Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Another Imperfect Take on the Trinity

My Pentecost post inspired some comments on the Trinity, that Christian idea that has no perfect explanation but doggone if everyone doesn't try. Some think of it in terms of God's function (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), while others adhere more closely to the classic 'God in three persons' (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Well, I threw around some thoughts one late night when I was driving back from the in-laws', and now you get to hear them. And what perfect timing to think about such things as this coming Sunday is recognized as Trinity Sunday.

First, I say we throw out any sort of three-sided, three-component objects. No more triangles. No more intertwined circles. I prefer one circle without distinct individual parts. We get so caught up in the number three that we put forth one symbol after another that presents God as having three separate beings. In order to avoid tritheism, which is a problem we frequently run into with this idea, just eliminate symbols that present God as Man-E-Faces from Masters of the Universe (you remember him? of course you do). I emphasize the One in the phrase Three in One because we are less likely to create too big of a contrast between the three we otherwise wish to painstakingly acknowledge as one in the same. To begin with something like a triangle is a self-inflicted blow.

Now, here's how I understand the Trinity. Basically, I think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or for my more 'liberal' readers, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit) as three aspects of the same God, rather than forms, modes, states of being, and so on. It is helpful to switch from the idea of God as Persons, because then we don't have to somehow account for the 's' on the end of Person, basically professing polytheism and then trying to backtrack. If we say that Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God, that is, three ways that God is ever-present to the world, this will at least help to move toward thinking of God as Three in One without the messy and misleading 'Person' language.

First, God the Father. I use Father rather than Creator because I actually intend, for the purposes of this post, to emphasize the sovereign aspect of God. This is not Father as Abuser or whatever other problem people have with male language. This is God the Father as head of Creation, the one we are called to love in the greatest commandment, the one who calls us to action. God the Father is the Transcendent aspect of God.

Second, God in Christ. As a Christian, I see and experience God most clearly in and through Jesus. Christ is Revealer of God, pointing one finger at the divine and another out to the world God created and we are to serve. Through his life, death, and resurrection Christ shows what God is about through his unique connection with the divine.

Third, God the Holy Spirit. The HS is that immanent, ever-present aspect of God, the With Us of God With Us, sustaining us and within us as part of creation. God the Spirit moves us and comforts us even as we are called to act.

So that's what I've got so far. God is eternally One, both transcendent and imminent and revealed to us in Jesus. I can't explain my take on it much better than that. I find this explanation at least easier as it saves the trouble of explaining the idea of God as three beings (and I say 'beings' with perhaps a different meaning than others as well). It has its shortfalls, to be sure, but this is what a bit of late-night theologizing produced.