpire. My junior high Sunday school teacher liked that one.
Ultimately, the Trinity is impossible to explain. The discussion seems so esoteric that we are tempted to think that it does not really matter, but it does.
T.S. Eliot suggested that humans, as a species, cannot bear too much reality. So we spend most of our lives dealing with little questions that are easy to answer: What's for lunch? Who won the game? Who is rich? Such questions pass the time. But now and then we realize that staying on the superficial surface keeps us from the good gifts that are down deeper.
The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that there is always more to God than we conceive, more of God than we can explain, more than we can sing or preach or prove. God is as near as our breath, but not so familiar as to be completely understood. God is beyond time and space, but not so mysterious as to be inaccessible. The Trinity is difficult, but it is also delightful.
The Trinity is the understanding that God is at work in an abundance of ways. God is in the world, in the story of Christ, and in the hope deep within us. God draws us to abundant life through the wonder of creation, the love of Jesus, and the hope that holds us. God is over us as Creator, with us as Christ, and in us as the Spirit.
The Trinity reveals the creative, ethical, and mystical nature of God. The essence of God is that God creates. Jesus shows us how to live-that is ethics. The mystical is the Spirit, the presence of God.
If we think through it, we see that the doctrine of the Trinity offers direction on how we should live. This picture of God is a gorgeous interaction between the creative, ethical, and mystical. Since we are created in the image of God, we are to live with the same fullness. We are most like God when the creative, ethical, and mystical are at work in us. When our imagination, commitment, and openness are awake, then we live in the hope of God.
If we believe that God created all of the world, then our attitude will be concern and celebration. If we believe that God was in Christ, then we will follow Jesus' example of caring. If we believe that the Spirit is present, then we will stop judging everyone and everything and begin to look for the ways God is at work.