Wisdom (and Mystery) of Trinity

May 26, 2013
Psalm 8; Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16: 12-15

What a coincidence that on this three day weekend the liturgical calendar gives us Trinity Sunday. This is a Sunday when we as Christians get to ponder one of the mysteries of our faith – that somehow God is 3 and 1 at the same time.

There are days, and you may know them too, when I tire of pondering the complexities and seeming inconsistencies of the faith. It all feels like a muddle. What I really want is to understand with all my mind exactly what and how and who God is. Other days, I can live with the mystery as part of the beauty of faith; it is a bit baffling and yet it somehow seems to ring true with at least some of my experiences in the world.

Trinity is one of these bafflers. Who needs it? Who understands it? It is so difficult to explain and understand the concept of trinity that one might wonder why Christians hold on to it, especially when it is so confusing (and divisive) to other monotheistic religions. I suppose we should be grateful; the three in one of Christianity is not nearly so complex as Hinduism that claims over 30 million different faces of One God.

A lot of words and analogies have been floated to try to explain the trinity –someone putting on a mask but still the same person, the different forms of water, three dimensions but all whole in themselves. Artists have tried to explain trinity without words. One of the most famous paintings is the 15th century icon by Russian artist Andrei Rublev. He pictures three angelic looking figures, representing the three visitors that Abraham and Sarah received (in Genesis 18,) sitting at a table, perhaps the alter, in conversation together.  Certainly we get the idea of 3 but how are they one?

Rublev's Trinity

While the trinity is not explicitly mentioned as a concept in the bible it has developed as an important benediction (found in Matthew 28) – the blessing of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit or in more inclusive language: the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer be with you always.

Though the word “trinity” does not make an appearance in the bible, the three parts of the trinity are part of the biblical tradition. The passage that Micah read from John names all three parts of the trinity.  Jesus says: Everything that Abba God has belongs to me (Jesus). This is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.

John’s community understood these different faces of God: the One from whom all things come, the One that lived among us and the One that is Comforter. The tradition tells us that these three different parts of God work together, seamlessly as one, but seem to have different roles or functions.

The passage from Romans 5 also names all three parts of the trinity:

…we are at peace with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. … the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul also understands these 3 aspects of God to work together, to be in relationship with each other so much so that they are one.

Much, much earlier in the tradition, in the passage from Proverbs that Jen read, we have Wisdom functioning as a part of God or is she separate from God?

Our God gave birth to me at the beginning
before the first acts of creation.
I have been from everlasting,
in the beginning, before the world began.

Wisdom has been calling out to humans in every sphere of life – along the roads, on the hills, in the city, at the market places; wisdom is calling out to us everywhere.  And what strange comfort there is in hearing Wisdom say:

I was God’s delight day after day,
rejoicing at being in God’s presence continually,
rejoicing in the whole world
and delighting in humankind.

How marvelous to have God/Wisdom rejoicing in humans even as humans are called to marvel at the wonders of God’s creation. Is the interconnected joy of God/Wisdom and humans as creator and creatures analogous to how parents and children relate? Parents delight in their children and hope that someday their children will delight in them?

But Wisdom was not  the only with God from the beginning, delighting in God’s presence. There is an interesting parallel in the New Testament.  In Proverbs 8 Wisdom says:

I have been from everlasting,
in the beginning, before the world began.

And then in John 1 we read:

In the beginning there was the Word.
And the Word was in God’s presence,
And the Word was God.
The Word was present to God from the beginning.

Wisdom and Word sound closely related if not identical.  If the Word was God and Wisdom was with God and Jesus is called the Word then it does sound as if it is all one big happy family of God, One God.

The trinity illustrates the wholeness of God. God is not complete unless all parts are there: the creator, the earthly prophet in body and the Spirit that blows where it will. Somehow these three work intricately together as one, and must all be present for us to get a complete picture of God.

If in God there are three parts working together as one, then what does that mean for us humans who strive to be whole? We are created in the image of God, or as the Psalm for today says, “barely less than God” – “a little lower than the angels.”

I have been receiving acupuncture every month for more than a decade.  After all these years I still don’t understand how it works, (though I imagine having an hour to lie quietly and relax is part of the formula.) One of the things I have learned to appreciate is the opportunity to explore in a different way the interconnectedness of the various parts of myself.  The needles help to draw attention to the fact that I am not just my tired brain or my aging body or my weary spirit. The needles help reconnect the parts of myself that have gotten disconnected and help me to integrate my body, brain and spirit once again.

It seems like there is some kind of intricate dance that happens between the body, brain and spirit that makes us human.  Madeline L’Engle reminds us in her book, A Wrinkle in Time, how important the whole package is. An evil disembodied brain called “IT” is what controls the minds of everyone on the planet of Camazotz. The brilliant mind lies there on the dais but there is no body or spirit to temper it.

It takes three children, Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace, all of whom have different gifts of mind, body and spirit, to find and rescue Meg and Charles’ father. The beautiful, athletic body of Calvin is not enough, nor is the amazing brain of Charles Wallace.  The determined spirit of Meg is also necessary in the formula.  All three gifts are needed.

So who are we as human beings, are we body, mind or spirit? And which is most important? It is almost as confusing as the trinity of God.

We are whole people; we cannot help but be body, mind and spirit. The idea of integrating these three is not something unique to Eastern Medicine. When asked to name the greatest commandment Jesus said without hesitation that the greatest commandment is to “Love God with all your heart and mind and strength” – spirit, mind and body.  And then to love the neighbor as we love ourselves.

So if we, and our neighbors, are creatures of the creator, created in God’s image, what image is that? Is God male or female? Is God in Jesus more European or African looking? Is God young like Jesus, or old like the creator of the world who has been around since before anything was? Just what image is it that we are created in?

Perhaps these questions are asked from the wrong angle.  Maybe it is not the gender or age or skin tone of God that we are created in. Maybe it is the how of God, the multidimensional way that God is, that humans are like. Just as God is three in one – God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, we too are three in one – mind, body and spirit.

Though we are created in the image of God, with three parts, it is a struggle to integrate mind, body and spirit. We are “a little lower than the angels” because we catch only glimpses of wholeness.  Perhaps what distinguishes humans from God is that though we are created in God’s image, we struggle to find the seamless connection and integration between the three.

Trinity is a theological concept that leaves me wondering, makes me realize how we do “see through a mirror dimly” as Paul says. The writer of John acknowledges that we cannot understand these things, that we are not whole yet. Jesus says, “I have much more to tell you but you can’t bear to hear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all truth.”

For now, we hurry up and wait for that time, when we will understand, when we will be guided by the Spirit of Truth. As we wait, may we all find moments of oneness within ourselves and with God, when we feel whole and know the wholeness of God in the world. And may we share the joy of that oneness so that we may rejoice with Wisdom,

being in God’s presence continually,
rejoicing in the whole world
and delighting in humankind.