When a child is born, so begins a process of growth, exploration and maturation. In some ways we wish we could equip our little ones instantly to face all that life will throw at them.
Sometimes when a politician is asked about something difficult, he or she will reply “Ah, let’s not get too theological”. He means by this that it is a matter that is complex, difficult, and of limited relevance to everyday life: it does not really matter. On Trinity Sunday, this day named in honour of a doctrine about God, we may also be tempted to avoid the depths of theology. Some of the theories you hear expounded about God are impenetrable – you wonder if they miss the point. Can’t we keep it simple?
But life is not simple. Any child born into our world faces dangers and difficulties. Population growth, climate change, pollution, economic uncertainty, all of these are real, and who can guess the future? Wars and rumours of wars abound, and many talk of a deep malaise within our Western, secular society. Looking within ourselves, many of us will tell stories of doubt, uncertainty, regrets: we aspire to be good and to live good lives, but the more we discuss and theorise about these things, the more unsure we are about what is truly good, and the more certain we can become that we are imperfect and inadequate to live well.
We may think that these are modern preoccupations, but humankind has always felt ‘up against it’. The most successful species on the planet to date has always felt threatened and insecure.
The early Christian leader Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome a considered account of who God is, and how we can know about him and know and understand his unimaginable love for us. In the first four chapters he spells out how every human needs to know God’s forgiveness, and how we can receive that forgiveness simply by trusting in the work of Jesus on the cross. He traces the story from Adam and Eve, through Abraham to us. It is a beautiful concept, explained with passion and fire.
It also seems too theoretical again. So now he changes gear, with some amazing, mind-blowing statements:
We have peace with God. It is a fact that many in this world do not know peace within themselves. God would like to share with each of us his eirene, his shalom, a sense of wellbeing and wholeness, at one with ourselves and with the wider world. This comes ultimately from a living response of faith, trusting that God is on our side and loves us, and seeking to follow him. God wants you to know his peace now, in your present life.
We rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God. We pray ‘Our Father, who art in heaven ...’ God’s ultimate desire for each of us who believe in him is that we might be with him and live with him in glory. One of our images of God is of light: he shines out to each one of us, seeking to penetrate every shadow. And ...
We rejoice in our sufferings! In, not because of ... Some people struggle to trust in God, because they see so much suffering, and have experienced so much. Others imagine that once they trust, once they become part of God’s family, all their problems and trials will mysteriously fade away. Jesus, however, knew many problems and difficulties, ultimately being betrayed, tried unjustly, and put cruelly to death. A couple who truly love each other are pushed together by difficulties: each of us who have come to trust in Jesus find that the harder it gets, the more we rely on him. It leads us to ...
Perseverance. Jesus famously told a story about a farmer who sowed seed in various kinds of soil. Some fell on shallow soil and sprouted quickly, only to die away as the fierce sun cooked it’s shallow roots; let us not be those who find the Christian message attractive, but find that somehow it is unable to sustain us when we face real trials (as we most certainly shall). This world is full of many things to distress us and try us: Jesus said that we should pray that we do not come to the time of trial. We do not rejoice because of them, but we see that God sustains us and carries us, and how these things bring about ...
Character. As we go through the ups and downs of life, we find ourselves being changed so that we are more like Jesus. What seem to be mere theories and good intentions about God become reality through a process of laughter and tears. Wishful thinking and idealism are good, but they become grounded and effective as we look out for and experience God at work in our lives and the world around us. This gives us ...
Hope. When the Bible talks of Hope, it does not mean wishful thinking (will it be fine for our BBQ? I hope so). The true meaning is the same as that we referred to above, the Hope of Glory. God has promised it to all who believe. Is God a liar? Of course not. We receive this as an article of faith, and then we experience this as we see him at work in the changing scenes of our lives, over weeks, months and years of trusting him.
Ultimately, everything in the life of the believer points back to Jesus. He has asked the Father to give us a Gift: the Holy Spirit, who poured the Love of God into our hearts.
Some people start with the evidence, the solid intellectual case for believing in God as he has been revealed to Christians, and from there journey to a meeting, an encounter that warms their heart. Others start from an awareness of his love and grace, and then puzzle out later how these things can be true. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he develops arguments and then returns to them like a composer writing a piece of music. He returns to the themes of the Spirit, love and trust, suffering and glory in chapter 8 and in chapter 12 shows how we continue to be transformed into the image of Jesus.
Jesus knows that we will take time to assimilate all this. In John’s gospel he is recorded as saying that we will experience the partnership of the Spirit to help us understand all about the Father and the Son. For a brief and accurate summary of the doctrine of the Trinity, see the film Nuns on the Run. To know God in his three-fold richness, trust his Son and open yourself to the work of his Spirit.
1. Which images or metaphors for the Trinity do you find helpful or unhelpful, and why? (Clover leaf, egg, shamrock, grandparent/parent/child, steam/water/ice? What others do you know?)
2. If Relationship is at the heart of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), what does this say to your understanding of how we relate to God and to each other?
3. What have been the ways that you have encountered the divine thus far? The Bible? Experience of meeting and being with Christians? Times of joy (thankfulness)? Times of sorrow (grief, comfort)? Something else?