Today is a special day in the calendar of the church year. It is different from all the rest in that others are based upon an event. This day, however, we celebrate the Holy Trinity … a doctrine. This is the doctrine that states the Christian understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now, the writers of the New Testament were firmly established in a monotheistic faith. They believed in one God, and only one. But they had come to know God in three different ways. And out of their three-fold experience came what we call ”the doctrine of the Holy Trinity” – God, the three in one, and the one in three.
This is a difficult concept when we really stop to think about it. So difficult, in fact, that the early church was torn by controversy over it … a controversy which resulted in the last of the three great creeds of the Church: The Athanasian Creed. It is very lengthy. Many churches use this creed on this day in the church calendar year. When compared to the other two, the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, it is by far the longest one.
When we stop to think of it, each of our creeds presents us with the difficult concept of the Trinity. But, what else would we expect? We’re thinking of the nature of God here.
Scholars talk about the complexity of human nature, let alone divine nature. And, they freely confess that they do not fully understand human nature. So, we needn’t feel any lesser because we do not understand divine nature, as well.
Human nature is a profound mystery – forever beyond our complete comprehension. So surely, we can expect no less of Divine Nature. No, we will never fully understand God, but we can get to know God by a process that presupposes closeness.
After all, the people we know best are the people who are near at hand, family, friends, neighbors. Well, that same principle applies in our relationship with God. In order to get to know God, it is necessary to become more aware of God’s nearness.
So much of our religious faith has to do with the God who is out there somewhere, the cosmic deity, the creator of all things, the power behind the universe.
Now the Bible does speak of God in those terms, but how could we ever get to know God by those terms, only?
Now, I know that almost everyone believes in a God who is above all and over all, yet many of us find it more difficult to believe in a God who is a reality in our daily lives.
However, the God, whom we truly get to know, is just that: the God of our daily experience, the one who touches our lives in some real – and vital – and personal way.
Think back, if you will, through the Bible, and you’ll discover that this is the only way anyone has ever known God as a living reality. God was not out there, but in here, the God of personal experience.
- To Adam and Eve, God was the one who walked in their garden in the cool of the day.
- To Moses, who spent so much of his life in a burning desert, God was the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land.
- To David, God was a shepherd who walked with him through the dark valleys of life.
- And Paul, introduced God to the Athenians as “the one in whom we live and move and have our being.”
Always, it is the same – not God far away, but God near at hand.
Go ahead. Ask the New Testament where God is, and here is how it will answer: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God … that the Spirit of God dwells within you?”
That is who, and what, and where God is – a living presence who goes where we go.
If we plunge into trouble, God is there.
If we celebrate some glad achievement, God is there.
If we enjoy the company of friends, God is there.
If we face death, God is there.
This is the God of whom we read in the New Testament. Not a distant deity who rules from afar, but a loving God, — a living presence, one who is always here, whether we are aware of it or not.
So pull in your theological telescope and quit looking for God out there. Remember the words of Jesus when he said, “I am with you always.” You see, the only God we will ever get to know is the God who is near at hand.
There is another characteristic of a vital, personal relationship with God and that is “openness.” It’s not enough that we understand God’s closeness to us. It is also important that we be open to that closeness. This, too, is often a difficult concept.
Jesus was like a man who came from another town – and told people what that town was like. He was not like a person who had merely seen that town on a map or read about it in a book. And, even more than that is the fact that the reality that he spoke of, which is not accessible to our physical senses, was one that was never out of his awareness.
Now, there is a modern-day parable about a man who goes to a town where everyone is blind. All of the citizens of this town have adapted to their handicap, and are not even aware that such a thing as sight exits.
The stranger can see, however, and he tries to tell them what this fifth sense is like. But they refuse to believe him. He gives them demonstrations of his ability to see by doing things they cannot explain. For instance, he shows them that he knows what is happening around him, things he can see – things which they can verify after the fact, but couldn’t have known about at the time.
They find his ability to do these things, which they cannot do, very troubling. Therefore, they refuse to allow their sphere of reality to be expanded in such a radical way. They are rattled by the idea that there is someone in their midst who is apparently superior to them in some critical way. And, they drive him from their town.
This was the situation with Christ in the world. Christ gave signs that he had an awareness of other dimensions. Some people ignored these signs, others were momentarily impressed, some were frightened, and others, like Nicodemus, were drawn to think more deeply about the nature of life, and to want to know the real meaning of the miracles he had witnessed. And so, Jesus was telling Nicodemus about spiritual things. Things that cannot necessarily be explained in our way of thinking – things that lead us to search more deeply so that we might be more open to God’s closeness in our lives.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity does this same thing. It comes as close as we can get to explaining a Christian understanding of the nature of God. While all the time inviting us to search even more diligently, to be even more open, and to experience God’s presence even more fully in our lives.
Yes, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a statement of faith – faith in a God who cannot be explained.
We recite together one of the three creeds every Sunday, The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed or The Athanasian Creed. And, in doing so, we open ourselves to the reality of what that statement on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity means – about God and God’s impact on – and in – our lives.
May we always be open to the closeness of God, as we walk in the garden in the cool of the day – or as we walk in the burning heat – and, yes, even in the dark valleys of life. And, as Paul put it, may we understand God to truly be “the one in whom we live and move and have our being.”
We may be somewhat blind as the townsfolk in our parable. But, I pray that as we recite one of our creeds each and every Sunday, we will be more and more able to see, and comprehend, the closeness of God.