Arguably one of the most esoteric doctrines to be imagined by the church is that of the Trinity. When asked to express the practical import of holding such a belief, most christians are perplexed to say the least. The doctrine stretches the bounds of logic, and theological arguments seem to be strained and academic. Why it is still celebrated as part of the liturgical calendar, and what possessed people to be so preoccupied with it as to warrant church councils to resolve it remains a mystery to many. What is at stake in this doctrine that has caused so much angst?
On one side is the ministry of Jesus Christ, both in life and through His death and resurrection. Writers have been at pains to demonstrate that Jesus is not just an expression of God - somehow incomplete - but God in very nature. In the same way, the work of the Holy Spirit is regarded as God at work in all respects. There is no hierarchy of Gods in the christian tradition, nor a committee. God is one, and it is this commitment which has underpinned the doctrine of the trinity.
On another side of the angst is the preservation of diversity within our understanding of God. God is not regarded as remote, unable to identify with the creation’s struggles, nor working independently of creation. In the Holy Spirit we are reminded of the God who remains with us and works through us, empowering us by infilling and indwelling us.
Both of these aspects seem lost in the efforts to explain the meaning.
The doctrine of the trinity – indeed, every theology – must be underpinned with the knowledge that we speak of mysteries. Our understanding of God in any sense is necessarily limited. When we contemplate Trinity we are reminded that much of the journey of discipleship must be taken on trust. We cannot know or explain everything… as in the scientific world, this reality invites us to explore further, yet hold what we know with a degree of discretion, and an openness to that which we do not know and are yet to understand. In that sense, the doctrine of trinity is a humbling reminder of our limitations in explaining God.
And as we reflect on community this month, the doctrine of trinity is a poignant reminder of the necessity of diversity, both in understanding and expression. Think how much poorer the journey of faith in the world would be if we knew nothing of God the Son, or of the Holy Spirit.
May 22, 2005