It is Trinity Sunday. And one of my favorite stories about the Trinity goes like this.
The 3rd grade Sunday school class was doing a series on “Who is God ?”And they started at Christmas with the Incarnation of Godde as a baby. This continued through Easter and into Pentecost as they talked about Godde. The series wound up, conveniently at summer break, with the Sunday after Pentecost, which we know as Trinity Sunday. Jeremy and his Mom always talked about the Sunday school lesson on their way home from church. On this particular Sunday, Jeremy’s Mom asked him what he had learned today about Godde. Jeremy frowned, paused and said, “I thought I had this Godde stuff pretty good, but today she said Godde is really some old guy, his kid and a bird. I’m confused.”
When I was about 14 or 15, my brother and I were spending the summer with my grandparents. My grandmother’s brother, Uncle Ed, was coming to visit and we kids had never met him. But he was a legend in our family. He had been the National Secretary of the American Baptist Youth Fellowship for years, and was known for his affinity for young people.
He lived up to his reputation. He was intensely interested in us as teenagers, and respectful of our thoughts and ideas. We loved him. And I think his theological views had mellowed with age, as is often the case. After he left, I said something to my grandmother about how wonderful Uncle Ed was, and all she said was “I think Edwin is turning into a unitarian” She didn’t mean he was changing denominations, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. She meant that in his later years, the distinctions that she held dear between Godde the Creator, Godde the Redeemer and Godde the Sanctifier were becoming less important to Uncle Ed.
If you want a truly scholarly explanation of the history of the doctrine of the Trinity and its many conflicts, I would recommend Karen Armstrong’s History of God. It is very good.
So, why the Trinity ? I believe it has to do with the religious environment at the time Christianity took hold of people’s hearts and minds. Monotheism, as in Judaism, was the exception rather than the rule in the ancient Roman world. If fact, it was held to be a little odd. Many pantheistic religions were common at the time – remember the earlier gods of Greek civilization. And Rome at this point not only had multiple gods, but they were beginning to proclaim their emperors as gods.
In other civilizations that weren’t animists, pantheism of a different sort
could be found. The Hindus had multiple gods, AND multiple incarnations of each. For example, my oldest daughter is named Kapila, which is the name of the 7th incarnation of the god Vishnu. (Her father picked that, and fortunately she loves it.)
So the Christians of the early church had a dilemma. How could they express their experience of Godde as Creator of the universe, Redeemer of the world, a daily presence in their lives, sanctifying creation and Godde’s people ? How could it be explained that this wasn’t pantheism like the Roman’s religion, where emperors were added to the god collection; but it was a fuller revelation of Godde. A larger concept of Godde than the God of Ancient Israel.
They chose to conceptualize Godde as having three components, but as a whole as well. For the time, it was a way to keep humans from placing limits on Godde, or dividing Godde up. It opened up a new understanding of how transcendent, but also how present Godde can be.
Today, the Trinity is not a concept that keeps us up late at night arguing unless we are in seminary. But think of the importance of the concept in our lives.
My Grandmother had a special affinity for Jesus the Shepherd, Jesus the friend. Her relationship with her father was very difficult; and I suspect Godde the Father was a hard concept for her to imagine. This true for many people I have known who had very difficult relationships with their fathers.
We have all had some experience of the renewal movement. Think of the people you have known, or know of, whose lives have been touched by Godde the Holy Spirit. For whatever reason, that manifestation of Godde has changed hearts and minds in a singularly powerful way.
In our day, people have begun to think of Godde as Mother and Father, Brother, Sister, and Friend, Wisdom and Spirit. This causes some Christians to practically have cardiac arrest. But why the fuss ? The concept of the Trinity, which opened up a wider understanding of Godde 2,000 years ago, shouldn’t become a weapon of heretic hunters in our day. It is indeed, a gift from ancient Christianity that continues to inform us, stretch our understanding, and call us to a fuller and more complete knowledge of Godde in our own time, and in our own place. It is a gift to be celebrated and we do that today. Thanks be to Godde, the Creator, our Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.