Friday, May 28, 2010

Holy Trinity

This upcoming holiday weekend also includes Trinity Sunday. It is the only day in the church calendar dedicated to a doctrine. We have days in the church calendar for remembering people—All Saint’s Day, John the Baptist, St. Luke, even more modern people like Martin Luther King or Oscar Romero. We have days in the church calendar for events—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost (last Sunday), the Baptism of Our Lord, Reformation Day. But today is the only day that remembers a doctrine. The Trinity is a teaching of the church instead of a teaching of the Bible. Search as much as you want, and you will never find the word “trinity” in the Bible. Though not in the Bible, we see God functioning throughout the Bible as a parent/creator, as Jesus, and as a spirit.

Yet the doctrine of the Trinity has also been labeled too old-fashioned, too masculine, and too hard to understand. It is indeed a difficult concept to understand. Do we have one God or three? Is Jesus God or is God Jesus? What about the Holy Spirit? Is the Trinity just two men and a bird?

Over the years Christians have tried very hard to answer these questions by explaining this concept of the Trinity. In some ways, it could be like water—sometimes a liquid, sometimes a solid, and sometimes a gas. Or it could be like an apple—a core, a peel, and the inside part.

As much as we might try, explaining the Trinity in rational terms is difficult. We cannot ever fully understand the mystery that God is. As human beings, we so often want full, complete answers to all our questions. This is, in part, how the understanding of the Trinity came to be. Early followers of Jesus were trying to understand who Jesus is, and how that relates to God.

We have one God, but God plays many roles interacting in the world. God creates, God is like a parent, God is like a rock, or a wind, or a word, or a breath. God is fully present in creating the world, in walking with our suffering, and in bringing us from death to new life. Jesus is with us.

By the fourth century, some Christians thought that Jesus was fully God. Others thought that he couldn’t be the same as God. These questions were addressed at the Council of Nicea. Christianity was starting to be a religion of power, and Christianity would start to bring even more power for the people in power if all the Christians agreed about who God is. The Nicene Creed was a result of the debates in Nicea. The Council of Nicea was organized by the Roman Emperor, and the Creed organized there could be taken as another symbol of Christianity being an oppressive and patriarchal religion.

Yet, the image of the Trinity can also be taken as a symbol of equality and communality. The three parts of the Trinity all share in being God. One is not more important than the other. Where one is, the others are also present. The Trinity is who God is—community. It is relationships between the three parts that makes God God.

If we are created in the image of God, then we are created in the image of community. What would that look like if we took seriously the image of being created in the image of God as community?

Perhaps it would look like what our congregation does every Sunday before Communion—pass the peace. As we shuffle around the sanctuary, we greet one another, look each other in the eye, shake each other’s hand, and show the other that they are important. We remember that God is with us.


  1. The concept of the Trinity is only too masculine because of our limitations in describing it. Perhaps our generations can help make the transition to a Trinity that is both masculine and feminine.

  2. Understanding and describing the Trinity seems to me a very slippery subject. God is God and we are not. Any attempt to fully understand and describe God seems doomed to failure due to our human limitations.

    What I really enjoyed about this posting (other than the "Is the Trinity just two men and a bird" question) is that it balances historical descriptions with modern sensibilities. Yes, the Church has traditionally used masculine terms in its descriptions of God, and there are very valid reasons for this to change, but to focus on that, and only that, may just lead us to miss the larger and more important goal - striving to understand and know God.